Category Archives: Cycling

Three Alternative Maps

The current trend to digitise maps doesn’t work for me. I only use the map on my phone when I’m lost or need to navigate the streets of a town or city that I’m not used to. I find the screen too small to give me perspective and not helpful when planning a route.

I find the 50 X 37 inch Ordnance Survey Explorer series of maps too cumbersome to pull out and refer to when I am out cycling and walking. They have a useful scale of 2½ inches to the mile and I find them more suitable for laying out on a table.   

A road atlas is good for planning longer journeys and I’ll happily tear out pages from an old one, highlight my intended route in fluorescent yellow, fold the pages to size and slip them into the map holder on the top of my bike’s bar bag.

There are however alternatives. If you are looking for detail, then The Yellow Walk maps produced by Yellow Publications Ltd are excellent. These have a scale of 4 inches to the mile. I first used one of these when walking in the Malvern Hills. They are two sided and when fully opened are only 18 X 12½ inches and cost less than the price of a pint. They only cover selected areas and not the whole of the UK.

A series of maps particularly good for cycling are those produced by Sustrans, the charity responsible for the National Cycle Network. Their regional maps have a 0.57 inch to the mile scale. When fully opened they measure 31 X 25 inches. These are also two sided with one side consisting of selected circular routes and detailed street maps. Like the yellow maps, these are plasticised and therefore rainproof. They fold down to 6 X 4 inches that will fit neatly into the back pocket of a cycle shirt.

My third alternative maps are the Waterways Series, produced by Heron Maps. These follow Britain’s Canal network. They vary in scale but are around 1.1 or 1.2 inches to the mile and are useful to walkers and cyclists as well as canal boat users. These linear maps show around a mile or so either side of the canal. Unlike most maps, because they try to get as much length of canal onto the map as possible, they do not follow the convention of having north at the top and south at the bottom of the sheet. The two maps in my possession both have true north pointing to the top right hand corner of the page.  Others I suspect may differ.

These maps show you where you can find car parks, pubs, cafes, tea rooms and WCs. Every bridge has a metal plate on it giving you its number and these maps list you the number and where applicable the bridge’s name.

For the canal user there is also the important detailed information that they would be looking for such as boatyards, moorings, refuse and sewage disposal points and places they can find diesel fuel, as well as obvious canal features like locks, aqueducts and tunnels.

I find walking and cycling alongside water particularly enjoyable. I have never found it a problem turning around and heading back the way that I have already walked. Covering the same ground in different directions always gives me a different perspective. Following canal towpaths mean that you are unlikely to get lost. If you intend to do a circular walk then it’s likely you will need to combine this with another map.

Although some retailers stock these maps, all of them may be obtained through the publisher’s respective internet sites:

Yellow Maps:   

Sustrans Maps:              

Heron Waterways Maps:

635 words       28/3/23           Peter Linfield  ©

The Mariners’ Beacon (BCQ 332)

The Mariners’ Beacon, Grange, Wirral, Merseyside.

Burton Point

I’ve not added to my list of British Cycle Quest checkpoints for some time. On BCQ rankings, I’m categorised as having “just started”. This is because I’ve yet to submit ten checkpoint answers. I’d probably be closing in on three figures by now, if I’d started twenty years ago.

My first objective is to cycle to the checkpoints within the pre 1974 boundaries of Cheshire. That’s Cheshire as it existed when I was born, and before Merseyside and Greater Manchester took chunks out of it.

There are eleven checkpoints within my definition of Cheshire. All are within a day’s ride from home. The furthest is at Style Mill near Wilmslow, which at 37 miles is a decent run considering I have to get back home as well. Before the Mariners’ Beacon checkpoint, I’d already visited five locations in Cheshire and a couple in North Wales, so my total stood at seven.

The Mariners’ Beacon

My journey to the Mariners’ Beacon is along a route that I know well. My trip is rather unique inasmuch as, 22 of the 23-mile from my home is on Sustrans paths. The route is also flat because it follows the course of former railway lines. NCR 5 takes me through the centre of Chester and across the border into Wales. At Sealand, I fork right and head north through the Deeside Industrial Park, which is built on the site of former steelworks land, where I worked in the 1970s. The route takes me past a paper mill, a Toyota engine factory and various food-manufacturing sites. The industrial park has been thoughtfully designed and equipped with good cycle paths. I pass beneath the A548 as it rises towards the Flintshire Bridge. Crossing back into England I follow the route along a wooden boardwalk, past Burton Point and the Dogs Head rock. On the boardwalk a large skein of Canada geese fly low over my head. They head west, over the marsh and the Dee estuary heading towards the Point of Ayr, mainland Wales’ most northerly tip. The sight, sound and close proximity of these birds present me with one of those magical moments that I can only record and treasure in my memory.

