It’s that time of year again, wheels have spun, hot drinks and cakes consumed: it’s time to sum up my go at the Coffeeneuring challenge for the season.
Since last year’s challenge I’ve moved house, and though I haven’t moved a huge distance away from my old neighbourhood it’s taken some time for me to find my new cycling routes of choice. This is mainly down to the amount of high-volume traffic between the two homes: there’s a motorway, an airport, some A-roads, and a few industrial estates dividing the two areas, and though I wouldn’t say I’m lacking in confidence when I cycle I also do what I can to avoid high-traffic or narrow roads. After all, the majority of the time I’m riding for enjoyment, so I may as well look for roads and routes that will maximise that.
Coffeeneur challenges often have a theme, though it’s not a requirement. Last year I didn’t go out with a theme in mind, but it quickly became clear that ‘local business’ was my own theme. I do make a point of using local businesses when I can, and that’s pretty easy to maintain when it comes to coffee stops and cafes, so this year’s theme is: Always Independent! There was also an accidental semi-theme of detours, but I’ll get around to that as I go through the various stops. Anyway, enough rambling on, let’s get to the challenge!
Moon and Pea that suddenly turned into Medjool Turkish Bistro, Lark Lane, Liverpool
Distance: 7.5 miles
Culinary Choice: Turkish coffee and Rosewater Sponge Cake
A fitting start to this year’s challenge seemed to be to start by cycling along the promenade. Otterspool promenade starts out in the suburbs in Liverpool and goes uninterrupted right into the docks in the city centre, all completely traffic free. It’s a lovely place to go for a ride, but typically only in one direction – the river Mersey’s known for how windy it can get, and it’s usually blowing at least 20mph, so on blustery day you’ll be cruising going one way and suffering going the other way!
The promenade route is a nice way to get to Lark Lane, which is a well-known street loaded with restaurants, cafes, art stores and various other little spots. I’d hoped, for my first stop, to visit the Moon and Pea, my favourite cafe on the street that does some really amazing caramel cheesecake, but it was completely full, even at 11am on a Sunday. My other half met me out there for this one, but Lark Lane’s not short of options, so I let her pick our plan B: Medjool, a Turkish bistro. We sat outside, and I let her pick my drink and cake whilst I stayed with the bike, saying ‘Surprise me!’
For the first time in quite a while I had a Turkish coffee! I used to make it myself from time to time but I hadn’t bothered for some time, it’s a nice alternative to an espresso as it’s a little longer but similarly strong in taste. I also tried the bistro’s Turkish take on a Victoria sponge, flavoured very sweetly with rosewater. The coffee wasn’t quite where you’d want it from my experience of having it, but the cake was really lovely. There’s not much in the way of outdoor space for cyclists, but I’d be happy to go again.
Coffee 500, Widnes
Distance: 18.6 miles
Culinary Choice: Pumpkin Spice Cappuccino, Lemon sponge cake
A coffeeneuring return! Coffee 500 was the first stop on last year’s challenge, it’s a coffee shop I really love and was always in my plans for this year’s trip. I forgot to take a picture of the shop from outside, though, so I’m going to have to rehash last year’s with the actual pictures I took this time round. Where it was only a local stop previously, just a mile or so’s ride away, it’s now a good 30 minutes of riding at a good pace to get to, passing Liverpool airport and Hale village, but it’s worth it.
The UK has finally caught up with coffee habits across the pond when it comes to the availability of pumpkin spice, and it seemed only right with it being a brisk October ride that I give some a try, getting a soy cappuccino (I’m lactose intolerant, so it’s soy or nothing.) There were a few hiccups with the milk at ordering, but nothing major, and nothing they weren’t happy to change.
Pumpkin spice can be overpowering as a coffee flavour, but they did a nice job of both the balance of spice and the soy milk. I’ve never been disappointed visiting this place, and that continues to be the case. It’s a real hidden gem, easy to completely miss, that sums up the exploration and relishing of your local area that coffeeneuring is all about for me.
That spirit of coffeeneuring continued on the return leg of the trip. Rather than just travel straight home again I went on a little detour to a place I didn’t even know existed til I started this challenge. The village of Hale has been almost in walking of distance of my childhood, yet in all this time I never knew it had a lighthouse til this summer, so with no other major plans I took a left where I’d normally take a right and went for a quick visit.
It’s beautiful down there, and it’s practically unknown! There’s a hiking path that seems to run along the shoreline that this lighthouse is on, so I think some time next summer I might have to stick my hiking boots on and go for a proper wander.
