It’s raining in London. While the roads that I usually ride down are surging with overflowing drains, I am pedalling from Lancaster to Kendal under a piercing blue sky. I feel exceptionally lucky: out of the 16 days that I’ve been on the road, there’s been only one day that I’ve needed my waterproofs.
My route follows the River Lune from Lancaster, the riverside path soon reaching the disused railway line at Halton where a derelict station building stands, the decorative overhang above the platform reminiscent of grander days. A narrow steel bridge crosses the river, and from there it is up into the hills and into the Lancashire farmland. After a couple of steep climbs I am rewarded with a fabulous view of the endless peaks of the Lake District, the silver glimmer of Morecambe Bay at their feet.
I pass into Cumbria, the final English county through which to travel before I reach Scotland in a few days’ time. The ride along Cumbria’s coast of Outstanding Natural Beauty during the round-Britain trip sticks in my memory as a time of Outstanding Rainfall and Wind, but today it couldn’t be more different; the skies are clear and blue, the wind gentle, the visibility across the fells fantastic. I ride at the foot of slopes with peaks of light brown and grey, the green fields below spotted with a scattering of grazing sheep and a grey scribbling of stone walls. Grey stone farmsteads sit nestled in the folds of the hills.
The route criss-crosses the Lancaster canal which once transported Lancashire coal to Kendal and limestone south (earning it the nickname “the black and white canal”). Just outside Lancaster I’d passed under a magnificent aqueduct carrying the canal over the Lune, a design of John Rennie’s. The stretch north of Tewitfield now lies largely derelict, its use becoming less important as freight moved first to the railways and then to the roads (the M6 physically blocks the water at points) and it’s the aim of the Lancaster Canal Trust to bring the canal back into use; maybe one day I’ll bring my own narrowboat up here.
The sun starts to drop to the level of the hills, painting their tips in a rich gold. The view on all sides is huge, three-dimensional, the landscape having been steadily building since just south of Manchester. I pitch my tent in a campsite just out of town, and by the time I’m ready for bed the sky is as black as tar, and a hundred thousand stars shine within it.