Sunday, 11 September 2011

Tour of Britain - Stage 2 Guide


Kendal, the Auld Grey Town (© Ally McGurk, CC2.0)
WEATHER REPORT: see the bottom of this article

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Stage 2 is a considerably shorter ride than Stage 1 at 137.7km, but with a Category 2 climb in the first 10km it should have all but the fittest climbers feeling the burn early on. There are a pair of Cat 3s later on in the race, but a relatively flat section in between will allow the pack a chance to catch up, putting the pressure on the climbers in an effort to redress the balance and ensuring that everyone will be glad to see the finish line. However, since the finish line is marked by Blackpool's 158m tower, they're going to be able to see it while they still have a long way to go - and that saps will like nothing else when your legs are hurting and you've had enough; especially in the horrible weather predicted for today. As Geraint Thomas says, "May not be the strongest that wins today, simply the last man upright and pedalling. Can't wait!!"

Scafell Pike (© Ann Bowker)
The race starts today in the Auld Grey Town, Kendal in Cumbria's Lake District - 2292 square kilometres of lakes, moors and mountains (including England's highest, Scafell Pike), frequently included on lists of the world's most beautiful destinations. Designated a National Park in 1951 (the largest in England and Wales), all the land in England reaching an altitude greater than 914m (3000 feet) lies within its boundaries, as do the largest, longest and deepest lakes - which, with one single exception, are never termed lakes: other that Bassenthwaite Lake, they're either tarns, meres, reservoirs or waters.

In former times, Kendal was known as Kirkby Kendal - meaning a village with a church in the Kent Valley and derived from the ancient name Cherchbi, as recorded in the Domesday Book. Its nickname is derived from the grey limestone used to construct many of the buildings in the town. Today, it relies on tourism and IT as the basis of its economy, but in times past it was a centre of cloth manufacture - some manufacturing industry remains, including a pipe tobacco facility, a firm producing turbines and a baby food canning plant operated by the multinational Heinz company. The race begins, as ever, with a neutral zone; which today starts at approximately 10:30 in Abbot Hall Park and heads south along Dowker's Lane before two right turns lead onto the A6 Highgate. This carries the peloton north as far as Stricklandgate, where the riders turn right again onto Blackhall Road and over the bridge for Sandes Avenue and Station Road, following the bend and going straight ahead onto the A685 Appleby Road. After 4.2km, the neutral zone ends at Stocks Farm and the race proper gets underway (54°20'53.35"N 2°42'40.39"W).

Grayrigg (© Alexander P Kapp CC2.0)
Having passed Scalthwaiterigg, the Tour reaches Grayrigg after 4.6km, a small town that hit the headlines in 2007 following the Grayrigg Derailment, a train crash that left one person dead and thirty with serious injuries. Rescue was complicated by the isolated location with access limited to narrow, unsurfaced farm tracks; meaning that mountain rescue helicopters were used to ferry the worst-injured to hospital. The first climb of the stage, a Cat 2, begins 0.9km after Grayrigg as the peloton pass a gate on the left of the road (54°22'13.38"N  2°38'12.22"W). Whilst not too challenging for the initial sections, there are a few fairly steep parts before the road turns a medium 90 degree right 0.21km after a crossroads. It wouldn't usually be a particularly technical corner, but these narrow roads are used as droves by local farmers to move cattle and sheep from one field to another and as such can be very hazardous, especially after rain when the edges can be coated in a lethally slippery film of slurry (it's great for the roadside flowers, however).

Low Gill Viaduct (© David Ashcroft, CC2.0)
At 9.1km, the route takes a very sharp right - again, potentially slippery - onto the B6257. The summit is located 0.2km after the turning, parallel to a lay-by next to a small building among fields full of the slurry-making woolly devils (54°22'57.62"N  2°35'47.76"W). The initial half of the descent is fairly steep and - again due to the sheep and cattle - potentially hazardous despite the lack of tight corners. The underpass under the M6 motorway and railway just before Beck Foot, if used as a route between fields for livestock, could be very hazardous indeed as manure remains soft and slippery in the shade. Just south of the village, the road passes to the right of Low Gill Viaduct - a disused railway viaduct consisting of eleven arches, each 14m wide. The viaduct 190m from end to end and 30m high at the tallest point. A medium left turn lies 1.22km after the lane leading under the viaduct before the Tour reaches Firbank, 11.8km from the start of the race. It was here in 1652 that George Fox preached to a thousand people at a natural rock feature now known as Fox's Pulpit, one of many outdoor sermons he gave and among the most instrumental in bringing about the formation of the Quaker movement. The latter part of the descent is considerably less steep than the former.

