Reading those blogs reminded me that I didn’t get around to giving the info on my post-Easter cycling break. The school holidays here didn’t overlap with Easter week, so I had to arrange for a post-Easter break on my own. For the first time in about 20 years I decided a proper cycle tour was in order. In the intervening years, I had stuck to day tours at best, covering a max of about 60 miles. In 1986, I bought my most treasured bike – a British Eagle Touristique, which at that time was one of the top of the range tourers available. I continue to be completely in love with it, and have gently introduced a few improvements, such as Shimano SPD clip-on pedals. Yet it remains essentially a bike of its era, complete with a totally delightful Reynolds 531ST frame.
Anyway, after the Easter Vigil service (ours begins at 7.30am and is all over for me by about 12noon) I went home, had a light lunch then placed my pre-packed panniers on my bike and started out. The ride that afternoon took me to Severn Beach, along to Aust (where St Augustine of Canterbury travelled to meet with the Welsh celtic bishops in 602AD – and lectured them on the ‘proper’ way to do the whole Christian thing. Not one of his more auspicious moments.) Fleeing the influence of St Augustine, I crossed the old Severn Bridge on its cycle path, passed through Chepstow, into the Forest of Dean. The climb up into the forest was long and exhausting, and I wondered by about 4.30pm whether I was going to get to my first night’s lodgings at Ross on Wye by about 6pm. In fact, once up in the high ground, it was a breeze and I arrived in Ross about 5.30pm. A journey of about 40 miles.
This began to answer a key question in my mind, which was how far I could travel on a pannier-loaded bike in a single day. The following day proved it, with an 80mile journey, over ferociously undulating hills through Herefordshire, Worcestershire and part of Shropshire, to stay at the Coalport Youth Hostel in Ironbridge. It was the first time I’d stayed at a YHA since I was about 21, so it was interesting to see how things had changed/stayed the same. Firstly, youth hostels remain excellent value for money. I had a room to myself, plus evening meal and breakfast for Â£28. (The previous night’s lonely B&B had cost Â£40). Secondly, there are no longer ‘jobs’ to do before setting out. Thirdly, you meet interesting people. I met up with a remnant of the British Tandem Club, who had been staying there for the Easter weekend. Fourthly, the only “youth” that I came across throughout the week in hostels were school parties, who had been wrenched away from vegging in front of their xboxes by saintly teachers. The rest were either families or people of my generation or above. I wonder what the health of my kids’ generation is going to be like when they’re my age.
The following day, and I was starting to feel tired after the hills of Monday. However, the land was much easier-going across Shropshire and Staffordshire, and that 80miles was easier all round. As I approached the border of the two counties, I came wizzing down a gentle hill and caught my first sight of the Pennines in the distance. The sun was shining, gravity was in my favour, so I burst into singing Hills of the North Rejoice… – then was caught unawares by a road junction and nearly crashed into a 20-tonne lorry. So much for Praising the Lord.
All my journeys were taken in the main on unclassified roads, with the occasional foray onto B-class roads. I planned the journey on a large 5-miles-to-the-inch road atlas, then cut out the pages of the relevant sections of the journey, so that I didn’t have to carry unnecessary maps around with me. It is a system which works well. For the journey I splashed out on new panniers (two Altura Orkney 50L rear panniers – completely waterproof and breathable) together with an Altura bar-bag which I was delighted with. The whole bike remained stable, probably because I had managed not to load it with front panniers.
I crossed the border into Derbyshire, passed through the Dove valley, Tissington and onto the Tissington Trail (old railway line) for the final section to Youlgreave YHA. There’s a lovely descent for about a mile into the village. My mother’s family all come from around there. As I cycled along the Tissington Trail, I recalled that my grandfather had been killed by his own locomotive at Parsley Hay on that line in the 1950s, and that my great-grandfather, and his father had also worked on it. So that side of the family was tied up with the history of the line, probably since it was built. The route of the line, now bike trail, goes right past the little village of Heathcote, where family members are recorded as far back as about 1830. Nobody from the family lives there now though. My great-grandfather was converted by the Plymouth Brethren in Buxton at the turn of the century, and there are stories of my grandfather preaching in Buxton market square every Saturday. My mother in her teens was acutely embarrassed about it at the time, but people from the Buxton meeting still remember him with great love, some 50 years after his tragic death.
