Pennine 2010

Pennine Cycleway Route
View Pennine Cycleway in a larger map

My cousin died a few years ago. He was in his 30s and as far as he knew was healthy. He'd complained of a bad back and went to lie down. His wife found him dead a few hours later. As well as his wife he left two children. He died because the main blood vessel leaving his heart ruptured. This was the cause of his back pain. It ruptured because, unbeknown to him, he had a condition called Marfan Syndrome.

The Pennine Cycleway passes through Colne where my cousin lived. I decided to dedicate my mini adventure to his memory and at the same time raise some money for The Marfan Trust -  a charity that supports people with the syndrome and raises money for research. 

I was able to raise £2043.00 at final count. Many thanks to all who sponsored me.

Day 1
Saturday 03 July 2010
Derby to Whaley Bridge
Distance: 55 Miles
Average Speed: 10.1 mph
Fastest Speed: 39.6 mph
Time Cycling: 5.24 hrs

I cycled into Manchester Piccadilly station for the 09.20hrs train to Sheffield and a connection to Derby. There were cycle spaces on both trains and I arrived in Derby just after 11.00hrs ready to cycle by quarter past. It was a lovely sunny day with scattered clouds and a slight breeze. The forecast was for much of the same for the next few days and I was up for the challenge of the next 355 miles.

The first route 68 sign at Derby
The initial route was well signposted and went through Pride Park along the river. After a mile or so I joined the main road and cycle signs fizzled out or at least were difficult to see. Realizing I had gone wrong I consulted the map but it didn't have enough detail to show the minor road names so out came the SatMap and I was soon back on course, although I guess I'd added 2 miles and 1 climb to my journey already! 

The route went through some parkland dotted with cycle gates to the start of the old Mickleover railway path and from there a fairly fast and flat route spoiled slightly by several gated cattle crossings and foilage that needed seriously trimming back in places.

Cattle Crossing on the Mickelover cycle path
I joined up with two other cyclists for a short while, an American couple heading for the Tissington Trail (part of route 68). I thought we'd end up riding there together but they seemed to keep stopping/slowing so I went on ahead. Maybe they didn't want company but they seemed friendly enough.

After four miles of railway path the route joined a quiet B road near Etwall and passed through several small villages and hamlets. There were sufficient cycle signs so I was following those rather than the map. After entering one hamlet called 'Sutton On The Hill' (which was on a hill!) I noticed the route deviated from the main B road, climbed the hill, went down the other side and then rejoined the B road making a slightly longer route than the B road - all for no reason it seemed except to avoid potential fast traffic for quarter of a mile or so. I resolved then and there to pay close attention to the map at any further turn off's and make my own choice about traffic conditions and the route to take.

Fourteen miles of pleasant B road and I was entering the outskirts of Ashbourne. After a short downhill path section behind some houses I dropped onto a road of nose to tail cars and lorries. I filtered past these, along with some motorbikes, for a short while until coming to a roundabout. No signs about where to go so a quick SatMap consult (the Sustrans maps are great at the big picture but do not give enough detail in towns) and then a short ride and carry down some steps and I was at the old Ashbourne railway tunnel. This was well lit with a tarmac section running along it and I was soon through and at the start of the Tissington trail.

Ashbourne Tunnel
There were many cyclists of all abilities as well as walkers milling around by the car park, cycle hire hut and tea/butty hut which marks the start of the trail. No surprise as it was a lovely sunny Saturday but certainly very different to the Mickleover railpath earlier. I had done nineteen miles at this point and was using my water up fast so decided to stop for lunch and drinks. After a shortish queue I ordered 2 teas, a Cornish pasty and refilled my water bottles. 

Three mature gents on bikes stopped for chat about where I was going and my bike. They were very affable and as they left gave me £5.00 between them for The Marfan Trust (thanks guys if you are reading this). Replenished, I was just about to set off when the American couple arrived. She was having troubles with her chain after a fall earlier but seeing they were OK I set up off the slight gradient to join the day cyclists and walkers for the next thirteen miles or so.