I use this pathway often; it’s a cycle friendly route to the former seaside village of Parkgate. Here I join the Wirral way, a path that takes me through Gayton, Heswall and a golf course. At Caldy, I leave the path and take to the roads. Caldy Hill is an upward climb through the million pound mansions of the wealthy. It’s not a difficult or long climb, and I soon find myself on the busy and aptly named, Column Road, where I soon find the Mariners’ Beacon just beyond the local Grammar School.  Here, carved into the base of the landmark, I find the answer to the checkpoint question… What date was the foundation Stone Laid?  

The Mariners’ Beacon stands above West Kirby near the northwest corner of the Wirral peninsular. It’s a 60-foot sandstone column with a ball on the top standing on Caldy Hill, 256 foot above sea level. The landmark’s name and purpose are self-explanatory. Looking up from sea level, the landmark still stands out against the Wirral skyline. A windmill once stood on this site, which became a favoured landmark for sailors navigating towards the mouth of the Mersey and Port of Liverpool.

In 1839 a powerful storm destroyed the mill, and the sailors lost their landmark. All that remains today is the millstone resting at the base of the beacon’s column.  

Following the mill’s destruction, the seafarers asked the trustees for Liverpool’s docks to reinstate a landmark, so that they could again have something on this site to act as an aid to navigation. Two years later the ruined mill was replaced with the sandstone column that we see today.

The Boardwalk near Burton Point

My great grandfather was in the Merchant Navy during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The mill was destroyed before his time. I’m sure he would have viewed the Mariners’ Beacon as a welcoming landmark as he returned home to the Port of Liverpool, his wife and three children in Mandeville Street.

Instead of finding an alternative and more complex route home, I returned the way I had come, rewarding myself with that sausage butty at Net’s Coffee Shop.

Anglesey – Day Two – NCR5, Telford’s bridge, seaside resorts, caravan parks, a golf course, sand dunes and rumours of a ghost.

Penmon Point Lighthouse with Puffin Island . Anglesey’s most westerly point.

I’d packed up and was out of the campsite by 7:15 am. Another long, hot day was promised but before heading homeward, I visited the Penmon Point lighthouse; this is at the most westerly tip of Anglesey. I had hoped that it would be quite at that time of day but half a dozen camper vans had parked there overnight and several of them had managed to park as close to the shoreline as possible detracting and spoiling the natural beauty of the place.

A few people were around and the sounds that I heard were those of the waves lapping against the rocks and the tolling of the bell buoy ringing its sad lament out in the channel between the Puffin Island and the shore. Nearby, I also heard the calls of terns as they tried, in vain, to deter a dog walker from trespassing on their beach.

On the road back towards Beaumaris I had a scare as I hit a really nasty pothole whilst freewheeling downhill. This happened in a matter of seconds and I was just about able to regain control of my fully laden bike and prevent myself from hitting the tarmac. Had I hit the deck, it’s likely that the cost of an ambulance and my medical bill would have far exceeded the cost of the pothole repair.

View of the Robert Stephenson’s Britannia Bridge from Thomas Telford’s Suspension Bridge.

I pass through Beaumaris once more with its splendid castle and soon cover the five miles to Menai Bridge. I cross the straits on Telford’s suspension bridge and entered the city of Bangor where unfortunately I got myself lost. Again, I find that I’m unable to understand the road signs due to my lack of understanding the Welsh language. I compensated for this by having a full English breakfast at the local Morrison’s supermarket with two pots of tea. It’s the best meal I’ve had on my journey and a third of the cost of the one that I hadn’t enjoy the previous evening.

From Bangor, national cycle route 5 (NCR5) contributes most of my route home and in fact passes within 100 yards of my door. At first NCR5 diced with the North Wales expressway and at one point it took me into the coastal hills giving me clear views back over the straits, to Penmon point, the lighthouse and Beaumaris castle. After a tea break at the Aber Falls tea room I passed through Penmaenmawr. NCR5 still kept the company of the expressway and here the road goes through a couple of tunnels, but the cycle path raises up and passes over the rocky outcrop for the first tunnel and then goes around the outside for the second tunnel.

This has to be one of the  most perfect coastal cycle paths. In my humble opinion. Near Penmaenmawr heading towards Llandudno with Great Orme on the horizon.

