ONCE AROUND THE BAY WAY
The Bay Cycle Way, around Morecambe Bay, was launched earlier this year (2015) A collaborative project between Sustrans and the Morecambe Bay Partnership, it is already attracting cyclists from all over the country. Stephen Dyster set off with his son to see what the fuss is about.
So, we all like the seaside, the mountains, wide rivers and scenic cycling with lots of flat sections? Chuck in a bit of history, industrial archaeology and modern enterprise? And, on the Bay Cycle Way, you’ll find it all, plus some decent hills and lots, lots more. Variety is the spice of this cycle route and, for a added quirkiness you can almost always see landmarks near the start and the end.
For a moderately fit cyclist Glasson to Barrow-in-Furness could be a day ride, but many will prefer to break it up, and, as a Dad and Lad trip, this needed to have a bit of machismo for a ten-year-old mixed with time off the bike.
A cycle track leads directly off Lancaster station’s northbound platform with NCR6 not far away at the Millennium Cycle and Pedestrian Bridge over the River Lune. Designated NCR 700, the Bay Cycle Way route signage varies between NCR6.69, 70 and 700 – with occasional local signs thrown in. For example NCR69 provides a loop, from Lancaster, to and along Morecambe Prom to re-join NCR6 on the canal towpath at Hest Bank. The Sustrans map shows them all.
Purists will leave Lancaster and do a there and back trip to Glasson Dock – an interesting little place with a café (and another en route, at Conder Green). Spending some time there, looking at boats, especially if the gates are opening to give access to the sea, may well please.
The way from Lancaster to Glasson is easy, picking up the Lune embankment, passing impressive old warehouses and joining the former railway line which gives occasional glimpses of the estuary. The surface is pretty good all the way.
The journey from Glasson Dock is the true start of the Bay Cycle Way. Returning to the Millennium Bridge, there’s more traffic-free cycling along a macadamised shared use path. Though sufficiently wide, it was clear that, at that time of the morning on a Bank Holiday, it was getting close to capacity. Apart from the need to cross the railway line, the going was excellent.
Roll along the prom, prom, prom
A major distraction to cycling came with the appearance of a distant disturbance on the surface of the river. The approaching bore, complete with kayaker on the fore-wave, made us pause until it had passed. The sign that tides were high had implications further north where a section of riverside road was inundated.But here was a theme that marks out this route – variety; ten miles or so up and we’d had a ride along an estuary, a look at a dock, and a rare natural event - plus views of Lancaster. Next up was Morecambe Promenade. As Ed said, it was here that the route will come alive; sweeping away Walney Island curves the great bay backed by the Lakeland Fells.
Cyclists and pedestrians seemed to mix pretty well, though keeping an eye on the way ahead whilst appreciating the scenery and the scent of the sea could prove to be conflicts of interests. Prom cycling is great; whether a laden-tourer or driver of a pink fairy bike with streamers flowing behind, it doesn’t seem to matter. One of life’s simplest and least energetic cycling pleasures. Then there’s the compulsory fish and chip and ice-cream stop without which no seaside holiday lunchtime is complete.
Giving up trying to explain to an unappreciative child what made Eric Morecambe funny, the crowds were left behind. Getting to Hest Bank involves a nasty bit of road or a pavement, on this day, blocked by walkers and not really wide enough for bike and pram-plus-family to pass safely.
Next variety turn was a section of canal with typically mixed towpath surface. Well-used by cyclists, the glory of canal bots on one side and sight of sea and mountain to the other was a little surreal. Not as surreal as the steep steps that led the cycle route down to the road to loop around Carnforth. In fairness another route is offered. One we should have taken first time. It has the advantage of taking in cafes, pubs and, if desired, a brief encounter with Carnforth’s famous station. Initially following the main route and ignoring the cry of a family cycling in the opposite direction that the “tide was in”, we came to a flood. The high tide had covered the road. So, back to Carnforth and the café.
Silverdale and Arnside
A little before Silverdale come the first significant hills; a good challenge for the Lad. A rest on the shore at Silverdale and more hills to Arnside put an end to the cycling for the day.
Though much of the route is flat as a pancake, there are hilly sections. Our second day was pretty gentle up to lunchtime, but after Grange-over-Sands there was some two thousand feet of climbing in twenty-miles.
Staying for three nights at Arnside Youth Hostel turned out to be a really good idea. Child met other children, we could self-cater and the trains that run between Lancaster and Barrow took the strain of getting us to and from our start and end points each day.
Occupying the room next to ours were a family of four; Mum, Dad and two children under six. Equipped with bikes they were doing sections of the route. When children got tired there were child seats on parental bikes and a trailer for carrying the kid’s solos. They were planning tom miss the section from Grange-over-Sands to Ulverston – and I think they were wise; a sure way to put the children off and hard going with a heavy load
Cycling is good for business
Like us, our neighbours were using the train to assist each days ride. In fact, not only was Northern Rail’s two bike policy breached on every rail journey we made, it was smashed. Though the driver of a two-unit trundler told one cyclists that he’d have to put his bike further down the train as the two spaces had already got four bikes in, we saw no refusal to carry bikes. In fact – praise where it is due – when our neighbours at the hostel boarded a larger Trans-Pennine Express service at Grange-over-Sands, six bikes were already in the bike spaces. Not only did the Conductor let them on – including the trailer, he got off the train and helped to load their convoy. It would be helpful if Northern Rail adapted their policy in the light of the much increased business this line is likely to see.
“Good for business” was the order of the day everywhere we asked. More bikes on the road and trail, more cake eaten, tea swilled, dinners sold and vacancies filled. At the community owned shop at Witherslack, a real boost had been given to turn-over as cyclists spent just a little, topping up with a drink and a bag of sweets and a postcard, according to the lady who chatted to us as we bought drinks and a bag of sweets and postcards.
Morecambe Bay is infamously treacherous with mud-flats, hidden channels and quicksand. The scenery belies this, shaped by weather and tide, it changes with the hours. Sandy beaches are, at a premium. There are, too, many places of interest to visit, if so inclined, from historic houses, such as Levens Hall, to nature reserves, to a Buddhist Temple and Retreat.
Our longest stops were on the final day on the stony shore of Walney Island and at Grange-over-Sands. The former was in celebration of finishing the route with a celebratory paddle as the waves crashed in and seals bobbed their heads up and down around us. The latter was due to a café stop and the sudden arrival of a storm which forced us into the shelter in the pleasure gardens – along with several others. A brief lull suggested an escape attempt, but the storm returned with flashes of lightening which would have brought a smile of triumph to Baron Frankenstein’s lips but, frankly, gave the rest of us the screamin’ habdabs.
Sunnny Cartmel after stormy Grange-over-Sands
Hail and rain ceasing, for a second time, we rode over to Cartmel. Here, the storm could be heard and seen, but not felt. Bizarrely, the storm picked on Grange-over-Sands all day long. Travelling on, we put our waterproofs away for the final time on the trip.From here to Ulverston the going is unremittingly hilly, with the exception of the track through the Holker Estate. Watching fellow peddalers coming up the wittily named Bigland Hill, suggested we were going the easier way round, but Ed wasn’t so sure that feathering the brakes and holding firm on the steep descent wasn’t just as bad. The compensation? Grand views of the fells.
A minor imperfection
Time for a grouse. The track through Holker Estate starts well and deteriorates. A bridge crosses the Ulverston Channel. Turning onto it, front wheel sank into a good three inches of what looked like road top-dressing. Higher speed may have meant an unplanned and undignified dismount. It didn’t take much for us to agree that the individual who thought that particular repair on a cycle path had given insufficient thought to the needs of cyclists. Is it human nature that of three great days one significant defect deserves a paragraph? Maybe, but with a new route under promotion – and further developments to follow – wouldn’t it be nice if all the basics were right?
We crossed the main road to Greenodd without going down the overgrown path to a subway. Greenodd was once the main port for Coniston slate as well as being important on the tourist circuit – Victorian and Edwardian folk would get a steamer across Morecambe Bay and using trains, lake-steamers (such as the National Trust owned “Gondola” that still plies the length of Coniston Water) and horse-drawn carriages, complete a circuit of the southern lakes.
