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27 June, 2004

Cycle ride: Lancaster-Over Kellet-Tewitfield-Lancaster

This week's cycle ride was a little longer than usual; I'd anticipated two hours for the destination and route I'd chosen, but it took a full three hours (to within 15 seconds, according to my bike computer), of which I was stationary for only 28 minutes.  It was slightly disappointing that I 'only' covered 28 miles (47 km) in that time, but well over half was off-road, so I travelled slowly.

I had a vague plan to cycle to Over Kellet, a small village in the less-visited area immediately north of Lancaster, between the coast and the Lune valley.  I've probably passed through the village no more than twice in a decade.  Looking at the map, it seemed appropriate to return along the canal towpath, in which case it made sense go a little further north, to the point in Capernwray where the road adjoins the canal.

I noticed recently that there's an alternative route to Halton, heading almost directly north from Moorlands and avoiding the need to head west into town just to double back out along the river; on the map, it looks as if over a mile is saved. I'd been that way once before, with Harriet, but had forgotten. In hindsight, I'm not sure it was worthwhile, as it involved following a metalled road disused for decades, and hence severely potholed, then a steep gravel track on which I had to decelerate to walking pace. If I'd followed the Lune Cycleway, I could have travelled at least five times as fast.

Skirting Nether Kellet, I approached Over Kellet past two quarries; there are several in the area, which I think extract carboniferous limestone, probably crushed for aggregate. Incidentally, I noticed a signpost advertising a caravan park adjacent to the quarries. A week or so in a thin-walled, single-glazed (with poor sound insulation, I mean) metal cuboid within tens of metres of the noise and dust of loading huge lorries with stone, not to mention blasting, seems a strange holiday. I wonder if the owners warn clients when they book.

Over Kellet was quaint, if not actually picturesque, but the village green seemed to attract lost drivers, so I couldn't casually wander around. This was the case along the road to Capernwray too, which became extremely annoying. Approaching Jackdaw Quarry and the diving centre, I noticed a low-flying buzzard very nearby, and would have liked to stop, but there was a car following me closely and no passing places I could pull into, so I had to keep going, even when I realised the profile and colour of the buzzard were odd, and even when I realised it was a red kite - my first sighting of one since ~1993 and my first ever in England. A few hundred metres further on, I pulled off the road, let the car pass, then went back, but the opportunity had passed.

This was where I'd intended to join the canal and head back, but as usual I changed the plan, going on to Tewitfield, the northernmost navigable point on the Lancaster Canal. A number of private gardens in Borwick and Priest Hutton were participating in an open day, so the villages were unexpectedly crowded by pensioners, who seemed unable to comprehend that a country lane is still a road, not a footpath.

Tewitfield was somehow depressing: an 'A' road passes over the M6 motorway, the bridge embankment truncating the canal, which unceremoniously just stops in a field behind a pub, a few metres from continuous traffic.

I'd travelled 15 miles (25 km), so presumably faced the same again to go home. The entire return trip was along the canal towpath, a direct route in I just had to follow it, but the Lancaster Canal is unique in having no locks in the full navigable reach from Tewitfield 42 miles (70 km) south to Preston, so follows a rather circuitous path avoiding hills and valleys. Within minutes I thought I'd chosen badly, as projecting tree roots and stones made for slow, uncomfortable riding. By Carnforth, my shoulders were aching and my right hand was cramping (I don't know why, but that often happens on fairly long rides), so was thankful that from there on to Lancaster, the towpath has recently been levelled and I was able to accelerate to ~15mph, half as much again as I'd achieved on the rough track.
I'd summarise the ride back from Tewitfield as just a slog, the discomfort and even boredom outweighing the minor achievement of having been to the end of the navigable part of the canal. This mirrors my attitude to some styles of hill walking. I certainly enjoy walking, but for the views and either solitude if I'm walking alone or shared time with friends if I'm not. I don't walk for the sake of walking; I have little interest in walking from A to B merely for the achievement of having walked from A to B, especially if a road or railway links them anyway!

There was one final highlight as I entered Lancaster: a sudden flash of electric blue feathers revealed a kingfisher, only the second I remember seeing, which I was able to follow for ~500m.

A few digital photographs are here. I'm afraid there are none of the red kite, nor of the kingfisher, so you'll have to take my word about them.

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