Beyond Llandudno junction I cut across the base of peninsular and head for Rhos on Sea. The next stage was perhaps one of the most enjoyable and easiest sections of all. For 16 miles I remained on the coastal path as it took me through Colwyn Bay, Rhyl and Prestatyn.  I was also fortunate to have the wind at my back. The cycling becomes easier despite the load that I carry I was clocking 12 to 14 miles per hour and only touching the brakes to slow down for pedestrians, other cyclist and dog walkers. I was still a long way from home but it’s almost a reward for the hard work, investment of energy, and sacrifice to the heat. This is a time that I will remember, and I’m happy and filled with the joy of cycling.

At Prestatyn, I pass through the local golf course, beyond that, I coast around the curves of the Presthaven Sands Beach Resort and after that; I follow a beautiful tarmacked path through the dunes at Talacre.  Along this section I am surrounded by the sound of grasshopper warblers among the scrub and bushes. This is a bird that I often hear during the spring and early summer months but have never seen. (A grasshopper warbler sounds like a fishing reel being drawn out.)

As I continue through the dunes I see the Point Of Ayr lighthouse. Both Lighthouse and Beach along with an Old English Sheep dog once featured in a 2011 TV advert by a famous paint manufacturer. The failure of the paints resilience now stands as a testimony to the winter storms. The lighthouse looks forlorn, lonely and unloved and it has a slight list towards the setting sun. Built in 1776 and decommissioned in 1884, it is reputed to be haunted by a former lighthouse keeper called, Raymond.

Point of Ayr lighthouse. Mainland Wales’s most northerly point.

I have a childhood memory of charging down these dunes. I also remember exploring derelict timber holiday chalets. Deserted for many years, they were slowly being reclaimed by the sand. On a nearby hillside and amongst the trees I also remember the sound of a bell ringing at Talacre Abbey which, at that time, belonged to a closed order of Benedictine nuns.

Point of Ayr was the site of one of the last mines in the North Wales coal field. Today, like many former industrial sites it has become a nature reserve.  As I follow the path through the evening dusk I see the silhouette of a man and a horse. As I get closer I discover that it is a sculpture representing a miner with a pit pony. The last pony retired in 1968 and the mine closed in 1996. Further on, there is a piece of pit winding gear, this has been modified and now stands as another monument to the past. Eventually, the cycle path leads me back to a road and I join the A548.

At 10 o’clock; I switch my cycle lights on. At Llannerch-y-Mor, I pass the silhouette of the Duke of Lancaster. This steam turbine ship has stood here for the last four decades. Its last role was as a Sealink car ferry shuttling across the Irish Sea. The road ahead of me is gloriously wide, flat, and quiet. The moon is up now and it is a full one in a clear night sky. The night was cool but not cold and although I was beginning to ache, I was still 20 miles from home. I felt like I was in a magical place as I headed towards Flint. I treasure and store each of these precious moments like childhood reminiscence. Beyond Flint, I countdown the towns as I press on through, Connah’s Quay, Shotton and Queensferry. At Drome corner, I join Sealand road, unlit, the road is dark but the full moon is all that I need as I cycle the remaining miles home.

I arrived home at one a.m. and it was to be another hour before I fell exhausted into bed. I’d covered 90 miles over 18 hours, a not so spectacular five miles an hour average. I slept well!

Anglesey – South Stack Lighthouse, Four Mile Bridge, Newborough Forest and Beaumaris. – Day One

When I add 35 lbs. to the weight of my bike, the hills become tougher. When I cycle on days with temperatures exceeding 30 degrees Celsius, I know that I have committed myself to difficult conditions.  In late June, I took the early train to Holyhead intending to cycle home over two days. On my homeward journey, I wanted to seek out some notable landmarks and follow National Cycle Route number five (NCR5) that follows much of the North Wales Coast.

It was still cool when I got off the train at Holyhead. My first objective was the South Stack Lighthouse that stands at the base of Holyhead Mountain and alongside the RSPB reserve and sea bird colony.  This was to be the highest, but not necessarily the toughest climb of my journey.

South Stack Lighthouse. Holy Island. Anglesey’s, most Westerly point.

At the RSPB café, I was greeted by a handful of the choughs that live there. I locked my bike and walked down the hill until I reached the edge of the cliffs. The sound coming from the, predominantly guillemot, sea bird colony was like a loud mechanical hum. I scanned the cliffs hoping to see other species of bird. Maybe I was too late in the season because I was unable to spot any of the razorbills or puffins that I know also nest and shelter on these cliffs.