Cosy Bean Coffee that suddenly turned into New Station Coffee Shop, Woolton Road, Liverpool
Distance: 5.45 miles
Culinary Choice: Black Americano, chocolate cookies
Following my visit to Coffee 500 and the lighthouse two things happened:
- I went on holiday to Italy for 5 days
- I got quite sick with a bad chest and a cold
I’d semi-hoped that I could fit in a very continental coffeeneuring run in while I was on holiday, but my health and experience of Italian driving very quickly put an end to that aspiration. It seems, though, that autumn came back on the plane with me! Maybe it’s down to enjoying the warmer Mediterranean weather, but it felt like the thermometer had taken a big seasonal drop on my return, the leaves had very much changed colour and are primarily found on the floor now. More than once I’d hear a hissing from my back wheel only to stop and dismount to find it’s just a crunchy leaf stuck in between my tyre and caliper brake. I still didn’t feel great though, so decided to go for a shorter mileage trip on this run. There’s a lovely local shop that’s very community-oriented and friendly that I’d hoped to stop in on to restart my riding, but on arrival it turned out it’s closed for three weeks. Of course! Time to improvise; I pootled around, adding a few more miles onto the trip until I found a cafe near the train station. It used to be based in the train station but they relocated not long ago, and things still look quite basic in there.
Being located so close to a commuter hub means they don’t really cater for the typical cafe stop cyclist, it’s more a grab-and-go affair, no cakes or pastries. Still, I managed to get some cookies and a black coffee, which I took outside. A few ladybirds even joined me for my drink, though I later found out these are the ‘bad’ ladybirds from Asia that are threatening the native population.
The cookies were standard supermarket kind of stuff, but they were pretty cheap so I can’t complain. The coffee was good, and double kudos to the lady working there who, when I asked if they stocked soy milk, offered to run across the road and buy some for me.
‘The Reader’ Cafe, Calderstones Park, Liverpool
Distance: 6.1 Miles
Culinary Choice: Black Americano, Carrot Cake
Two rides in one week to keep things on track; still under the weather but I’m very much on the up. South Liverpool is a nice area for cyclists, as along with the prom there are a generous number of parks and playing fields, big and small. Calderstones park is one of the larger ones, and there’s even a little bit of a climb to get there from here (though not much) so with it’s nice, central cafe it was an easy choice for a coffeeneuring stop.
The park is very nice, but I’d made a gross misjudgment regarding the weather and just how cold things were getting. I’d mentioned earlier in the post that Liverpool is very windy by the river, but it’s also pretty windy everywhere else, too, and it’s where the coldness comes from in this part of the world. Without a base layer, or full-fingered gloves, I was an icy wreck by the time I’d reached the cafe, especially after I took a wrong turn and clocked up an additional mile on some very bumpy tarmac. Though having to sit outside with my bike didn’t remedy it in itself, having a nice hot coffee did.
Getting a seat was harder than I’d expected as the park was incredibly busy for a Sunday morning. I’m aware that it’s a park, and it’s common to walk dogs in a park, but you practically couldn’t move for pooches and their human friends, and the cafe’s queue went some distance out the door. The coffee was pretty nice, with a very strong crema for an americano, and the carrot cake in particular needs a special mention as it was really great.
Yew Tree Coffee Barn, Liverpool
Distance: 13.7 Miles
Culinary Choice: Black Americano, Victoria Sponge
In between Liverpool and Halton, along with the little village of Hale, there’s quite a stretch of green belt land full of country roads. Looking at Strava’s heatmap these are quite the hotspot for cycling in the area, and I can see why – relatively quiet, no traffic lights, a few mini hills and twisty-turning roads make for a very fun mix. Before I moved I regularly popped out this way, and there was no way I wasn’t going to skip on that for my challenge!
Smack in the middle of the lanes is the Yew Tree Farm shop. It wouldn’t surprise me if it’s the only farm shop in Liverpool, and along with the typical farm shop affair of vegetables, meat, and bakery goods, it runs a little coffee shop in the barn’s extension. I’m not a member of any cycling club, but from what I know it’s a very popular cafe stop for club rides, with the roominess of the place. They also have a donkey, goats, sheep, and chickens, who I went and said hello to before placing my order and sitting down. The thermometer has dropped even further by this point, so I had to de-layer somewhat to be comfortable in the cafe.
Though I had to work around a big blob of whipped cream (my fault for not mentioning my lactose intolerance) everything was really good; they don’t mess about when it comes to portion and drink sizes, and the service is well done. It was tremendously busy, even though it was 11am on a Wednesday, and that’s typical of the place from what I’ve previously seen. You do get some nice local views of the railway and fields, and I did consider hanging around to get a train picture, only to notice a goat trying to nibble on my spokes!
