Day 5 – Crossing the Mersey (Shrewsbury to Wigan)

If yesterday was easy going, today was even more of a breeze. We were a lot more organised in the morning, and got off to an earlier start. And the distance today was only 75 miles.

It’s a gentle rise out of Shrewsbury through Upper Battlefield and Whitchurch, until you get to Cheshire. From here, it’s pretty flat all the way to the river Mersey. Cheshire is beautiful, but it lacks that extra bit of zing that elevation provides.  There’s the odd hill – the one Beeston Castle is (or rather, was) propped on is an example, but they tend not to get in the way of cyclists too much.

There were two towns, though, that illustrated something I’ve noticed about English towns. It’s that you can usually tell what a town will be like from its name. Chipping Camden, Bourton-on-the-Water, Oswestry – these are all interesting, attractive names, and they tend to be given to charming, inviting villages. For Frodsham, Runcorn, Wigan – I’d expect the opposite to be true. But I was wrong on Frodsham – it’s a truly delightful town (and that’s not just because there’s a 2 mile stretch of downhill leading into it). Runcorn is a wasteland of winding highways that never lead where you think they’re telling you that they’re taking you (if you look at the map for today, you’ll see we took the eastern bypass, when in fact we wanted to head straight down the middle). And more on Wigan in a moment.

St Helens, which you reach after crossing the rather picturesque suspension bridge (which you can feel moving under your feet as trucks go past), is a city I’ve long wanted to see. I had a colleague from there who used to rag it continually as being a backward, riot-strewn, chav-ridden war zone. In its defence, it’s not quite as bad as all that, but I won’t say much more.

Wigan, though, was a pleasant surprise. Having just spent a couple of hours navigating through Runcorn and St. Helens, you get used to being in what used to be one of the  hearts of industrial England (and is now more like the rotting entrails of what’s left of industrial England). I’d always picture Wigan as more of the same, but in between St. Helens and Wigan is a hill with Billinge sitting atop it, which is gorgeous. And then there’s three miles of downhill (where we averaged over 30mph all the way) into the city centre, which is clean and modern, with markets and cycle lanes, and wonderfully rejuvenated city centre. They even have a summer beach for the children (read: sandpit with umbrellas and deck chairs for the parents to sit around on).

Tomorrow, we leave the urban morass of the greater Manchester-Liverpool area, and head up to the Lake District, where we’re staying in Kendal. It’s a short 60 mile run across largely flat terrain, so should be a nice easy one. And then the following day we’re into Scotland. It’s all looking good from now on (including the weather, believe it or not).

Finally – Gnat Stat of the day:

    • Midges swallowed, ingested, inhaled : 3
    • Midges deflected off sunglasses : at least 5
    • Midges caught by slightly-too-long moustache hairs : around 8 (three cheers for facial fungus!)
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