Returning to my bike, I freewheeled down the hill and crossed over Holy Island passing alongside and through picturesque Trearddur Bay before crossing onto the main island at Four Mile Bridge. That’s the name of the village; the actual bridge is only 390 feet long.

I pass RAF Valley and reset my course towards my next intended lighthouse at Llanddwyn Island. The heat of the day continued to rise and I was soon starting to feel its effects. I discover that Anglesey is a difficult place to navigate. There is an absence of road signs at crucial crossroads and tee junctions and I had to consult my Ordnance Survey map at every turn. The road signs I did find were primarily in Welsh with place names that didn’t seem to relate to the names on my map. The coast is always a good navigation guide and as long as I kept it to my right, I knew that I was heading in the correct direction. The roads were narrow and quiet, the landscape was beautiful and pastoral and I occasional caught a glimpse of the sea. This made the journey more enjoyable. I wasn’t making fast progress but with increasing temperature and many hours of daylight still ahead, I needed to  pace myself. Cycling along these lanes I enjoyed the peace and tranquility of roads and places that I have not experienced before. As a believer, this is my expectation of Heaven.

View from Four Mile Bridge’s 390 foot long bridge.

I stopped for lunch seeking shade at a picnic site at the edge of the Newborough Forest. Here I reconsidered my original plan which had been to cycle the forest tracks to the Llanddwyn lighthouse. Considering the time and the tiredness caused by the heat and the many miles that I still needed to cover, I decide that I would have to give this one a miss.  By doing this, I was also giving myself a reason to come back to this beautiful place again. When I return, I’ll have more time to enjoy the place and savour the moment.

I cycled on, shadowing the Menai Straits towards my intended camp site close to Anglesey’s most easterly point. I increasingly had to stop for short breaks and was struggled with heat exhaustion. The mixture of sun lotion and perspiration was running into my eyes, making them feel increasingly tired. Eventually I came to a garden centre and café, Hooton’s Homegrown Coffee Shop, where I stopped for an hour to refreshed myself with a continuous supply of tea; six cups in total. The restorative power of tea must never be underestimated.

The Dawes Super Galaxy, that I use for touring. Thomas Telford’s Suspension Bridge crossing the Menai Straits in the background.

Back on the road, I stop briefly at a lay-by between Llanfair PG and the town of Menai Bridge to take in the iconic view across the straits towards the Suspension bridge. Anglesey is mainly flat, but my coastal journey is a series of gentle climbs, followed gradual downhill periods when I could choose between either freewheeling, or shifting up the gears and getting up some extra speed.

Beyond Menai Bridge town, I continued to shadow the straits as I headed toward Beaumaris. There I followed the road along the front and pass the splendid castle. Then I climbed again as I headed inland towards my pre-booked campsite at Kingsbridge Caravan and Camping Park. The site is immaculately kept and its owners were helpful and friendly. I erected my tent and sorted my stuff out before freewheeling back to Beaumaris for my evening meal letting the cooler evening air pass through my body.

Having cycled all day and not showered, I wanted somewhere I could eat outside. Unfortunately, I did not follow the advice of the campsite owners and instead chose a nice looking restaurant on the front. My meal was poor and did not live up to my hard-earned appetite and after a twenty minute wait for a second pot of tea, which failed to arrive, I paid my bill and left.  In defence of the three members of front house staff, they were busy and their combined ages probably didn’t add up to mine! Management was conveniently absent.

Returning to camp I tried a different route back and visited St Catherine’s church at Llanfaes whose bell I’d heard earlier whilst I had been pitching my tent.  Back at the campsite, I had an amazing shower. After my day’s cycling, the use of the shower facilities alone was worth the cost of the pitch.

Settling down for the night, I lay in my tent listening to a tawny owl, only yards away. I haven’t seen an owl this year, but it’s always comforting to hear one so close. I came to the conclusion that it was a young one calling to be fed. Its call remained constant, at least until I fell asleep.

My Vango Banshee 200 tent. It’s a two man tent, so plenty of room for me and all my clobber.

Chirk, Llangollen and Beyond

BCQ 502 Carrog and BCQ 505 Llangollen

I’ve cycled along many a canal towpath, and they have provided me with traffic free routes both into and out of numerous cities and historic towns. Canals are easier to track on a map and unlike rivers which tend to aimlessly meander until they reach the sea, canals were built for a purpose, and they can take you into and away from places often without you having to endure the hassle of other traffic.

National Cycle Route Number 85

Two British Cycle Quest (BCQ) locations in North East Wales are in the Vale of Llangollen and are also only ten miles apart.  To get to them, I let Britain’s industrial heritage help me. Firstly by letting the ‘train take the strain’ I travelled from Chester to Chirk. Then I cycled along the Llangollen canal towpath that took me into the heart of the Vale of Llangollen.

