I spotted my 'window of opportunity' last week - I finally cycled from my home in Hebden Bridge to visit my family back in Coventry via the entire length of the Peak District! That was a dream I'd had ever since I started my 'adult' cycling life in 1989 but I never felt fit enough to tackle it until this year. I've done about 8 '200s' since last autumn and I knew that I was now ready. I plotted my route using my Memory Map software and loaded the data onto my Etrex GPS. This made simple the otherwise tricky task of navigating what was actually a pretty complex route.
I had intended to go down on Friday, but at 20:00 on Wednesday saw that the changing weather conditions really favoured Thursday. I'm not the world's most spontaneous person so I was reluctant to change my plans, but it was the right thing to do. So I did... :-)!
I got up at 03:30, aiming for a 05:00 start, but I changed my mind when I felt how cold it was. In the end I set off at 06:10. I didn't see much traffic until after I went through Slaithwaite. I was doing the stiffish climb out of the town towards Meltham, then suddenly lots of drivers appeared coming down the hill, obviously on their way to work. They all seemed to have that agitated, stressed look on their faces. Jolted into life by coffee and fags, their mobiles pressed to their ears, they weaved in and out of parked vehicles as they approached me. They looked hunted; busy, busy, busy, and yet their days hadn't really started! Such is the modern world, but I was in a different world that day. The sun was shining, I was on my bike, and I was a man on a mission - my toughest ride to date and for once it had a purpose other than just the exercise itself - I was actually going somewhere...
I had rather heavy mini-panniers on the bike. I wasn't exactly light in body either, but despite that I was actually going rather well uphill, by my standards that is, and after all, one's own standards are the most important ones to beat!
I climbed out of Meltham with none of the pain I'd experienced many years ago when I first did it in that direction. Perhaps I am getting fitter after all? After a quick descent to Holme village, I began the slog up Holme Moss. Kirklees council has had a series of countdown markers painted on the road. It was fun seeing "1 1/4 miles", "3/4 mile" and so on, but it isn't quite the same as the numbered bends on Alpe d'Huez is it! It was the first time that I didn't have to walk on the steeper section of the climb. To be honest, I kept waiting to hit the steeper section and then eventually realised that I'd already done it - whoopee!
The great 2007 'summer' weather continued... There was a really cold swirling crosswind at the summit so I once again had to descend to Woodhead 'on the brakes'. It would be a really fast descent if only I could be sure that I wasn't suddenly going to be hit by a 40 kph gust of wind from the side. Unfortunately, once again this was not the case and I dared hit no more than 50 kph at any point.
Woodhead has a poor reputation, and I could see from fresh lorry tyre skid marks both ways that bad things were still happening along there so I whizzed along and turned off for Glossop as soon as I could.
I made a quick stop at the visitor centre at Torside, and after that it didn't take long to ride on to Glossop. I called in at a filling station there to buy supplies. For 3 reasons I prefer filling stations to shops for my stops: (1) There are usually security cameras to film people who try to drive off without paying for fuel; they should deter would-be bike thieves (2) A bike on a pavement outside a shop is an obvious temptation. Having to cross a forecourt to steal one in full view of people filling up is less tempting, and that is if the thief in question even spots the bike that far back off the road. (3) The checkouts are usually right next to the front window so that the cashier can keep an eye on the pumps. It is equally easy to keep an eye on one's bike from the checkout queue. Well, this is what I believe anyway. I don't like nipping into shops and leaving my bike outside. I have no worries leaving my bike at filling stations. Some people say that I'm paranoid. Listen, I had my first racing bike stolen and I don't want to experience that again! A mate had his bike stolen from outside my parents' house when I was a teenager. The bike was leaning against their bay window, just behind the TV they were watching but despite that they saw nothing. I'm not taking any chances...
Suitably refuelled, I headed into the High Peak district via the long climb of Snake Pass. The road had recently been resurfaced so most of it was very nice to ride up. One pretty worrying thing though - at regular intervals there were roadside signs listing motorcyclist casualties on that stretch of road - I think it was something like 22 in 4 or 5 years! This was a weekday morning so there weren't many bikers about, but I imagine it gets very busy up there at the weekends. Quite a lot of commercial traffic was using the road, but I didn't have any problems with it.
