Riding from Leeds to Liverpool again, day 1

The fourth annual charity bike ride has been accomplished in fine style by members of a group of intrepid cyclists affectionately known to all in Liverpool, and beyond, as the Crafty Companions Cycling Circle. This year the route was a repeat of the inaugural event, a simple ride along the towpath of the Leeds Liverpool Canal, spread over two leisurely days, although the riders themselves may view the event somewhat different. It seems like only yesterday that the idea back in 2014, to have a charity bike ride to raise funds as a ‘thank you’ to all those who had been supporting and treating Barbara Walls in her battle against cancer. Eventually the ride for 2014 was agreed as Leeds to Liverpool.

Support team leader John Bruffell casts a discerning eye over the cycles at the start.

Support team leader John Bruffell casts a discerning eye over the cycles at the start.

Sadly, Barbara, one of the driving forces behind that first adventure, lost her battle but this gave further inspiration to her husband Steve to organise and participate in another ride the following year. The route chosen was again along canal towpaths, this time from the Humber estuary back to Liverpool using the Aire and Calderdale canal, then through the Pennines, Castleford, Rochdale, Manchester and back to Liverpool. Then in 2016, saw the ‘big un’ with the team starting at the Royal Liverpool Hospital, cycling around to Liverpool Masonic Hall in Hope Street before heading south along the canals, to eventually arrive after five days at the headquarters of United Grand Lodge in Great Queen Street, London.

And so it began, the 2017 charity ride, and even before the lark was considering as whether to rise or not, the team had happily assembled, even though it was a damp, drizzly day that dawned. Travelling from west Lancashire across the Pennines, those from Liverpool only stopping briefly at Birch Services for a spot of breakfast. It looked that it was to be one of those days when, whilst it may rain on their parade, the spirits would not be dampened, after all there was a higher purpose to this trip.  All the participants being spurred on by the support that had been given to their efforts to improve the lot of those less fortunate than themselves.

Arriving in Leeds at 8:45am, all met up at the start of the Leeds-Liverpool canal in Wharf Approach, Tony and Amanda Farrar from Blackpool, father and son John and Chris Bruffell, Steve Walls and Jan Jackson (his fiancée soon to be Mrs Walls on 10 June). Accompanying the team, complete with her new bike was the person who was to become the ‘star’ of the ride, Angela McShane from the ‘R’ Charity, one of the charities that would benefit from the donations. Angela has been part of The R Charity team which helps organise and raise funds to enable the Royal Liverpool and Broadgreen University Hospitals NHS Trust (The Royal) to provide the best possible health care to its patients and covers Merseyside, Cheshire, Lancashire, North Wales and the Isle of Man. She has been closely involved with the Crafty Companions since their first trip and this year took the bike by the handles and got stuck in herself.

At nine o’clock prompt, John Bruffell on casting his discerning eye over riders and their trusty steeds judged all was in order, or about as good as could be expected. The weather by now remained overcast but was dry, as it remained throughout the day and after a quick ‘photo call’ off the riders set. Making good progress out of Leeds and having negotiated several ‘lifts’ in the canal the riders made good time being well fed and watered en-route by the support team. Such was the progress that all safely reached Skipton for a well-earned lunch break not long after the sun had reached its meridian.

A few miles along with Angie leading the way and Steve Walls already lagging and needing a push.

A few miles along with Angie leading the way and Steve Walls already lagging and needing a push.

While there the merry throng was increased with the arrival of John Cherry and partner Bieba. Sadly John, a member of the team in the past years had been unable to participate in this year’s event, but had still taken the time to drive over just to say hello. John has supplied the team with transport every year, and of course this year was no exception, having arranged for the use of the support van being driven by John Bruffell.

Having been re-fuelled, the riders set off for the afternoon leg and it wasn’t long before they were ‘out in the country’ were the cows curiously looked over dry stone walls, the proliferation of geese and duck swimming on the canal seemed to hoot with laughter along with the moorhen and coot as the riders rattled along the towpath. The majestic heron showing total disdain in  pretending to be oblivious to the journey of the intrepid peddlers as they zoomed by fervently checking the cyclometer.

With just over 45 miles completed this sees the riders passing their overnight stay at Blakey Hall. How tempting it must have been to just squeeze those brakes and call it a day as they continued cycling, with their beds for the night just waiting, only yards to the left. It was a much different story for the support team however, with van and cars screeching to a stop, all booked in, best rooms chosen, and a nice cup of coffee. The riders warmly waved in that old delightful English fashion on passing the ‘support team’ as they continued on their steady and leisurely ‘trek’ towards Liverpool. This meant completing the first days ride some 15 miles further on before being picked up by Jan Jackson, John Bruffell and John Cherry, for transportation back to Blakey.

Blakey Hall Farm had been a ‘gem’ of a find on the first trip so it was the obvious choice for this trip also and cannot be too highly recommended. Built in the mid-14th century it is rich in history, set in the heart of the sweeping Lancashire countryside, overlooking the Leeds-Liverpool canal with excellent modern facilities much appreciated by all after a long day in the saddle. Another member from the Crafty Companions, Stu Hyde and his wife Norma arrived to lend their support for an overnight stay with the riders. Sadly Stu, due to an injury, was unable to cycle this year, but was determined he was not going to miss out totally on the camaraderie of the trip. After a well-earned shower the whole team dined at a local pub, The Gastric Gait, before retiring, each knowing they would have to face that dreaded 7:00am early morning start which lay ahead of them on day 2.

The 2017 cycling team from left to right, are: Chris Bruffell, Angela McShane, Steve Walls and Tony Farrar.

The 2017 cycling team from left to right, are: Chris Bruffell, Angela McShane, Steve Walls and Tony Farrar.