Ingmire Hall (© Keith Wright, CC2.0)
After 16.6km, the route arrives at a T-junction with the A684, turning left and crossing a very narrow bridge 0.4km later. It's difficult to see just how narrow it is when approaching from the west, meaning that any rider who fails to study the parcours details sufficiently closely may find themselves running out of road and crashing into the left side railings. If too many riders attempt to cross at the same time, it will be the scene of a crash - as will the road just before it which is guaranteed to cause a pile-up if somebody doesn't brake quickly enough when arriving at the bottleneck where riders wait to cross. A medium right bend follows after 0.45km, before the race passes Ingmire Hall, a stately home of 15th Century origins but much remodeled in the years since - the house is a private residence and not open to the public; however, any spectator who fancies a closer look once the race has passed by can do so by walking along the public footpath that runs part of the way alongside the drive leading to the building.

The peloton arrives at Sedbergh after 18.6km (54°19'22.80"N 2°31'51.69"W), meaning that it is now in the Yorkshire Dales National Park. For many years, Sedbergh's economy has been based largely on its famous boarding school established in 1525 - however, the school was an addition to an already-established town rather than the town growing up around the school, as is made plain by the existence of a Saxon motte-and-bailey castle, the 12th Century parish church and a house dating to the 14th Century. It has also become known as a "book town," the six large independent bookshops and several book dealers bringing further income (and very pleasant employment opportunities) to the community. The stage's first intermediate sprint begins just before the town by a sign for Fairfield Mill (54°19'13.96"N 2°32'40.35"W). The route then takes a very tight right corner to join the A683 (Station Road). The road narrows in some sections before following the banks of the river for 100m and coming to a medium left - potential slurry again, being adjacent to a farm - 0.4km later. 0.55 from the corner is another narrow bridge over the River Lune. The bridge's exit, a slight right under overhanging trees, is also potentially hazardous due to slippery leaves, thorns etc. There is a Roman milestone, a pillar carved with Latin inscriptions, around 1.89km south of the bridge.

Easter Grotto, Ease Gill Caves
The road remains relatively level and free of difficult bends all the way to a bridge slightly narrower than the road in between Barbon and a golf course, then becomes unchallenging again all the way to Casterton located  32.3km from the start (54°12'39.54"N 2°34'40.14"W). Deep below the village are the Ease Gill Caves, until recent reclassification put them into second place behind the Welsh Ogof Draenen system (discovered in 1994 and yet to be fully explored) , the most extensive discovered in Britain. However, its 76km of passages, some of them flooded and thus accessible only to skilled cave divers (an activity that sounds about as fun as having your toenails ripped out with pliers to us), remain the country's most complex network.

Ruskin's View (CC3.0)
2.2km further south is the Devil's Bridge, one of the best-preserved medieval bridges in Britain and which - according the legend shared by many of the other bridges around the world with the same name - was built by the Devil after an old woman made a pact offering him the soul of the first person to cross it. Once he'd finished, the old lady outwitted him by throwing a piece of bread to the other side so that her dog chased after it, thus permitting the devil only the dog's soul. The same legend says that the Great Stone of Fourstones, deposited by an ice age glacier nearby, in fact fell from the Devil's purse as he carried the stones with which he built the bridge. We suspect that nowadays he prefers an Amex Black card. Every Sunday, the bridge becomes a meeting point for hundreds of motorcyclists and for the rest of the week scuba divers can be seen in the river below it. The stage's second intermediate sprint begins as the race passes the car park at the bridge and ends 100m later at the T-junction with the A65. If you're visiting, the little town of Kirkby Lonsdale on the opposite bank is well worth seeing - especially for the view from the churchyard at the northern end of the town, painted by Turner in 1816 and called "one of the loveliest views in England" by the art patron and social reformer John Ruskin: hence its modern name Ruskin's View.

