Mike Beddows hits the coastal trails of Cumbria, then on to the green lanes of Gloucestershire.
ASKAM IN FURNESS COASTAL TRAIL
This is a rare opportunity to ride on a sand tidal byway. There are not many places in the UK where you are able to do this legally. Please refer to the note in ‘Did you know’ as there was originally confusion with the authorities as to if this was a legal through route or not.
This trail is only possible at low tide. Most of the trail will be underwater at high tide. Do not attempt this trail on an incoming tide due to the obvious danger aspect of getting cut off with the added possibility of losing your bike. The tides in the surrounding area come in extremely quickly due to the flat surrounding area.
Be aware that your bike will be covered in sand, mud and salt water at the end of the trail and make sure you wash your bike as soon as possible afterwards.
This trail can be attempted in both directions. At the start of the trail there is a freshwater river to ford so if you do this trail in reverse then you have a good start to cleaning your bike at this spot.
A lot of people raise concerns when riding through salt water and sand. Remember though, how different is it than riding through a typical British winter with grit all over the roads.
Starting at a car park, take note of the tidal warning signs and proceed down the sandy path heading to the coast. This is extremely loose sand which is difficult to ride through. Speed helps, but be wary of any other path users as the path isn’t very wide.
Proceed through a ford and continue on a four-wheel drive track which then leads back in to the river you have just crossed.
Turn to the right and follow the river heading towards the rocky outcrop ahead. This section is hard compact sand and it is all too easy to gain speed. Certainly be aware of this trail, and a recommended TRF 20mph max is advisable. You will have to cross the river once more before reaching the rocky section.
You have a choice at the rocks. Either stick to the hard compact sands and bypass the rocks, or enter the rocky section. Be warned, this is not easy. You are entering a rock pool area and the rocks are covered in slippery seaweed. As you go around the headland the rocks give way to salt marsh, and if you get stuck here the underlying mud is deep and very smelly.
The conditions change once more as you get to the pebble beach. Lots of fist sized rocks that are not easy to ride over. This section soon ends though and sand takes over once more. This section is fantastic. Hard compact sands that stretch towards Askham Pier in the distance. Remember the 20mph advised speed limit. You are not in the Dakar! There are other users including possible families with children and occasional horse riders.
At the end of the beach you will see the way under the pier. This section is above the high tide and the sand is very loose. Take care. As you go under the bridge the views to the le and distance are amazing. Continue on this sandy trail until you see a wooden bridge to the left. Take this bridge, do not continue into the Lifeboat station.
This next section is again different. Lots of loose sand and shingle. As you reach the end of the stuff , more mud appears as the trail once again drops below the high water mark. This section is very muddy and slippery.
Continue to the exit point. This is not easy to spot from the coast, but look for the large post on the right. This indicates the exit.
If you view this trail on Trailwise it is indicated as a no through route. The Byway is supposed to end a few meters out at sea and the obvious exit is not allowed by any mechanically propelled vehicle. I queried this with Cumbria National Park Authority and this is indeed a valid exit to this trail (see did you know) at Duddon Road. There are large rock boulders blocking the route for four-wheel drive vehicles, but bikes can get around the side.
This trail follows part of the Macmillan Way (English long distance footpath that is 290 miles long and is promoted to raise money for the Macmillan Cancer Relief charity) and provides a ride down some very overgrown, not used much trails through fantastic Gloucestershire countryside.
The route is mostly achievable by beginners, with the exception of one part that will require extra care for novice trail riders (see route).
The route is possible in both directions, but the appeal of these trails is the fact that it (North to South) leads to the Fosse Way, which will be a ‘trail special’ in the next edition of ABR.
A worthwhile detour is the short few miles to Trewsbury House, which is reported to be the source of the River Thames (spring).
Just to the North of the starting trail is the village of Sapperton that has a fantastic pub, the Bell, which is an ideal meeting place for the local trails.
The first section is an easy start (grade 2). Head along a farm access track that leads down in to a wooden area. Proceed up the track through the wood, which may be slippery when wet. Continue to the road. At the road take extreme caution. The A419 is a very fast road and there isn’t a clear line of sight to the le due to the bend in the road. If in doubt, turn le and ride the road until it is safe to cross over. Double back if necessary rather than risk an accident.
This next section is the hardest of this route (Grade 3). If you are a beginner please do not attempt this solo. There are great countryside views to the le and right, but the trail is a mix of grassy muddy shallow ruts. The ruts may only be shallow, but when you are in them it is difficult to get back out. I came off trying to do so. The trail is very overgrown as you proceed and is obviously not used much, especially by four-wheel drive traffic. You will soon approach a very large muddy looking puddle. This isn’t as bad as it looks (although I am told it is completely different after significant rainfall). When I crossed it was about 1.5 feet deep. If in doubt, probe with a stick first. Continue through the wood and keep heading straight. Do not take any of the tracks going le or right. They are not legal. This section ends with a fairly muddy rutted section as you exit a wood. It appears to have been a graded section some time ago, with all the grading being consumed by mud.
This section does not appear to get much use. It has a solid stoney muddy base. It is far too overgrown for four-wheel drive traffic, and there are lots of branches and vegetation to plough through. It is fairly wide at the beginning and end of this section, but the rest is a single track like path. This section runs between two farmers fields, so is in essence a hedgerow trail.
This section starts fairly wide, but again soon becomes very overgrown. This trail obviously doesn’t get much use in the ‘growing’ season. Follow the single bike track ducking under low hanging branches where required. This does eventually give way to a four-wheel drive track with grass growing in the middle. Just before you enter a wood there are the ruins of an Abbey just off to the right at the back of Hazelton Manor Farm. This wasn’t visible due to the greenery, but keep an eye out for it as you pass. This section ends as a wide graded track through a forested area. It has a muddy compact base and there are some low branches that you will have to dodge or duck under.
This is a short road section to Stonehill Lane (just to the West of Cotswold Airport).
Proceed down Stonehill Lane on a solid based track. It soon becomes a four-wheel drive track with grass in-between the wheels. This bit will be pretty muddy in the wet. Continue to the gate. Continue through the field to the next gate along a grassy base. Proceed through and you will see the Cotswold Airport to the left . Follow the edge of the field straight ahead. There is no evidence of a track and I was riding on freshly mown grass. Continue to the gate at the end where this lane ends. This conveniently leads to the Fosse Way, which will be thoroughly detailed in the next issue of ABR.