Pennine Cycleway – Derby to Leeds

July 4, 2017

Day 1

So back on the road… how exciting! After a winter of injury then to actually pack the panniers and gingerly advance on my trusty steed toward York Station was quite a thrill. Frankly I’m not fully restored but I was anxious to see how the knee behaved as I had planned a tour that by any standards was not a gentle re-introduction.

Lord knows Cross Country Rail is not a thing of beauty and even less so as it arrived 35 minutes late as I wended my way down to Derby to start the ride. The first challenge was loading the bike onto the correct carriage and then ‘hanging it up’ in a special recess. That went well but at the next stop, Leeds, another cyclist was moving my heavy bike to create space for his and clattering it as he grappled with its weight. I was heard to utter a loud ‘whoa!!’ to indicate my displeasure at his manhandling. The weightlifter in question objected to my objection and pointed out that the ‘train wasn’t my personal property’….’’maybe, but the bike’s my personal property”. Anyway I went back to my seat hoping he had an unfortunate accident with a car outside Wakefield Station when he alighted.

Eventually Derby came and I met up with Tony Franco who’d had to hang around the Station until I arrived. Tony and I met in 1985 when we studied at the University of Bradford for our MBA’s. Tony has a busy work schedule but is a cyclist, runner and swimmer. However such a long trip was new to him.

The Marketing Guru led off through Derby traffic for our evening accommodation but gave an indication that it might be three days of intensive supervision when he forgot the directions on the way to his parent’s house! To confirm my suspicions then on this short trip he managed to get a puncture.

Anyway we left Mr & Mrs Franco’s and were later fêted like Kings at his sister and brother-in-laws’ house in Littleover and then retired to contemplate the expedition ahead.

Day 2

A grey and chilly morning greeted us as we cycled to Etwall to pick up Sustran’s Route 68 – ‘The Pennine Cycleway’. This was on country lanes par excellence and made even better by the sighting of an early morning E Type Jaguar on its way, no doubt, to a Show or some such.

The road rose and fell a little but Ashbourne was reached with little distress. We nearly missed it as we were diverted around the edges of the town but stopped at the beginning of the Tissington Trail for a teacake and cup of tea. After this we had a gentle 10 mile uphill ride. We joined a Hen Party on their hired bikes, sporting sashes, grinding along uphill stoically. Being cheery with this hung over party was not completely well received and the future sister-in-law did confide that she was looking forward to the pub stop (it had been promised) not too far away. It also was busy with walkers on the Trail and there were a lot of small teenagers hidden by enormous rucksacks out in the wilds doing their Duke Of Edinburgh awards.

The views of the Peak District were fabulous as we pedalled along and we left the route briefly at Hurdlow for some lunch at a pub. The complete joy of long distance cycling is that you can eat what you want with impunity… we did. At this stop I instructed Tony how to operate his expensive Garmin Sat Nav/Computer sat on his handlebars looking, up until this point, neglected.

Up until this point Tony and I had been jauntily suggesting that our wives could have completed and enjoyed the ride so far and so let’s have them invest in those padded shorts and get their diaries out. As the day progressed then this idea seemed less promising.

After gentle gradients then gravity took a more serious and unwelcome role in our lives as we approached Buxton. Figures like 13% started to appear on my Garmin as I reached for the granny gears on the bike. Close to Buxton the frailties of friendship and consultation reared their ugly head and instead of logically following a trim female road cyclist on a carbon bike up an A Road to Buxton I gave the option to Tony of following the map or the cyclist. Anyway the upshot was a long walk on a shattered track resplendent with boulders and loose stones. If I am to blame for this mistake then it was not to have questioned in more detail a very nice gentleman picking up litter near said track. I just enquired as to whether it was a quick route into Buxton, which he confirmed it was. He also did add that it was quite a decent road surface until all “the four by fours fucked it up”!

We eventually got to the delightful town that is Buxton in warm sunshine and partook of refreshment before contemplating the next part of the ride.