I found the Snake climb a bit much for me when I did it about 10 years ago, but this time I actually enjoyed it. A fitter rider on a lightweight bike could really attack that one! Towards the top I turned round to look down on the town below. It seemed a long way off, but even further in the distance I could see Greater Manchester sprawled out on the horizon.
I began the long descent to Ladybower Reservoir but soon I got chilled was forced to stop to don my windtop. I already had armwarmers, legwarmers, gilet and overshoes on! This did not feel like a ride at the end of June...
The scenery was pretty fantastic, the High Peaks towering above me on both sides of the road. I remembered this as one long descent, but in fact there are flattish sections, and even some uphill bits. It took quite a long time to get down. It will take even longer to climb back up if I tackle this as a climb next week!
Quite a few cars shot past me rather too close down there, so when I discovered a wide cyclepath across the road nearer Bamford, I decided to ride on that instead. Soon, I heard a funny noise coming from the reservoir to my right so I stopped to check it out. WOW - the world's largest plughole! If you have never seen it, it is well worth going to take a look. A series of stepped large concentric stone circles disappear downwards with water cascading into the void. That's one reservoir you definitely don't want to swim in!
Eventually I was dumped back onto the A-road and proceeded to Hathersage. There, I headed right for Bakewell on a smaller B-road but it was soon obvious that there is a lot of traffic even on B-roads in the Peak District. I encountered quite a few quarry lorries. I'd been warned to keep off the A6 as much as possible because of them, but even on the B-roads they were omnipresent and worrying. The drivers tended to drive a bit too fast and a bit too close - not the kind of gambling I enjoy I'm afraid...
Bakewell looked a nice little town. I could imagine cycling down there for a long weekend of Peak District walking and riding. Perhaps I'll do that one day? I didn't hang about this time though - I needed to make progress. I had to do a short stint on the A6, and that was enough for me; I'd hate to do it at a busy time. I was relieved to get onto much quieter roads.
It wasn't long before I reached my half-way point at the village of Winster. My Etrex GPS can't store enough waypoints to do the route in one bite, so I'd split it into two halves. I switched over to route section 2 at Winster and took the opportunity to eat a choccy bar and swig down some Coke as I looked around the village. They were preparing for a village fête at the weekend. A guy was up a ladder hanging bunting across the main street. By now the sun was shining and I was feeling pretty pleased with myself. The worst hills were behind me, and from now on things could only get easier. Rest over, I set off, turned right and passed a little girl walking up a gentle hill with her mum. The child said hello to me, and her mum commented that I must be very fit. "Strange!" thought I... "Why say that? It can't be more than about 5% gradient..." But then I went round the bend and the road lurched violently upwards - argh! I grabbed a derailleur full of granny ring and toiled my lonely way up the rest of the hill.
I think that I was now in the Derbyshire Dales. They were more rolling hills, rather than the big ones of the High Peak, very nice though. It wasn't long before the midlands started to open out below me. I could see for miles. I started to spend more and more time on the big ring as I tried to push my average speed up.
South Derbyshire soon went the way of West Yorkshire and North Derbyshire and I entered Staffordshire. There was still a nagging headwind, but I was feeling strong and making good progress. I was now actually starting to overheat so I took off my windtop and armwarmers, but I kept all my other kit on for the duration of the ride.
I quickly skirted around Burton-upon-Trent but came to a sudden stop at Barton-under-Needwood which was my chosen route to cross the busy A38 and the river Trent. I'd got there just when the afternoon 'school run' started - drat! There is obviously a big school there because a lot of uniformed kids were being picked up by parents in big 4x4s. There was total gridlock. The road was blocked by cars, the pavement by kids. Do they really do this 10 times per school week? I shook my head in disbelief... They even had their own traffic cop standing in the road trying to get the vehicles moving again. Once I finally cleared that nightmare, I crossed the A38 and had just got up to speed again when I was brought to a stop by a jam at some roadworks. Time passed. Slowly... Eventually I was moving again, only to plough straight into yet another jam. It was on a narrow lane leading to a singletrack bridge over the Trent. I couldn't tell that on my digital OS map. Definitely not a route to take at a busy time of day. Such as that in fact! I must have wasted over 30 minutes along there.