The ground was dry and hard packed making a good cycling surface. Despite a constant gradual climb and being fully loaded I was able to make a steady 13-15mph and soon began reeling in the various family groups of cyclists ahead. They usually made way to the sound of my bell and I shouted a clear 'thankyou' as I passed them and also gave a similar 'hello' to oncoming cyclists. I rarely got a reply and decided the less like a cyclist each looked the less likely they were to answer. I surmise the more likely it was each could fall the more concentration was actually needed to stay upright and so the there little or no inclination to respond to polite but distracting greetings. I always try and be polite to other walkers and cyclists and give a cheery nod, wave or hello as I pass so despite knowing why some would/could not answer I ended shouting a 'hello' at the oncoming cyclists forcing some to answer and causing a few wobbles. Naughty but amusing.

Tissington Trail
At Parsley Hay the official trail finished but the rail path continued on for a few more miles until turning left at a gate onto a steeper unmade road for a few hundred metres before a tarmac section rolling down towards Buxton. As I was approaching a short, sharp uphill just before the town I found I had no energy in my legs and had to get off and push for a couple of minutes. On the other side of the hill was a mini mart and I decided the cure required was a quick sugar boost. Two chocolate bars and ten minutes later I was feeling much better and was able to cycle through the town centre which was well signed up to 'Long Hill' and the first really steep pull of the ride.

The main, lower section was not too bad but after a mile or so a steeper, narrower road is taken up over the hill where the main road continues around it. I got half way up before tired legs and an aching neck meant walking/pushing for a while was the easier option. I got my water bottles filled at a house I passed and the  guy there told me the road would soon level out but turn into a very rough track. Sure enough it did.

'Old Road' turn off. Buxton - Whaley Bridge

'Old Road'. Buxton - Whaley Bridge
After this short broken section the tarmac returned as did the downhill and I was soon blasting along with only sheep for company. Suddenly the road started to become more broken with deep potholes and just a narrow strip of tarmac in the centre. The frequency, depth and size of these holes quickly grew the lower I dropped but it was still safe enough to ride between although at a greatly reduced speed. Dropping into one of them at 40mph would not have been healthy at all!

This road soon fed into a wider one and then another smaller hill to climb which was a killer by now as I was hot, tired and thirsty despite the refilled water bottles. Still, soon over it and another fast ride on good tarmac into Whaley Bridge. I soon found the B&B - Spire House - where I had been offered a free nights stay and after a quick shower and change I was down to the neighbouring pub - The Sheperds Arms Inn. While a fine little establishment serving Marston's it did not do bar food so after a pint of lemonade, a pint of Pedigree and 2 packets of crisps I decanted to the Indian Balti place across the road. A lovely Lamb Rogan Josh with rice and I was in bed for 22.00hrs and slept pretty well.

Day 2
Sunday 04 July 2010
Whaley Bridge to Heptonstall
Distance: 60 Miles
Average Speed: 8.1 mph
Fastest Speed: 50 mph
Time Cycling: 7.23 hrs

A hearty breakfast at the B&B and I was on the road for 08.30hrs. The lovely owners pointed out the going was much flatter on the parallel valley road and as it was Sunday morning any traffic would be light. It meant not following the official route for 4 miles or so but as I knew how hilly day 2 promised to be I was glad to take any opportunity to lessen the impact.

Climbing from New Mills
By New Mills I was climbing and was very glad of the easy warm up. I was soon up onto the hills and found the going easy for a while with a nice downhill towards Hadfield and the start of the Longendale Trail. This old rail path runs along the Woodhead valley for several miles next to a chain of 6 reservoirs. It's was a good break before the next ascent which due to the steepness and surface saw me off the bike pushing a fair way.

Leaving the Woodhead Valley
It was possible to follow the fast Woodhead pass road but I went on the official track and despite the hard climb I was glad to be away from the traffic. The weather was becoming increasingly windy but it was still warm and the moors were alive with birdsong. The off road section crossed the Woodhead road twice and then the tarmac was rejoined on the Windle Edge road. This had a slight rise before a very fast 50mph decent to my turn off for Winscar Reservoir.

Windle Edge Road

Once past the reservoir I had a bit more climbing before another fast and long decent into Holmfirth where thankfully I was able to avoid Cleggy and his ilk. The town was very busy and I had little compunction to stop at a cafe so decided to carry on up out of the valley before stopping for a picnic break. While looking at my map I was approached by an old guy who offered help. He said he used to be a cyclist and thought I was mad taking the route I planned, particularly on the loaded bike I had. Ah well, I thought. We do things not because they are easy but because they are hard, to butcher JFK!

The weather was dry but became very windy the higher I climbed. Luckily most of it was side or tail on rather than a headwind because it was ferocious.