A long trail ride.

I’ve been thinking about my plan to ride the 47 mile, 6,500 feet of ascent Mary Towneley loop at the end of the month. I haven’t done any rides on that kind of scale for ages so I thought it would be a good idea to fit one in this week, with only around 3 weeks left before I finally ride the MTL. I often see Ashusrt’s Beacon on my rides but haven’t ridden there for quite a few years. It’s situated a few miles from the village of Parbold where I spent most of my childhood and youth, so I rode there from an early age. As a teenager we’d ride our off road specific “scramblers” on the Beacon up to the year 1979 when the term “mountain bike” was first coined. I wanted to keep it as much to the trails, rather than roads, as I could and fortunately I still remember routes from childhood. I have ridden the area by MTB but only occasionally.

I began on familiar terrain and rode to Birkacre by my usual, almost exclusively, off road trail. There’s a fast downhill on the way and it was typical of today’s conditions. Although we’ve had hotter days, reaching 29 Celcius yesterday, we’ve also had thundery showers so there was just the odd muddy patch. We didn’t get the wet weather predicted for last night and this morning was sunny, if a little hazy in the distance, reaching 25 Celcius during my ride. A short road section through Coppull took me to the former site of Chisnall Hall Colliery. Coal was mined here from the 19th century until closure in 1967. In the 1960s around 1,000 men were employed at the site. The area was restored into farmland criss-crossed by paths and opened to the public in the early 1980s. Many people, particularly those of a socialist disposition, decry the closure of our coal mines, which was accelerated in the ’80s after a lengthy strike by miners. I often wonder if they’d have wanted their own children to work in the dirty, dark and dangerous mines from the time they left school??????

I continued along some easy trail for a few miles before being forced back onto the roads to High Moor. My best friend in school lived here and we both rode our scramblers around the area. It was mountain biking by a different name. I knew a good trail which cuts across to Parbold Hill but I could tell from early on that it must see little use by anyone now. What had been a rather good, gently descending track became more and more overgrown. I chose the wrong option later on and took the left fork. The trail became unrideable having collapsed into a ditch in places and being thick with vegetation. I was glad to reach the road for a short stretch to the top of Parbold Hill. From there I’d expected a treat in the form of a long downhill to the bottom of the Douglas Valley. At first it was overrun with nettles and later the vegetation has encroached so much that the trail is now too narrow for modern , wide handlebars, so I had to keep it slow. The final part through the trees was much better. I stopped at the bottom and found a dock leaf to treat my nettle stings. It may seem like an old wives tale but God made dock leaves grow by nettles for a reason! The treatment worked but I got stung late on in my ride and didn’t rub my arm with a leaf this time. I can feel that familiar tingling as I type. When I walk the dog later I know what I’ll be looking out for, though I may be a bit late.

I crossed the valley floor and turned the wrong way on the road. I’d only needed to go a few yards to the left to start my biggest climb of the day but instead rode along for a while before I was convinced I’d got it wrong. When I went back to the correct climb it was familiar enough. The steep farm track has had a lot of sharp, broken bricks integrated into the surface which could easily blow a tyre so I knew I’d have to take this into account later. After a steep pitch the trail turns left, meeting a road for a few hundred uphill yards before I turned off to the right onto a narrow path which runs to the top of the hill.

Ashurst’s Beacon was one of a chain of beacons where fires would be lit to warn of momentous events. The message that something had happened could be transmitted quickly over long distances at a time when taking a message by horse was the only alternative.

It was hot at this point. A lady asked if it was my first visit. It was my first for a while, admittedly.
To the west is the incredibly Scandanavian sounding town of Skelmersdale. In the 1960s a small village was swamped by a new town in an effort to rehouse people from the slums of Liverpool to rural Lancashire. The results have been mixed.

Vikings first raided Britain in 793AD, settling from around the 860s. Perhaps I was overlooking a former Viking enclave? It was hazy so I couldn’t see the sea to the west. Beyond Skelmersdale, on the coast, is the equally Viking sounding Formby where I owned a restaurant from 1993 until 2012. After a short reminisce it was time for a long downhill. I dropped through the woods from the hill top and had to employ some trail skills, seeking grip on the muddy descent. After more excitement I stopped to take a picture of the blue remembered hills of my childhood.

Looking across the Douglas Valley towards Parbold Hill. I was aiming for the biggest patch of woodland to climb up later.

After I took some pictures was the steep, fast trail, strewn with brick fragments. I enjoyed the speed and my tyres survived. I crossed the river Douglas, which flows from Winter Hill where I often ride, over the canal and followed the valley on an undulating trail to Fairy Glen. This is a beautiful glen, cut by a stream, which rises up to the road. After the romance of the glen I followed the road for some distance. I’d used the unrideable trail on the way out but had learned my lesson so stuck to the road until I could cross back to Chisnall Hall Colliery. I chose to add in a short loop with 2 gentle downhill sections, rather than cutting straight across and enjoyed twisting through the trees. After riding through the village of Coppull I entered an area at Birkacre which is now designated a country park. I took the superb downhill option and was confronted with something I haven’t experienced often for many years. I saw an elderly couple ahead with 3 small dogs so applied the brakes, stopping in plenty of time, only to find the man shouting at me and telling me I had no right to ride there. I was riding here before it was a country park, it was just the site of a long closed textile mill so I don’t see that I was doing anything wrong. I ignored his protestations, which continued until I was out of earshot and I sincerely hope he didn’t bring on a heart attack. It could have been the screech of my front disc brake which did the damage. Disc brake are noisy and there’s no cure. This one makes a skirl even more offensive than that of a bagpipe. At least it forewarns other countryside users.

I continued by an off road route until I was very close to home. I’d covered 25.63 miles with a riding time of 2 hours 41 minutes. I’d climbed 2,228 feet of ascent. My average speed was 9.5 mph, which is faster than I record on shorter, more intense rides. I kept up a good pace but could easily have carried on at the end so I now feel ready for the challenge of the Mary Towneley Loop.

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