A motorcycle parked in front of a tent on a pleasant green campsite

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Ward Green And Chipping Fords 2005 - By Ren Withnell

It's been a long time.  A long time since I went out ford spotting.  It will be about 2 years.  2 years since the wetroads.co.uk website took my then girlfriend Cath and myself to Cheshire. Cath died.  This took the shine off the pointless but most pleasant pastime of riding down forgotten roads and splashing through streams.

It's almost 2 years since Cath died. Time has moved on and so has my life.  And today my life has left me with an empty day to fill.  The present girlfriend is working and tending to her offspring, there is no work requiring urgent attention and the sun is high in the sky.  It is far too nice to stay in so I turn to the wetroads.co.uk website once again.

There are a few new fords listed in the Lancashire area.  2 in the Trough of Bowland area.  I print off maps and check the bike over and set off.  It is s short easy run along the motorway and the A59 before I turn off to Ribbleton.  Ribbleton is pleasant as ever and I soon find the road that will take me to the first ford.

The ford sign also shows the road to be a dead end.  I ride a short distance along a single track lane up to a simple concrete bottomed ford running under a gentle stream.  I approach carefully to see if the concrete is slime covered, it does not look to be.  I cross carefully then park the bike up on the opposite bank to take pictures.  

Ward Green Ford 1 The first ford at Ward Green, the next is only just after the gate you can see on the far left.

The ford is accompanied by a rickety old wooden footbridge and surrounded by farmland on one side and several country cottages on the other.  Whilst taking my pictures a man of around my age emerges from one of the cottages and asks "Can I help you?"  I explain I'm just taking in the surroundings, he somehow seems relieved.  I ask if can continue along the road.  He points to a gate and tells me to go through it.  With this he goes back inside.  A minute later a lady parks her car in a house further along the track then looks at me suspiciously.  "Why are you taking pictures?" she shouts at me, almost aggressively.  I reply "Because it's lovely!"  She snarls to herself but seems satisfied with my answer.

I get back on the bike and travel along a short length of track to the gate, and pass through.  Almost immediately after the gate is another concrete bottomed ford.  I am crossing back over the same stream I had crossed at the other ford.  This time I stop only quickly to take another few pictures...I don't wish to upset the locals any more.

Ward Green Ford 2 The second ford at Ward Green, looking back through the gate I've just come through.

Back on the bike I wonder what all the questioning was about.  Perhaps the local council is planning to build a motorway through the area and I am a surveyor.  But surveyors don't ride dirty motorcycles wearing dirty jackets.  Perhaps there has been a spate of thefts and I am a robber.  But robbers don't loiter taking pictures of fords.  I don't know what the problem was, frankly I don't care.  I've seen 2 fords in most peaceful surroundings.

The next ford is round the back of the small village of Chipping.  I've been to Chipping several times and enjoyed the fine breakfasts at the Cobbled Corner Cafe.  The road I'm looking for runs by the cafe and off into the hills behind.  I follow the rod onto single track, then gravel farm track.  Eventually I end up almost in a farmyard, this can't be right.  I check my map and realise I should have turned right at the start of the gravel track.  

Back at where I should have turned I look up the track.  It's not really a track, more the muddy ruts left by a tractor as it crosses a marshy field.  I decide my rear tyre is lacking in tread and I am out of practice in traversing such treacherous terrain and bottle out.  It takes me 5 minutes to run the bike around in the mud and my back wheels spins gracefully whilst I go nowhere.  I shall try from the other end.

I go back into Chipping and this time follow the signs for Leagram.  This time I finally spot a lane signposted "Chipping, via Leagram."  Now you would think a road sign pointing the way to somewhere would take you down a road?  The road winds on then ends up in yet another farm yard.  I stop and get out my map.  There is a chap working on a muddy tractor a few feet away.  I ask him if this is Lickhurst Farm, he tells me it is.  I ask him if the road continues on along the track, he tells me it does.  I ask him if the track is ok to ride along.  He looks at my bike and decides "Aye, it is, you'll be alright on that you will."

