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CANAL CHALLENGE 2014
Charity Cycle Ride - raising money for three amazing hospices
Birkenhead - Accrington - Leeds (over 150 miles)
Monday 11th August - Tuesday 12th August, 2014
People who know me will know that I like to try to do something different to raise a little money for a good cause at least once a year, from climbing a mountain to driving across Europe in a car decorated to look like a football pitch. It is always great fun and hopefully brings in a few quid for organisations that do a great job helping other people.
In 2014 I went with a relatively quick and simple one, that said this did include a daring and courageous trip across the border into deepest, darkest Yorkshire.
On Tuesday August 12th Accrington Stanley took on Leeds United at Elland Road in the Capital One Cup First Round. I undertook to cycle to this game from where I now live in Birkenhead, leaving on Monday 11th August, taking a ferry across the Mersey, and then following the Leeds and Liverpool Canal with an overnight stop in Accrington before reaching Leeds ahead of the game. A journey of over 150 miles, raising money for three great hospices in each of the areas involved in this challenge - Claire House Children's Hospice, Wirral, East Lancashire Hospice, Lancashire and St Gemma's Hospice, Yorkshire
Monday 11th August, 2014
Looking to get an early start I set off just before 7am, cycling past Tranmere Rovers on my way to Seacombe Ferry Terminal. The shuttle service across the Mersey by ferry only takes ten minutes, disembarking at Liverpool's Pier Head, where I got my first sight of the Leeds and Liverpool Canal, or at least the recently constructed branch line that links the canal with the Mersey.
Tranmere Rovers' Prenton Park
Mersey Ferry crossing from Seacombe to the Pier Head
Start of the Leeds and Liverpool Canal branch line at the Pier Head
Sticking true to my challenge I followed this as closely as I could, past the appropriately named Stanley Dock and then up to the main canal, where I located the start of the actual canal for that all important picture. I had visited the start point a year or so previously as after years of growing up living close to the canal I was always curious as to where it began and ended. With all the canal's industrial heritage it seems strange that it now begins - or ends depending on your journey - in the middle of a housing development just outside the city centre.
The start of the Leeds and Liverpool Canal
By now it was after 8am and I had spent far too long taking photographs and tweeting progress reports, it was time to start to cover some serious distance. After a few minutes on the towpath I passed an early milestone, a sudden indication of the task ahead, just 124.25 miles to Leeds.
Milestone indicating 124 1/4 miles to Leeds
Progress felt slow, though in fairness it was steady. The canal meanders considerably and so it seemed to take a long time to leave Merseyside, however the miles were clocking up, and by just after lunchtime I had made it through to the outskirts of Wigan, passing the second sports ground of my two day trip, DW Stadium, home of Wigan Athletic and Wigan Warriors.
Wigan Athletic's DW Stadium
I had gone through a lot of water in the morning and so I came off the towpath to call into a shop on a main road to replenish my bottles, and took the opportunity to grab a bite to eat at the same time. Prior to this I had been trying to fit in short breaks every ninety minutes or so, just for a quick stretch and a snack to keep the energy up, which seemed to work well.
Later in the afternoon I made it through to Lancashire - great to see the sign with the red rose - skirting around the Chorley area. I had a little problem with the chain and gear mechanisms as I passed Botany Bay, some of the towpaths I had travelled were of poor quality and I had picked up a lot of mud and debris. A bit of a clean and a some choice words later and the bike was back in working order, and I was heading towards East Lancashire.
Welcome to Lancashire
I passed Blackburn Rovers' Ewood Park before heading into the town itself. By this time I was pushing towards the end of the first day of cycling, I knew the area well and was on a route I had cycled for many years. I passed Rishton and then onto Church, reaching the official half way point of the canal - 63 5/8 miles to both Leeds and Liverpool - where I stopped for a quick obligatory selfie before pushing on to Clayton-le-Moors, where I left the canal for the evening at around 5pm.
Blackburn Rovers' Ewood Park
Half way marker at Church
Selfie at the half way point
The evening passed very quickly, after a quick ice bath, shower and recovery sports massage from the excellent Janine Lingard from Buddu Chill in Accrington, I had my evening meal and by the time I had packed my kit ready for the next day it was time to get some sleep.
Tuesday 12th August, 2014
I was up and out before 7am again, but the weather on this second day was very wet. I had got lucky with the weather on the Monday, the previous couple of days had seen the tail end of a hurricane battering a lot of the country, however by the time I set off it had all calmed down and I enjoyed some great conditions.