Having reached the Peaks, I decided to slack off for a day on Wednesday and browse about that part of the country which I’ve known and loved all my life. The day started very wet, so I spent some time becoming reacquainted with Bakewell church, which was tidy and friendly to visitors. A visit to a family grave after lunch and then a climb up to the top of the limestone ridge only to drop down a steep descent into Castleton and Hope, before climbing up again to the gritstone bluff of Stanage Edge. Then a zoooooom down into Hathersage for another YHA stay. The sky cleared for some lovely views from Stanage back across the Hope Valley to Offerton.
The following day began wet as well – very wet, so I cycled back up the Hope Valley, up the collapsed cavern of Winnats Pass, on to Buxton. Then I took the hard route – up Long Hill, avoiding the A6, dropping into Whaley Bridge, then up over the next hill until I dropped down the last hill of the Pennines into Pott Shrigley and the vast plain of Cheshire – and that was the end of the hills. I slowly ambled into Manchester, but not before I had been shocked by the way North Cheshire has slowly been ruined by being gobbled up by housing developments of one form or another. I don’t remember it being this bad when I lived in the area in the 1980s. I loped along through Didsbury (v. trendy/yuppy), Withington (sad), and Rusholm (exotic). Whilst in Rusholm, I paid a visit back to Bicycle Doctor, the shop where I originally bought my Touristique. It’s a workers’ co-op, founded in the 1980s, when workers’ co-ops were very right-on. Unlike many, this one survived. I was delighted to meet Rob, who had the good sense to talk me into buying the Touristique, right at the edge of affordability, all those years ago. Nineteen years later, I was a very contented customer. I ended up in the centre of Manchester, which changes every time I visit it (every two years or so). It’s a seriously groovy city these days, with an atmosphere more like a mainland European city. I spent about two hours going around parts which I used to frequent in my 20s – some had changed out of all recognition, others were uncannily the same – including the Britons Protection pub, which I visited on my first night in Manchester in 1978.
That night, I stayed in the parish where I had been ordained curate in 1985, staying with good old friends for an all-too-brief visit. In the morning I made a short trip to Piccadilly Station, then, sadly, it was home to Bristol. I now know that I can do 80 miles per day, comfortably, with a loaded bike, over mixed terrain. I am now dying to do it again … as soon as I can.
I’m inspired. Great account.
Where could I get to from Essex by riding 80 miles a day? In my case I’d probably be best sticking to 50 or 60 I think.
[…] Update: Another cycling link. Paul goes on a cycling break. I’m inspired. […]
You see I read things like this, and I think wow I’d love to do that, it sounds like so much fun.
And then I think that it must hurt your bum.
is it only me who can’t read paragraph 8 because it’s shyly lurking behind the phot?
or is it only me that got as far as paragraph 8?! that’s a lot of paragraphs paul…
I was so inspired I dragged my beloved British Eagle Touristique from my garage where it has languished for six years. It too dates from 1986 but I actually bought it a year later, and in the interim it had sat around in a cycle shop, apparently too small a frame for the average cycle tourist – but in fact the perfect size for me (every other bike I’d looked at was just too big). I commuted to work every day on it while I lived in London – never needed a car.
So the bike is now getting a service and will be commuting again very soon.
splash out on a recumbent bike or get a trike if you’re worried about balance, super comfortable and very quick though pricey I suppose unless you’re prepared to ditch the Car. Which for a Government allegedly committed to eco-friendly measures is getting harder and harder to do.