Bank holiday tour of the north

Last weekend I decided to make the most of an unexpected (to me, anyway) bank holiday and decided to go up to Preston to see the lovely Betty. However as I’d left it so late the trains were really expensive and Betty wasn’t really free anyway, so I did a bit of creative thinking and decided that I wouldn’t let this deter me and decided to go up to Preston anyway, but with a detour on the way back via the Peak District.

With an absolute bare minimum of preparation (I spent ten minutes on google maps, coerced some people into joining me, plotted a route on ridewithgps (of which more later), then managed to get my carradice mount from one bike to the other with only a few swears of frustration), I set off for Lancashire on the Saturday 6am train. I managed to get a good hour’s sleep, upside down on the train seat like a bat. On arriving in Preston I went to locate my bike only to find that it had been locked on the train, resulting in a crazy dash down the platform to find a member of staff before the train left. This was probably the beginning of the end for my cleats.

After breakfast at another friend’s house, I met Betty by the side of a roundabout and we marvelled at how weirdly sunny Preston was and I fondled her bike. We wanted to ride around Preston’s Guild Wheel, a 20-mile circle around Lancashire’s administrative capital, all off roads and taking in lots of Preston’s parks. A few months ago we’d walked a little bit of it so I was keen to do more. We started at Avenham Park, by the river Ribble, and headed off in an anti-clockwise circle. Preston is much improved by sunshine, let me tell you that, and despite the fact that the Wheel seemed intent on hugging a motorway for much of the time, and there was a comical 20% offroad incline, we had a lovely time in the sunshine, chatting away and spotting cows in rivers.

I think we averaged about 8mph, though Betty’s garmin seems to think we reached a top speed of 73mph. We even saw a steam train. It was a proper grand day out and we finished it off by loitering in Market Square with all the yoofs and looking REALLY overdressed as we didn’t have our pockets hanging below the bottom of our shorts.

Following an evening of pizza and wine, the next day I set out from Preston for the dizzy heights of Manchester. I’d accidentally booked first class but it didn’t matter as I had to stand with my bike to stop a vindictive woman sabotaging it, after she took extreme exception to me putting my bike – which I had booked – in the bike storage section when she wanted to put her pram – which she had not booked and refused to fold up – in the same section. I put some more walking-miles in on my poor battered cleats after getting a bit lost in Manchester station, but met up with my friend Tim and got on a train to Glossop, the “gateway to the Dark Peak”. At Glossop we met a woman from a town a few miles from where I grew up (the flattest part of the country), who laughed in my face when I said where we were going. “But it’s really hilly!! It’s NOTHING like home”. Yes, thanks, I know.

From Glossop, the only way is up. Well, it’s downhill for about 50 metres from the station, and then it’s up for five miles: Snake Pass. I was a bit daunted by this but actually, it wasn’t so bad, and the scenery was amazing. It really made me appreciate some of the mountain passes I went through last year IN A CAR. When we got near the top I started laughing a bit hysterically and stopped to take pictures of the fact I had survived (which don’t really show off my epic achievement, to be honest). After all that up, there was finally a down, towards the reservoirs, where we stopped for an icecream and I ogled a dam, before cycling around one of the reservoirs and south towards Eyam.

This is where things went a little awry. When I say I’d planned a route, I’d put in my start and finish locations, then moved the red line around until it looked “scenic” enough. Next time I will stop to wonder whether this scenic route involves going off road, through a farm, up some ridiculous gravel hills and various other nonsensical things. Let’s just say there was a lot of walking involved. When we finally got back to a road, I deviated from the planned route and had a bit of A road riding – I don’t know why people hate A roads so much, there’s no gravel and only a minimal amount of sheep poo. Winner. We took a right onto a small road, passing one of the GB youth team, who said “good luck”, and looked a little ominous. What? Oh right! This ridiculous 10% gradient goes on for 2 miles? ARE YOU INSANE? My front mech chose this moment to fail me and I had a long, slow walk to the top, getting hotter and more grumpy with every step. A farmer came out of his house and I was shamed into getting on my bike, then was humiliated further when he overtook me, so I got off again and sat down for a bit. Eventually at the top of the hill I had a massive strop, ate some of Tim’s sandwiches and met Matt, a local celebrity cyclist.

From here there was a well-deserved descent into Eyam, which was on the itinerary solely due to my obsession with the plague. During the massive plague outbreak, the residents of Eyam cut themselves off from the rest of the world in order not to spread the black death. Or at least, that’s how the story goes. I reckon actually no one went there because there’s a MASSIVE HILL IN THE WAY. Eyam’s museum was closed, due to the length of time it had taken us to get there, but I got very excited about some plaques and then we went back on to another A road and to the youth hostel (Ravenstor, outside Tideswell).

After spending the evening “rehydrating” on local beers, reading a book about the geology of the Peaks and making friends with a slightly insane lady who kept shouting at me “but you must be so TIRED!!! With all these things on your BACK!!!” (we had no bags on our backs, saddlebags all the way) and who spent 45 minutes shouting at a man on the stairs about the horrors of abortion, we set off the next morning, this time joined by our friend Katy, whose excellent local knowledge was much appreciated after all the epic walking of the day before. We rode on the Monsal Trail and I pretended to be a train (or more accurately, an engine) in the tunnels before for some reason (definitely not connected to my train impressions) we switched to the road and went to Ashford-in-the-Water, where there was a well dressing competition on. Wow. Why have I not had well dressing in my life before? It was SO GOOD. Then we went to Bakewell to eat an extremely delicious pudding. Oh my, bakewell puddings. If I was on death row and had one final meal to choose, this would be in my top 5 I reckon.

