Today was a three map day. If I have any chance of completing the country this year, that will be the first of many in the coming weeks. It required an early start. The first west bound train of the day from my village goes all the way to Liverpool (rather than Manchester only, as the others do), so I was up before dawn broke and in Liverpool Lime Street station by 8.30am. Here I was met by my lifelong friend and fellow cyclist Simon, who had travelled down on a different train from Lancashire. Together we rode a yellow Mersey Rail underground train to the far side of the Wirral peninsula, the end of the line and the edge of the map at West Kirby. This was new territory for me.
A short ride away we reached the beach looking west across the River Dee estuary to the island of Hilbre and beyond to the coast of North Wales. It was a fine, clear morning with a big, blue sky overhead and there were people out enjoying the weather and the surroundings. It felt good. A bike path follows the promenade all the way around the top of the Wirral peninsula and down the other side facing east across the Mersey to Liverpool. It was about 13 miles of glorious riding and we stopped for many a photo of the fabulous views of the docks and the iconic Liverpool skyline a mile or so away over the water. We arrived at the ferry terminal at Birkenhead just in time for the hourly weekend departure over to the Pierhead right outside the famous Liver Building. They make more of a cruise out of the Mersey Ferry during the weekend and provide a commentary and play the obligatory “Ferry Cross the Mersey” song. The boat was pretty full of tourists and it really is a great way to experience Liverpool.
Over the decades, of course, a boat is how many people would have experienced Liverpool for the first or last time, as immigrants and emigrants crossing paths in this historic melting pot of people. It has given Liverpool a distinct accent and culture that marks it out from other nearby places like Manchester. Despite the city’s struggles and economic hardship over the years, Liverpudlians are proud people and the city has left its mark on the world. The place is now experiencing something of a boom period. It was European Capital of Culture in 2014 and received huge investment. It needed it; but Liverpool has been transformed and is now a leisure destination like never before. There is much to see here. There aren’t many cities that can boast so many famous and instantly recognisable icons either. Just for starters, there are the 3 “graces” on the waterfront (including the Liver Building itself), the two cathedrals, two famous football teams each with a famous stadium, the restored Albert Dock that includes the Tate Modern North art gallery, the Cavern Club where The Beatles played many times, Aintree Racecourse, home of the Grand National, and plenty more. There are also a number of excellent museums in and around the waterfront. It is hard to think of anywhere to rival all of that outside London. You certainly know where you are!
We cycled south along the Mersey as far as you can for several miles before being forced inland and around Liverpool John Lennon Airport (whose natty slogan is “Above Us Only Sky”!) and then away from Liverpool and around the corner to Widnes, where the Mersey is crossed by a bridge (now two in fact) for the first time. Here we followed signs for the Trans Pennine Trail, a coast to coast cycling route that I had also seen in Hull a couple of days ago. It kept us away from the busy roads and took us along canal towpaths and the riverbank to Warrington.
This section of my trip posed some challenges to avoid traffic and industrial areas and I was worried it would not be a pleasant day of riding. But I was wrong. Simon navigated us through some of Warrington’s quieter back streets of terraced red-brick houses and we were soon sitting outside at a pub in Grappenhall village, next to an attractive church tower and cobbled streets. Less than an hour later, he was gone and I was left to pick my way through quiet country lanes and villages only a stone’s throw from Manchester Airport. But it was a lovely way to reach the affluent town of Wilmslow, and from here I knew my way home, having driven over the lovely Peak District hills to and from my home and the airport countless times. In the car it takes an hour. By bike it took me almost three hours to follow the Peak Forest Canal and then climb up onto Rushup Edge and steeply down the spectacular Winnats Pass in the fading light. Thirteen hours after my train left my village in the Hope Valley, I was back, with ninety miles under my belt. Tomorrow’s ride is even longer and another early start is required if I am to reach the opposite east coast and get back again. Time for bed!