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Wednesday, 17 April 2013

An Exhilarating Ride

The wind can be both a curse and a great benefit to the cyclist, and we normally have no chance of doing anything about it.  I was fortunate then in my choice of route yesterday in that I had the help of a strong tailwind for most of the way.
With my wife away in South Wales for the week, a good weather forecast, and only our two cats for company, I decided to put the DIY tools to one side and get out on two wheels for the day. The Spring has been slow to appear this year after many dreary cold and cloudy days, so it was great to see the sun come up and with it a commensurate rise in temperature.
My choice of route was unusual, since two parts of it were by public transport to get me and my Dahon folding bike to the start, and from the end, of the ride. This is one of the big advantages of a folding bike, since you can get anywhere that has a bus route.
My proposal was to board the X50 bus which plies between Derby and Stoke-on-Trent, passing through Mickleover and Uttoxeter, returning on the Swift bus which runs from Ashbourne to Derby. You may therefore deduce that my ride was from Uttoxeter to Ashbourne and it was in fact via Alton and Cauldon Low, so quite a bit of hill climbing on the Western edge of the Peak District National Park and running along the Derbyshire/Staffordshire border.
The double-decker X50 duly arrived at Mickleover with only the driver aboard, and he must have been glad of my company, though a couple of other passengers rode for short distances before Uttoxeter where I alighted.  Such is the shortage of passengers on this service that I cannot see how they make a profit, lest it be by some grant or other.  Certainly there are insufficient passengers to cover the cost of fuel, let alone the driver's wages.
Cycling from Uttoxeter to Alton was on narrow and little used country lanes with great views of the countryside and some signs of Spring at last.  Lambs out in the fields, celandines and wood anenomies on the grass verges and at last signs of burgeoning buds on the hawthorn hedges.

An unusual feature on the lane to Alton - a ford, it's stream appearing to flow uphill!  The stream flows left to right and to the top right of the photo, in spite of the downhill approach on the road. Weird!
Also unusual - a "No Satnav" sign and an old American car in this farmyard.
The serious hills appear at Alton, a pretty village with more pubs than it needs, in fact one is for sale, but who would buy a pub that stands next door to another pub?  A very steep hill down to cross the River Churnet, and an equally steep climb up on the other side passing close by Alton Towers, hidden by trees, but identifiable by the screams of people riding the terrifying mechanical machines.

The view across the River Churnet at Alton, with two pubs on the opposite bank.  The Talbot on the left, is for sale, but rather overshadowed by it's more obvious neighbour.
En route I had planned to look in at a new camp site at Cotton, this taking my route further North than the shortest route.  This involved more hill climbing, but the strong tail wind helped considerably, pushing me up some hills but at death defying speed on the downhill sections.
At  over 1100ft above sea level the countryside hereabouts still shows signs of the recent Winter weather with some pockets of snow not yet melted away.

The snow falls were heavy in these parts and communities away from the main roads were cut off for several days.

I had reservations about riding the A52 road down into Ashbourne, but need not have worried as there was surprisingly little traffic on it.  Perhaps the high cost of fuel is having an effect at last.  Good! 
Less cars = More bikes
In this direction it is an easy ride, dropping several hundred feet in a few miles, so the strong tail wind was hardly necessary.
My top gear measures only 78 inches so too low for pedalling here, but so what - I could freewheel at over 25mph anyway.

Here a welcome sight for cyclists at the top of Swinscoe Hill which runs down into Mayfield and then on to Ashbourne.
For old fashioned folk like me who prefer the old English nomenclature, 11%  translates to 1 in 9, but the length of the gradient is more important to cyclists than the actual steepness.

Time for a coffee and some food in Ashbourne whilst awaiting the hourly Swift bus which, true to it's name, had me back in Derby within 35 minutes.
So, an exhilarating day out on an unusual route of 25 miles, in almost perfect Spring weather, by chance ridden in the best direction, for t'other way round it would have been an exhausting battle against both the wind and the hills.   I could manage one or the other, but not both together!


John SWAN said...

Interesting comments on a fairly neglected area. Jan has a friend who keeps horses, among other things at Winkhill at what used to be the station house.

Littleranger said...

Indeed a very beautiful area but isolated in winters like the one we have just had. Sounds like a good day out Les and hopefully a welcome to spring.

Keith Drury said...

It's this sort of easy-to-read, most literate depiction of a challenging and beautiful ride in an area which I'm just beginning to get to know which keeps me going. Superb, Les.