After Bakewell there were some climbs as we headed south, made less pleasant by a fierce headwind on every descent. One hill had a conveniently placed bench at the top, which we made the most of, before calling in at Katy’s mum’s house for tea. From there, things got lots flatter – we went to a reservoir, we went to a stately home, we saw lambs gambolling about, it was all pretty good until we got to Derby really early and had a pint in a fairly soulless pub opposite the station.

tl,dr? I rode up some hills, walked up some others, ate lots and saw lots of rocks (and well-dressed wells).

Day 1
Day 2

Educating Lizzi

This weekend I was moving house, so I tried my hardest to find ways to distract myself by doing other things. On Saturday I took Lizzi – my friend who I’d taken to Hampstead during the week – out for another ride. She’d suggested going to Cambridge, and as I know the way pretty well (or, as it turns out, not quite well enough) I said sure, why not?

We set out with grey skies but the promise from BBC weather of a sunny afternoon. Heading out through Epping, we turned off at High Beech for a cup of tea, where the sun was just trying to peek through the clouds. I assured Lizzi that we’d done the worst of the traffic and the only hill (though I refuse to admit there are actually any real hills in Epping – perhaps I’ve lived too long in SE London). Turns out this wasn’t ENTIRELY true as we took a wrong turn and went on a not-entirely-flat diversion, and then onto a main road. My bad.

Soon enough we were out onto lanes and could ride alongside each other. She was doing really well; although any incline meant slowing down to walking speed, there was no complaining. In the meantime, the skies were darkening and some ominous looking clouds started to gather.

A few miles from Roydon, the rain started. Not heavy, at first. But then heavier until I couldn’t see for water running down my face. Spray from cars was soaking us. We started laughing maniacally. “This can’t last!” I shouted back. A lone cyclist rode past and laughed along with us. Then it started hailing. I looked around, made a decision, and jumped off my bike, dragging it into a ditch to the (relative) protection of a hawthorn bush. We crouched in the ditch, still laughing. Lizzi mentioned something about epic suffering and I knew she had it in her. I reached into my bag to put on my waterproof jacket, only to find my windproof but not in any way waterproof running jacket. The hail died down and I put on what is essentially a piece of cling film with a zip, fashioned some sort of rain catching hat out of a buff, and we headed out again.

Within a few more miles the rain had stopped and the sun made a tentative appearance. We stopped at a pub and stripped off as much as we could, putting our wet clothes to dry on a fence and attracting some odd looks as it hadn’t rained at all here.

Cheese sandwiches, squashed cake and some soft drinks later, and we set off again. I realised I’d made two big mistakes that day (not counting the jacket mixup): firstly, I knew the route fairly well but there was a 10 mile gap that I have to admit I didn’t know at all. Secondly, I hadn’t charged my phone and it was due to run out during this wilderness. Thankfully we passed some cycle tourers who let me have a look at their garmin – thanks, better-equipped-than-me strangers!

We met a group of guys who I wouldn’t say were fullkitwankers but were definitely dressed a little too professionally for a jaunt to Cambridge. They made the mistake of being a little bit patronising, so when they told us that they’d lost their friend I decided to tell them about the escaped animals from the nearby wildlife centre. They laughed about at the time but we later saw them again without their friend, so I like to think that they panicked and abandoned him to a fate similar to being eating by an escaped, inbred tiger.

Around 15 miles from Cambridge, poor Lizzi admitted that her legs were hurting. She used the words “horrible, painful burn”. She told me that she didn’t care about the stupid DNA path (lies, how can anyone not care?) and that she hated all the hills between London and Cambridge. I told her to hang on in there, and unleashed my secret weapon: sainsbury’s own-brand percy pigs. This did the trick and we rolled into Cambridge, high fiving strangers and taking bows from our bikes.

It was probably the slowest ride I’ve ever done (just under 8 hours from Hackney to Cambridge, including tea/pub/ditch stops) but it was by far the furthest she’d ever done so I think it’s all good. I realised later it was also the furthest I’ve ever ridden with a rucksack (70 miles, ouch!) and that I should not try to be such a hero and carry 2 people’s food/drink/jackets etc as it wasn’t super comfortable.

Also, we saw a heron, some ducks, loads of rabbits and a dead badger. Grand day out.

Happiness is… riding a bike

Sometimes riding a bike makes me really happy. This evening I took my friend for a ride up to and around Hampstead. She was really scared of hills and didn’t think she’d even make it up the road from Camden to Hampstead (whatever that’s called) but was an absolute trooper and stormed up everything in sight. She was so happy that I’d taken her and wants to ride more. It’s great to see the happiness that cycling can bring to people.

As an additional bonus we didn’t get lost once (despite me not knowing north london and not having a map), I didn’t embarrass myself on any hills (would have defeated the point of the ride I guess) and we didn’t get told off for cycling on the heath.

What a lovely evening.