Mud-U-like? NCN Routes 70 and 55

In my  quest to try traffic free and quiet routes for cycling, I lightly loaded the touring bike, now named the Green Goddess, and headed south to sample National Cycle Route Network numbers 55 and 70 in Cheshire.

‘Traffic free’ makes sense in this County Palatine. It would be quite wrong to tar everyone with the same brush, but Cheshire seems to have more than its fair share of folk who are heavy with the right foot yet light on brain cells. I’ve lost count of the times I’ve been cut up, sworn and shouted at, followed by cars gunning engines and generally abused by motorists on its pretty country lanes.

At worst, a driver once forced me into a grass verge and promptly gave me a two-fingered salute through his open sunroof. I pity the fool now… I didn’t at the time.

So, minimising contact with motorists wherever possible is desirable. Scanning the online map of the National Cycle Network, I found a route leading from Marple to Macclesfield. On closer inspection, NCN Route 55 here turned out to be the Middlewood Way, a mixed-use bridal path on a former railway bed.

I then noted NCN route 70 circuit taking in some enticing and unfamiliar countryside out to the east of Macclesfield. A route for a day trip took shape in my head.

Sunday dawned brightly and forecast looked perfect. Cold, yes, but light winds and unbroken sunshine: A day for the bicycle.

I followed a familiar route through Tameside. Passing Lowry’s house, I dodged dustings of broken glass on the cycle lanes of Hattersley and made good time to Woodley before turning right to the Goyt Valley and Marple.

My OS Tour map didn’t provide enough detail to locate the start of the Middlewood Way but it made sense to head to the railway station and I soon discovered the start of the path.

Initially, the route had a good, sealed surface but things soon became muddy, despite the track being well compacted throughout. This is the price you pay for sharing with horses, not to mention having to ride gingerly when approaching and overtaking riders.

However, this is not a complaint: Better a muddy bike, overshoes and sedate progress than a 4×4 snapping at your back wheel. I followed the former railway bed over Middlewood Station and onto Bollington where I planned to pick up NCN 70 east.

Bollington looked very appealing in the morning sunshine and I had an extensive tour as I tried to find a sign pointing to the start of the Cheshire Cycleway. Following signs to Pott Shringley I eventually found a blue fingerpost pointing to the hills.

NCN70 promised plenty of climbing and it didn’t disappoint. The pull out of Bollington was long and, at times, treacherous with ice clinging to the road surface in shaded spots. I took my time and engaged the lowest gear, a ratio that would probably get me up the side of a house if a tried.

Legs twirling, I climbed to a sunbathed basin in the moors, with lonely farmsteads and sheep punctuating the landscape. Not a breath of wind troubled me up here and I could tune into the growl of approaching vehicles and pull to the side of the single-track lane as required.

The road dipped and rose over the rolling countryside and I soon plunged down a long hill next to Lamaload Reservoir, grateful of the respite. The break was short-lived, though, as another knee grinding climb cut the pace. A car approached me slithering on the ice and then one from behind and I pulled over to let them pass. Fighting for grip, the two vehicles passed one another leaving me stranded on an icy incline. Tracing a zig-zag across the lane I just managed to remount and gain momentum before reacquainting myself with the verge. Awkward.

Stopping at the junction with the A537 for much needed fluid and Christmas cake, I dropped down into the delightful Wildboarclough. Benefiting from a long steady gradient, Ankers Lane followed the course of the stream and I coasted effortlessly. I had the rush of wind and the rumble of tyres on tarmac in my ears… paradis du velo.

All too soon, the sharpest climb of the day came into view… a mercifully short yet alarmingly steep section to escape the pretty valley.

I clicked down again and began to spin, twirling legs nearing the point of spontaneous combustion. I eventually overtook a couple of walkers toiling on the gradient. ‘You must be mad,’ they said. I thought I was making quite light work of it!

Reaching the summit, the route to Macclesfield was clearly traced on the green fields. I pointed the Green Goddess northwest and soaked up the miles.

Now, the combination of mud and salt off the roads was having an effect and the rear derailleur was emitting a dawn chorus of chirps and squeaks. I stopped and filled an empty bidon with stream water and conducted a light pressure wash. The soundtrack improved a little.

The traffic at Macclesfield made me want to escape… quickly. I estimated a route to where I thought the start of the Middlewood Way would be and, lo and behold, found it. For once, my internal compass was true.

Pedalling through housing estates I arrived at a bridge over the A523 and huge credit is due to the designers of the zigzag cycleway which integrates effortlessly with the pedestrian path thus ensuring cyclists do not need to dismount. In a country that still has some way to go to accommodate the bicycle, it was a sight for sore eyes.

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