Regional Cycle Network Route 91: the Lancashire Cycleway southern loop


Amongst the signs and notices spoiling the green in the pretty Lancashire village of Rivington is one that points to the Lancashire Cycleway. I cycle past the route sign almost every day, and some similar ones further along the road to Adlington, another village close to where I live. I would be surprised if many of the cyclists on this road are consciously cycling the 'Way' or if anyone other than Jon Sparks, author of Cicerone Guide, has bothered cycling the whole route. The Lancashire Cycleway, apart from the route signs, is not a piece of infrastructure for cyclists. It's just normal roads so I don't really see the point of it.

If the Lancashire Cycleway brings more outsiders into the county or if Lancashire cycling people especially enjoy it as a cycle route, then I'm wrong, and though I agree with Jon Sparks that: "Lancashire is a great place to cycle and cycling is a great way to see Lancashire," it would be much better if Sustrans provided a searchable database where you can go online and download cycle routes tailored to your own preferences and which can be put on a GPS. At present they don't even offer GPS routes of the National and Regional cycle networks. They provide only a PDF map. The Lancashire Cycleway is marked in blue on the one below (routes 90 and 91). The 91 near Lancaster is, I think, incorrectly numbered as that is the northern loop: route 90.

National Cycle Network Routes 90 and 91

Sustrans map of Regional Cycle Network Routes 90 and 91

The blue lines are Regional Routes, green are the National Cycle Network on-road, and purple are the National Cycle Network traffic-free. The green arrows "indicate all the places where Sustrans is working with children in schools, with families at home, with employers, or with whole communities to enable people to travel much more by foot, bike and public transport." Towns marked yellow in a black ring are 'Cycling England's Cycling Towns and City and Scottish Sustainable Travel Towns' (whatever that means). The coloured lines on the map are where Sustrans would like you to ride your bike – cycling by numbers.

According to Lancashire County Council, the Lancashire Cycleway (260 miles long) was set up by members of the Cyclists' Touring Club and Friends of the Earth. It links up with the Cumbria Cycleway. The Cicerone guide for the Cumbria Cycleway is now out of print, as the Lancashire version will be before too long, with mapping and routing going digital and the sharing of information between cyclists online.

Returning to Sustrans, there is a view amongst cyclists that the National Cycle Network is part of a government plot to progressively remove us from the roads and that the original 'grassroots' movement to convert abandoned railways for cyclists has developed into a large and unaccountable private institution whose sustainable transport mission conceals a mission to promote itself. The National Cycle Network is a white elephant say the cyclists, or worse: a Trojan Horse.

Its charitable status and reliance on public money leads to the suspicion that Sustrans is part of the 'establishment' instead of an action group representing non-motorists. It is not a campaigning body like the CTC (although the CTC now wants to be a charity as well). As I see it, the real issue is whether the cycle network makes any positive difference to cyclists in practical terms and whether it can ever deliver meaningful infrastructure of the kind you see in Holland and Denmark. I think the answer is no, because there isn't a national will for it to do so, and even if there was, we've left it too late.

Simplistic though it seems, the best way to support public cycling in the UK is to improve the behaviour of motorists towards people on bicycles. It's not too late for that but it won't be done with little blue signs.


24 comments on “Regional Cycle Network Route 91: the Lancashire Cycleway southern loop”

  1. Chris wrote:

    I don’t know about all the motives behind the blue signs, but I read in a recent cycling magazine about the guy who had the idea for the National Byways. Apparently, he’s ridden them all, and there are more to come. Presumably, his idea is that cyclists shouldn’t spend too much time trying to read a map, or a number of maps, when you can follow a route another cyclist has already said is worth following. I think the idea of the National Byway is that you stay on the same road unless a sign directs you otherwise. I’ve ridden the Bedale loop and it was easy to follow if I remember correctly.

     Route 65 and National Byway sign

    More signs. Here in the pretty village of Welton in East Yorkshire.

    I would have thought that people with all the modern gadgets would be able to sort themselves out with a route online. Perhaps the people behind the blue cycleway signs don’t put their routes online because they’ve invested in old-school ways and want you to buy their maps (but then with so many signs would you need a special map?). I suppose the routes aren’t really intended for the ‘serious’ cyclist and are there for those dipping their toes in the water, so to speak. And, generally speaking, they wouldn’t be expected to have GPS, perhaps. Dunno really.

  2. Patrick wrote:

    I didn't know about the National Byway. One of their routes passes near me but I haven't noticed anything about it. All the signs get a bit much – even normal road signs on leaning poles – and I probably react against official bodies trying to herd cyclists in particular directions and preaching about improved fitness and wellbeing and all that stuff. I'm sceptical over what is really achieved. Off-road trails are not the same. There's real benefit there because they don't use roads that everyone knows already exist and they add to the sum total.

