16 Blackpool to Spurn Point Other

Maps 102 & 103 – “Knickers, Knackers, Knockers”

Blackpool Tower

My fifteenth coast to coast ride began at lunchtime today in the sunshine on Blackpool promenade. On a normal bank holiday, the place would have been very busy with day trippers; but today was the funeral of Queen Elizabeth II and almost everything was closed. There was still a smattering of people out, however, as we ate our pre-prepared sandwiches near the North Pier, overlooking the golden sands of Blackpool beach. You could see the South Pier, too, with its big wheel. Over my shoulder Blackpool Tower did a decent impression of Paris, and there was a feeling of being somewhere important, if not altogether elegant. A few modern looking trams went up and down the sea front while we ate, and a few confident immature herring gulls watched us from close quarters, one grabbing a small piece of cucmber that fell from a sandwich.

North Pier

The day felt cheerful, but odd. The friendly Northern Irish conductor on our train to Manchester from Hathersage had surprised everyone by reading his own poem out over the train’s loudspeaker as we pulled in to our destination, in tribute to the Queen. It was actually rather touching. Being British we all pretended it hadn’t happened; but it summed up a lot of unusual goings on around the country quite well. He must have felt something quite strongly to do that.

The first thing we came to as we cycled slowly along the promenade was the truly excellent Comedy Carpet, a huge piece of public art celebrating the music hall comedy heritage of Blackpool over 1880 square metres of quotes and jokes, arranged on the floor like many old fashioned show posters or programmes. You can walk, and even cycle, all over it, reading the many funny one liners and catch phrases, and the mother-in-law jokes. It includes the work of 850 writers and performers and you could literally spend an entire day going no further than here. I love it.

Comedy Carpet

We found a quiet, bike friendly route out of Blackpool heading east through pleasant suburbs and unremarkable villages. One of them, Elswick, contained a series of unusually impressive floral arrangements all along both sides of its main street. Signs at the village entrance, and plaques on a large display wall boasted of several national Village in Bloom wins in recent years, including the prestigious Champion of Champions award. It must have taken a great deal of coordinated effort, and it really lifted the place.

Village fire station (former)

About an hour on, we crossed under the M6 motorway and left behind the largely flat Fylde peninsula. It was replaced with a world of slightly older, slightly more prosperous looking homes and villages with views of the alluring hills of the Forest of Bowland not far to the north. We rode on until we reached the much larger Longridge and looked for a place that might be open and selling food. Jenni needed to top up her battery and the next chance might be too far away. Everything was closed. Or so it seemed. And then, when we had almost given up, we chanced upon an open ice cream shop. So I happily consumed a bowl of white chocolate covered churros with caramel ice cream and felt like luck was on our side.

The second half of the ride was much hillier and on very quiet lanes. We found ourselves looking south across the Ribble valley over miles of green countryside to the moors beyond. Ahead of us lay the imposing mass of Pendle Hill, supposedly the home of witches. It was a beautiful scene.

Pendle Hill

In Waddington, a quaint village near Clitheroe, we stopped for a pint at an open pub. At the bar, a local man asked where we were going. When I mentioned our destination was the town of Barnoldswick, some 10 miles or so further on, it got quite a reaction. Another man at the bar joined in. Why did we want to go to that hole, they asked (and they didn’t say hole, exactly). They went on to say there were some hard types from Barnoldswick (and they didn’t say types, exactly). One of them seemed to suggest that things were no longer so bad. Its got a canal, too, he said. Aye, you’ll be alright, the first man assured me. I told him our accommodation there was very good value, and he said that was not surprising and we probably got what we paid for! All of this was very good natured; but I think they were being serious.

I was therefore quite curious to see what Barnoldswick was really like. I have to say, first impressions were favourable. I saw no reason to believe anything we had been told. It is a mostly attractive place. If anything, it looked just a touch gentrified of late. It is certainly surrounded by lovely country with sweeping views north to the distant Yorkshire Dales. But this is border country and Barnoldswick was transferred from the historic West Riding of Yorkshire into Lancashire in 1974. Probably against local wishes and without a say in the matter. I wonder if the men I met have been there in the last 20 years. It lies over a big hill not really on the way to anywhere. Old rivalries die hard.

So now I have reached map 103 of 204 and I am officially past the halfway point of my ride through Britain, if measured by OS Landranger maps. They keep coming thick and fast and tomorrow we will be in York, on map 105. That means I will soon have only double figures of maps left to go. That is quite a motivating thought!

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