Having turned left onto the much wider road, the peloton round a sweeping right bend and come to a junction and tight right turn leading back onto the A683, immediately crossing the border into Lancashire - in fact, there are sufficient points of reference here that with careful use of a GPS device or good old-fashioned map reading skill, it should be possible to locate a point here where a person would be in Lancashire, Cumbria and North Yorkshire simultaneously.

Thurland Castle (© Karl and Ali CC2.0)
A medium right-hander lies 2.17km south of the junction, then the race arrives at Nether Burrow followed by Tunstall 1.9km later. The landscape here is much flatter than the earlier parts of the stage. Just south of Tunstall and just visible from the route is Thurland Castle (54° 9'7.03"N 2°35'52.05"W). Built in the 14th Century, it fell in a siege in the middle of the 17th Century. It remained a ruin until 1809 when a limited restoration was carried out, full restoration taking place two decades later. Fifty years after restoration, it was left as a hollow shell by  a disastrous fire - only to be restored once again in the years that followed. In recent years it has been divided up and converted into doubtless horribly expensive apartments.

Wennington School (© J Scott CC2.0)
A very sharp right 0.45km after the turning for the castle leads to a tunnel under the railway into Melling, with a church dedicated to St. Wilfrid and often called the Cathedral of the Lune Valley (though it never was a cathedral in reality). It is believed to have started life as a chapel in the now-vanished bailey of the motte standing immediately behind it, one of many in the highest concentration of Norman castles anywhere in Britain other than the Welsh borders. The race turns left just before the church, following an unclassified road leading to a fork where the riders go right onto Lodge Lane, arriving at Wennington 44.1km from the start. Just north of the village is Wennington School, a boys' boarding school housed in a mid-19th Century stately home which, as a result of architectural trends of the time, looks very much how many of us would imagine the 14th Century house that originally stood here to have looked. Arriving at a T-junction with the B6480, the peloton turn sharply right to arrive shortly at Tatham and pass a bridge on the right; then, a short while later, enter the Forest of Bowland - the word forest is used here in its original English sense of meaning an expanse of land used for hunting rather than a large woodland. Two left/right Z-bends either side of a bridge start 1km south of the Tatham bridge, leading immediately into Wray.

Though a tiny rural village, Wray has three claims to fame: first, it has an advanced wireless broadband network offering not only internet but also high-definition television, maintained by Lancashire University; second, it's the Scarecrow capital of England; third, it hosts the not-quite-world-famous Annual Maggot Races. You know it's got to be a great place to live.

Hornby Castle (CC2.0)
The road narrows as it leaves the village, soon passing just south of Hornby at the 49.4km point. Hornby Castle, dating from the 13th Century but much altered over the years into a stately home, should be visible from several points along this road. It remains in private ownership, though now divided into several separate dwellings, and is not open to the public. Having passed over a crossroads, the peloton reach the drinks station 600m later at Lunesdale Court. 0.61km later, the race reaches a T-junction with the A683 and turns left, heading south to pass by Farleton and arrive at Claughton soon afterwards - the village has a large brickworks, thus increasing the probability of hazardous diesel spills on the road from the heavy trucks that deliver materials and take bricks away. Note the aerial ropeworks, a system similar to a cable car, that brings clay from Claughton Moor some distance away in enormous buckets to the brickworks.

Artle Beck (© Karl and Ali CC2.0)
Caton is around 2.89km from Claughton, not 8.1km as the road book suggests (this is apparently a mis-print as it lists points beyond Caton as being less than the 60km from the start listed for Caton). There's a truck repair garage on the eastern side of the village, increasing the potential for diesel spillages once again. Caton is known to have been a Roman town, as proved by the discovery of a millstone inscribed with the name of Emperor Hadrian in the nearby Artle Beck in 1803. The routes passes by the Ship Inn, standing near to a massive oak of great age which, according to local legend, was used by the local monks to display the fish they sold to villagers. The third intermediate sprint begins after 56.4km by the council offices in the town. The race takes the second exit to pass directly through the roundabout, then turns left 300m later onto Quernmore Road. There's a tight 90 degree right at Gresgarth Hall 1.2km from the previous corner - with extensive ornamental grounds open to the public, anyone with an interest on gardening or stately homes should consider a visit once the Tour has left, then an unchallenging wide left/roght Z-bend 0.61km later, followed by a medium left a short way ahead. A medium right on the far edge of a copse could prove slippery and leads to a medium left bend 135m before a medium left corner onto Postern Gate Road. With the exception of a few gentle bends, the route is straight for the next 3.1km to Quernmore, pronounced kwormur in that cunning way with which we Brits like to confuse foreigners.

