Hoping to inspire the whole family about what was possible to achieve on a bike, we purchased a Sustrans map of all the bike routes in the UK and pinned it up on the kitchen wall. Soon after, we planned a route along the Trans Pennine Trail with our kids.
Three weeks later we were setting off from Liverpool YHA along the Trans Pennine Trail to Hull on a trip largely decided upon by our children. They wanted to try and cycle from one side of Britain to the other and raise some money for charity along the way. So we agreed to set off with all our camping gear, at the end of October, and see how far we got.
We put our bikes on two different trains and used our Friends and Family railcard to get us to Liverpool Youth Hostel. After a comfortable night’s sleep and a hearty breakfast we were ready to leave. The only problem was the key refused to turn in one of the bike locks. Two of our bikes were not going anywhere.
Eventually, with some WD40, a bit of patience from us and help from the friendly YHA staff, the key finally turned. Much relieved, we set off towards the docks and onto route 55 which took us along the River Mersey down to Speke airport where we would join Route 62 and be on the Trans Pennine Trail with our kids.
Sheltering from hail
We enjoyed the light on the water, the abundance of birds and got very excited by the extremely low flying aircraft around Speke. We managed to dodge a torrential downpour, having halted to buy new helmets. The rain bounced and the hail clattered on the roof as we helped Esther decorate her spokes with newly bought stars. Time-wise it was a set-back but we were extremely glad of the shelter.
After this decent pause, the children whizzed along and soon the sun came out. A lovely playground at Hale made a perfect lunch stop and we even took our coats off in the sunshine.
Struggling up steps
The next obstacle was a series of wide steps that zigzagged up a hillside. It was hard work bumping the bikes up the wooden steps. Impressively both children were determined to manage their own bikes and succeeded in hoiking them to the top. Next we had to unhitch the trailer and bring that up separately. This made the going particularly slow on this part of the Trans Pennine Trail with our kids.
The journey continued along a canal and past a sewage works. Cue a stream of questions from our seven year about sewage. Questions we would probably prefer not to consider!
Soon we joined the rail trail that leads into South Manchester. The trail was lovely in the fading light, with the autumn colours creating pretty tree tunnels across the path. By now we were firmly immersed in story telling along the way to keep the children’s minds away from how tired their legs were. The sweetie stops increased in frequency and darkness descended.
We had expected to be at a campsite near Lymm before nightfall but it had been dark for nearly an hour by the time we arrived. Hungry and tired, we put the tent up by torchlight and heated up some pasta on our Trangia. We piled on the layers as we cooled down quickly and admired an amazing moonrise: “Wow! I didn’t know the moon could look like that, Mum.”
Cold weather camping along the Transpennine Trail with our kids
We were glad of our warm sleeping bags, many layers, an extra groundsheet below us, our insulating thermarests and snuggling up close with all four of us in one compartment. We put the children between the adults so they had a warm body on each side.
The next morning, much to the children’s excitement, there was ice on the inside of the outer tent, as well as on our saddles and handlebar bags. Packing the tent up kept us warm but froze our hands. The children helped with their clothes and thermarests and then went off to explore the campsite playground.
Puncture repair time
We loaded up our bikes and managed to cycle about 300 metres on to a high narrow bridge over the Manchester Ship Canal. At the top, we noticed Nathaniel had a puncture in his back tyre. It was completely flat. Time to stop. Cars were racing over the bridge at a fair speed and the pavement was pretty narrow.
We gave the children strict instructions to keep their backs against the bridge and not to move. Then we positioned the trailer slightly into the road and switched on the triangle of lights on the back. That way it created a slight barrier between us and the traffic coming over the bridge, forcing the traffic to give us a wider berth. After a quick decision to save repairing the puncture til later, it was one of our fastest inner tube changes!
Heading into Manchester
A mile and a half later, we were back on the traffic free Trans Pennine Trail with our kids which led us into Manchester. As the rail trail came to an end, we decided not to continue on NCN 62 which used some minor roads. Instead we took a shortcut onto NCN 82 and used the Bridgewater canal to take us further into Manchester. This was definitely a good decision.
We paused for a picnic and chatted to an 82 year old former Masters cycling champion who stopped to say hello. She’d been riding in the Salford area most days of her life and still was thrilled to see young cyclists coming past!
Finding a bed for the night on the Trans Pennine Trail with our kids
At this point we didn’t have a plan for where we would sleep that night. We had researched appropriate places to stay but didn’t want to be tied down by booking anywhere. The Premier Inn was now fully booked as it was Saturday night and it also now seemed like it would be too far in any case. So we phoned a friend and were delighted to hear she and her family could accommodate the four of us at short notice for the night. We all felt excited about the prospect of good company and a warm house. We were five miles away.
The dreaded cycle gates
That five miles took us two hours! Sometimes we seemed to fly along but this wasn’t one of those times. Partly, we were tired from the thirty miles the day before. Cycle gates were also a massive factor. The adults could not usually get through the gates with their bulging panniers. The trailer had no chance. So we had to heave our bikes and trailer over the horse gate which was extremely hard work.