Britain has 2,200 miles of man-made canals and this stretch of the Llangollen canal stakes a claim at being perhaps the most picturesque of them all. Between the Welsh border town of Chirk, where the River Ceiriog marks the boundary between England and Wales, and Llangollen; the canal includes some terrific feats of 19th century engineering. These include two aqueducts and two notable tunnels.  Together these are so important, that the 11 mile stretch from the Chirk aqueduct to the Horseshoe Falls beyond Llangollen make up one of the UK’s, UNESCO World Heritage sites.

Chirk Aqueduct taken from above the tunnel entrance.

Whilst crossing the Chirk and the Pontcysyllte aqueducts with their spectacular views is a delightful experience, I have to say that the tunnels could be a little daunting for some, unless you have a torch to light your way, which I didn’t. Both tunnels have a decent path and a sturdy rail that runs between you and the canal. The Chirk tunnel is the longer of the two at 420 metres in length. This can be quite dark and whilst walking my bike through that tunnel I could hear unseen water running down some parts of the walls, however none of this fell on me. The second tunnel known as the Whitehouse tunnel is 175 meters long and fortunately, there was no sound of any running water.

Beyond and between the tunnels, a lot of the canal passes through deciduous woodland and the sunlight pours through the fresh green leaves creating dappled sunlit patterns on the path and the canal before me. I can smell also the subtle scent of garlic and there are sizeable swathes of ramsons or wild garlic which were currently in bloom and have colonised much of the woodland floor alongside the canal.

Ramsons, more popularly known as Wild Garlic

It’s a ten mile stretch of towpath from Chirk to Llangollen and I can take it easy. A steady eight miles per hour is sufficient to enjoy the scenery and beauty of this wonderful countryside. There is a lot to enjoy and I stop to watch a mother Mandarin duck with her seven chicks. A mile or so further on a bold grey heron seems prepared to stand its ground as I approach. I fear that the heron would be a danger to the young mandarin ducks which are quite a rare species in the UK.

I follow the canal to Llangollen, and here there is a short length of my journey where the canal, the road, the railway and the River Dee all run alongside each other.  After the Chainbridge hotel I continue along the towpath until I come to the Horseshoe Falls. This is the end of the canal, or perhaps more accurately the beginning of it, because it is here that there is a sluice gate that takes water from the river to feed the canal.

From the Horseshoe Falls I then followed the quiet road north of the Dee heading west to the village of Carrog where I am in search of the name of the local Inn so that I can answer the first of my BCQ questions. Along this road I was able to appreciate the difference between cycling alongside a canal compared with cycling alongside the river. Although some stretches of this road run alongside the River Dee, within a relatively short length of road I am high up and contemplating the valley and the river from a much more elevated position. The downside of cycling for spectacular views is that you have to work for them.

It’s May, and the trees have a beautiful fresh green about them and much of the hillsides are still covered in blue bells. In the woods above the village of Carrog I hear the distinctive yaffle call of a Green Woodpecker, a bird that I regularly hear but for which a clear sighting has eluded me for some years now.

At Carrog, I note the name of the Inn, take my photos and then turn around to retrace my route. This time it seems easier, the uphill parts are less steep and there seems to be more downhill coasting than uphill struggling. At Llangollen I head north for my second BCQ question and search out Eliseg’s pillar which I find just beyond Valle Crucis Abbey on the road heading up towards the Horseshoe Pass.

Pontcysyllte Aqueduct looking west.

From there it’s a nice downhill freewheel until I meet up with the Llangollen canal again that will return me to Chirk. Ten miles on and I leave the towpath just before I enter the longer of the Chirk tunnels to discover that it comes out right by the station.

It was a good days cycling with both the canal towpath and the hills around Carrog providing me with some spectacular views. I also answered two more questions for British Cycle Quest.

Roads less Travelled

Port Sunlight Garden Village War Memorial

Cycling UK, runs a challenge based around a comprehensive list of 402 destinations. British Cycle Quest is a nationwide treasure hunt with the objective to visit as many locations as possible. To provide evidence that you have visited each site you need to answer a simple question about each one. The only real stipulation is that you must visit each place by bike. Start it today and you could take part in this for the rest of your life. The destinations listed, provide an endless reason to explore new roads. The garden village at Port Sunlight is one of the closest locations to my home, and its question can only be answered by a visit to the village’s magnificent war memorial.

