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).