    Of greater value than officially marked routes all over the place are the clubs and other groups who organise actual cycling events and various activities: group rides, Audax, weekend meetups, etc which get people out on their bikes. I don't have a need to take part but I always enjoy seeing them happen.

  3. Chris wrote:

    This weekend I read in the local paper about a Morecambe to Bridlington Coast to Coast route put together by the National Cycle Network:

    Apparently, it will be 'opening September 2010'. It doesn't have the same ring to it as Morecambe to Mappleton, but it does have the symmetry of a bay at both ends of the ride. I think I'll stick with my route though.

  4. Patrick wrote:

    I agree. Morecambe to Mappleton sounds classy.

  5. Mick F wrote:

    I hate them.
    They are a waste of time and money.
    I hate the way that motorists think that we should be on cycle tracks and routes and special places.
    Get rid of them completely.
    Educate cyclists to be more pro-active on the roads and see how safe they are and not be frightened of traffic.
    Educate motorists to be considerate to other road users including pedestrians.

    Good morning guys!

  6. Mary wrote:

    I took my eldest with me last summer and we cycled the Northern part of the Lancashire Cycle way. I must admit that as an outsider, I really enjoyed our run and was glad of the blue signs. We slowly cycled the route staying at B&B's and eating at local pubs as we passed by.

    The only bits I changed was that someone on the CTC forum suggested we visited Pendle (so we could do the 'Witch Hunt') and it was fabulous and I am glad we did that part, we went to Witches galore (A very nicely run small shop that stocked everything you would ever need about Witches and the great Lancashire Witch hunt etc... and I got a few books to research the history of Lancaster... Anyway I digress.

    So I did like the Lancashire cycle way.

    I have cycled the official C2C, Hadrian's Wall, the Lancashire Cycle way (Northern Loop), and for me, who is a non UK resident and un accustomed to the roads of England (not tried anywhere else as yet), I have found following these routes good, and had they not existed, I might never of been brave enough to tackle a ride in the UK at all. I do prefer the routes that keep you on road, than off road, as the Transpennine Trail is horrible and I have to go on that this weekend, as the roads near it are even more horrible according to Google Maps.

    For you seasoned drivers and cyclists, the cycle routes might be a bit... slow, and not ideal to ride on, but for me, they really got me off. A bit like stabilsers on my first bike once did I suppose... cos now I am about to embark on my very own C2C. Liverpool to Lowestoft.

    I am sorry that so many people dislike the routes, we have nothing whatsoever like them on our island, and I think they might get others out and about on bikes, and that cant be a bad thing.

    And I am interested in the Way of the Roses route and am waiting for it to open properly, as my hubby is from Bridlington and it cant be much easier for me to cycle to than from Morecambe. Wanna do a bit of family tree stuff in Brid. I could of course just plot my own path, and maybe I will, but its nice to have the choice.


  7. Mary wrote:

    Ive just noticed Mick, how early in the morning you are up and about! I take it its a nice cool morning and a cycle ride is the order of the day?

    I only get up that this time if I cant sleep or I have the ferry to catch!

  8. Patrick wrote:

    I noticed that too. Very early. 7.00 am is a good start for me. 6.00 am is impossible.

  9. Mick F wrote:

    Not as early as today!

    I was knackered when I got back from my Mevagissey Century yesterday evening, and was in bed at 9pm but didn't sleep too well. I was tired, but not sleepy, and seemed to be awake all night.

    I gave up at 4:30 and made myself a cuppa. I may try to have an afternoon nap or else I'll be in bed by 9pm again!

    I've been here on the settee sorting out my Garmin records and reviewing yesterday's ride. Also, I keep a record of my Eddington Number (Cycling). Do you remember that thread? I can now confirm that I'm an E71. My aim is to get the E80 or above by next summer.

    I'll be typing up my Century report later this morning.

    Regards to all,

  10. Chris wrote:

    Mick wrote: I was tired, but not sleepy, and seemed to be awake all night.

    Perhaps it's the weather?

  11. Garry wrote:

    I like the routes of the type you mostly castigate! I'm a foreigner in your land and the advantage for the stranger is that they tell him where the quiet roads are. I've cycled quite a few of these routes while touring in Britain and by and large they were ok. The big bugbear is confused signs (I've seen a few with contradictory signs) and of course the missing signs (usually going through towns). I've always had a hatred of cycling with the noise of cars in the background. Most of my friends are the same, which is probably why we are cycling friends in the first place.

  12. Patrick wrote:

    There's nothing wrong with the routes themselves, but all roads should have equal status for cycling. An 'official' National Cycle Network suggests some roads might be more appropriate for cyclists than others, and that is the worry in the long term. Where is all this leading to? I'm a member of Sustrans and I don't doubt they do a worthwhile job creating new places to cycle – traffic-free trails etc – but they claim that 75% of the UK population lives within 2 miles of a route. Most of those 'routes' are normal roads. 99% of the UK population lives within 6 feet of a road!

    I see the point about outsiders having something to aim at.