Port Sunlight is only twelve miles away, but the A41, the road that provides my most direct route is busy and cycling along that stretch of road brings no pleasure at all. In this part of England, the best cycle routes are seldom provided by ‘A’ roads.

When I’m cycling, I prefer to have an objective in mind. Fortunately, the UK is full of destinations and even rides over moderate distances can still yield surprises. Britain has an abundance of roads, so there are often alternative routes to discover. These days I seldom find roads close to home that I’ve not ridden before, so when I do come across one it makes a welcome change.

Heavy cloud was forecast when I set off to find an alternative route to Port Sunlight. I have usually approached it from the west in the past, so approaching it from the side of the river Mersey would provide both a change of scenery and a challenge. Both Chester’s and Wirral’s local authorities provide alternative routes for cyclists and support them with excellent leaflets and maps. Alongside these I have the established routes provided by the Sustrans National and Regional Cycle Network. With these I was able to plan a route beforehand that ran north-east of the M53 and parallel to the Manchester Ship Canal and the Mersey. This included a stretch from the Boat Museum at Ellesmere Port, behind the Vauxhall car plant and through to Eastham Country Park, a four mile stretch of industrial road with no views of either the Mersey or the Manchester Ship Canal.

Water Tower on former Bowater paper mill site.

The North Road out of Ellesmere Port services the industrial areas north of the town. It’s quiet most of the day with the exception of shift change times. It’s a wide unattractive road and as I cycled along it I was reacquainted with the smells of oil and heavy industry that reminded me very much of the days when I worked at Shotton steelworks. This isn’t a road for cyclists or tourists, but on that day, it suited my purpose because it provided the most convenient route from A to B. When the M53 was constructed, in 1975, the North Road was sliced into two sections, but fortunately someone had the foresight to put a subway under the motorway that linked the two pieces of road making the original route still accessible to pedestrians and cyclists.  Despite it only being within 15 miles from my home, I’d never used this road before.

Whitby Lighthouse , Overpool, Ellesmere Port

Significant landmarks on my journey included the Whitby Lighthouse and the water tower that formerly belonged to the Bowater paper mill, this is a notable feature of the local skyline. After passing through the industrial landscape of Port Sunlight, I crossed the busy A41 and entered the garden village. For the east side of the Wirral, this remains a haven of peace and tranquillity, the roads are wider, quieter, and the atmosphere seems a world away from the industrial and overcrowded stressful Britain that many of us have become acquainted with. If only today’s planners and developers tried to emulate this more, I feel that we would be a lot happier as a nation. The interesting thing about Port Sunlight’s Garden Village is that it was built by one of Britain’s great industrialists.

William Hesketh Lever, considered the building and design of his village as more of a business model than a philanthropic gesture. He saw it as a way of sharing his company profits with his employees by providing decent, affordable housing with schools and amenities. His intention was to inspire loyalty and commitment from his work force. This was seen as revolutionary at the time and more than a hundred years on, it still looks good.

I made my note of the inscription on the war memorial and then headed back home.  Returning the same way helped me to appreciate the route from a different perspective. My journey  through north Cheshire and south-east Wirral included pastoral farmland, canal side tranquillity, derelict industrial sites, modern industrial estates and a country park with views across the estuary to Liverpool. And I have all this rural, industrial and social heritage, within 15 miles of home.

December Cycling


December dusk from Pretty Bridge

I’ve been cycling through the dusk of a December day, despite there still being some colour in the sky, all trees seem black. A mist had descended over the wet fields and the sides of the roads were full of tree debris left by the autumn winds.

During these short days of winter, if I want to get some cycling miles in, I tend to keep one eye on the weather forecast. At this time of year there remains a beauty in the landscape, the sun is permanently low in the sky and as long as it continues to shine the golden hour, beloved of photographers, extends to most of the day. Shadows are long and the low sun dazzles many a car driver. They have little appreciation for the natural world as they race home for their evening meals listening to drive time radio.

As I cycle through the quiet lanes, I listen out for birds. This is something I do all year and it is one of the joys of cycling alone. A mixed group of tits was foraging amongst the hedgerows alongside the Shropshire Union canal as I crossed Caughall’s, pretty bridge. The birds that attracted my attention first were the noisiest, the long tailed variety, but as I looked closer I also identified coal and great tits amongst the same party. As I passed under a solitary oak I hear the pic, pic, pic, call of a great spotted woodpecker. I stopped to look up but I couldn’t see it, this is not unusual. In a nearby copse I heard the raucous calls of Jays who seemed to be either fighting or arguing over something. At this time of year I also look out for redwings and fieldfares, but so far this winter, they seem to be alluding me.