Strickens Lane - if you're following the route, pay close
attention to your map through the Quernmore-Whittingham
section: there are several corners and junctions and the all
look much the same as this one! (© Tom Richardson CC2.0)
Having passed straight through one crossroads immediately south of the village to enter Bay Horse Road and another where Bay Horse Road crosses Proctor Moss Road, the race reaches a third crossroads 69.5km from the start (53°58'42.16"N 2°45'50.07"W) and turns left onto Delph Lane. The Category 3 climb begins as the race passes to the left of a house and farm (53°57'10.02"N 2°43'23.13"W) with a cattle grid coming 300m further along the road. Another one, 2km ahead, comes 290m before the summit (53°55'57.95"N 2°42'28.85"W). 1.2km ahead, having rounded the medium left around Oakenholme, the peloton turn a medium-sharp right onto Strickens Lane and immediately begin the next climb - the summit is 0.7km ahead (53°55'0.48"N 2°42'44.13"W), shortly before a lane leading up the hill on the right to Bank Farm. The descent isn't steep but due to the straight and undemanding roads should generate high speed.

A short way ahead, the road bends sharply left as a smaller road joins from the right, continuing on through Barnacre and past a turning onto Sullom Side Lane before becoming Sandholm Lane after 81.7km. At what appears to be a 90 degree right bend 0.52km later, the race continues straight ahead to remain on Sandholm Lane (following the apparent bend leads onto Ray Lane), past a farm on the right and onward to another crossroads. Turn left to remain on Smithy Lane, arriving presently at a junction with a potentially slippery left turn under overhanging trees onto Lodge Road running parallel to the M6 motorway and passing through some thick copses to a junction where left carries the race onto Ducketts Lane.

Inglewhite (© Chris Shaw CC2.0)
After 0.8km, the road takes a wide bend to the right and becomes Lydiate Lane, crossing the narrow Badger Bridge half a kilometre further on. At the T-junction 1.2km ahead, turn left onto Bilsborough Lane shortly before it becomes Bourne Brow and then Carron Lane. After 90 degree left, it changes back to Bilsborough Lane again and heads into Inglewhite, once the sight of a cafe housed in the old smithy that was popular with cyclists but has now closed. The village's name is believed to derive from the Gaelic term aingeal, meaning "fire" and referring to the willo-the-wisps which in former times were commonly observed upon the damp village green.

Passing straight through on Inglewhite Road, the peloton arrive at a crossroads while still in the village, travelling straight across and on towards a junction where a road joins from the right. The route goes straight ahead again here and a short way ahead when joined from the same direction by another road, arriving soon at a crossroads where Mill Lane and Syke House Lane join from right and left. They pass straight through once again and arrive at a 90 degree tight right 0.75km later, opposite a farm; travelling through an industrial site a short way ahead - as ever, potential for hazardous diesel spillages. Another crossroads marks the passing of Horns Lane, then a medium 90 degree left 0.37km ahead leads into a much wider right and a medium 90 degree right 0.61km later.

There are many Dun Cow legends in Britain. Most probably
recount fanciful tales of the extinct aurochs, wild cows
far larger and fiercer than the domesticated variety
The next section is unchallenging, though a medium left by the next farm could require some caution if wet. Ashley Lane leads off to the right 0.14km later while the race continues for another 0.79km to a tight 90 degree right onto Halfpenny Lane just before Longridge. A large rib hangs above the doorway of a farmhouse along Halfpenny Lane - according to legend, it belonged to a giant cow named the Dun Cow who roamed the area during a plague outbreak, curing people by giving them her milk. When she died of exhaustion after a witch milked her into a sieve rather than a bucket, she was buried - apart from the rib - under Cow Hill a short way from here. Nobody has ever taken a sample from the rib to ascertain what it comes from, but nowadays people tend to assume it belonged to either a whale or an aurochs, the vast and fierce wild cows which once roamed Europe.

