The sea is never more than a few yards away on this easy coastal route suitable for all the family.
Some holidaymakers bounce up and down on an over-sized seesaw while others sit on giant pebbles that look like they’ve been washed up onto the prom from the beach. Dune grass, 30 metres high (and actually made of carbon fibre), sways in the breeze and I’m pushing my bike over a carpet of comedy catchphrases etched into granite that extends over 1,800 square metres. This isn’t a vision induced by a night out in Blackpool but the scene that presents itself at the start of a bike ride from the town.
Blackpool has just got even wackier (if that’s possible), all as part of a major redevelopment of the promenade so now is a great time to visit. A key feature of the seafront remains, though: the National Cycle Network path that takes you along the Fylde coast off road all the way to Fleetwood – and that’s where I’m heading.
Finding the start of the route could barely be simpler. I join the path at the Blackpool Tower and simply head north. Moments after heading off down a slope the sounds of Fun Fun Fun coming from the fair are replaced by the gentle lapping of water on the wavewall and, in the distance, I can make out the Furness coast. Around the first corner I pass an artifical cliff. It’s hard to tell whether it’s the remains of some sort of Wild West attraction or part of the sea defences. Set incongruously within it is a Greek-style colonnade and café. A few cyclists have paused for a cuppa – and there are lots all along the route, some out for an evening blast, others on their way home from work and others just pootling. This is a very well used route.
Coastal curiosities abound. Next up is the Grade II-listed cabin lift built in 1930 to transport visitors between the upper promenade tram stop and lower promenade walkway and former boating pool. These days the lift is closed and the pool is a go-kart track enclosed by tyres. Then there’s the Norbreck Castle Hotel. The perimeter, visible from the path, is all towers and castellations giving a hint of the (mock, of course) architectural style of the building itself. For a moment I think I see the rigging of a ship but it’s just electricity wires. After a while Blackpool has that effect on you. You take nothing at face value.
Promenade improvements at Rossall Beach in Cleveleys are complete and very neat they look too. Masts that provide lighting line the path and the steps down to the beach are as handy for sitting on as they are efficient at repelling stormy seas and high tides. I read that a grand table top sale and home baking stall has been postponed due to poor weather. Pity they hadn’t planned it for this evening as the weather is glorious, the sinking sun casting a glow over the coastal features.
From this point they are more natural than man-made and Blackpool’s buzz seems further away than it is. The main activity hereabouts is fishing – that’s if you exclude the turning of the turbines of the windfarm way out to sea. The surface deteriorates slightly from Tarmac to concrete slabs and my wheels run over the joints between them with a rhythm of a train along the rails.
It’s hard to know exactly where I am as most cues are out of sight. Meerkat-like in my curiosity, I stand up on tip-toe and spot a golf course but I only confirm my bearings when I reach the sign for the old Fleetwood coastwatch tower at Rossall Point. The structure is due to be replaced by a state-of-the-art leaning tower so navigation should soon be better for ships – and bikes! Shortly afterwards, I step up onto a dune for a good view of a boating lake with ornate Venetian-style bridge.
Fleetwood’s twin on-shore lighthouses herald journey’s end – or, at least, the extent of my coastal excursion for today. With more time I’d like to have caught the ferry to Knott End-on-Sea as there appears on the map to be some good quiet lanes for further cycling on the other side of the Wyre estuary. But the day is nearly done and, as I swig from my bottle on the steps below the beach lighthouse, my thoughts are turning to the return leg. Inland I can see the taller Pharos lighthouse, the idea being that seamen lined up the two lighthouses to ensure safe passage up the estuary.
Created as a new town in the 1830s, Fleetwood comes across as a hard-working and slightly dour brother compared to Champagne Charlie down the coast – more flat cap than kiss-me-quick hat – but then, I suppose, what place wouldn’t? I’m certainly not pawing my panniers for the camera and make quick progress through the town to loop back towards the coastal cycle path which I rejoin at Rossall. From there I blast back to the start non-stop at high speed. Somehow cycling is always faster at twilight. The ice cream lickers have all but disappeared as I finally reach the tower and now only an occasional cyclist freewheels down to join the path compared to the steady stream of late afternoon. The sun has set and the other brights lights are just about to take over.
Bike hire scheme
Fancy a ride to blow away the cobwebs the morning after a stag or hen party but don’t want to bring the bike with you? Then try Blackpool’s novel cycle hire system which runs along the same lines as the Boris bikes scheme in central London. Bikes are available to hire from automated stations called HUBs at dozens of locations around the town 24 hours a day, seven days a week. They use the latest in smart cards and mobile technology to provide you with a simple and secure way to rent and return bikes. The cost is £1 per hour with a minimum charge of £6 (for six hours) for new subscribers. For bookings call 01253 320094 and for more info visit http://www.bit.ly/rbB13q.
Distance: 19 miles.
Time: 2 hours.
Start on the promenade in front of the tower. Join the signed National Cycle Network route 62 and head north beside the road for 400 yards and then, just after the North Pier, down a slope and away from the road. Keep the sea to your left and you can’t go wrong. The trail ends when it leads up to the Esplanade in Fleetwood. Turn left and follow the coastal road (which becomes Queen St and Dock St) past the lighthouse, ferry terminal and museum. Around the corner as you approach a large Asda go ahead at the first roundabout and ahead again at second roundabout immediately outside the store. Pick up a cycleway starting to your left and keep in the same direction towards Freeport. Turn right at the next roundabout (or use the cycle crossing) down Denham Way then left into Copse Rd to pass the Fishermen’s Friend factory. Just after the turn to Kilbane St cross the road towards the right and pass through a gap into Larkholme Lane. At the end at the junction with the A587 turn left onto a cycle path. At the traffic lights turn right down West Way which takes you back to the coastal cycle path. Turn left to return to Blackpool.
Map: Most of the route follows NCN Route 62 from Blackpool Tower.
Lots of choice of pubs, cafes, takeaways and restaurants in Blackpool, Cleveleys and Fleetwood with a few along the route itself (mainly at the Blackpool end such as the Hole in the Wall café, 01253 593791, beside the colonnade).