This meant a very serious ascent out of the town and by now I’m feeling like I am punishing Tony with the amount and severity of climbing. He was, in fairness, cheerful and game throughout but maybe my planning had been a slight over optimistic. Toward the top of the hill outside of Buxton the map directed us up another terribly steep hill to where the road became a stony track. Once in a day is careless but twice is stupidity and so a plan was hatched to stick to main roads from here to Glossop. This decision was immediately rewarded by a several mile descent toward Whaley Bridge. A man in a small Peugeot convertible passed with a washing machine in the passenger seat, I wondered if he had ever thought that online dating sites might bring him more success?

At the bottom I rang the pub that we were staying at for the night to be treated like a retard and told there was no reservation. I had arranged everything in early June and so this was not only inconvenient but also simply ignorant. Trip Advisor will inform the world of their oversight: I promise.

So with Tony consuming gel bars and Mars bars we climbed into Glossop and completed our 65 miles for the day and clocked up 1,676 metres worth of climbing. The last few miles were enormously steep gradients. For a novice this was a remarkable baptism of fire… sorry! The Travel Lodge in Glossop had space and after a shower and some food we both separated to sleep soundly

Day 3

I think Lionel Ritchie once volunteered ‘Easy like Sunday morning’. Not if you’re with me Lionel! We went into Wetherspoons for breakfast and consumed a complete ‘heart attack on a plate’. Delicious. I did ask the waiter if they actually served alcohol at 8 am? He said that they didn’t until 9 am. He did say that some lost souls actually did buy booze at 9 am. He liked to think they were off a night shift somewhere but he knew they weren’t.

In line with a developing pattern we climbed out of Glossop and went in search of Route 68. Stopping to ask the locals was quite funny as we asked one chap who gave a very good plan of how to get to it only for him to leave and another bloke to dismiss his directions as tosh as ‘he was new around here’. I can’t pretend we nailed the route to start with but eventually we made progress north until near Holme Moss. Here I foolishly, in retrospect, followed the ‘Trans-Pennine Way’. If that was foolish then the Park Ranger who gave us further directions was even more of a fool. We were sent on a trail that wasn’t fit for bicycles or well marked. The upshot was that we pushed our bicycles up a long grassy hill/mountain to a stone shed that was clearly a dead end.  One interesting discovery was that in a space of several hundred square miles cows can crap copiously on a small strip of grass path – the only place where you can push or ride your bicycle.

Holmfirth was eventually reached in lovely sunshine and predictably heaving with tourists. All no doubt seeking a cup of tea at the famous café used in Last of the Summer Wine. It was early afternoon and we had over 40 miles to cycle so we pushed on. The Sat Nav said Huddersfield next and we entered the home of Premiership football in no time and then reaching for our crampons climbed out of the town leaving the speeding cars below us. Tony was now starting to understand long distance touring and was developing his own nutritional solutions – Peppa Pig Gums.

Elland was a wonderful discovery only because of the amazing descent shortly after you pass beneath the M62 and from here we aimed for Halifax. It was here that my nutritional solution was adopted – McDonalds. Being a cool dude then Tony had heard of this fast food outlet and apparently close relatives of his frequented these popular temples of delight. Unfortunately, he had not sullied the premises in his living memory and I’d like to think I helped him overcome some psychological barriers as he ravenously consumed a Chicken Legend, fries and two large Cokes.

Pleasure was short lived as Halifax provided more steep climbs and continuing heavy traffic before a long descent into Hebden Bridge. Here we checked out letting the train take some of the strain and found out we could get to Burnley on the 16:52. So a quick spin around Hebden Bridge and even a look in a record shop before back to the Station to catch… the wrong train. Anyway Manchester Victoria was nice and Tony bonded with an older lady who remonstrated that the train driver had failed to stop at Smithy Bridge (no, we had never heard of it either). We felt her pain and no doubt so did the train driver who she bolted toward when we came to rest.

Given my accumulating transgressions for this murderous route then I was keen to re-apportion blame for this mistake and Tony accepted my opprobrium with good grace. So catching another train to Burnley we got there with a bijou 13 miles to complete to get to Barnoldswick. I had telephoned ahead to the hotel/pub to advise we were coming but worried that we might not get food on a Sunday night in this little place and urged Tony for one last push. Poor chap he was cycling on memory by now but uncomplaining and up for the challenge.