Small flocks of starlings headed towards their night-time roosting site. Maybe, before they settle down for the night they will have enchanted the casual observer with a murmuration. Back in the 1970s, I worked in the general office at Shotton Steel Works, where the starling roost close to Hawarden Bridge delighted office staff with spectacular displays at dusk.

This month I have a number of reasons to cycle. I need to increase my total mileage before the end of the year. Cycling is my transport of choice and it’s a good way to deliver my Christmas cards, not only do I save on the postage, skinflint that I am, but it gives me an objective that means that I am going somewhere with intent and not cycling around aimlessly. I’m also cycling to overcome a strain injury that I sustained a week earlier when I did a “Norman Wisdom” as I fought to regain my balance whilst slipping on ice. I’m a firm believer in the restorative healing powers of cycling. There are numerous times in my past when the gentle, non-impact exercise of cycling has speeded my recovery from this type of injury.

Last year I did three Christmas card delivery trips, but this year I’ve increased it to five. They add a further 93 miles to my December tally. I now only need nine miles before the end of the month to round up my annual mileage to the next hundred.

Now, what does today’s weather forecast predict?

A Cheshire View

To get  some perspective, one must first climb to a high place.

There are many routes to the top of Pale Heights. Earlier this year I approached it from Mouldsworth, passing Eddisbury Lodge and Nettleford Wood. At other times I have climbed it from Gresty’s Waste, Yeld Lane, The Delamere Forest Visitor’s Centre and Barns Bridge Gates. I think that the most testing route however is the one that takes the service road leading up from Delamere Station to the communication masts. This route makes little consideration for the hill’s contours and uses the most direct route to the top passing Old Pale Farm on its relentless climb.

Close to Kelsall, this seemingly unremarkable hill can be identified by the three telecommunication masts that stand on its summit. At 577 feet, the hill looks over the Cheshire plain and provides spectacular views to the north, east and west. It’s central position in the county means that the hill rewards both walker and cyclist with probably the finest panoramic views that they will find of Cheshire.

I’m not a big fan of uphill cycling, but Pale Heights is a favourite that I consider worth the effort. I cycle up here at least once each year; it’s a climb that tests my stamina and fitness. Eighteen months ago I bought a new bike and the first thing I did, to put it to the test, was cycle up this hill.

Pale Heights is modest hill, particularly when compared with Moel Famau at 1,820 feet, the highest point in the Clwydian hills, and the most notable feature on the western skyline. To the north-east you can see Manchester Airport and over in a south-easterly direction is Jodrell Bank. In midsummer the sun can be seen setting into Liverpool Bay. This is one of the few places from which you can see both Liverpool and Manchester.

To the east there are views towards the Peak District, including Shining Tor on the Derbyshire border, whose 1,834 foot summit is the highest point in the county and three times higher than Pale Heights. Beyond can be seen Kinder Scout, Derbyshire’s highest point.

Much nearer, beyond the farm and situated on the hill’s south-east shoulder, stands Eddisbury Hill fort, an Iron Age earthwork that gives the local parliamentary constituency its name. That area is also called Old Pale. The term Pale is used to describe an area of enclosure land; possibly in this case it was used to protect deer or livestock from poaching and theft.

Delamere forest, which surrounds Pale Heights today, represents the last remnants of the ancient hunting forest of Mara once belonging to Edward, The Black Prince. Amongst the prince’s titles was, Earl of Chester. Edward was son to Edward III and father to Richard II. He was a Prince however destined never to become a King.

Today, Pale Heights is marked by a modern-day stone circle, each stone originating and representing one of the seven counties that can be seen from this point. The central stone represents Cheshire and is made from the local Sandstone. This stone is encircled by a set of small metal plaques identifying the many landmarks that can be seen from this vantage point.

From Chester, Pale Heights is a great bike ride and can be cycled in a little over an hour each way. It’s a good place to go with other people but it’s also a great setting if you want to be alone. As in biblical times, high places can still be good locations to talk with God. Regardless of your faith however, Pale Heights is always a good place to fill your lungs with fresh air and get some perspective.

A Name in Stone

Front of Nelson cottage in Parkgate, Cheshire.

Deserted by the sea that once provided its livelihood, Parkgate stands on the Dee estuary. The village is a fascinating place to visit; many of its buildings are unique and some have stories to tell. Nelson Cottage in Station Road has a story, and the property is easily identified by its cobbled frontage.