I set off along a farm track, fine and dandy.  The track deteriorates into tractor ruts filled with mud and stones.  This is becoming hard work.  I'm paddling along in first gear with my feet out, constantly correcting the slides.  It's getting steeper and even harder now.  Then I stop.  I stop because the back wheel is spinning with no traction at all.  I struggle to even stop the bike from sliding backwards.  Finally I have everything under control, and take a moment to rest.

My bike is an SLR 650.  It certainly looks like an off-roader and can handle most farm tracks, gravel roads and pot-holed back lanes.  But it is not a motor crosser or a trials bike.  I'm stuck.  I can't turn round, the rut is too deep to ride out.  I dare not try rolling backwards.  I can't seem to get grip forwards and uphill.  Most importantly I can't go back for fear of looking foolish and weak to the tractor mechanic.  I imagine he is laughing to himself.  "Ha-ha, bloody off roaders...this'll teach him, thinks he's a big man does he...he'll be back, begging me to come and retrieve his bike from the mud and the marsh"

I compose myself.  I take a deep breath and release the clutch to try again.  The wheel spins and spins, but finally claws away enough mud to reach a stone or two.  I'm moving again and with dogged determination I keep sufficient forward momentum to climb the last steep stretch.  I stop and rest.  This carries on for another 10 minutes until the track levels out and now I am simply fighting mud, not mud and gravity.  Eventually the track starts downhill and the ford comes into sight.

The ford is deep.  There is a stretch about 1 foot deep, the rest could be 2, possibly 3 feet deep.  In the shallower stretch lie boulders, as big as footballs, plenty big enough to knock me off the bike.  I plan a route across and prey I can follow it.  I get on the bike, knock it into gear, and GO!  Splash...struggle, splash, slide, power, power, power, whoa!, power....out...YESSSSS!  I stop the bike again and get off.  I had cleared the ford but when I look at it from this side I realise I'd been through a deep part, possibly 2 feet, and must have only just missed a large boulder.  There is water running out from under the seat.  I am surprised, I am totally dry under my waterproofs.  I must not have been in the water long.

Chipping Ford It does not look much at all...but believe me it is deep...I am tired...there are big boulders down there...I wanna go home...

I look along the track I have yet to ride.  It's steep again, real steep, but not quite so muddy.  I can't go back now, I'll not be so lucky going back across the ford again.  I get on and set off.  The steep section is actually very short and very easy to ride, rain has washed off the slippery mud.  The trail levels of to muddy tractor ruts again and it is only a few short minutes until I can see the gate I stopped and turned round at before.  With a huge sigh of relief I close the gate and get back onto hard firm tarmac.

As I ride away from Chipping back towards the more familiar roads around Preston, I reflect upon my little adventure.  Why did I start to panic?  It wasn’t the fear of those about to die, but it was the fear of getting into something I might not be able to get out of, on my own.  I can be fiercely independent and would be terribly ashamed if I had to ask a farmer to pull my bike out of a field for me.  I like to think I’m strong, but perhaps strength comes in being able to ask for help sometimes?

I ride the easy ride back to Rivington Barn for a brew and a chat with my friends.  I relate the story to them and they enjoy laughing at me, it is suggested the man fixing the tractor probably watched me with binoculars, laughing heartily to himself as I struggled along on slippery tyres with no skill.

I enjoyed it.  It was good to be able to do something I enjoy again.  It will never be quite the same without Cath.  But Cath’s motto was to “Move On”, so I will.   

Reader's Comments

Richard May said :-
Found this by accident. I've also got an SLR650 - mostly used locally in Suffolk and MCC Long Distance Classic Trials - needs more grip but not bad. Where can I get 17" Trials tyres? Would love to mod the exhaust (tiny tail pipes) for a (little) bit more noise - any ideas ?
Outlaws live in Lancs. so I'll be trying these fords too.

1/1//2000 UTC

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