After several Red-Green cycles on the lights at the bridge, I managed to get across, but soon a new problem was emerging. I'd assumed that it wouldn't be difficult to pick up supplies at village shops en route. I'd planned my route to avoid towns wherever possible, but I'd forgotten modern car culture. "You want to live in a village? Certainly sir, but don't forget your car because there won't be any shops there now, you'll have to drive 20 miles to your nearest Tesco!" Village after village passed, no shops or filling stations. I'd run out of drinks and was getting thirsty. I was on the easy last quarter of my ride but if I got dehydrated, I know from bitter experience that I could still get into difficulty...
Just beyond Tamworth, I was saved when I came into the small town of Polesworth. They did have some shops, so I stopped there to stock up. I was reassured to hear the shopkeeper's thick Brummie accent - I was obviously getting close to my destination. I rang my elderly mum to tell her that I'd been delayed, because she still thought I was coming by train. I wanted my ride to be a surprise, and she'd only have worried about me if I'd told her about it in advance. Now she'd be worrying that I was late!
A few kms further on, I made an error of judgement. I'd navigated perfectly by GPS but now decided to make an alteration to my route. I'd originally planned to come into Coventry via Corley Moor. It couldn't be high by Yorkshire/Derbyshire standards, but it might still involve more of a climb than I now fancied. I'd done it 40 years ago as a child, in the days when even sane parents still allowed their children out on such roads, but I'd forgotten what the terrain was like. I'd been quite shocked to come across a few 10+% climbs this far into Warwickshire, and now I just wanted to take the most direct route to my mum's, bypassing the Moor.
I ignored the GPS directions and headed off down a road whose sign indicated "Corley 3 miles". About 5 miles later I still hadn't hit Corley and I could see that I was close to entering a big town which could only be Nuneaton. I could also see from my GPS that I was now heading in a Northerly direction again - bugger! I retraced my wheeltracks to where I'd turned and I saw that somebody had turned the road sign round to point the wrong way - swines!
Now I was back on track, but my left foot started cramping. It's a problem I've suffered on long rides ever since injuring the foot jogging about 15 years ago. I did the last 10 kms or so in a low gear and mainly pedalling with my right foot. When I got to the end of my mum's road, I stopped to ring her one more time. I told her to come to her front window because I had a little surprise for her. She appeared at the window with my sister and they almost collapsed when they saw me pedal up!
So... It was a good ride and I'm glad that I did it. There were some roads that I'd rather avoid if I did it again - I can't when I ride back though because I have no way of reprgramming my GPS down here in Coventry, I can only follow my original route in reverse. I only have very basic maps to navigate by if my GPS packs up for any reason.
Given how awful this 'summer' has been, I was VERY lucky with the weather - it started raining about 10 minutes after I arrived!
Roadkill - I saw lots of dead birds, hedgehogs and rabbits on my trip. That was bad enough, but I also saw 7 separate floral tributes to RTA victims, and in Warwickshire I spotted 2 police notices calling for witnesses to 2 more fatal accidents - let's be careful out there folks!
My legs - great. Right foot - okay. Left foot - iffy. Back - not as bad as usual, due to my new position on the bike - saddle dropped 1 cm and back 1 cm, bars up about 3 cm. I just need to work on my flexibility and core strength now and I'll be able to do 200+ hilly kms and still be able to walk properly at the end!
Ride stats - 227 km, about 4,000 m of climbing, in 12 h 45 m.
I'll be off to Kent on Friday to watch the Tour de France stages. Weather-permitting, I'll ride back Tuesday or Wednesday. Psychologically, the return ride will be much harder because I'll be tackling the big hills when tired. If the weather is still grim, I'll have to fork out for a train ticket instead because I'm not doing that ride in the rain![Top]