So through Burnley, Nelson and Colne we pressed on in the early evening sunshine noting the differing communities and the surprising number of elderly immaculate Mercedes and BMW’s being driven by young Asian lads blaring out the Top 20 from Karachi. Another feature of the communities was a sewing machine shop! There must be many dressmakers to keep a shop in business and it momentarily reminded my mother and her dress making back in the day.

The Fountains Head was a noisy pub with rooms upstairs – yet despite our being late, smelly and it being very busy with many patrons we were ushered in and fed magnificently. The room was super but to be honest we could have slept on a clothes line by now.

I am a great believer in the maxim that you should only tell the truth if it serves a useful purpose. To this end whilst paying the bill at the bar a fairly well oiled woman perching on a bar stool made the perceptive observation, probably driven by my being in an orange lycra jersey, cycle shorts and looking knackered that I had been riding a bike. I confirmed her assertion and then went onto to outline the route (“never heard of Glossop, is it in Kent?”) and the distances involved. She then opined that as I was ‘getting on’ then clearly this was an achievement…. I never did like Barnoldswick.

‘Scores on the doors?’ – 54.2 miles for the day and a mere 1,360 metres of climbing. (Sorry, again).

Day 4

Rain! This was the greeting as we stepped out of the door after our ‘thank you’s’ to Carole, the owner of said hostelry. However before this we were befriended by Dave Dee (or Duxbury to his bank manager and doctor). Dave made breakfast, sadly not a core competence, and then regaled us with his disappointment at large families living off Benefits whilst he made do on a lot less, his time as an undertaker (loved the job), Night Club Singer (Tamla is his forte), his broken earlier marriage, child bereavement and his discovery that his real father (he was adopted) sang on cruise liners. We needed some quiet time on the bike to process all this…

Carole suggested picking up the Leeds to Liverpool Canal towpath at Skipton. Between Barnoldswick and Skipton was a poor path apparently. So we joined the Monday morning rush hour on the horrific A59 to Skipton – awful!

Once in Skipton I found the canal as Tony sped past into the centre of town with me bawling “TONY!… Pay attention 007”. He dutifully turned around. The towpath after Skipton became a muddy track with large stones and tree roots – no fun and after a coffee stop in Silsden I was thinking that I cannot ride this for another 25 miles into Leeds. Fortunately about a mile south of Silsden the track became a made up towpath and from here into Leeds got progressively smoother and faster. After the earlier two days I owed Tony something flatter and the ride into Leeds was a gradual descent from the top of the Pennines.

This canal was opened in the early 19th Century and cost £877,000 to build. However miraculously you could leave Leeds on a Wednesday and be in Liverpool on the Saturday. I expect that the railway soon led the canal to lose its traffic and with the motor vehicle the waterway is now a beautiful relic. In fact we saw few barges and if you did it was as they were queuing or within the locks that help the barges deal with the terrain. The canal was picturesque and the towpath sparsely populated.

There was a lot of development near to the canal as we progressed toward Leeds and I expect residents wanted a view of the canal and its calming influence. You could see some imposing and large converted mills along its length that foretold a very different history to the de-industrialised world we now cycled through. A beautiful ride and easy to boot. Frankly, I am not sure why I have not heard of more folk doing this.

Lunch was taken at Rodley in the outskirts of Leeds and then we literally cycled past the entrance to Leeds Station where Tony bought a train ticket to London with the rejoinder that for the same price he could have booked a return flight to Barcelona!

This ride from Barnoldswick totalled 38.1 miles and a mere 159 metres of climbing.

I then dragged my weary body up and out of Leeds and found some of my regular cycle routes near Thorner. These took me back to York where I amassed 62.8 miles for the day and 469 metres of climbing. I didn’t envy Tony who had to reawaken those screaming muscles at Kings Cross and persuade then to function through London rush hour traffic on his ride home.

A great whirlwind of a trip. Great company, memorable cycling and at times captivating scenery. Can’t wait for the next one.

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