Preston Guild Wheel - it's not just Bradley Wiggins creating a cycling legacy in Lancashire
Since the Olympics, more and more of us are getting fit on two wheels. Martin Pilkington joins them on a new Lancashire cycle route
It’s not only the Olympics that leave a legacy – the Preston Guild could have future generations of Lancastrians following in the tyre-tracks of gold medallists like Burnley’s Steven Burke and Bolton’s Jason Kenny.
This bequest comes in the shape of The Guild Wheel, a circular cycling and walking route which links tracks, footpaths and bridleways around Preston’s perimeter to form a 21 mile circuit.
The original idea came from Peter Ward, of the Preston Cycling Liaison Group, and Alan Waters was the man chosen to make it happen. He was seconded as project manager from the global engineering company, Jacobs.
Alan and I begin at Bluebell Way near M6 junction 31a. Soon we take what was once a railway line, the first reminder of the continuity of change. Once across Longridge Road we ride along the shady to the new Pope Lane nature reserve, until recently a waterlogged playing field. Then down the only really big hill in the 21-mile circuit, through Boilton Wood – unless you’re an Olympian it’s best to go clockwise because of that.
‘Most of the funding came from Lancashire County Council which gave us �1.9 million with additional sources bringing the total up to �2.7 million,’ Alan explains. ‘Sustrans (the charity which pioneered the safer routes concept in the UK) provided money towards improvement work between Broughton College and Cottam to make it a school-route for pupils.
Barton Grange Garden Centre supplied some free help with landscaping; and we’ve had funding from the Primary Care Trust because of the health improvement implications.’ Improved access to various woodlands also brought cash from the Forestry Commission.
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Beyond Boilton comes another example of how our environment is changing, and for the better: Brockholes Wetland Reserve, former quarries now lakes attracting wildlife and families. The views here are splendid as we rush towards the Ribble, possibly the prettiest section, the path hugging the river for two miles. Fly-fishermen, intent on their sport, are oblivious to our progress.
Further evidence of positive change comes with a stop at Avenham Park. Bikes secured we drink tea outside the fine new Pavilion, proof that modern architecture can be both human and beautiful. Bridges punctuate the river vista in both directions.
Through the Docklands – offices and flats where once cargo ruled – then along and across Blackpool road via the cycle-friendly bridge, from which viewpoint Alan indicates an unexpected benefit of the scheme, an orchard planted with linked funding.
To our right is another legacy project, linking the Ribble with the Lancaster Canal and us with the Victorians. ‘We had good cooperation from British Waterways, doing bank reinforcement where the route follows Lancaster Canal’s Millennium Link section,’ says Alan.
‘This is very much a community project – the Probation Service provided support and we had conservation volunteers clearing paths. The challenge for the future will be maintaining the route, stopping greenery encroaching on paths. That needs community involvement. The city council has funding in its maintenance budget now, but money is tight so volunteer efforts will be invaluable.’
There is hardly a soul all the way along the canal-side, strange given how leafy and quiet it is, a wonderful place to walk as well as ride a bike.Once past the canal we head north through parts of the quiet suburb of Cottam that I never knew existed, including the lovely ponds.
After Cottam it’s over the M55 on a bridge where the Highways Agency has agreed to raise the parapets for safety, one of the more significant parts of the project. ‘The biggest challenges have not been civil engineering ones but obtaining the licences and permissions necessary to change the use of paths, or the routes,’ he says.
We cycle down the shared pathway along the A6 from Broughton to D’Urton Lane, one of the few road sections where you can for a moment – with care - be Bradley Wiggins. About 80 per cent of the way is off-road, the rest generally on quiet back-roads - then turn right into the delightfully named Midgery Lane, a misnomer as it’s more path than lane. This is the last section, mostly parkland with a few short slopes that at the end of a 21-mile ride feel like Mont Ventoux for the peloton.
For Kenny, Burke or Murray the route would not be physically challenging. Those less accustomed to exercise may prefer to take it, like the Tour de France, in stages. This unfit cyclist will certainly be returning, though with a more comfortable saddle. Least said!
You don’t need to be Bradley
Bradley Wiggins, the Eccleston Olympian, says his favourite training route is 130 miles and takes in Clitheroe, Waddington Fell, Kirkby Lonsdale and Cockerham Sands.
He’s not alone in his love of Lancashire’s byways. We have some of the country’s best locations for cyclists with hundreds of routes, through urban areas and across some stunning scenery, such as the Forest of Bowland and Gisburn Forest.
There are several websites providing maps and routes for you to try out. We’d recommend the Lancashire section of www.cycle-route.com and the Lancashire county council website. You can also get a detailed map of the Guild Wheel at http://www.prestonguild2012.com/guild-wheel