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Yet another dose of Watling Street                    Back to Rides in 1995


I'm not sure why, but the Liverpool to London record had never fired my enthusiasm.  Perhaps it was my lack of familiarity with the northern part of the course, or maybe the route just seemed to have gone out fashion.  After all it was almost 40 years since anyone had broken this record on any machine, and the tricycle record was the oldest, at 43 years.

However, when Glenn Longland said that he was keen to attempt the Liverpool to London on bicycle, I decided that I would make a tricycle attempt.

We had to decide which route to take.  Historically, the rider would start by going through the Mersey Tunnel.  However, I took the view that the best route now available was to follow the north bank of the Mersey, and cross it at the Runcorn Bridge.  This was an unproven route, but I felt that it was worth a try.

And so the schedules were produced, with my start time being 1000, and Glenn due to set off at 1230.  Glenn’s schedule was designed to beat the bicycle record by just one minute, but I decided to set my target to beat the tricycle time by 25 minutes.  The old record was 9 hours 50 minutes, and so whenever I was ‘on schedule’, I was expecting to take 9 hours 25 minutes in the end.

We started watching for either a north-west or a south-east wind, and eventually spotted a chance for Saturday 22nd July.  John Dalton, who was providing his usual expert advice, was not optimistic that the conditions would hold out for Glenn's later start.  The north-west wind would become a west wind during the day, and this change would affect the northern areas first.  This left me the chance of holding on to good conditions for the whole of my ride, but Glenn would probably have had unsuitable winds from the start.  After consultation with Glenn, we decided that he would give the attempt a miss.

I notified the RRA secretary, and searched around for some officials to help me.  After a number of calls, I had engaged the services of Gerry Lewis (Hounslow & District Wheelers) as driver/feeder and John Williams (Mersey Roads Club) as Official Observer.

At this point, an update of the weather forecast sent a damper over our plans.  The chart produced with 48 hours to go suggested that the north-west wind would probably become a west wind even more quickly than expected.  It was a difficult decision for me, but having got this far, I was prepared to take the chance of a hard ride.

Gerry and I drove northbound on the Friday.  We joined the course at Towcester, following the route in reverse.  Everything was fine until we left Northwich, when we discovered that a bridge was undergoing reconstruction - and traffic was being sent around a lengthy detour.  A close inspection showed that I would be able to get across by using the pedestrian walkway, while the following car took the detour.  Not ideal, but not a disaster.

We moved on to Runcorn, intending to have a quick drive over the slightly devious route across the town.  We ended up crossing the bridge five times before successfully following the intended course!

This left us on the outskirts of Liverpool, at about 9pm, needing overnight accommodation and some food.  Unfortunately there aren't copious quantities of guest houses and Italian restaurants in Halewood.  Luckily, though, we obtained directions to a hotel in the nearby suburb of Gateacre, and even more luckily the restaurant was still open.  Phew!

On the morning of the attempt, we had a welcome bonus.  The weather chart in the Daily Telegraph showed that predicted wind conditions had reverted to those initially forecasted several days before.  This was a real relief, particularly as it was already quite windy at 8am.  I didn't know whether to believe it!

We drove the few miles into the city, and made our final preparations.  John Williams arrived, having travelled from his home on the morning.  Shortly, Philip Heaton turned up (having interrupted a weekend away with his family!) to deal with timing me away from the start.

After a quick check over the first mile, I was ready to go, and set off at 10 am precisely.

Within 5 minutes I was making good progress, and was out of the urban area.  The next few miles were the fastest of the ride, with speeds frequently in excess of 30mph - I was more than slightly concerned, as this might have suggested that the wind was from the west!

Over the Runcorn bridge, and I was competently directed along my patent spiral route through the town, and onto the road to Northwich.

The next point of concern was the closed road.  As my car took the detour, I had to hope that I didn't suffer a mechanical problem in next couple of miles.  At the bridge, I was directed and generally shouted at by Mike Johnson, and with Morgan stopping any pedestrians ... I made a cautious crossing.

