Biking England Parenting

Cycling the Trough of Bowland

Bike Touring in Slaidburn
Written by Stuart Wickes

Raindrops on trailers and toddlers in mittens

Stuart Profile SmallIt’s a long time since I pulled a toddler in a trailer up a hill, but the sensation hasn’t changed. It’s just as painful a business as ever, both mentally and physically. The only difference is it’s not my kid in the trailer today; it’s my 3 year old niece.

She’s having a lovely time though, warm, dry and asleep with her blankie in the back. Hannah and I, on the other hand, are on the tandem, pulling her up Lythe Fell. And we’re  cold, wet and tiring of climbing, climbing, climbing.

Climbing Lythe Fell Forest of Bowland

Climbing Lythe Fell Forest of Bowland. The road seems to go on and on and on.Up and up and up.

A mini expedition cycling the Trough of Bowland

Cameron, Hannah and I are on a 3 day mini biking expedition with my sister and her two young kids. It’s familiar and unfamiliar; a family adventure of a different kind – a biking cousin fest. Me, my sister and two kids from each family, cycling the Trough of Bowland. Kirstie and Matthew are away in Spain and my sister’s husband has vowed never to cycle tour with toddlers again.

But it’s not quite the relaxing, sunny cycling experience we envisaged. The Forest of Bowland in North Lancashire is beautiful, in fact it’s recognised as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, but I just don’t seem able to take it in, not with the weather and terrain challenging us as they are.

Jubilee Tower Forest of Bowland

The Forest of Bowland is an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. In those rare moments when you can see it. Jubilee Tower at sunset.

When will it end?

“When is this hill going to end Dad?” asks Hannah,from behind me on the tandem.

I can’t think of anything encouraging to say. I can feel her tiredness; the absence of power from a stoker is very obvious to a tired captain. But there’s no point complaining. Not while she’s not complaining about the cold and the rain. This was supposed to be an early summer ride but conditions are more like they were for our winter walk in the Lakes, and the gloves and coats are back out.

Bicycle Bell in the rain

Even my bell is feeling miserable

A journey back in time

It’s funny to have a toddler in a trailer at the back again. Makes me realise how things have changed for us in our family. My niece is the age Cameron was when we cycled across New Zealand with our two in trailers.  Sometimes I wonder how we ever did that, or if we really did. Travel is so transient. For all the wonder and intensity of the experience at the time, it’s soon just a memory.  Although it does seem like the greater the pain, the stronger the memory.

I’ll probably remember this little outing for a while then. Cameron is up ahead of me, forging up the hill on his own new bike, proudly proving he’s ready to give up the tandem and go solo this summer. I gave him the heavy panniers this morning to try and slow him down but it’s made little difference to his performance. He’s impressive, mentally and physically, and it makes me feel old.

Looking back in time at Slaidburn Youth Hostel

Everything seems to look old or reminds me of old. Reflections in time on the wall in Slaidburn Youth Hostel.

Feel my pain

I can feel the strain and some pain in my knees. It’s the first time I’ve noticed that and it plays on my mind. Is it the start of the end of my cycling career?  In the wind and rain I struggle to keep negative thoughts at bay; “How long will this go on? Why is the weather so depressing? Why did we come this way? What is the point of this anyway? Why can’t I be the one in the trailer? Why doesn’t Hannah put some effort in?”

This was supposed to be a training ride for Cameron, a chance for me to check out if he’s up to riding solo on our Balkans expedition this summer, but turns out it has me questioning my own readiness. If I’m struggling with the tandem and trailer on a few fells in Lancashire how will I cope with the heat and the hills in the Dinaric Alps? And do I really want to? And why is it always me pulling the heaviest load and carrying the passengers?

Lythe Fell Forest of Bowland

Cameron is a star. Full of positivity and energy. Does he really get that from me?

Can the pleasure erase the pain?

The older I get the less I think our cycling journeys are actually about cycling. That’s just a clean, green and special way of experiencing the world and getting to interesting places. Perhaps that’s why when the cycling feels too hard or gets boring I find myself irritated by it. Or am I just becoming a grumpy old man?

It’s a wild ride up and over the top of Lythe fell and a fast descent down to Bentham and onto Ingleton.  It’s only a 16 mile ride but it’s taking us all day. Still my spirit is lifted as we coast downhill to the sound of the curlew’s soulful song. We stop to play in green meadows and stir up splashes of buttercup yellow. We take vintage tea in an old English Tea Shop with pink knitted tea cosies and Gran’s finest china. How quickly a few simple pleasures can erase a little pain.

Tea Time at Cowan Bridge Tea Rooms

Vintage Tea Time at Cowan Bridge Tea Rooms. Such pleasures can help one forget the pain.

So sometimes it rains and sometimes the wind blows. Sometimes we go up and sometimes we go down. Sometimes  the sun comes out and sometimes I feel almost positively me again. That’s England. That’s cycle touring.   That’s life.

Kids running through buttercups

Try running through a field of buttercups without feeling good.

About the author

Stuart Wickes

Stuart's the adventure addict half of the team, always trying to persuade the family to get out, do more, go further. As co-founder and co-director he handles the business, creative, design, technical and publishing aspects of the project. He is our chief photographer and videographer. With training as a professional learning and development consultant. an engineer and musician, his contribution is eclectic and unpredictable!


  • Loved this post, Stuart. If you start feeling old, and you are ever the fittest, what about me, with my ever-growing rucksack I carry before me with every step? I don’t need a trailer to feel I drag a load. Listening to my bike I feel it’s either a diet of epic proportions, or a reinforced frame. (And since I otherwise feel healthy and happy, I am thinking about the frame.) Still, you are complaining on highest levels. You are the one who moves the rest along, even if the bigger boys won’t tire easily (Nancy described the same in her book about the Dalton), and while you can, and I guess that will be for a while, don’t let that flag be taken from your hand. – But about this “spring”, I can only agree, it is really testing us this year.

    • Thomas, just the sight of your name in my comments folder brings a smile to my face. Comments like this are (almost) enough to bring a tear to my eye. Your words strengthen my knees even as I sit here. Although not sure the family will all thank you for that strengthening of my resolve. 😉

  • Hello!

    We miss the U.K., which amazes me. We lived there for two years and had a marvelous time. Our youngest son wants to go back. Take care.


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