New Year Ride: Wirral Way

On the trail near Thurstaston

It seems to be a bit of a cyclists’ tradition to have a New Year ride to get rid of that festive fuzziness and start the year as one means to go on. With this in mind, me and my three sons (Tom (18), Sam (also 18) and Harry (11) met up in Liverpool’s languid Leaf tea bar with a plan to ride the Wirral Way – a 12 mile traffic-free former railway path that follows the track-way of the old Hooton to West Kirby branch line, which closed in the 1950s. The trail is a mixture of gravel, compacted earth and shale and is always fun to ride on a road bike.

It was a cold day, only scheduled to reach 2 degrees Celsius at best, so we wrapped up warm (apart from Sam!) and hopped on the train to Hooton, our starting point. The train journey was quick, but not too quick that I didn’t have time to fix Tom’s loose front cone (Tom and Sam always present me with a mechanical puzzle on every bike ride – I think they think that I’m their team mechanic).

The wonderfully evocative old station at Hadlow Road, Willaston

Once on the trail, we rode out to Hadlow Road station, a fully restored time warp station, preserved as it was circa 1952. We took a look around the ticket office, checked out the old fashioned points shed and stood on the railway tracks that had been re-laid in front of the station, safe in the knowledge that no trains would come.

We pressed on along the trail, with a few grumbles from Harry the Younger, who was finding it hard to rediscover his cycling Mojo. The sparingly dressed Sam, who always chooses style over practicality, was beginning to suffer in the cold. We stopped at Thurstaston nature reserve, looked out over the Dee estuary to the Welsh hills, and ate jam sandwiches (which perked up Harry no end).

From Thurstaston, it was only another few miles to the end of the Wirral Way at West Kirkby, where we jumped on the train and headed back to Liverpool and home, where a warm pot of beef stew awaited.

I usually ride alone, but every now and again it’s great to ride with the family and share some of the places and experiences that I usually covet for myself. I plan to return to the Wirral Way soon, with the aim of putting together a video ride guide for the Way and the Wirral Coastal Path. Watch this space…

Birthday Ride

Sometimes even rusty old railway bridges can show beausage

What better way to treat yourself on your birthday, than a long bike ride around your hometown.? Many people would disagree, but that’s exactly what I did the other day on the occasion of thirty-eighth birthday.

My hometown of Liverpool is blessed with many miles of traffic free paths, with diverse and interesting landscapes and waterscapes to explore.

Like all of my favourite rides, it started at my front door (I have problems with the notion of packing the bike into the car and driving out somewhere). My destination was the Liverpool Loopline, a 13 mile former railway track that circumnavigates the city from Aintree in the north to Halewood in the south. The Loopline forms one of the most westerly sections of the Trans Pennine Trail, which stretches all the way from Southport in the west to Hornsea, near Hull, in the east. The Loopline was formerly the Cheshire Lines railway, before Beeching’s axe fell. After a couple of decades of redundancy and decay, the line was cleared and restored by Sustrans and now serves a Liverpool’s primary cycling artery.

One day I'll ride all the way to Leeds. But not today...

I took the Loopline north as far as I could go, on the edge of Aintree’s famous racecourse before a short hop onto the roads to link up with the Leeds and Liverpool canal towpath at Melling Road. From here I followed the canal towards Liverpool City Centre. The towpath had a wide variety of surfaces, from narrow muddy paths at the start, through to recently improved tarmac sections at the end. The scenes along the canal are always equally various, from leafy autumnal colours to old abandoned warehouses.

Even deep in urbanity, you can find moments of autumnal tranquility.

I followed the canal as far as I could, until a diversion took me onto the roads in Bootle. I made a beeline for the docks and the Mersey waterfront, passing the massive brick-built Stanley Warehouse and the equally impressive Waterloo dock. Closer to the Liver Building I stopped to take a look at HMS Argyll,  a modern warship which was docked just north of the isle of Man Steam Packet Company jetty. An impressive sight. From here I cut through the city centre and headed home, calling in to see my Dad in hospital and grabbing a Starbucks along the way.

Resurrectio at the riverside close to Liverpool's famous Pier Head.

All in all, a satisfying ride of around 25-30 miles, during which I was never more than about 6 miles from home.