I took a detour through Woolton on my return leg and very much went into the red, badly. Woolton’s on a hill, and has about 150m of climbing altogether, but maintains relatively shallow gradients. One way. I came the other way for this trip, having never done it before, only to discover that height is covered in half the distance and ending with a 10% gradient. It might not seem that steep to some cyclists, but I’m a big guy and ergo a very poor climber (and also a wuss) and was going full Tom Last by the end of it, just in a far smaller, much less impressive context. Still, it was a little accomplishment for me, and something I need to keep working at if I’m going to do some bigger rides in 2017.
Cosy Bean Coffee, Garston Old Road, Liverpool
Distance: 5.3 Miles
Culinary Choice: Soy Cappuccino, Sausage Toastie
It’s my birthday in November! I got some lovely cycling-themed gifts for my birthday this year, including an Eroica Brittania patch and a retro jersey I got for myself, but the real kicker on the cycling front was a Brooks B17 saddle! I’m thinking it will be a perfect match for the Holdsworth I’m working on, but I want to start using it and breaking the leather in sooner, so I went ahead and fitted it to my Iron Donkey for the timebeing. It’s ugly, it genuinely weighs close to 20kg before I load it up, but it’s a workhorse of a bike, and deserved a little coffeeneuring time seeing as I normally do it all on my road bike. I did load up a pannier with a few bits and bobs, so I could do some odd jobs while I’m out.
I must say the Brooks saddle actually looks rather nice on the Iron Donkey, and if it gets to a point from a comfort perspective that I’m a super huge fan I may get a second, but anyway! After being disappointed a few weeks ago, and the weather being horrible this week with two very cold then three very rainy days, I decided to try my luck again and go local, giving Cosy Bean another try. It’s not so far away that I’d be facing a miserable ride back if the weather changed, but with the jobs I’m doing I’ll still warm up a bit on my ride. Luckily enough, the shop was open this time.
Cosy Bean is very much the ‘local’ kind of coffee shop. It’s not flashy or high-end, there’s not a hipster-barista or choice of roasts, but it’s very much a community cafe and full of warmth. It’s run by one person, and is always full of people calling in to catch up with her and pick up their lunches; I’ve been plenty of times since moving around here and it’s one of my favourites these days. Wanting to warm up a little, I ordered a toastie and a cappuccino.
It’s simple stuff, but it’s great stuff. It’s easy to be a coffee snob and whether something is a ‘proper’ cappuccino, but the coffee tasted good and you couldn’t taste the soy milk – both things I’m very keen on. It all has a lovely homemade vibe, furthered by the greetings cards and crafts sold in the shop that they make, too!
Ryde Cafe turning into Embers Cafe-Bistro, Liverpool
Culinary Choice: Black Americano, Victoria Sponge
Distance: 2.5 miles
So, originally, I’d planned to make a trip into the city centre to visit Liverpool’s cycle-cafe, Ryde. It’s bee on my to-do list for some time, even if the route along the promenade includes a good 2-3 miles of cobblestones each way; as much as I wince it’s good to put a bit of pain in a ride! Unfortunately, though, I was in too much pain in the first place. Over the course of the last week I’ve managed to hurt my knee, my shoulder, my jaw, and pick up another cold. Inconvenient enough on their own, all of them combined were affecting my sleep, and as the trip to Ryde was going to be around 12 miles at the very least I had to make a last-minute change of plan, and go somewhere closer by. Knowing I had a few things to drop off at the post office too, and that I wouldn’t have the energy to do two trips in a day with the way I’m feeling, I popped into the cafe across the road from the post office.
It’s a relatively new place in a new building, and (though you can’t tell from this picture) is sporting the ‘plywood and building materials’ look that’s quite popular in new coffee shops at the moment. This place aims more towards sit-down meals than coffee and cake, but they still sell them regardless, relatively inexpensively too. There was a spot of commotion going on whilst I was there as it seemed that they had a new chef starting in the kitchen and were also selling scouse for the first time, and were quickly running out of it. I quite fancied trying some, but it didn’t seem like they’d have any left for me to try, so I went with the tried and tested combo:
The coffee gets a special mention as I’m pretty sure it was made with ristretto rather than espresso; I practically ran out of the shop afterwards, it had such a kick to it. The sponge cake was pretty good, and had that slight saltiness in the buttercream that I think really adds something to a very sweet cake such as this. There were a few issues with the card reader, primarily that it wouldn’t work when I first got there, but the staff were happy to let me have my coffee and cake anyway and just give it another go when I was finished, rather than keeping me at the till while they reset the reader and waiting til it was working before serving me. It’s nice little touches like that that make local coffee shops just that little bit nicer, and why always going independent always proves its worth.
So there we have it! Another year in the bag, just under 60 miles of riding for it, which is a lot less than I’d hoped for, but between a few difficulties here and there it’s still not too bad I guess. Regardless of distance it’s always good fun to be out cycling, or to be out for a coffee, so when you’ve got an excuse to do it every week for almost two months who can complain? I definitely can’t.