Cycling down the West Cumbrian Coast
From Carlisle to Millom by bike...
An early start to Carlisle and another day trip using one of the Northern Rail Ranger Tickets! After learning from my recent trip to Hull that using Northern trains only can result in a very late arrival back into Manchester, I decided to speed up the day by catching the fast Virgin train to Carlisle, ride south along the Cumbrian coast before catching one of the few trains that go direct to Preston from the West Cumbria Line on a Northern train. The joys of our privatised railway network!
For this tour, I was joined by my friend Simon from the office who is an accomplished road rider and is starting to share a similar cycling viewpoint to mine - ride, take some photos, see a local attraction and travel by train to somewhere different.
I choose to go to Carlisle because the city is a great starting point for rides into Scotland, east along Hadrian's Wall and south into Cumbria and the Lake District. Unlike most rides which can be undertaken in the area in more remote parts of the county and can feature some testing climbs such as the infamous Honister Pass, we decided to head on the quiet A-roads and head south towards Millom.
After leaving Carlisle, we followed NCN 72 on an excellent traffic-free cycle path towards Dalston and picked up the A596 towards Whitehaven.
Zipping along A-roads...
The good thing about riding along some of the Cumbrian A roads is that they are well surfaced because of the connections to Sellafield as you wouldn't want to be driving behind a nuclear flask lorry bouncing up and down on a potholed road. This makes the roads fast and because the flow of traffic is mainly heading inland, there are fewer cars. During the week, I would not advise riding on the A roads because of the HGV traffic to and from the nuclear facilities going towards the coast.
I'd love to say that this was a scenic Saturday ride with great views of the Cumbrian coast and the surrounding mountains, however, a fine mist and drizzle hung in the air once we reached Aspatria and became denser and denser when we started climbing towards Egremont from Cockermouth.
Every time I head up to the Lake District, the weather is very unpredictable and puts me off cycling up there a bit if I am honest. However, we were both well layered up and the air temperature was not too chilly. Simon had also brought along a small picnic, so we weren't going to starve!
Where is Sellafield..?
By the time we reached Sellafield, the fog was so dense that you could not see the processing plants and the famous Calder Hall stacks. However, this is not really a place that you want to hang around, so we pressed on down the A595 towards Millom. This is one of my favourite A roads in the North West as it is fast, slightly lumpy and quiet.
I remember a ride I did a few years ago with a friend from Manchester Wheelers and we zipped along here at a frantic pace in blazing summer sunshine destroying ourselves up the steep climb towards Ulverston. It remains one of my favourite days on the bike.
The weather was different on our visit and the pace was slower, but we found time to visit the Ravenglass and Eskdale Railway and saw the tiny steam engine that ferries tourists up to the higher peaks of the Lake District. The heritage railway was very busy and looks like a great one to visit in the future especially as it is easily located adjacent to the Cumbrian mainline for easy access.
Despite an intended endpoint in Millom, we decided to stop the ride in Bootle (a dramatic rural contrast to the Liverpool suburb!) and catch an earlier train so we could buy some food in Barrow before heading back to Manchester. This made sense as the fog became denser and we had covered more than 70 miles. There was a risk that we were going to miss our connecting train if we pressed on and we only stopped outside Greggs for a quick coffee and snack the whole day.
Put your bikes in the Guard's van lads...
Interestingly, we were met by a BR livered hauled, slam door, diesel train that runs up and down the Cumbrian coast at Bootle. As a train fan, this was a pleasant surprise and we even had to put our bikes in the Guard's van! A rare thing these days.
After catching our connecting train from Barrow and then to Preston, this gave us the chance to reflect on the day. Simon prefers the rural roads whereas I like riding along the A roads. He also dislikes long 'draggy' climbs and harsh road surfaces. The weather was disappointing, however in this part of the country, you can rarely predict what it will be like until you are there.
More time to talk...
We chatted about the world, how fatherhood changes your life and the reasons behind our shared, yet declining interest in football. The travel time might be longer on the slower trains, but they give you more time to reflect, discuss and read. Cycling for 70 miles through Cumbria felt like an added bonus.