Second City Divide (film)
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The Second City Divide is a bikepacking route connecting Glasgow, Scotland and Manchester, England via some of the region’s best off-tarmac tracks. Gaëlle Bojko rode the 609km route and created this beautiful documentary. Watch it here and read her day-by-day account alongside photos from the trip…
Photos and recount by Gaëlle Bojko (@biketotheblocks)
The Second City Divide is a relatively new bikepacking route that links Glasgow, Scotland and Manchester, England, two proud Second Cities—meaning, each is the second largest metropolis its respective country. Both of these cities offer a wealth of culture, creativity, and history, and between them lies even more to explore on two wheels. The route was designed to be easy to access, support local economies, and make you think twice about needing to travel far for a big ride.
Gaëlle Bojko (@biketotheblocks) rode the Second City Divide route in July—in reverse—starting in Manchester and finishing in Glasgow. Along the way she made this film and took a load of amazing photos. Watch it here, then scroll down to read her day by day account alongside a beautiful photo collection from the trip…
I got a late start from Manchester. The sun is hot, the air is warm, and I’m stepping out of my grandmother’s house. I’ve spent a couple of weeks in Manchester every year for 22 years but never have ridden in the region. Now is the time!
The way out of Manchester is nice. The route follows the Ashton Canal and quickly ends in the countryside. I turn back from time to time to check the distancing view of the city. It still seems huge from up here.
The climbs are tough and I finally join the Pennine Bridleway. Dry masonry walls as far as the eye can see, uncountable sheep and rocky paths. This is going to be tough, very tough, but I’m also very glad to be here. The trail is alternately smooth and rocky.
The bottom of my pannier bangs a rock in one of the stony descents. This is the first (and only) crash of the ride resulting in one pretty bruised, scratched, and bleeding arm and a broken hook on my left pannier. Too bad.
I stop at a pub to get some water and clean my dust covered arm. I start looking for a place to camp. It’s not Manchetser anymore but still quite inhabited and I end up pitching my tent on a golf course. There are sheep, cows, and horses grazing, so I guess it’s not too much of a problem if I camp here.
I wake up early and can already spot some golfers on the course. I eat a quick breakfast and pack everything rapidly. My arm hurts a lot when it’s being shaken on rugged descents – that will have to do.
The air is already warm and I’m enjoying the trails a lot. Not a single car, only a couple of dog walkers and such nice scenery.
The rocky doubletrack quickly turns into a nice, smooth singletrack that is a pleasure to ride. It’s wide enough for my panniers so I’m not afraid of banging them again, and hopefully the soil is dry.
I stop right after Colne and set up my tent at the foot of the climb that I’ll have to deal with tomorrow.
Let’s get over this hill – climb for breakfast. I push my bike when it’s too rocky and literally stop every 2 minutes to take a photo. The views are stunning, this is definitely worth it.
The wind up here is crazy. I rest for a bit behind a rock and hurtle down the gravel path. Unlike some other routes, the Second City Divide has been OK with a loaded tourer so far. The weight makes everything tougher but it still it rideable and don’t have to push my bike too often. I am definitely enjoying this.
I get back on the tarmac and bump into a bunch of cyclists. We ride together until the Ribblehead Viaduct. They stay on the tarmac and I get back to a (steep) gravel track – still ridable though! The downhill is pretty rocky and my arm still hurts but I’m having fun.
I set camp in a field, surrounded by sheep once again.
Back on the trails. There are quite a few walkers and it’s pretty steep so I push my bike. It must be quite funny to see a cyclist pushing such a heavy bike over the hills. As I’m chatting with a couple, the man tells me that he is walking his stick, and I’m walking my bike. Quite true.
It’s pretty straightforward to Kirkland, where a massive uphill is waiting. A 700m climb over a handful of kilometers, this is going to be really tough. After two hours of pushing, pulling and dragging my bike over the moors, I make it to Greg’s hut. Hamish, an Australian guy walking from London to Edinburgh, is already there. We chat a bit and go to bed early – we’re both pretty knackered.
Early wake up and what a view. It’s only downhill from the bothy but the rocky and steep tracks as well as the many river crossings slowed me down. The views, once again, are pretty amazing though, and even if I’m walking my bike most of the time, I’m definitely not complaining.
The way to Hadrian’s wall is a nice, flat cycle way and I’m over the moon to average 25 km/h for over an hour. My legs are quite happy to have a bit of a rest as well.
A few hills after Hadrian’s wall and the route turns into some really enjoyable forest tracks. The smooth, grey gravel surface is nice to ride, and the sun setting is gorgeous. Riding a bike is nice, but it’s even better when everything comes together – the light, the road, the weather, and many other things that change an average ride to an amazing and unforgettable one.
Here come the midges. I’m sitting in my tent, watching them fly around. I pack everything as quick as I can but still get countless bites. Too bad!
Back on the forest track, then a singletrack – here’s the Scottish border – my legs are a bit sore. This is the point where the mindset is more important than the legs and I have to concentrate. The scenery’s still stunning and I try to have a look around from time to time as I’m mostly focusing on the road.
Here comes the rain, here comes the (head)winds. This is not a good day. I’m pretty tired by now, in a bad mood and don’t have anymore water. I cycle to the next village and arrive at 8pm. The owner of the only shop sees me and switches the lights off. Damn.
Back on the bike then for 20 additional kilometres to get away from the M74, find a quiet place to camp and a water stream. The spot is great and the light is amazing – this is enough to cheer me up.
Seventh and last day. I follow the route to Strathaven – a few more climbs, more and more houses and traffic.
I have to get to Glasgow early in the afternoon so choose to skip the very last bit – I will come back for that – and take the shortest route into the city. It’s definitely not nice but it’s straight forward and I get there (almost) in time. Time for a shower!
I spend the evening thinking about how tough and rough, but awesome this week has been. It felt so good to ride in places I’ve only drove through. And I’m happy to have finally gotten to spend time in the Pennines – a long dream of mine. I’ll come back – maybe with a lighter bike this time, even if I was super happy to ride my bike loaded with stuff I’ve been carrying around for the past 12 months.
Stay tuned for the full second City Route guide, and be sure to visit SecondCityDivide.cc for more information…