The children can sometimes take a while to get into a rhythm. When they have to stop every 600m or so to get through a gate they lose momentum. As they get off their bikes, they think of other things they want: water, chocolate, an extra layer on, an extra layer off, gloves on, gloves off and so on. We cycled past walkers who would then overtake us at the next gate.
We also got lost but were relieved to find that the map we were using was incorrect as a result of the new tram network being installed. Fortunately, we hadn’t actually lost our ability to navigate!
Cycling towards Stockport
After fabulous hospitality from our friends, we set off towards Stockport early Sunday morning, glad to be back on the Trans Pennine Trail with our kids. It was twenty miles to a campsite at Crowden, where some different friends planned to come and camp with us. That morning, we were optimistic in the bright October sunshine and enjoyed the route alongside the River Mersey followed by the River Tame.
However, the children were getting tired. Being a car-free family means we use our bikes a lot but this was the first time we had attempted a cycle tour of this nature. The ‘leapfrog’ game went down well. Daddy cycled with a hand on a child’s shoulder for a while, then gave them a big push so they could pass the sibling in front, who then took their turn to get a boost from Daddy’s hand.
Reddish Vale Country Park
The cycling through Reddish Vale Country Park was beautiful with more stunning autumn colours to admire. Our pace though got slower and slower and we stopped for hot chocolates at the cafe. We carried on but once we were in Hulmes Wood the lack of energy and almost constant stopping prompted a family discussion about what would happen next. We were running out of time to complete the next section of the Trans Pennine Trail with our kids before dark.
So we gave the children the option of trying to get to the nearest train station and going home, or cycling to the Premier Inn we had wondered about reaching the day before. They chose the hotel. Our friends waiting for us at the campsite were sympathetic and agreed to stay two nights so they could welcome us there the next day.
At the hotel, we felt concerned that we had pushed our children to their physical limits. So we were pleased to watch them tearing around the soft play area in the Mottram Wood carvery in Hyde. A hearty meal and an early night, followed by a huge breakfast left us ready for another day’s cycling.
Our friends at the campsite came to meet us near the start of our next day’s journey and kindly took most of our luggage in their car. This was the beginning of the ascent towards the Woodhead tunnel and so we were rather appreciative.
It was a beautiful ride from Hadfield along the Longdendale Trail. The track follows the path of the former Manchester–Sheffield railway line. Fortunately, we had a bright blue sky day with stunning views of the reservoirs as we cycled along. The children seemed to have regained their energy and we covered the next ten miles to the campsite at a reasonable pace. There was plenty of time to play in the woods with friends before the light faded .
Over the Woodhead Pass
From the campsite at Crowden we carried on along the Trans Pennine Trail with our kids to the Woodhead tunnel. The wide rail trail made light of the ascent and we sped along. Once the rail trail ended, though, it was another story. The path becomes extremely steep for 500m and the surface is very rough. We all had to wheel our bikes. Our youngest struggled and we often ended up wheeling an adult bike ahead and then going back for his bike. It also took two of us to push the bicycle / trailer combo up to the top. Still we made it. It was cold. It was gloomy. But we were at the top!
After the first chunk of heaving at high-level, we crossed the Woodhead pass a second and third time; hopping off to wheel on the undulating moor side. Finally, after 90 minutes on the top of the Pennines we picked up the sign for Dunford Bridge.
The whizz down the other side was a joy. In a flash, we were enjoying the sculptures along the Upper Don Valley Trail. The thought of yet another round of sandwiches did not appeal to anyone so we pressed on in spite of our hunger in the hope of a cafe in Penistone. A cafe appeared on the trail itself yet we approached it with trepidation. We wanted it to be open so desperately that it felt like it must be a mirage. It was open. Hot, cheap, home-cooked food was the order of the day. We ordered (nearly) everything!
Homeward bound on the Transpennine Trail with our kids
With full bellies, we embarked on the last stretch back home to Sheffield. We cycled along the rest of the rail trail past Penistone station (where we wondered about jumping on a train) and on through Wortley. Entering the Warncliffe Nature reserve was beautiful. The light filtered though the trees and home felt close. The path was more undulating though than we remembered from a previous ride and we were all tired. We slowed. The light began to fade. We tried not to convey anxiety about being in the woods after dark to the children.
The path stopped undulating and got steeper and steeper. We had to wheel. It was getting dark. It then became clear we had missed a turn and we needed to go back. Jeremy made the decision to take a left and we whizzed steeply downhill, bike lights barely sufficient for the rough terrain. The thought of having to wheel back up if this was wrong was almost too much to bear.
The path levelled off and met a junction we recognised just above Oughtibridge. With sighs of relief, we turned onto the road and cycled down to the village. We were back in Sheffield at last! Cycling home from here was going to be a step too far in the dark. So we locked our bikes up and immediately phoned a taxi to get us home. Jeremy then went back for the bikes in an Enterprise car club van. Everyone chose the take-away dinner they most wanted and we celebrated a fabulous adventure.
We raised £650 for two charities: Ikodul Forest Trust and Cycling Without Age, Sheffield. We’ll finish the journey by cycling Penistone to Hull another time and raise a little more.
You can read about our other adventures like taking our children and bikes on the Hull ferry or going no-car family camping in Edale. Please let us know of your cycle touring experiences with kids and do ask if you have any questions about ours.