Charles Henry Westlake
1923 - 2001
One person whose name appears on the club records from 1951 and was riding with us regularly right up to his death in 2001 was our then Section Life President and Manchester DA Vice-President Charles Westlake, known to everyone as ‘Charlie’.
His passing was the end of an era for Bury cyclists but not the end of a legend. It is safe to say that Charlie was a living legend amongst the local cycling fraternity.
In an article on Charlie published in the Bury Times on February 16th 1996, it reports that he had ridden over 300,000 miles and that he was still going strong clocking up more than 100 miles a week. This was down to his sheer enthusiasm and passion for cycling.
Charlie was six years old when given his first bike and he did his first major bike ride when he was ten. The destination, believe it or not, was Ripon! Charlie said that he remembered the ride well because the roads seemed so steep.
When he was sixteen he got his first ‘proper’ bike with dropped handlebars and he and his friends would ride regularly to places like Blackpool. On one ride to Windermere during the early war years he remembered getting into difficulties because all the signposts had been removed as part of invasion precautions.
As a teenager in the immediate pre-war years, he joined Bury section of the CTC but the outbreak of war meant the suspension of activities and he joined Bury Clarion, which continued throughout the war.
The immediate post-war years were halcyon days for cyclists, and Charlie revelled in the joy of leading Bury Clarion’s ‘A’ section runs to distant places. In the 1980s, the Clarion no longer had the members who were willing to ride long distances each Sunday so Charlie returned to the CTC. Charlie did say that he could remember leading the first CTC run after the war.
Cycling entered into almost every aspect of Charlie’s life. He and his first serious girlfriend joined forces to buy a tandem and went on many a romantic ride, including one from Glasgow to the Isle of Skye. But when the young lady went off with another suitor Charlie kept the tandem!
As well as touring, Charlie enjoyed competitive cycling. An old photograph shows Charlie at speed racing in a time trial on the East Lancashire Road in 1949. He arranged and participated in cycling events for Bury Clarion including, in the late fifties, a Tourist Reliability Trial taking in 10,000 feet of climbing. As well as organising this ride, on many occasions he won it.
Distance was never a problem for Charlie. In fact the further and more difficult the ride the better. If he considered that the day’s route was easy, he would come out on his fixed wheel bike so as to make it more of a challenge – and add a loop to get more miles in! Almost to the end Charlie enjoyed going far afield on his bike; club runs to Hawes, the Manifold Valley, Langsett, Llangollen all spring to mind.
He loved taking part in Reliability Rides, especially those of a longer distance such as the 24 hours, the 100 miles, the 150 miles, and the 200 miles to the Humber Bridge and back. This he last he did in his seventieth year in 1993.
One of his greatest self-imposed challenges was a ride to complete the off-road ascent of the three Yorkshire peaks of Whernside, Ingleborough and Pen-y-Ghent. This in itself is a great test of endurance but the ride included the miles from Bury and back home on the day!
People who cycled with him will no doubt remember the annual ride to Pateley Bridge and back on the last Sunday in January. Blizzards, snow, gales – nothing forced a cancellation for Charlie. The there was the annual ride over Salter Fell – a hard ride on rutted tracks over a high and rugged fell between Slaidburn and Caton. In the early nineties this was run as an event – “Charlie’s Salter Fell Challenge”.
If a destination was down on the runs list, nothing (least of all the weather) would stop him getting there. And in the unlikely event of his group getting lost he would always bring out and refer to his years old maps which were falling apart.
He was a great lover of “rough-stuff” cycling. Years before the age of the mountain bike Charlie used to seek out tracks to ride on during club runs much to the chagrin of some less adventurous riders who preferred to keep to the tarmac.
In the Bury Times article mentioned earlier Charlie is quoted as saying: “There is nothing quite like tearing down a hill in the open air. I love being in the countryside, and sitting on a saddle is the best way to appreciate it”.
Preferring to ride his bike than seek Club office, he nevertheless took on the role of Bury CTC Section Treasurer. More recently he accepted the Bury CTC Section Presidency and the CTC Manchester District Association Vice Presidency – both offered to him by cyclists in recognition of his commitment and services to cycling in the area.
During his lifetime Charlie did manage to fit in marriage and three children.
When he died peacefully in his sleep on June 15th 2001 after a short illness, local cyclists lost a friend and stalwart who’s enthusiasm and passion for cycling was as strong as ever; quite simply if there was some cycling to be done, Charlie would be there.
Charlie’s wiry frame and distinctive gait is to be seen no more on the lanes of Lancashire and beyond, but he will live forever in the memories of those who knew him.
Each first Sunday in March the Section organise the annual “Charlie Westlake Memorial Bike Rides” – open invitation rides of 50 km and100km.; the first of which took place in 2002. Since the death of Walter Pilkington in 2009, the 50 km ride is named after him. (See separate page for information on the event.)
Bury Clarion and Bury CTC joined forces to purchase a memorial seat and it is installed at the Clarion Clubhouse in Roughlee – a regular tea stop for Charlie and all club cyclists. A plaque is affixed to the seat which reads:
BURY CLARION & CTC REMEMBER CHARLES HENRY WESTLAKE 1923 –2001. LEGENDARY MILE EATER AND ROUGH-STUFF PIONEER.
See below for a few pictures of Charlie in action:-
From top : 1994 at Malham Tarn; 1949 on the East Lancashire Road; Charlie (right) at the 1951 CTC Rough Ride; The panoramic view from Charlie's seat at the Clarion Clubhouse