I called past a fourth football ground, Accrington Stanley, in fact I had conincided the challenge to fit in with my football club's Capital One Cup first round match against Leeds United that evening - I had just over twelve hours to get there before kick off.
Accrington Stanley's Store First Stadium
I rejoined the canal where I had left it, heading towards Burnley. The rain continued to come down in showers, the heavy ones of of which I ended up sheltering from under bridges along the way. A fifth football ground came into view in the distance, Burnley's Turf Moor, before I headed off into more rural surroundings. At this stage I was happy to be feeling good, the recovery process I had followed the previous night had worked well and there was no tiredness in my legs at all, though I had developed a niggle around my right knee.
Back on the canal where I left off the previous evening
Burnley Football Club's Turf Moor
There were a few more locks to climb past to reach the canal's high point. On the previous day some of these had been a bit of a killer, especially the ones in quick succession - was always happy to see a pub called the Top Lock as that indicated there was no more climbing to be done! One of the great advantages of following a canal is that on the whole the route is flat, however this can also be one of the downsides too. While there are no extended periods of climbing, there are also no freewheeling downhill sections to take a breather on, and with the condition of some of the towpaths - mud, rocks and cobbles - even cycling on the level can be a real slog. The rocks and cobbles were also taking their toll on my backside, which despite the padded shorts was also suffering from spending extended periods in the saddle.
There were a couple of diversions from the towpath on the second morning to accomodate the Gannow and Foulridge tunnels, however with a little prior research these proved easy enough to navigate around. The weather actually picked up as the day progressed, which was a boost, and by lunchtime I was well into Yorkshire. Unfortunately the towpaths on the second day were even worse than on the first, especially through the countryside, and I was struggling with my chain and gears again. A little clean up got it all working well enough to keep me on track however by this time I was now really suffering with my knee - not that I like to moan of course. I made it to Skipton where I knew the canal ran through the town and would allow me to find a pharmacy to stock up on whatever I could get my hands on - ibuprofen, paracetamol, Deep Heat and a knee support!
I took a lot from knowing that Skipton was pretty much my halfway point for the day and that I was now on a countdown to Leeds. Back in the saddle the towpaths continued to be a test, but the locks were now all downhill! A little while later it was fantastic to pass a milestone that indicated I was 9.25 miles from Leeds - I was now down to single figures - and as I got closer to the city the towpaths improved dramatically.
Just 9 1/4 miles to Leeds
First sighting of Leeds in the distance
I finally reached Leeds just after 5pm, pulling up alongside lock number one, for me the end point of the Leeds and Liverpool Canal, after a cycle ride of over 150 miles over two days.
Lock number one in Leeds
It was a strange feeling to reach that point, every challenge I have done previously I have had people with me, and so there has been at least a short period of handshaking and congratulating each other on a job well done. As this was a solo adventure, this time I stood alone, nobody in the area had any idea how far I had travelled to be there. All that said, these little tests are very personal things anyway, and I was happy there in my own thoughts knowing I had accomplished what I had set out to achieve.
The bike at the end
As I rode away from the area around the canal wharf I noticed another milepost, indicating a distance of 127 miles to Liverpool, which raised a smile. I made my way to the sixth and final ground of the two day trip, Leeds United's Elland Road. Here I watched my team lose 2-1 in the Capital One Cup, before hitching a ride back to Accrington with fellow Stanley supporters on their coach.
Milestone indicating 127 miles to Liverpool
Leeds United's Elland Road
Leeds United v Accrington Stanley
I had a great time completing the challenge, and in the process raised over £800 for three hospices thanks to some very generous donations from my friends and family.
A little advice for anyone else doing the journey. Try to plan out your schedule, albeit with allowances for changes. Familiarise yourself with the route, even just using Google Maps, and get an idea of what landmarks are at what distance - this is great when you are counting down to a rest break or even the finish itself, and can be anything from a football ground to a town or village, or even using the locks and bridges which are of course all numbered.
I took a steady approach to travelling the length of the canal, hence taking two days and allowing for plenty of short breaks along the way, however it still didn't leave any time for sightseeing or enjoying the scenery. Those who choose to do it in a single day truly have my admiration, while it is possible to get up good speed where the towpath is well established, the less well maintained sections can really slow progress.
Sign of a good day on the bike
Have fun, remember to enjoy the journey as much as reaching the destination, and don't forget to write something about it when you are done!