After a leisurely continental breakfast at Easton station we boarded the 08:10 train to Chester which was promptly stuck behind a broken down train leaving us stationary somewhere near Banbury for the best part of an hour. This wouldn't normally bother us but normally we don't have to cycle 135km before it gets dark.
After we eventually arrived at Chester a glorious sunny day with a slight tailwind helped us cover the 40km to West Kirby. Our legs were remembering how to cycle with 40kg of kit stuffed into panniers on the back of the bike (don't accelerate too fast unless you want to do a wheelie!) and conversation flowed as if we had finished last years trip just yesterday. If anything it was better because we've had another year to discover further adjectives to describe the various properties of particular sections of Tarmac.
We were greeted by of of the crew, who kindly took the photo above. This was followed by a few minutes chat about our challenge and fundraising efforts so far, only interrupted by a motorist who swerved violently towards us and launched the entire contents of the puddle (visible above) over all 3 of us. Our only consolation was that cycling kit dries much faster than shirt and trousers.
We then gorged ourselves on Veronica's meat baps which were moist and delicious.
Conscious that we were running late we pushed on to our next station, Hoylake, which was only a few miles further down the road. One thing that were still a bit confused by is how that distribution of stations is established but this will have to be resolved over a cup of tea with one of the coxwains in the coming week.
Hoylake RNLI station also has what seems to be a wonderful outdoor pool.
Following the promenade with fantastic views of the Irish Sea (we think) dotted with graceful offshore wind turbines we made our way up the Mersey estuary to New Brighton, which I can confirm is an improvement over (old) Brighton. Both, it would seem, are popular with gays because a brief ferry ride (with our tickets being kindly paid for by Mersey Ferries) lead us to a congregation of people in all sorts of tight fitting fancy dress during Gay Pride Festival. It would appear that we were finally suitably dressed for the occasion.
Navigating our way through and out of Liverpool moments after a football match was quite simply a pain in the arse. It's a shame because I've visited Liverpool a few times before and think its a great place but we were subjected to pushy drivers, rubbish roads and seemingly endless run of red traffic lights. Eventually we did make it out and our speed began to pick up, using cycling specific terminology we 'boshed out' 30kmin just under 55 mins which is pretty good going for a fully loaded bicycle.
As our path veered west leaving Preston and towards the Fylde coast including our penultimate stop of Lytham St. Anne's, we bore the brunt of the wind that had until that point been helping us on our way, tired legs and sore necks meant we needed some refuelling which was accomplished with the classic combination of Texaco's finest ingredients: spicy pepperami, cheese salad sandwich, a Dr. Pepper and some pear drops.
Lytham St. Anne's is a pretty place with a beautiful wooden walkway just next to the station, it was also hosting some Proms (outdoor music not American graduation party) which provided a pleasant soundtrack to our brief rest.
It was by now 18:30 and the realisation that all that stood between us and the wonders of Blackpool was 8km was sufficient for us to continue North with our eye stuck firmly on the skyline looking out for the famous tower.
We skipped along the promenade (yes I'm struggling for cycling superlatives) greatly entertained by the roller coaster rides and other entertainment venues which went on, and on.... and on! They got more colourful and bedecked with even more lights. It's fair to say I've never seen anything like this place before. It's like the sordid love child of Brighton and Vegas with a little bit of Disneyland thrown in. It genuinely feels like we're not in reality and while eating our supper in the finest establishment we could located (Nando's) we struggled to make sense of how this place and these people fit into the 'real world'. It can't help that most of them are in drag on stag and hen do's. Our return to the station, where we were spending the night was made that much more special by the puddle of vomit that had been left for us by the entrance.
It came as no surprise that this station does its fair share of drunken swimmer rescues - I'm just so impressed by the crew's patience, generosity and sacrifice - volunteering and putting their lives at risk for intoxicated morons. What's even more impressive is that they cast no judgement about such matters- their job is purely to save lives at sea, whatever the situation.
In fact while writing this post, David, another crew member who's lived here all his life popped in to see us and he was keen to ensure that we knew that Blackpool wasn't all what it seemed- just a few miles away is beautiful countryside which he regularly cycles himself.
It's nearly midnight now and bed is beckoning so enough blogging from me, you've got Nick describing tomorrow's adventure!
An overview of today's route: