After getting a puncture just before New Years I didn’t get out on my bike until January was almost over. This was a poor effort. But in the space of just a few days I managed to turn it around. In my defence, I had tried to repair my puncture which took three failed attempts and even failed with a new tube. Finally I deduced that the problem lie in the tyre. I couldn’t pinpoint the root cause but I could identify the location. It was on the flipside to where there was a fairly substantial gouge in the rubber tread. I couldn’t, nay, still can’t, find anything there, but I simply applied a puncture repair patch to the inside tyre wall at that spot and haven’t since had another flat.
Back on the road and with a weekend spare, I went about searching for a new and fun location for camping that I could cycle to. It didn’t take me long to find Beacon Fell. Situated on the nearside of the Forest of Bowland Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty it had trees and was far enough away for a decent ride.
Knowing how easily I can be sued away from doing things through procrastination and unsure I would actually go, I decided to cycle to work that day. The weather was cold but rain and wind free. 10 miles to work, 10 miles back, and I was ready to pack up my things and leave as quickly as possible. If I don’t go quickly I very often don’t go at all.
Just when things were going well and I had both motivation and momentum on my side, I receive a phone call from a friend and I’m enjoying the conversation and catch-up too much to hang up. With an hour gone on the phone and now hunger taking the driving seat, I resolve to eat at home and cycle to my friends house in Bury instead.
Change of Plan
I knew the following morning was due to rain all day until mid-afternoon, but only then all weekend. With that in mind, and it was always plan B, I decided the best plan of action would be to cycle to Bury that night, drink whisky in the protective indoors and potter around in the morning to car garages, greasy spoon cafés and coffee shops until the rain blew over. After which I could cycle from Bury to Beacon Fell, the initial destination, on Saturday. Leaving me a decent 30 miles cycle ride home.
This plan was perfect. While it didn’t rain anywhere near as heavy as forecast, it did mean I avoided any rain the entire weekend except for a little while I was camping, but it all stopped before I woke up and needed to pack away. What I hadn’t paid much attention to was the wind which was tough with plenty of gusts.
Cycling to Bury was pretty tough. I had already cycled 20 miles that day, but having not been on the bike for 4 weeks I was really starting to feel the toll. The route is also mostly uphill. Granted, this is no epic climb, but the 860 feet was a baptism of fire after such a long time off the bike. Needless to say, when I arrived in Bury my legs were feeling it and I was happy to be welcomed with both whisky and beer. The diet of athletes.
Saturday wasn’t much easier, what can I say. Still suffering but feeling rested, I wasn’t swift setting off. By the time I did it was 5pm and already dark. It was a shame as the first half of the ride I could tell, looking into the darkness beside me, that there were epic views to be had. I was distracted for miles by towering silhouettes. I knew I was passing Winter Hill which, part of the West Pennine Moors, has stunning views to offer, if not only for the lack of daylight. Further on the varying shades of black were replaced by areas more populated. This gave me something to see in the form of a man made constellation of stars on the ground.
There was a lot of wind. But at worst it was a side-wind. At the climb’s peak near Blacksnape, where the senses were robbed of what I knew were great views, I was compensated with the eerie and haunting sounds of howling winds over the top of the hill. I had to stop. On that cold dark peak I did something I probably don’t do enough and enjoyed the auditory delight around me.
After this, there’s Blackburn. Fairly nondescript in the evening but provided straight paved and well lit roads which can be a relief after cycling over dark and windy moors.
Knowing that Longridge was the last place on my route that would be able to offer me a pub (always check these things) I stopped there for some “rehydration.” I pulled into the Towneley Arms, locked up my bike, strolled confidently in and situation myself between two locals at the bar where there was little room to give. Now I’m used to the questions you get on the road but this time seemed to tickle me. Maybe it was simply reminiscence since I hadn’t been on a cycle adventure in some time, or maybe it was the quick-fire nature of the questions;
Lout: What you doing?
Lout: Where from?
Lout: What! No?
Lout: Are you going back tonight?
Me: No, I’m stopping out.
Lout: Where you staying?
Me: Dunno yet.
Lout: What d’you mean you dunno yet, what’s your plan?
Me: The plan is to go camping somewhere round ‘ere.
Lout: So you’ve got a tent then?
Me: Well no, a camping hammock.
Lout: Have you eaten?
Me: Not yet but I’ve got fish chowder in my panniers
Everyone in a 5 person radius couldn’t stop laughing and one guy said “you couldn’t make this up, could you!?”
At this point, if I’m completely honest, I was dreading the high winds. On my last camp I had to get up and out my hammock six times because the wind kept pulling out the pegs securing my tarp until eventually I started dragging over heavy logs from recent felling activity and tying the guy ropes directly to those. So at this point I was happy to give up on camping
I’ve learned some time ago, when people ask where you’re staying, don’t sound certain and tell them you’re camping. Be vague and sound unsure. This leaves the door open for people to start making suggestions for places to camp or sometimes even a couch for the night. I even asked the pub owner if they would mind me crashing down under the smoking shelter round the back after they shut up shop. It was protected from the wind, had rain cover and was even securely locked until noon when they could open the car park gates and probably serve me a full ingy, hot coffee and possibly even a pint for the road.
Sure enough though, the pub owner declined, one guy offered me an alleyway between houses and a lovely old timer was giving me suggestions of where to camp. Bless him though, between taking a couple of minutes every time to pinch zoom and work out where he was on Google Maps, and constantly forgetting I didn’t have a tent and needed trees for my hammock, we eventually did find somewhere that was closer than Beacons Fell. He warned me that it might be a bit wet, but feeling sure of myself I disregarded this as what I consider too wet and other people not being the same. When I got there I removed my bags putting them over the fence first, allowing my bike to be light enough to lift over also, and with them reattached headed into the woods. The floor was indeed very squelchy and only about 3 meters in I had to push my bike over a sort of brook. The bike sunk and with the weight of the panniers I very easily lost control of balance and it all went wrong. Panniers were dipping into the brook, wet sodden mud was getting over everything, I had to pull the bike up awkwardly with the weighting pulling down on the back so to get extra momentum put my foot on the other side of the brook for leverage for it only to sink ankle deep into the ground which was getting wetter and wetter. This wasn’t going to work and I needed to turn around and carefully exit. I eventually did what often inevitably happens which is just go the place I was heading to anyway.
With the stupidly high winds I had the idea earlier in the day that because Beacon Fell is essentially just a big mound that if I camped on the east side of it I should have some pretty decent wind cover. Thankfully, this was a great idea. Sat in my hammock I could hear the howling winds just over my head. Low enough to blow the trees I was attached to but sheltered enough at ground level to light my camping cooker as though an almost perfectly still night.
Becoming very sore and tired, going from no cycling to an entire weekend adventure, I tentatively placed my sore cheek bones down on the saddle and peddled away from camp. Passing by the country park’s visitors center I ignored the whispering call of hot coffee in exchange for making tracks and getting home. Rock n’ Rule! It was time to cycle the final 30 miles and call it a weekend.
After not cycling for 4 weeks I rode 100 miles in just 3 days. Good effort, if I do say so myself, and so happy to be back on it, regardless of the typically cold January British weather.
Cliffhanger: The feature image for this post will be explained in my next blog..