Fortunately, there were no more obstacles in Northwich, Middlewich and Sandbach, and I was several minutes ahead of schedule when I joined the A34 towards Newcastle-under-Lyme.

This was the first point that I began to doubt the wisdom of making the record attempt.  Suddenly, I found that I was riding along fairly sheltered roads, at about 16mph.  I thought (as I often do) that I would never manage to get the speed back above the 20mph average that I needed.

Before long, however, things were looking up, and I was getting some speed again.  Somebody shouted that I was on the last climb before a long downhill run.  This was good news indeed, and motivated me.  It even turned out to be true.

I was on the lookout for a representative from Longstaff Cycles, and shortly saw Beverley, with the promised beaming smile and encouraging shout, as I sped by on one of her Company's finest two-wheel drive machines.  At the check in the middle of Newcastle-under-Lyme, I was 8 minutes up on schedule, taking 2-11-45 for 50 miles.

I sped on past Stone, then turned left to Rugeley and Lichfield.  Jim Hopper made sure that I stayed on the A51 and so I pressed onwards to join the A5 near Tamworth.  The first few miles of A5 are fabulous, as the road is brand-new, smooth and very fast.  However, it doesn't last very long, and soon it was back to the rough old A5 which I remembered.  Just past Atherstone, the 100 point was passed in 4-21-30, giving a faster second 50 than the first.

After Hinckley, those roman road-builders reminded me of their famous sense of humour.  The succession of climbs and descents left me in quite a state, but (surprisingly) 25 minutes ahead of schedule at the check near Crick.

This advantage was a landmark, because it was the first time that I could think seriously about beating 9 hours for the ride.

All I had to do was maintain this advantage over the last 80 miles.  This was foremost in my mind, as I climbed through Kilsby ... at well below the required speed.  To maintain the 25 minute lead over my schedule, I calculated the time at which I had to pass through Weedon Bec (the next check-point).  Having done that, I watched the distances quoted on the signs at successive road junctions.  I mentioned earlier the roman road-builders having a sense of humour.  The Northamptonshire sign writers are in another league altogether - the mileages were all over the place!  For about 5 minutes I had 6 to go, then suddenly 3 to go, and the last half-mile took three minutes.  After all that, I had just hung on to the fragile 25 minutes as I shot over the cross-roads.

I then launched myself into the next segment, from Weedon to Towcester.  Another classic roman road, with a succession of lousy climbs and bumpy descents - hadn't they heard of cuttings !?  I was a further minute ahead at Towcester, and it was more of the same through towards Milton Keynes.  I arrived at the bypass another minute ahead, and a period at 25mph gave me a total of 32 minutes advantage at the end.

Some of this time was given back as I hauled myself past Little Brickhill, but by Dunstable I was (metaphorically) holding my own, still with 32 minutes in hand.

Feeling quite cock-a-hoop with progress, I pressed on to St Albans, where the advantage had reached 34 minutes.  This was the maximum lead I managed.  I am unsure of what happened at this stage, maybe the wind dropped off, maybe I decided to take things carefully, or maybe I was just getting tired.  Either way, I began to surrender time to my schedule in the last hour.

By Highgate, the gap was down to 30 minutes.  Then, despite a good run into the centre of town (including green lights at The Angel!), I lost another two minutes.  However, the magical nine hour barrier was still safely beaten when I passed the finish after 198.6 miles.

The only twist remaining was that Don Glover, who was waiting to time me in, was watching in the wrong direction!  I approached him, shouting "Over here! Behind You!".  Luckily, his reactions were quick, and I didn't lose any seconds.  The final result was 8 hours 56 minutes 58 seconds, improving John Arnold's 1952 time by 53 minutes.

My understanding is that John Arnold started at 4am in Liverpool, finishing at 1:50 pm in London.  A report written by his brother Alf says that the wind was generally favourable, with a dodgy bit in the middle.  John's ride made him the first tricyclist to set an RRA place-to-place record with a speed of faster than 20 mph.

Alf's report also said that "E. Mundy of 24 hour fame" was at the finish.  Eddie was there this time as well.


Another extract from Dadswell’s diaries, July 1995

Back to Rides in 1995

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