Are you up for a challenge? Why not have a UK adventure holiday with a difference and cycle or walk the width of England along the Trans Pennine Trail
When we dreamt up our “staycation” holiday, we could have had a week in a caravan, or a few days in a cottage, but we were in the mood for a little bit of adventure and a very big challenge.
We were going to embark on our very first cycle camping holiday, and nothing (not the very gloomy weather, or the fact that we hadn’t sat on a bike since our teenage years) was going to stop us!
My husband and I had decided to cycle across Britain, following the Trans Pennine Trail (or the TPT as it’s fondly known). It is approximately 207 miles long, beginning at Southport on the west coast and ending at Hornsea on the east. The TPT, which was opened in 2001, forms part of the National Cycle Network, and utilises old railway lines, canal paths and formerly derelict trails for a mostly off-road cycling and walking route.
Planning and preparation
Although we opted to camp along the way, there are plenty of guesthouses and B&Bs near the trail, for slightly more luxurious accommodation should you want it. I recommend you invest in the Accommodation and Visitor Guide, published by the TPT Organisation, which we found to be invaluable.
The campsites along the route were quite spread out, so this is what dictated our schedule and the miles we’d have to cover every day. Daily distances varied between 21 and 60 miles. We allowed eight days in total for a fairly leisurely trip, and one rest day in York (after all this was supposed to be a holiday, not an endurance test), although I have heard of some adventurers taking as little as three days.
In terms of kit and accessories, as the ethos of the holiday was cheap and cheerful, we didn’t invest in any expensive items. We dragged two very old Raleigh mountain bikes from dad’s shed, and with a bit of TLC they were ready to go. We bought two pannier bags and a rack that fitted on the back of the bikes, and we invested in gel seats (for which we were eternally grateful) and some cycling gloves to protect our hands from blisters and cramps.
Next challenge was the packing! We had to carry everything on the back of our bikes, so tight and lightweight packing was key. We had a small backpacking tent, inflatable sleeping mats and compact sleeping bags. We decided not to take any cooking equipment, and used the space to cram in lots of high energy snacks like bananas, chocolate, nuts and jelly sweets. We wore comfy trail shoes and light layers (including a packable waterproof), and packed minimal toiletries and spare clothes.
One of the fabulous things about the TPT is the huge variety of landscapes and terrains you encounter. We whizzed past industrial skylines, nature reserves, once glamorous seaside towns, Yorkshire farmland, country parks, canal paths, quaint little villages complete with thatched roof cottages and beautiful valleys that stretched out as far as we could see.
The trail itself is mostly flat, although the sections between Stockport and Penistone are particularly hilly and quite tough going. The highest point of the TPT is at Windle Edge, near the Woodhead Pass. 435 meters doesn’t sound towering, but when you’re pushing a bike up almost vertical hills into lashing rain and howling wind, it isn’t always a piece of cake! Once you’ve passed this point, it’s downhill for most of the rest.
Rest and relaxation
The campsites we stayed at were as varied as the terrain. The first campsite we arrived at was Holly Bank Caravan Site, near Lymm, and we were very glad to reach the end of our first day here! This was the most expensive site we stayed at, priced at £17.50 for two adults and a small tent, although the shower and toilet facilities were excellent and very clean.
The sites the two following nights were at Lymefield Farm, near Hyde, which was part of a garden centre and the Woodland View Campsite near Penistone. The facilities at both of these were basic at best, but the owners were friendly and the small sites had a very quiet and relaxed air. Both of these sites were cheap at £6 for us and the tent per night. We also stayed in the garden of the Hope and Anchor in, at Blacktoft. This great pub allows campers to pitch for free if you eat dinner in the pub or attached restaurant. The only drawback was that there were no facilities except during pub opening hours, and even then it was toilets only.
Burton Constable Holiday Park, near the east coast, was a huge and extremely organised site. The facilities included an on-site shop, bar, clean toilets, plenty of showers and laundry rooms. They were great, but this was expected for the £13 per night. There was plenty to do here, but the usual camaraderie and cheerfulness of campers was somehow lost among the long lists of rules and regulations, and the timber chalets and statics.
My favourite campsite was the York Marine Campsite near York. We diverted from the west to east trail and headed up to York for a day of rest. The riverside location gave the site a laid-back atmosphere, and it was only a very short walk to the quaint village of Bishopthorpe. The facilities were average here, but the staff were full of cheer and character, and there was a fabulous sociable atmosphere as campers gathered around the picnic tables by the river. The cost here was £15 per tent per night; quite expensive but this was offset by the great location.
The only place we couldn’t find a campsite was at Hornsea, and seeing as though this was the end of the trip, we treated ourselves to a cosy B&B, some soft beds and a full English breakfast. We thought that at £20 per person per night, this was a well earned treat!
Hints and tips
The route is generally easy, but you do need a good level of all-round fitness. The bikes are heavy when loaded up, and there is a fair bit of pushing up hills and lifting over stiles and ramps. It’s a full body workout! Practice cycling on fully loaded bikes before you go. I quickly realised that a five mile round trip to the pub doesn’t count as training!
Definitely invest in the maps printed by the TPT Organisation. The route is mostly well signed, but the maps give additional details such as proximity to facilities and distances covered.
Pack lightly; every gram counts when you’re trying to lift a heavy, wobbly bike over a turnstile.
We booked campsites in advance, which is best if you’re travelling during holiday periods.
Don’t forget the stamps for a record of the trip. They are available at various stops and stamping stations along the way, but you may have to time your arrival as some of them are in village halls and shops etc.
If you’re planning to travel to the start or from the end point by train, then check that the service provider allows bikes on carriages.
Take two small first aid kits – one for the bike and one for you.
The trail can be muddy after wet weather, so wear comfy, but not too expensive shoes and clothes. Mine got trashed!
We took eight days to complete the trail, but we could just as easily have taken two weeks if time had allowed. This would mean more leisure days and time to stop for attractions and sightseeing.
Although challenging at times (not least because of the good old British summer weather), the whole trip was fantastic. A lot of fun, variety and simple pleasures, coupled with an enormous sense of achievement. There is literally something new to see at every turn and what better way to see a part of Britain you wouldn’t usually see than flying along on two wheels with the wind in your hair?
Find all the info you need at: www.transpenninetrail.org.uk