Despite the scattering of top-dressing all along the roads and a missing, or hidden, sign that caused an additional climb after an annoying diversion, there was no juvenile mutiny on the steep hills toward the end of the journey to Ulverston; rather there was a joy at the jelly-legs rewarded by jelly sweets at each summits. Glorious cycling!
Tough day over, train back to Arnside accompanied by other cyclists who had finished at Barrow earlier in the day, we met our neighbours, who had ridden to Grange-over-Sands.
Cyclists all over
Next morning’s commute saw the train was over its bicycle capacity again, though no one seemed too bothered. A group of club cyclists from Preston were on their way to Barrow to cycle back. They’d use the Bay Cycle Way to Lancaster, but beyond Garstang the A6 would take them home more quickly. We saw them heading north as we rode out of Ulverston. Another group of four waved to us – and they were in residence at the hostel that night. Then there were more … and more..
The way from Ulverston rises to the last hill of the trip – Birkrigg Common. The views from here are uncommonly fine to the north whilst green tracks through the bracken invited a little impromptu off-roading. From here it is not all downhill, but with a café at Gleadston Mill for refreshment and the wide, flat and empty A5087, it is pleasantly easy going with a clear view across the Bay – on a half-decent day - all the way to where we had set out from.
A ride down to Roa Island, with Piel Island, and its renowned publican-king a little beyond, appealed to me. Youth, with its enthusiasm to get to the end, beat age. A useful and well-surfaced traffic-free route goes into Barrow-in-Furness, passing the docks. Whilst a little convoluted in the town centre, it was a pleasant cycle through the impressively, dominant BAE Systems plant.
With only a busy crossroads as one arrives on Walney Island to negotiate, the end of the journey comes quickly with a brief up, a sea-view and an ever more speedy descent. If you can though, spare a few minutes to take in Walney Channel, with its bobbing boats, history of ship-building and great views of the distant hills.
We sat on the shingle bank of the beach. Had it been fun? "Yes.” Had it been a challenge? “Sometimes,” said Ed. Would Mum enjoy it? “Except for the big hill.” What could be improved? He’d taken against the loose stones at the bridge. What was best? “Playing Minecraft on the train. Only joking. The hilly bits were good once you have done them.”
For Dad, the Bay Cycle Way provided the perfect mixture of cycling challenge for a Dad and Lad trip, with almost constant changes of scenery and lots of places to stop pedalling for a while. A very fine way to end the school summer holiday and one that will remain long in the memory; the Bay Cycle Way had served us well.
Whilst every effort has been made to ensure that all information is correct, the article reflects the experience and opinions of the author, who cannot be held responsible if you don't enjoy yourself or feel differently. Particularly if planning to ride with children and less confident cyclists you should take into account previous experience and current level of ability.
Bicycles; we both rode road bikes with 700x28 Schwalbe Marathon Plus tyres, which served perfectly well given the variety of surfaces. Ride whatever bike you like, but take care on the occasional rougher surfaces should you go narrower.
The route is not all traffic-free and there are sections where cycling at rush hour time brings pulses of eager motor vehicles. The busiest section, on our trip, was through Grange-over-Sands, but there was nothing to worry a Dad and a competent ten-year old.
For the route visit www.sustrans.org.uk and a map, with lots of links to sources of further information, can be purchased from the on-line shop.
We stayed at Arnside Youth Hostel www.yha.org.uk . There are independent hostels at Yealand Conyers (not far from the route), Kirkby-in-Furness and Lowick Bridge (considerably further from the route). www.independenthostels.co.uk . It would be perfectly possible to camp and there’s no shortage of other accommodation.Visit www.bedsforcyclists.co.uk , whilst the following also have more general tourist information www.visitlancashire.com , www.golakes.com , www.baytourism.co.uk .
Information about trains can be found at www.nationalrail.co.uk but it is well worth arming oneself with a timetable leaflet or app if you are planning to rail-assist your ride. There is a cycling policy with two bikes the official limit and only bookable on certain trains. However, evidence suggests that the policy is not necessarily strictly enforced.