Whittingham Hospital - once the largest mental asylum
in Great Britain (CC2.0)
At a T-junction 0.8km ahead, the race turns right onto the B5269 running straight and level into the parish of Whittingham at 99.1km from the start where the road suddenly takes a sweeping turn to the right preceding a very tight 100 degree left corner 0.29km ahead. As more houses begin to appear along the roadsides, the race reaches Whittingham's largest village Goosnargh. Work began on a mental asylum near the village in 1869, opening to provide treatment (or what passed for psychiatric treatment in the 1870s, at any rate) for 1000 patients four years later - bizarrely, the hospital incorporated a brewery in the early days. By 1939, it had grown to include a Catholic chapel, an Anglican church, a butcher, several farms, a telephone exchange, reservoirs, a gasworks and a post office and was home to more than 3500 patients - making it the largest mental hospital (as asylums had been renamed) in Great Britain.

Chingle Hall, scene of much spookiness
Finally, by 1960, the psychiatric establishment as a whole began to realise that mentally ill people required specialised, individual treatment rather than being herded into what was little more than a vast, grim prison. Allegations of cruelty made by patients against staff, both here and at other hospitals, forced the hospitals to open up to inspection and the findings were unfavourable. After almost a century, Whittingham's asylum began to be wound down, patients being reallocated to smaller units where they could be given the sort of help they needed. The last patients left the hospital - now offering modern treatments but located in buildings hopelessly outdated, in 1995. There are plans to convert the remaining buildings into apartments, but these have been held back by uncertainty over the future of the proposed Broughton bypass.

As would be expected, locals tell of all sorts of unearthly goings-on taking place in the hospital buildings at night. Just west of the village, 14th Century Chingle Hall, said to be the most haunted place in Lancashire. Tapping noises are supposedly heard coming from the known priest holes; regular claims that ghostly figures have been seen gliding around the house and grounds, including various monks around the hallway and stairs; a poltergeist is blamed for moving things around in the kitchen and orbs, mysterious lights, disembodied voices and other similar stuff is recorded whenever anyone gets permission from the house's owner to carry out an investigation (it's funny how ghost hunters never leave a property saying, "Nope, didn't find a thing," isn't it?)

Goosnargh. Looks normal, doesn't it? Ooooh no. It was
designed by Stephen King and Hieronymous Bosch. When
they were both on LSD. (© David Metcalfe CC2.0)
One strange story claims that, during the 1970s, one of the beams in the building's chapel mysteriously went up in flames before just as mysteriously going out again, leaving no signs of charring nor smell of smoke. That beam, and several others, have long been known to be carved with strange symbols; however, dendrochronological and chemical investigation has revealed that the timbers are firstly much older than the house and secondly have an unusually high salt content (as do those in the parish church), suggesting that they were recovered from a foundered ship - an not uncommon practice in the past and suggesting that the spooky carvings are nothing more weird than ancient ship builder's marks, an earlier variant of the marks still left on wood by craftsmen today. The spontaneous flames? Well, try to explain it if you wish. I don't feel the need to spend undue time thinking about it.

Oh, and as if giant cows, haunted houses and derelict mental asylums aren't enough weirdness for one rural English village, the parish was home between 1962 and 1991 to the UK Warning and Monitoring System which left a huge, then top-secret, nuclear bunker lying derelict many metres underground; a facility that would have been the Northern Britain Command Centre had the Cold War ever developed into an atomic war.

Mid-18th Century milestone in Broughton.
The symbol on top reveals it to be a point
where Ordnance Surveyors have
measured altitude above sea level
(© Trish Steel CC2.0)
After passing under the M6 motorway, the race reaches Broughton - and what a pleasure it is to find such a normal place, its only claims to fame being that it has the oldest primary school in Britain (established in 1590) and that it's the only parish in the country to have fire, ambulance and police stations within its boundaries. The race travels straight through a crossroads controlled by traffic lights in the town and onto Woodplumpton Lane, turning a medium 90 degree right 0.49km later and a medium 90 degree left 0.22km after that.

