A complete change.

The ancient saying goes “Red sky at night, sailor’s delight, red sky in the morning, sailor’s warning.” This was a good guide yesterday because after a week without rain the weather changed. The reason for this saying, and the reason it’s fairly true with regard to the morning, in this case , is that clear weather in the east allows the sun to light the underside of clouds which approach from the west. This gives the red colour. So it shows that the clear weather is travelling eastwards with the prevailing wind. The clear sky has already departed to the east leaving clouds and rain to follow. The picture above was taken from my house at about 8am yesterday.

Today I walked my dog, Freddie,along the canal.The weather forecast said that it would be dry until 12.30 am but it started to drizzle by 9.30 so I put a jacket on and one on Freddie and set off for a walk. As I passed Hogg’s Lane, which joins the canal, I thought it would make a change to go that way. I was thinking it may be best to wait until at least Monday to ride my bike but then the sun came out so I returned home, having decided that a bike ride along the canal would be an interesting change.

I settled on a quick ride onto the canal where I would ride for 30 minutes, stop and return. Obviously there’s no significant gradient on the canal towpath but it does rise and fall a little compared to the water level. The surface also changes so some stretches are fast whilst others try to steal your speed. At first the surface was bumpy tarmac with puddles and some mud, created from fallen leaves. It took me a mile or so to find a pace which felt hard enough for good exercise but not so tough that it would exhaust me after one hour’s ride. I settled on ninth gear out of eleven. There’s definitely a sweet spot where the effort is acceptable and your legs are not spinning too quickly. I’ve found from riding with other fit riders in the past that you need to feel some resistance from the pedals. With too low a gear and too high a cadence (rate of turning the pedals) you’ll drop back from other riders. Change up a gear and put more force in and you’ll keep up.

It’s a similar surface all the way to Adlington and the White Bear Marina where maybe a hundred canal boats are moored. Shortly after that the surface changed to compacted gravel, usually a groove of hard pack between ribbons of grass. It’s still a good surface but in places it was much muddier and had me changing down to eighth gear and even contemplating seventh. I reached Red Rock, which is a hill for road users and had to stop for 2 barriers. Between the two is a wider stretch of gravel which has been compressed by vehicles, servicing canal boats. Whilst once the boats might all have been commercial, the railways took much of the business from Victorian times. Canals were still being used in World War 2 but after that road transport ended their commercial life. Some canals fell into disuse but over the last 40 or so years their use for leisure has vastly increased, hopefully ensuring their survival. As well as boating they are an important facility for wildlife. Today I saw various ducks, a pair of swans with 4 large cygnets, several squirrels and a heron.

I watched my stopwatch on the approach to the half hour mark and stopped it on 30.00.01, one hundredth of a second after half an hour. I took some pictures at this point. I’d noticed a plant stretching along the canal bank and in one place right across the water. I think it may be a yellow flowering lily and it’s visible in the pictures below.

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This is exactly how far I got in half an hour.

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Lilies, which seem to survive the passing boats.

I had passed a good mountain biking area at Worthington Lakes on the way out but know it would have been very muddy today. Where I stopped was just approaching Haigh Hall which is a well liked MTB destination. I’ve ridden both areas this year.

As I set off on the return leg I could immediately feel the wind against me. On the way out I’d only noticed a slight cross wind briefly, which barely held me back but now I was down to eighth gear, feeling the effort. The wind then seemed to disappear and on the wider gravel area between the barriers I even ventured into tenth gear. I could tell I was breathing harder than I had on the way out and used tenth gear a couple more times. As I approached the marina I was feeling confident that I’d beat the 30 minute barrier this time so kept putting the work in. I didn’t seem to need to slow as often for walkers, especially those with dogs, who I always give a wide berth and seemed to get back to home ground quickly. My time was exactly 29 minutes for the return, which was a little slower than I was expecting.

I know that I initially drop by about 80 feet on the way from home to the canal but was surprised to find that my total ascent was 321 feet. Either my cheap GPS is telling fibs or the canal bank undulates more than I thought. I enjoyed a different kind of ride. I was unbelievably muddy when I got home and can feel the effort in my legs as I write. I noticed my back was feeling the effect of being held in the same position for almost all the journey. My temptation now is to ride a long distance canal trip. Liverpool is a 90 mile round trip whilst the whole canal from Liverpool to Leeds is 123 miles. I mentioned recently that I once rode 100 miles, almost entirely on the canal bank but that was a long time ago. Could I really ride 123 miles or even 90 in a single trip?

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