Early in the 19th century this cottage was the holiday retreat of the portrait painter Albin Roberts Burt. Albin had a good reputation and specialised in miniature portraits. Half a dozen of his pictures hang in Britain’s National Portrait Gallery. In November 2016 a London auction sold Albin’s two inch sketch of Lord Nelson for an estimated £12,000.

Albin moved around quite a bit in his lifetime, but in 1822 he was living in Chester. In early December that year he decided to visit Liverpool, and took his nine year old son along with him.

Historic facts can be difficult to verify, but reports suggest that the journey was done by boat using the Shropshire Union Canal from Chester to Nether Pool: now part of Ellesmere Port. On route he would have passed St Lawrence’s church at Stoak which may have been undergoing restoration at that time. The church dates back to the 14th Century, but was restored in 1827. At Nether Pool, father and son transferred to a ferry to cross the Mersey basin to Liverpool.

Having finished their day’s  business they began the return journey home. That evening, however, tragedy struck. The Prince Regent steam ferry ran out of fuel and the boat was at the mercy of the strong winds. A hurricane struck the Liverpool Bay area, and nine people fell overboard from the ferry that night including Albin’s son, Nelson.

Saddened following the loss of his son, Albin walked along Parkgate beach and collected black stones. On returning to Station Road he used the stones to spell out his son’s name in front of the cottage. The stones remained loosely in place until the 1920’s when they were set in cement.

View of St Lawrence’s church Stoak from Shropshire Union Canal tow path.

I often cycle along the canal towpath between Chester and Ellesmere Port, and think about the young boy and his father making that last fateful journey. At Stoak, I can see St Lawrence’s church three hundred metres beyond the canal. I have family resting in the churchyard. I’m aware that a small boy lost in a storm almost two hundred years ago also lies there. I’ve known this for many years but until recently didn’t know his name.

Whilst researching my article on Parkgate for Best of British magazine I discovered this grave was the final resting place of young Nelson.

Grave of Nelson Burt, St Lawrence’s churchyard, Stoak, Near Ellesmere Port, Cheshire.

On a summer evening I visited St Lawrence’s churchyard. I could look up my relatives and see if I could also find Nelson’s grave. It wasn’t hard to find; it was the one closest to the south of the church tower. Nelson may have the oldest grave in that churchyard and its position means that he probably gets the maximum amount of sunlight. The headstone inscription explains the circumstances of his death. An interesting thing about this grave is that it has both a head and a footstone.

On the 5th December 1822 a small boy died under tragic circumstances. Maybe he could have become a  famous painter like his father, or a great leader of men like his namesake. We will never know, but today we still know Nelson Burt’s name because it has been set in stone.

Miniature portrait of Nelson Burt aged 8, painted by his father Albin Roberts Burt.

Painting reproduced with the kind permission of Claudia Hill @ Ellison Fine Art.

Following the Signs

Welcome to my blog. My name is Peter Linfield, I write, I cycle, I’m a Christian and I live in the historic city of Chester.

Northern Saxon warrior alongside the Shropshire Union Canal near Chester.

Back in 2013, I encountered an Anglo Saxon warrior, only two miles from my home. He was guarding the most northerly point of the Mercian Way. He didn’t speak – but told me I was 101 miles from Bewdley in Worcestershire. At that time I’d never heard of Bewdley, let alone been there.

I discovered that the Mercian Way was part of Sustrans’ National Cycle Route (NCR) 45, the other end of which was 270 miles away in the cathedral city of Salisbury.

At the height of summer, I took advantage of the long days and packed my tent into my cycle panniers and made the train journey south. Sustrans signs would direct me home.

For five days I followed the signs as I meandered my way north through the English countryside. The route took me over Salisbury plain, past Stonehenge, through the Vale of Pewsey and the stone circle at Avebury. I crossed the River Thames north of a town called Cricklade and cycled along canal tow paths through Gloucester, Worcester and Chester.  I crossed the Cotswolds, the Wrekin and the Peckforton Hills.  I got lost in Swindon but found my way out with the aid of a compass. On day four, I reached Bewdley and spent a Sunday morning searching the Wyre Forest looking for the Saxon warrior that marked the southern end of the Mercian Way.  After that I joined the Severn Valley Way, sharing my route with its river and famous railway. This took me through Bridgnorth to Ironbridge. Leaving the River Severn, I carried on to Whitchurch in Shropshire and back to my home in Cheshire.

At the end of my journey I wrote an account of the trip and called it ‘Following the Signs’. I have adopted this name also for my blog. Here, I will tell you about my cycling trips, my writing journey and other things I’d like to share.

NCN Route 45 Sign at Salisbury Cathedral