The sun has shone on us for three whole days – really adding to the pleasure of riding the Way of the Roses coast to coast route. We went a bit off course in the middle due to the visit to see my brother and his family and the unfortunate mechanical issue with Mike’s bike. All that means we probably did nearer 200 miles rather than the 170 of the official route. We started today in front of York Minster and made our way through lovely undulating countryside through the Yorkshire Wolds and the East Riding until we reached Bridlington – our final destination. The sun even made Bridlington look attractive, with is seaside amusements, tat shops, fast food and ice scream shops – but I don’t think I’ll be hurrying back any time soon. We’re on a train to Sheffield now where we’ll change onto one to Bristol. It’s sad to have finished this trip, but exciting to think that in just over 20 days the next C to C begins – that’s Chicago to Washington DC!
There is a tradition for coast to coast cyclists to dip their bike wheels in the sea a the start and finish of the trip. When I say it’s a tradition, what I mean is Mike tells me it is a tradition (and who am I to doubt him?!). Finding enough Irish Sea to dip our wheels in at Morecambe was a bit of a challenge. It was low tide when we set off, so reaching the water’s edge would have been challenging even without cycling shoes and bikes to carry. We made do with a rock pool and dutifully dipped our wheels. Now 170 (and a bit) miles later, the dipping was much easier – the North Sea was in plentiful supply. We decided that this time we would throw caution to the wind by removing our shoes and socks so we could bathe our feet as well as our wheels. What the holidaymakers made of these odd cyclists offering up their bikes to Neptune we’ll never know.
Day three, and what a glorious day three it is. The sun is out and there isn’t a cloud in the sky – perfect for our final stage ride to Bridlington, where we shall dip our wheels in the North Sea (as is customary on a sea to sea ride). The view from our hotel room looks toward Clifford Tower, one of York’s more gruesome and dark historic monuments. In 1190, 150 local Jews were killed in a pogrom in the castle keep. Of course today’s visitor to York generally only sees the sanitised version of history with everything prettified and neatly presented amongst trimmed lawns and hanging baskets. There is clearly plenty of appetite for this ‘chocolate box’ image of British history, the hotel is full of European coach parties lapping up all the ‘must see’ sights. The Trafalgar Tours sign on the hotel restaurant today proudly informs the tour party that today they visit ‘the actual house that Shakespeare was born in’ – I wonder if they’ll visit ‘the actual latrine that Shakespeare…’ – you get the idea. As the Italian, Russian and German coach tour parties head south, we head east for our very own quintessentially English seaside experience. Kiss me quick hat anyone?
Following my recent encounter with a floor to ceiling glass window I’m perhaps not the best person to be commenting on other people’s vision. When we checked into the hotel earlier, Mike holding the room key first boldly led us from the lift down the wrong corridor, (even though the sign was clear) and then spent a minute or two trying to get into our room before the door was opened by the actual occupant, who pointed out we were looking for 407 (and not 408 the room we were attempting to enter). The way me and Michael are heading we’ll be needing a white stick and a guide dog soon!
Someone really needs to have a word with the York Tourist Board. Whilst credit should go to them for the lovely hard back guide in our bedroom highlighting what to do in York, whoever sells the advertisement space for this publication needs to go on marketing course – quick. Restaurants, bars, tourist attractions and shops are the sort of thing that you’d expect to see advertised amongst the soft glow pictures and poetic descriptions of what York has to offer. In fact I’m sure many tourists visit York for just such things. However on page 8 of the guide, just after the Minster, but before mention of the National Railway Museum, City Walls or chocolate visitor attraction is a full page advert for cosmetic dentistry. I mean really, is that what the modern tourist comes to York for? Maybe I’m out of touch and this is pitched just right at the American tourists with their pearly whites, but for me it’s just plain weird.
