A couple of years ago whilst preparing myself for a C2C ride I stumbled upon Ewood Park during a training ride. This brightened up an otherwise wet and miserable ride and it set me thinking about other football grounds I could ride to. I embarked upon a 70 miles route around Lancashire and Greater Manchester to take in 7 football grounds in one morning. This turned out to be my longest training ride and I felt the benefit of breaking the monster circular ride into 7 sections with the longest leg being Burnley to Rochdale (about 15 miles). I followed up this with a trip west to the Reebok and a nostalgic trip to what remains of BAe at Lostock then on to Wigan and Leigh (where a bored security guard gave me a tour of their impressive new stadium.) I wondered then about riding to Liverpool but ran out of weekends to do it.
Having given up alcohol for Lent I have been looking for things to do relieve the boredom and this coupled with the good weather of the last week meant that the time was right to finally pay a visit to Goodsion Park and Anfield.
I woke without the aid of an alarm at 4:50 (as happens most days sadly) and by 5am I was on the road. I had an hour of darkness and in addition there was patches of fog along the East Lanc road. This is a quick dual carriageway which some motorists regard as practically a motorway but the limit has been dropped from national speed limit to 50, 60 or just 40 at the Salford and Liverpool ends. The quicker bit in between has roundabouts that punctuate the perfectly straight trunk road every mile or 2 giving a series of time trial type stretches.
Since it was quiet I had music playing on the outward run and New Order’s Substance carried me from home over the M6 and on to Haydock. I then switched from Manc to Scouse with the La’s eponymous album which played until my arrival at Goodison Park. That part of the ride took about 1 hour 45 minutes with just a couple of short stops to take on Lucozade gels.
I pottered through Stanley park which was absolutely beautiful with the sun reflecting off the lake and bathing the gardens in early morning rays. Once across the park I spent some time at the Shankley gates. I had been here before on a jog out from the city centre last year so knew about the Hillsborough memorial, but being a few days after the 22nd anniversary I wasn’t prepared for the carpet of floral tributes, poems, photographs and momentos. It was very moving. The scarfs of many colours showed the humanity of fans across our country and Europe which was wonderfully uplifting.
Since it was a beautiful morning I dropped down into the city to take snaps of the two cathedrals against a perfect blue sky. I love the centre of Liverpool with its history and varied architecture and you could also say it’s at its nicest first thing in the morning when it isn’t full of Scousers ;o) I saw a few girls walking home carrying their shoes but other than that and a few cars and fellow cyclists there was little to spoil the early morning still. I did have the Beatles’ Revolver on the iPod but instead lifted my spirits further with a bit of the Beastles which is a mashed up mix of Beatles and Beastie Boys. It made me want to dance as I cut through some of the back streets around the Universities and with my feet clipped to the pedals this made me quite unstable.
I headed out of the city and back to the East Lancs. I cycled a few miles along the cycle path by the side of the dual carriageway and joined a guy on another Roadie who was meeting friends for a morning ride. When I told him where I was from he asked me about the velodrome and I gave it my wholehearted recommendation (I’ve booked in for a session with work colleagues in June).
Progress on the cycle path was a little challenging as there were lots of breaks for minor junctions such as gates into farmer’s fields and the crossings at major road junctions absolutely killed your momentum. Although the tracks were not especially rough the road bike made you feel every crack and undulation, which was particularly uncomfortable as my back began to tire. I decided to rejoin the main carriageway for the last 20 miles. The Lucozade gels had worked well and I felt no dip in energy levels but was aware that my neck, shoulders and lower back were nagging at me. I dropped my speed a little to spare my legs and I changed my posture regularly to distract myself.
Once across the M60 I turned off the East Lancs as soon I could and went a longer but quieter way through Salford and cut through Prestwich Forest Park in the Irwell Valley. I had hoped to take four and a half hours and I was just 7 minutes over covering 116km at an average of 25km/h including all the pauses for photographs and gels. It was very enjoyable, particularly because of the perfect riding conditions but I won’t be repeating it for a while.