A bridge carries the road over the railway, then it arrives at Woodplumpton after 107.1km, missing the larger part of the village as it skirts around the northern side by continuing along the B5269. Local weirdness reappears here, because the village churchyard includes the grave of one Meg Shelton - otherwise known as "The Fylde Hag." Said to have had the ability to change into animal shape at will, she was apparently buried vertically with head pointing downwards and her grave covered by a heavy boulder after she refused to stay in it! She could also transform inanimate objects into apparently living creatures, as when she turned a bucket into a goose to disguise the fact that she was stealing milk - the farmer only caught her out when he saw milk dripping from the goose's beak and kicked it, at which point it turned back into a bucket.

After turning right at a T-junction near the village, the peloton come to a wide left bend followed by a narrow bridge over the Lancaster Ship Canal 0.16km later. The first 0.94km of the road into Inskip is straight, but there are several difficult bends and corners in the remaining stretch. The first is a medium right/left Z-bend at the junction with School Lane, followed by a medium-tight 90 degree left corner near a farm 0.22km - this one being made potentially more hazardous by overhanging trees. A tighter 90 degree right lies 0.1km ahead, leading into a 0.4km straight, then a medium left and a medium 90 degree right 77m later. Another medium left 0.27km further along leads to a 0.35km straight, then a medium right. All of these corners are made more hazardous due to their location on arable land, making diesel spills and slurry a possibility. The remaining road into Inskip is straightforward with one simple bend right before the village.

Inskip radio masts, now disused (© Keith Wright CC2.0)
Just south-west of Inskip are four 183m radio masts, once used to send and receive communications between submarines and the Royal Navy who owned the site (officially classified as HMS - "Her Majesty's Ship" - Nightjar) up until 2010. A medium 90 degree right lies 1.4km after the village, followed by a much tighter 90 degree left 0.2km later and a tight right leading into a gentle left-hand bend at Crossmoor. Having passed by a lane on the left, the race reaches another tight right-hander 0.4km later, then a tight 90 degree left 40m ahead to join Lodge Lane. A medium-difficulty left/right Z-bend lies 0.4km futher on before the road straightens out and arrives at Elswick, 116.1km from the start (53°50'17.61"N 2°52'48.63"W). The route passes straight through the village before coming to a pair of 90 degree bends, right/left, at the end and heading toward Thistleton, coming to a very tight 100 degree right at a T-junction 1.47km after Elswick and a T-junction with the A585 0.56km later. Turning right, the peloton cover a very short section before turning left and rejoining the B5269 81m ahead and, having turned right at the next junction, arriving at Singleton after 1.4km.

Poulton-le-Fylde market square. The stone "bench" is in
fact a fish slab, from which fresh fish was sold and the ball-
topped stone pillar is a whipping post, to which petty
criminals were tied before being lashed. Just out of shot
are the stocks (© Alexander P Kapp CC2.0)
The race turns right at a mini roundabout in the village, passing onto Lodge Lane leading north into the countryside - the first part has overhanging trees and thus could be slippery, but the road is wide and good quality. It joins the A566 after 1.36km at a junction in Little Singleton, the peloton travelling straight ahead - there's a small traffic island in the middle of the junction, positioned where it could form an obstacle for riders on the right of the pack if they attempt to get through en masse, but it shouldn't cause problems if the main group has spread out a little by this time (this, meanwhile, is unlikely on a stage such as this one). At a large roundabout north of Poulton-le-Fylde. This town, home to nearly 20,000 people has been inhabited for some 120 centuries, as made evident by the discovery of worked antler artifacts carbon dated to 10,000 BCE, had an unusual tradition in which the wealthy buried dead family members at night following a torch-lit procession through the streets - it died out in 1810 after the wind blew sparks from the torches and set fire to an entire row of buildings along the market square, destroying them. The riders take the second exit off the roundabout, the route to the left of the centre being the easiest and - marginally - shortest.

