Coming up for air

So it’s been a while since my fingers have felt the need to dance on the keyboard in order to populate these pages. My apologies. I believe it’s euphemistically called ‘life events’. Normal service now returns though.

While gingerly fording a swollen river of emotional discord, you find out who your friends are. That fine fellow Tim from Life in the Cycle Lane came to my rescue and suggested we pedal from Chesterfield to Glossop and explore some unfamiliar sections of the Trans Pennine Trail.

Undeterred by the six inches of snow clogging the byways of Glossopdale, we caught a train to the town of the crooked spire, picked up the trail and headed across the backbone of England.

As is the norm on these Surly Trollfest adventures, we encountered sublime and ridiculous conditions, struggled in parts but managed to keep one another motivated. Celebratory beers were downed with that glow of achievement, despite not being able to feel my fingers or toes.

The pictures are from the phone camera so apologies for the quality…

Speeding ahead on the Trans Pennine Trail Cranberry and chocolate nibs flapjack Gates Trans Penning Trail Sheffield five weirs walk Sculpture on the Trans pennine Trail Surly Troll on the Trans Penning Trail Up high on the Trans Pennine Trail Trans Pennine Trail beers

A Dark Peak Bivvy – Alport Castles

It’d been a while since I’d rolled out the bivvy bag and the need to enjoy (or is that endure?) a night in the big orange sock became too great at the weekend.

The destination? My backyard.

I left home at lunchtime and wandered through Old Glossop past its incongruous aluminium works to the Doctor’s Gate. Walking this old route, I soon joined the manicured section of the Pennine Way where I went against the grain of the national trail, heading south east to Mill Hill and Kinder Scout’s northern edge.

Jumping from boulder to boulder on this my favourite stretch of the plateau, I dropped down to Woodlands Valley via Blackden Brook, which entailed a steep diversion at its head due to some sloppy navigation on my part.

In fading light I made speedy progress up Alport Dale where I collected water for the night and soon found a sheltered plateau just below Alport Castles for the bivvy.

A night of mizzle gave way to a damp dawn and I was soon pressing on up Alport Dale at first light. After Grains in the Water I joined the Pennine Way again which carried me across Bleaklow Head to the Longdendale Trail and the pub in good time for lunch.

Joining the Doctor's Gate Path from Old Glossop
Joining the Doctor’s Gate Path from Old Glossop
Heading along the Doctor's Gate
Heading along the Doctor’s Gate
Slabs of the Pennine Way - easing passage across some boggy expanses
Slabs of the Pennine Way – easing passage across some boggy expanses
Mill Hill looking towards Kinder Scout
Mill Hill looking towards Kinder Scout
The northern edge of Kinder Scout - lovely wild country in the evening light
The northern edge of Kinder Scout – lovely wild country in the evening light
The River Ashop after a rather tortuous descent of Blackden Brook
The River Ashop after a rather tortuous descent of Blackden Brook
Rolling out the trusty Big Agnes bivvy just below Alport Castles - a nice sheltered bedroom with the right amount of breeze.
Rolling out the trusty Big Agnes bivvy just below Alport Castles – a nice sheltered bedroom with the right amount of breeze.
Alport Dale in the morning mist
Alport Dale in the morning mist
The skyline of Alport Dale heading to its upper reaches
The skyline of Alport Dale heading to its upper reaches

Walking the West Highland Way (again)

I’ve just completed the West Highland Way again. Having scurried along it a few years ago in four and a half days and pedalled much of it this year, I was looking for a more sedate experience this time round.

The impetus for this trip had been the somewhat-surprising announcement by my other half that the ‘Way needed to be added to her growing repertoire of walks (the tortuous trudges up Ben Nevis and Snowdon already ticked off).

I was looking forward to experiencing this most popular trail through someone else’s eyes. The ‘Way didn’t disappoint, nor did the weather as we enjoyed some freakishly sunny days.

Another quality of the trail also endures – the camaraderie en route. We met some fantastic folk and enjoyed some superb nights in the various pubs, crowned by a celebratory dinner at the excellent Ben Nevis Inn.

It matters not who you are or where you are from, the trail remains the great leveller .

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Meet Bob

So it all started when a good friend and ‘fellow velo’ bought me a copy of ‘The Golden Age of Handbuilt Cycles’ – a large-format photographic tribute to French bike constructeurs and a book that has found permanent residence on my work desk at home.

This tome mainly confines its scope to the randonneur machines of Alex Singer and Rene Herse, bikes that tick many boxes for me in terms of cycle aesthetic. The more I leafed lovingly through its pages, the more I wanted to attempt my own incarnation of this venerable, long-haul cycle.

Ideally, I would have caught the Eurostar to France, got a cab to Victor Hugo Street just outside Paris’s Boulevard Périphérique and talked to the folk at Alex Singer direct – hoping my clumsy French would suffice. Linguistically I may have been onto a winner, but my wallet couldn’t support such a venture.

The same was true of commissioning a bespoke frame. For this project, my focus had to be a wee bit more modest so I settled on a Bob Jackson World Tour – my early French affair taking a distinct Anglophile turn.

Bob jackson World Tour in a whopping 26.5
Bob Jackson World Tour in a whopping 26.5″ size

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Cycle Touring Northern England – Berwick on Tweed to Glossop

Bike touring normally means a welcome escape from technology and being ‘connected’. On this trip, I’d never been far from my mobile phone as it served as my navigation device via OS maps and the excellent Viewranger. Perched on my Jones bars using a handy Rixen and Kaul Klikfix mount, it had successfully negated the need to carry numerous paper map sheets and guide books.

ECR on the Sandstone Way bikepack
Great riding on the Sandstone Way near Ingram

The technology came into its own yet again securing digs in Berwick. A quick search on late rooms and Google Maps was directing me to the Rob Roy Inn and a comfortable room. The ECR had a comfortable lodging for the night, too – the games room.

After last night’s extravagant meal, my dinner that night was far more modest. Two course for eight quid – mushrooms with dips and a very good pie and chips. I demolished it with guilt-free relish. Continue reading

Cycle touring Scotland – Aviemore to the border

My arrival in Aviemore may have been heralded by soggy conditions, but the following morning was stellar. I woke early and rode the lovely trails of the Rothiemurchus for a while, drinking in my favourite forest. I’ve waxed lyrical (tried to) about this place before and you can still find a quiet spot early in the day to ‘listen to it breathe’.

Leaving the Rothiemurchus
Leaving the Rothiemurchus

I pointed the ECR south, now bent on a new plan I’d formulated over a potent and prodigious curry the previous night. Checking the weather carefully, it appeared the grim conditions to the west were now chasing me east and south. This system’s southerly course would last for the next week or so, with conditions filling in behind the front.

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Bikepacking Scotland – the Great Glen Way

Three soggy days on the West Highland Way had taken their toll. My kit was damp, I’d started to stink a bit while the lens on my trusty Olympus camera was fogged and its operation sporadic. I needed to dry out and clean up.

The camera problems – experienced last time when I cycle toured Iceland – meant I had to shift to the phone for pictures so apologies for the poor quality of the some of the resulting shots.

I bagged a luxury pitch next to the river at the Lochy Holiday Park  just north of Fort William. Such heavily groomed, holiday housing estates are generally not my overnight stop of choice on bike tours but the facilities are normally excellent, and so they proved to be here.

Lochy Holiday park campsite... it rained and rained and rained
Lochy Holiday park campsite… it rained and rained and rained

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