THE LANCASHIRE CYCLEWAY
By Jon Sparks
Published by Cicerone, Feb 2017
192pp Paperback Gloss Laminated (EPub version available)
£12.95 (Discount on the Cicerone website for puchase of the two together - at the time of writing)
Reviewed by Steve Dyster
The author, Jon Sparks is a member of the Outdoor Writers and Photographers Guild sand lives in Garstang, between Preston and Lancaster; this guide is very much in his home territory in every sense. Perhaps, because of this, there is a reassuringly gentle and familiar tone to the guide, with gentle humour frequent. The geographical area covered by the guide is roughly north of a line drawn through Rochdale, Bury, Bolton and Wigan, so ignores the mainly urban Manchester-Liverpool belt.
The Lancashire Cycleway is a 265 mile long figure of eight route, with the loops intersecting in the little town of Whalley in the lovely Ribble Valley. The terrain covers the mosses to the west and the hills to the east; Silverdale in the north, via the Forest of Bowland, to the industrial valleys in the south; you’ll find farms, terraces of houses, old mills, moorland, fast flowing rivers - the panoply of Lancashire landscapes. The Cycleway route is divided into two main sections - North and South - and a number of shorter sub-sections.
In addition to the official Lancashire Cycleway, Jon suggests seventeen day rides, of between thirteen and forty-five miles, to encourage further exploration of this fascinating county. Interestingly, he leaves both a round of Pendle Hill and the famous Trough of Bowland out, the latter, possibly, because it would require a longer day than fits with the general theme or because it is harder to link to rail services or just because there are so many other good routes.
The guide makes imaginative use of the rail network. Admirable form a green perspective, this strategy allows a wider variety of day routes to be offered, as well as escapes options. For the Lancashire Cycleway, bike-and-train use is encouraged, too. Whalley, at the intersection of the loops, has a station on the Manchester to Clitheroe line, though for many visitors the west coast main line might be the preferred approach. Accommodating this possibility with links described from Wigan North Western and Lancaster stations on the Cycleway loops, a link from Preston station to Whalley is described in one of the day rides. It would be entirely possible to use bike and train to complete most of the routes described.
Some of the terrain covered is off the tourist trail. Though there is a good deal to see, the author points out that there is sometimes a shortage of accommodation. Generally, the further north and east one is, the more tourist infrastructure is in place - the routes do not go as far as Southport or Blackpool. Suggestions for accommodation are really limited to it being plentiful or otherwise (although camping and group accommodation are generally pointed out). Tourist information addresses and other suggestions for seeking accommodation are in an appendix. Whilst this might not appeal to those who like an all-in-one guide, it is reasonable given the relatively small area covered by the guide, access to the net, and the vagaries of modern accommodation. For example, there are two YHA or affiliated hostels on the route, at Slaidburn and Arnside, but the closure of that at Earby in January 2017 must have been very inconvenient for publication; it is mentioned as an aside in the text, but not in the accommodation appendix. There are plans afoot to reopen the hostel at Earby, in some form or other. What is an author to do?
Route guidance and maps are in the traditional Cicerone style. While the guide can be mounted on a bar-bag or stuffed easily into a cycling jersey pocket, gpx files can also be downloaded form the Cicerone website.
Route summaries include comments on hills - though as the text points out - the definition of “hill” is relative and varies radically around Lancashire. In the text, Jon has taken care to encourage and cajole riders on the ascents. And, of course, the views can be magnificent - even taking in the Yorkshire Dales and the edge of the Lake District without having to go there - while Lancashire icons such as Pendle Hill and Winter Hill will often be prominent in the view. In many ways this is a friendly guide that does not shy away from discussing the challenging bits of the routes, but avoids making too much of what is, after all, just an up. The initial guidance section is aimed primarily at less-experienced cyclists, as may be expected in a guide of this sort.
As an experienced touring cyclist, I always like to have new routes suggested, and I am off to ride the southern loop as soon as i have finished this review. I know the northern sections well. For the newcomer to cycle touring and leisure riding, Jon’s tone is encouraging and his routes will inspire exploration of Lancashire’s rich variety; if you are new to the county, you may be surprised by what it offers - a point the author makes.
Can one leave other maps at home? Generally, yes; those in the book show enough detail to get you to the nearest station if you need to bail. Going further off the route and a more detailed map will come in handy. Equally, it is well-worth consulting the guide frequently as signage, though generally good, is not always present.
There are, of course, notes on places of interest, flora and fauna and so on, identified in the text along with notes to put the past in context; the fact that beautiful Waddington was once a polluted industrial mess, for example.
Overall, this guide can be recommended to get you away from the beaten track and to take you through some well-known beauty spots, as well. I have enjoyed reading it and will now tuck it into my jersey pocket and head for Wigan!
PUBLISHED MARCH 2017