It’s the end of cycling day two and we’ve arrived in the charming city of York. Whenever I visit places like this where the layers of history are still evident in the architecture and street patterns I think about how cities like Bristol and Coventry must have been before the blitz and disastrous post-war reconstructions. The streets of York are crammed with lovely buildings and a real sense of place and identity that is so often recently lost in many of Britain’s ‘any-town’ high streets. After checking into our hotel we went for a stroll to see the Minster. When I was ten I entered a Blue Peter competition to design a boss for the new roof in York Minster’s south transept to replace the one destroyed by fire in July 1984. For those not familiar with medieval ceiling construction, a boss is the wooden roundal where the ceiling trusses join. Bosses in medieval buildings were often ornately decorated with religious and pagan imagery. The competition asked for designs to commemorate significant moments of the twentieth century. I recall my design featured a dove and World War One poppies, (I was obviously quite a deep thinking ten year old), to commemorate the 1918 armistice. My design was not a winner. However, I was a runner up! My prize included some Viking coins (York was a Viking settlement), a piece of burnt boss from the original roof of the South Transept roof and of course a Blue Peter badge (although I’ve always been miffed that it wasn’t a proper ship on shield shaped BP badge, but rather a round button one). This is my first trip to York since not winning the competition, so naturally I was hoping to check out the winning designs. York Minster has other ideas of course … they were closed at 6.30pm when we arrived – on a Sunday as well! Is it any wonder church attendance is dwindling when the local Tesco express has longer opening hours! So I’ll just have to come back to see the bosses another time (and hope the Minster isn’t ignited by lightening again before then!).
Yesterday was a lovely cycle ride from Morecambe to Skipton, lovely scenery from the beach, along the River Lune, up over moor and down dale – all accompanied by spring sunshine. In fact it was all going too well. We climbed a steep ascent out of Settle and then has a great undulating run until about five miles from Skipton – then the gremlins struck. Mike’s gear got stuck, he was able to climb easily, but as soon as he was on the flat he just couldn’t get up any speed and his little legs were spinning like crazy. We managed to keep going and at a steady pace, but it was slow and a wrong turn from me meant we ended up cycling on the (very fast) bypass instead of the scenic route through the centre of Skipton. We got to my brother’s just in time for a quick shower before going out to celebrate my nephew Toby’s 18th birthday with a curry, (the traditional dish of Yorkshire!). This morning Mike cycled his bike to an open bike shop in Keighley, but they didn’t have the part he needed so he’s headed to Ilkley where there is a cycle shop open with the part he requires. I’m going to pack my bags and then head over to Ilkley to meet him, by which time I hope the bike will be fixed and we’ll be able to progress on our way to York our next destination.
It has been a very cold spring, the coldest for 50 years in fact. For most of the past three months I’ve been cursing the cold (Leo’s do not like the cold), but today is a reason to celebrate it. The cold has held back all of the spring flowers that would normally have been and gone by the start if June. All the way along today’s route we’ve been treated to an abundance of blossoms and scents. Woods and hedgerows full of Bluebells, Wild Garlic, Cow Parsley, Lovelace, Pink Campion and Buttercups. Gardens have been no less disappointing with Wisteria, Clematis, Tulips and Pirus to name just a few. Of them all the Bluebells are the most special as they were my mum’s favourites and remind me of her. Each time I see them it’s like getting a nod on our way from mum, I know she would be very proud to see us on our bikes – and of Toby turning 18 (and Katie growing up fast too).
Morecambe seems to have a thing for ‘bird art’. Given half a chance, they’ll stick a bird on it. The roundabout on the Promenade? Let’s put a colony of cormorants on it. The railings on the sea wall? Ditto. The large rock on the lighthouse promontory? Ditto. In fact my advice is not to sit still too long in Morecambe or you might have a bird sculpture attached to you, which makes a difference from Bristol, where it would just be seagull poo!
As many readers of our blogs will know Bristol is a Cycling City, the only cycling city in fact, as it was the only UK city awarded such status before the Tory and Lib Dem government scrapped ‘Cycling England’ (the initiator of the scheme) after the 2010 election. However, way back in 2005 Lancaster, (of which Morecambe is an extension) was one of the first six places in the country to be granted Cycling Town status and extra funding to invest in cycling infrastructure. From what we’ve seen in our brief visit, it has been money well spent. On arrival at Lancaster station we spotted a sign indicating a cycle route to Morecambe (and many other places). We duly followed and we’re whisked along a fantastic, well maintained, 3 mile, off road route – all the way to the Morecambe sea front promenade. It was clearly a well used route by both cyclist and walkers. The promenade itself is also an excellent cycling route too. Wide and well surfaced it provides miles of flat cycling route all the way around Morecambe Bay and from what we’ve seen, is popular with Lycra clad and leisure cyclist alike. It goes to prove that investment in cycling infrastructure pays dividends in healthier people and more pleasant places (something the Dutch and Danish realised may years ago). Morecambe is of course the start (or finish, depending on the direction you go in) of the Red Rose Cycle Route, which is well signed on the Promenade a stones throw from the Midland Hotel. This is where we shall be later this morning to ceremonially ‘dip our wheels’ in the North Sea (if we can find any sea in the Morecambe bay mud flats) before peddling off to find more cycling villages and towns en-route.