Thursday, 1 December 2011

It Ain't Dutch!

I've written before about the UK National Cycle Network. 'National' really is a misnomer though as these routes lack any central planning and monies instead relying on piecemeal funding and voluntary rangers while making use of existing roads and trails of various types. They can be circuitous, dirty, muddy, poorly signed and strewn with barriers of various types. They can also be fun and enjoyable, traffic lite routes but as a network they fall far short of perfect in my opinion. They are good for leisure cycling but have limited appeal to the utility cyclist.

Route 6 is the one nearest me and it will run from London to Keswick when complete. I sometimes use the off road section to travel from Prestwich to Bury. It is a longer journey than by road at almost 8 miles compared to just over 4. I do it rarely, usually when the weather is pleasant, I fancy a change of scenery and have some spare time. I've also taken the Golden Child along it on her tagalong to Radcliffe, something I would definitely not do along the busy A roads. 

I use my tourer or MTB which are more than adequate but any skinny tyred road machine would not fare very well. Even on the right bike, in the wet the rider will be mud spattered despite full length, close fitting mudguards (I've done it. It's true!). Not really what you want on the way to/from work/shopping.

View Cycle Route 6: Prestwich to Bury in a larger map

The section south of the M60 has recently been cleaned up and the paths upgraded as part of the 'Prestwich Forest Park' regeneration scheme. It is more than usable in most weathers for the majority of cycles/cyclists, although it has no lighting at all which limits its use for dark time commuting, unless you enjoy cycle lighting like me and Mr C.

North of the M60 the route becomes The Outwood Trail and follows an old railway line. Immediately on leaving the bridge crossing the motorway the quality of the path is very much subject to the prevailing weather - being either dry and rutted or muddy and bepuddled. It is also very overgrown along sections. 

As the route approaches Radcliffe it does improve somewhat before sending the rider on a short but poorly signed road section, up an essentially pedestrian ramp into a car park where you are left to guess how to proceed. When the point to cross the road is finally located the route follows a canal towpath for a while. This is asphalted but is narrow with several 'cyclist dismount' suggestions at low bridges. The route then goes via a car park, along a brick filled farm track before joining another old railway line (asphalted) for the short leg into Bury.

So why I am bringing this up? Well news reaches me the Outwood Trail section may be due for some work to improve the surface. This is one of four projects currently awaiting funding in the Bury area from a bid to the Greater Manchester Local Sustainable Transport Fund. Now, nothing is definite, particularly in these choppy financial times, but it might come to pass, at some point in the future, there will be *gasp* some hard packed gravel or maybe even asphalt along this section. 

This would be nice but it still doesn't make it part of a well planned National Cycle Network, meeting any serious comparison to cycle paths in more enlightened countries and a challenge to the lure of the internal combustion engine. Still, its a nice day out!


  1. I've used the NCN as a basis on which to plan cycle tours for a few years now. The Lon Las Cymru route across Wales was particularly good. I do treat the NCN as a purely recreational thing.

    Someone recently pointed out to me that Britain is the only country in Europe where the 'national cycling network' is provided entirely by a charity!

  2. There's a new Anglo-French collaboration called Cycle West. Part of that talks about a cycle route from Plymouth to Bournemouth, based on NCN2.
    That sounds very hopeful, until you try and cycle NCN2 out of Plymouth! I know this city well, and there are parts of NCN2 that I simply cannot find! A visitor with no local knowledge simply stands no chance at all.

    On the other hand, NCN27 (which links Plymouth to Ilfracombe) is mostly a very nice route, with parts of it spectacularly good.

    Pot luck with the National Cycle Network, it would seem.

  3. Timely :>)

    I've been following some of those little blue signs this week for a bit of commuting on the bike.

    Some of them have been really useful for navigating a way through backstreets & the odd interlinking path without a map.

    The surfaces of some of the routes have been bad though, and some of them are really not the best from a personal safety point of view in hours of darkness - so in that sense nowhere near as useful as they could be.

    Someone recently pointed out to me that Britain is the only country in Europe where the 'national cycling network' is provided entirely by a charity!

    Yep - not good that. Can't make my mind up as to whether that's a handy excuse to make the crap quality bits 'acceptable' or not.