Ferry cross the Mersey
It’s a shock when it happens; the sudden loss of traction, feet spinning wildly, bike wobbling like jelly, the struggle to get feet out of toe clips before toppling over. I was 100 yards ahead at the time but there was no mistaking something was up behind me.
“Stuart, Stuart. Stop. Stop. Stop.”
Kirstie’s voice reached me quickly on the wind.
By the time I managed to turn and get back to them, Matthew was already off the bike retrieving an oily chain whipped clean off its sprockets into a small sand dune drifted across the prom.
“Dad, the chain’s actually snapped,” he said incredulously, holding up the sand-clogged chain.
The situation reflected the tension we were all feeling. Three long 60km days heading for Kirstie’s mums house and now half-hourly phone calls from her to establish our precise location and ETA. Dinner was nearly in the dog, wine was flowing and we were long overdue.
A beautiful place for a breakdown
It was a beautiful place for a breakdown, having ridden up the woody disused rail-trails of the Wirral Country Park to West Kirkby, we were pushing against a coastal headwind along the breakwaters of Hoylake when the toolkit came out.
Offshore, the windmills of Hoyle Bank windfarm made good use of the wind while onshore it blew oily baby wipes along the prom as I struggled to replace the chain-link sheared by the brute force of Kirstie and Matthew’s struggle with the elements.
I’d never noticed the beauty of the Wirral before; in my head it was all old docks, run down seaside resorts and aspiring residential areas. But I hadn’t ridden there before. And when you ride you see a place differently. And what started as a diversion to see Kirstie’s mum and avoid Warrington, Wigan and Widnes became a fine, if slightly longer and windier, route North towards John O Groats.
The Seacombe Cycle Crew
The following morning, chain replaced, dinner consumed, wine finished, we met Christine, Robbie and Jonathon outside the Mersey Ferry terminal at Seacombe. Sitting on deckchairs next to a clutch of bikes and trailers, tending a colourful box full of cycling helmets, they too were advocates for coastal rides around the Wirral.
“People don’t realise how flat and beautiful the cycling is over here, and how the place has changed,” said Christine. “We’re trying to promote it, renting out bikes for people coming across on the ferry.” But despite plenty of them coming across, school groups, family groups, tour groups, not many seemed to be taking up the option to hire.
“It’s a bit slow today,” Christine admitted, “but we’re just here for six weeks to see how it goes. It’s a new thing for us. We’re a mobile cycle hire business, so if it doesn’t work out here, we’ll go somewhere else.”
Christine and the lads from the Liverpool Bicycle Cooperative kept an eye on our bikes while we took a break from touring Britain to take a tour of the Universe in the Mersey Spaceport.
“We’ve had a lot of interest since you left,” she said when we returned, “a lot of people looking over your bikes, asking if they’re for hire.”
There are some days when I think we’d gratefully rent them out but today wasn’t one.
Then on the Mersey ferry
With the wind gone, and the sun shining over the Liver Building, we took the Ferry across to Liverpool along with the throngs of other holidaymakers humming along to Ferry cross the Mersey piped over the ship’s tannoy.