No.712, a double-decker tram at Blackpool
At a very similarly-sized roundabout 2km along Amounderness Way, the race takes the third exit (or second, for those who prefer to tackle it by taking the slightly shorter right path around the centre), continuing straight ahead to the next roundabout. At this one, on the very edge of Cleveleys and surrounded to the north and east by Thornton, the peloton take the second exit, turning a slight left into the town and towards the coast. 1.1km later, the arrive at a diffiicult left turn onto Crescent East - the corner itself isn't especially tight or wide, but Crescent East is separated from the parallel Crescent West by a central strip which could easily catch out any rider who takes the turn too fast to avoid it. They'll also need to exercise caution to avoid the tramlines, Blackpool being one of the very few places in Britain to retain an functioning tram network: now featuring 18km of tracks, construction began in 1885 - making it one of the first in the world and, today, one of the oldest still in operation. It's also one of a very small number around the world to use double-decker trams.

The Miners' Home (© Tom Richardson CC2.0)
After 0.8km, Crescent East becomes Kelso Avenue which in turn becomes Queen's Promenade as it emerges from the buildings at Anchorsholme Park before joining the seafront and continuing south past the Norbreck Castle Hotel - really not Blackpool's most attractive - and the grand Miners' Home, once a convalescent home for elderly, sick or injured miners since converted into highly-sought-after apartments. The race is now on The Promenade, the final section of the stage.

The tramlines run along their own fenced-off strip parallel to the road here, meaning they no longer pose any danger as the race arrives at North Pier and enters the famous Golden Mile - actually seven miles (11.27km) - and Britain's first seaside resort, having grown up to provide for the needs first for the wealthy and fashionable socialites of the 18th Century who came here to "take the cure" and, later, for the vast numbers of workers who flocked here from the industrial towns and mills of North-Eastern England in the latter part of the 19th Century. From here, it's a final flat, straight, high-speed sprint over 300m to the finish line at the Tower (53°48'56.98"N 3° 3'21.40"W).

Blackpool Tower (© Steve F CC2.0)
Grade 1 listed, 158m tall Blackpool Tower cost £290,000 to build in the last decade of the 19th Century with £2000 personally donated by Mayor John Bickerstaffe who had originally suggested the project after being inspired by the Eiffel Tower during a visit to Paris. Though the two towers appear superficially similar, they're actually completely different in many ways - for a start, the French tower is 166m taller and free-standing, whereas Blackpool's tower is anchored to a base disguised by a building occupied by the Tower Circus. Consisting of 2,993,000kg of metal and around 5,000,000 bricks, it was designed so that were it to ever fall it would fall into the sea rather than onto the dense town behind and to either side of it. Three years after completion, the top caught fire and could be seen from 80km away. Originally, the metal was not protected by paint and the structure became so badly corroded that by 1921 it looked as though it might have to be demolished. However, recognising its enormous ability to attract tourists, it was decided to save it and over the next three years all the metalwork was painstakingly replaced piece by piece.

Predictions: Well, we did fancy Jens Voigt for this stage - it looks like the sort of parcours that can be won by attacking hard all the way, and that's what Jens does best. However, as we all know, bad fortune struck LeopardTrek once again in Stage 1 and Jens was forced to abandon. Mark Cavendish was always going to be a favourite today - the course is reasonably flat for much of its length and end with a flat, straight sprint that suits the HTC-Highroad lead-out down to the ground. But, Cav has a very powerful enemy for today - Nature. With Hurricane Katia showing off out in the Atlantic, north and west Britain is being battered by strong winds. Heading up to the finish line, these are going to form blasting crosswinds smashing into the race from the right. That's enough to mess up even the most well-rehearsed tactics.

Weather: This is the Lake District. How do you think all those deep glacial valleys became full of water? The region has some of the highest average rainfall anywhere in Europe - it's looking at present like the wide band of rain expected to cross the region early in the morning will be followed by a dry period, but accurate forecasting in this part of the world is difficult even without a hurricane complicating matters. Temperatures will rise no higher than 17C and should fall no lower than 14C - but with the wind (and rain, if it does), it'll feel much colder. The wind is likely to cause problems - while there is no Met Office weather warning for the area currently, there's an official Yellow Alert (risk of disruption to transport and the possibility of damage to trees and stuctures) in place for  NW England  for the entire of Monday.

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