Single to Southport

Sunshine and a tailwind… the spur of a moment invitation to join a friend on a bicycle ride should always be accepted. Peak Audax have a huge selection of wonderful routes, and Mike invited me to join him on the 100km “Single to Southport”, which is a one-way ride from Stalybridge to Southport, and then a train ride back to Staylbridge.

© MapTiler ©OpenMapTiles ©OpenStreetMap contributors

As I live in Slaithwaite, it also made sense to catch a door-to-door train to Stalybridge, as it was only a 20 minute train ride and would add to the sense of relaxation I was hoping for. This is my ‘sabbath’, my ‘do-no-work’ day. I really love the concept of sabbath. The Archbishop of York recently told a group of clergy, that sabbath was originally a gift: in the creation story, after humanity was brought into existence, God then rested and invited us to join in the rest, to enjoy the ‘goodness’ of creation. The ‘fall’ was many things, but included in the ‘fallen-ness’ was a rejection of sabbath-rest, so it is interesting to find sabbath turning up in the commandments. An important enough gift to humanity that it needed to be insisted upon. So, my sabbath (do-no-work) day is a bicycle ride with a friend. Alleluia!

We started with a mixture of cycle routes and lanes around the south-east of Manchester’s suburbs until we reached Heaton Mersey, and after a mere 10 miles stopped for refreshments at Bijou Cafe, the unofficial headquarters of Peak Audax. There was very little traffic on the roads we did join, and this meant Mike and I could ride side-by-side and chat about our audax experiences. Mike rode London-Edinburgh-London and Paris-Brest-Paris, has been the member secretary for Audax UK, and is a prolific event organiser for audaxes in the north-west of England – so his experiences make for some very interesting tales.

It is wonderful to see audax routes that pass through Manchester, because it does claim to be the home of British Cycling, and there is a really good network of cycle routes, but I have to acknowledge that London really has got the crown for cycling-infrastructure in the UK.

We crossed the Manchester ship canal at Warburton, using the (free-to-cyclists) toll bridge. I’ve used this before in the opposite direction on a 200km audax I created from Slaithwaite. While doing my research I found out that the bridge over the Manchester ship canal is not actually a toll bridge, there is another tiny (blink-and-you’ll-miss-it) stone bridge right beside the toll booth that is the actual toll bridge – a bridge over the remains of the river Mersey that have been diverted and swallowed up by the ship canal.

On the other side of the Manchester ship canal is The Black Swan pub at Hollins Green, and a stone plaque marks ‘down hill all the way’ / ‘almost half-way’ point on the fastest LEJOG/JOGLE route (the UK end-to-end / Lands End John o’Groats cycle route). We were using very quite country lanes, whereas the fastest official end-to-end route tends to stick to much wider, faster and direct roads.

The only noticeable climb of the day was as we crossed the Leeds and Liverpool canal at Appley Bridge: just over 100m of altitude gain but at a gradient that wasn’t too hard. The tailwind certainly felt like a gentle hand encouraging us both along.

It was about this time I shared with Mike my philosophy of hills – which goes something like this… have you ever been floating in the sea, and felt the way the swell rolls underneath you? Have you noticed the rise and fall as the waves pass, and you gently tread water? Cycling in the hills is a similar thing. If you keep pedalling, you can imagine you’re just ‘treading water’, and the ground rises and falls beneath your wheels. The waves of the ground pass under you and you gently rise and fall with the swell. I love the image of rolling hills being like the sea, and me being flotsam on the surface.

Another impromptu cafe stop was called for as we passed the “Twin Lakes Velo Cafe”. Neither of us had been there before, but we now know about a popular cycling cafe that is open from 10am to 3pm 7 days a week. I quietly hoped that the staff don’t work 7 days a week, and that they get their own sabbath-rest somehow.

We were reaching the southern edge of the Ribble estuary, and looking north we could see the windmill at Lytham St Annes, the roller-coaster at Blackpool Pleasure Beach, Blackpool tower, and in the far distance a dark smudge of the Lake District hills.

Southport itself was a genteel place to finish our ride, we rode along the sea-defences to Southport Pier, crossed the Marine Way cable-stayed bridge, and rolled to a stop in London Square – which felt like a wide open Parisian boulevard. The sun was bright and high in the sky, and we had an hour until our “Northern Trains” service back to Stalybridge; so we pulled up our bikes beside and pizza restaurant and treated ourselves to an alfresco dinner.