  13. Andy wrote:

    I look at these from a different perspective to you – I see them as being for touring, not transport. I live just off the Northern loop, and have ridden round it – it's a lovely tour of North Lancashire. For those who don't know the area, what better way to get around – a route someone has researched and selected nice roads, etc., with the added bonus that navigation is made simple. I would recommend it as a first tour.

    Regarding getting cyclists off the road, I think this is a problem with the local cycle paths, but not the regional routes.

  14. Patrick wrote:

    Andy wrote: ... a route someone has researched and selected nice roads, etc., with the added bonus that navigation is made simple ...

    I agree with you there. However, the Lancashire Cycleway is just one of many lovely tours in the region. As I say, if promoting it as a good route to cycle brings people in, I'm all in favour. I think the real issue is the extent to which 'official' road routes that are part of the so-called National or Regional Networks assume status over ones that are not.

    The same applies in the case of 'official' off-road trails (with names) and ordinary bridleways. You have to be sceptical over some of what Sustrans (and government departments and local authorities) are up to in the long term.

  15. Marc wrote:

    Hi Guys,

    I am new to cycling and am intending to do the southern loop of Lancs next week, I am planning to do it over 3 days (so will be stopping for a few leisurely pub lunches)! I was wondering where is a good starting/ finishing point? I will be arriving at my start location by train, so any suggestion would be great? Im looking at joining the route in the Blackburn area, as its easy to get by train, Is the route easy to follow? were planning on staying in B&B's in the Ormskirk/ Skelmersdale area, and then Nelson/ Colne area 2nd night, any help or suggestions would be greatly appreciated,

  16. Patrick wrote:

    Marc, I haven't cycled the Lancashire Cycleway but would imagine the route signs are quite easy to follow. I would consider getting hold of the official guide by Jon Sparks though. With that, you will not get lost and it contains information on some of the attractions along the way. The route passes just to the north of Blackburn so that does seem a good place to start.

    Bear in mind when planning your distances that west of Chorley is pretty flat. On the rest of the route there are more ups and downs.

    I hope you have a pleasant trip.

  17. Marc wrote:

    Thanks for the advice Patrick, hopefully it will spur me and my friends to start cycling on a regular basis, I will let you know the sights and sounds of Route 91 next week!

  18. Chris wrote:

    There are a number of Lancashire cycle routes, including route 91, here:

  19. Greg wrote:

    I think it is better that this route, or something like it, has been established. What is the alternative — that there is nothing at all? Like many cyclists I would like a complete change on our roads so that it is safe for everyone, children included, to be able to cycle in safety.

    But to criticise this route and Sustrans, and to imply that this is a step backwards is wrong.

    Let people enjoy discovering this area of Lancashire, including using this route if they want to even if it falls short of what you might want in an ideal world.

  20. Patrick wrote:

    I'm not criticising the route as such, but bear in mind that the Lancashire Cycleway is just a figment of someone's imagination, with the addition of some superfluous blue signs that give the impression it's something special. Those roads are no better or safer for children than hundreds of other routes through the Lancashire countryside. All that is needed to enjoy these lanes is a map.

    The on-road part of the National Cycle Network is mostly a line-drawing exercise.

  21. Norma wrote:

    If they are so keen to get us to ride these cycle routes, why do they make it so difficult to find a decent map of them. i have just searched the internet to try and find where my local route goes and have found no decent maps whatsoever. I want to cycle away from traffic but it is like banging your head on a brick wall to come up with the info!

  22. Patrick wrote:

    The Lancashire Cycleway route maps (Northern and Southern loops) are available as PDFs on Lancashire County Council's website. Apart from the Cicerone Guide (a book with the route marked on fragments of Ordnance Survey maps) I doubt if you can buy an actual map of the cycleway.

  23. Alan Salisbury wrote:

    I am amazed at the negative comments posted about the "signs". Anything that promotes cycling to me is a positive, and should be encouraged. The idea of the routes is that cyclists are directed along quieter more scenic roads not on busy A roads. I have ridden several parts of the 91 but did not realise that it is in fact a loop.

  24. Patrick wrote:

    I don't think these signs do promote cycling. I wish they did. The sign says: "Cycle this way," and by implication not the other way, as if the other way is not suitable for bicycles.

    If the Lancashire Cycleway was really special and nearby roads were full of people trying to find it, the sign(s) would perhaps have a purpose but the whole area is full of quiet scenic roads and there is no need to direct cyclists along this route in favour of lots of others. A better way to promote cycling would be to encourage cyclists to come and explore the area instead of directing them along a route that someone has dreamed up as a reason to write a book. I'm afraid I disagree with the whole concept of a National Cycle Network (in which the majority of routes are marked out purely for the sake of creating a 'network'). But I agree with signs on popular routes with genuine status and which are enjoyed by significant numbers of cyclists – coast to coasts for example, or routes created with considerable public investment.

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