Time for… some Surly-Burley

Fatherhood, eh? Who’d have thought it would have been quite so all-consuming. I’ve tried to pen the odd post for this site over the last 10 months or so, but the breezy prose has eluded me somehow.

So, here I am, trying again… the breezy prose a distant objective, no doubt.

In truth, this post has been prompted by a rather nice email I received earlier in the week politely wondering whether I’d drowned in a sea of soiled nappies. It reminded me that, while it’s obviously important to focus energies on the new family, one should not lose sight of the other things in life that give pleasure. It also made me reflect on those folk who may find escape reading about other people’s outdoor exploits, but are no longer able to participate themselves for whatever reason. So I’m grateful to that correspondent… I’ll try not to leave it so long next time!

The Surly-Burley ready to roll in the White Peak

OK, so thing shave been busy. While we still haven’t managed a camping trip as a family, we have been on numerous, lower key wanders and spent a couple of weeks north of the Arctic Circle in Norway. What a truly stunning country… look out for some hiking posts soon.

A major milestone for my partner Sophie and I was to get back on the bikes again, though. Our love of cycling brought us together in the first place, and we were keen to include Baby Joe in our pedalling adventures, albeit capped by some common-sense restraint.

In order for this to happen we needed a trailer and I set about the task of finding one with characteristic nerdy relish. Two candidates emerged from the wash – a Thule Chariot Cross and the Burley Solo. If the Thule is the Rolls Royce of the kid-ferrying world, then the Burley is the Land Rover Discovery. Both are very well equipped, but the Thule edges it in terms of engineering and completeness.

Considering the importance of the cargo, I was keen on dishing the dough on the Thule but then, while on a rare solo cycle sortie, I had the good fortune to fall in train with a cycling mum using the trailer on the Tissington Trail.

Cabin doors for take off – final preparations before our first ride in the Derwent Valley

I struck up a conversation and she very helpfully gave me an exhaustive review of the Thule. As expected, this looked a superb bit of kit with great weatherproofing and a very comfortable ride afforded by the reclining seat and suspension. However, my riding companion felt it a little on the cramped side – a particular considerations for Joe given he is clinging onto the very top of the baby growth chart (99.6 centile, I’m told).

As a result, I shifted my attention to the Burley and its considerably lower price tag. The immediate advantage here was the bowed side frame that would give Joe more elbow room. The seat and harness, while not as plush as the Thule, looked comfortable and offered some recline via rudimentary straps. Another plus points was the large space behind the seat for Joe’s gear.

Taking a break for lunch

I decided to pull the trigger and a very large box arrived at the house a few days later. Assembly was simple, and the instructions very clear. Soon, Joe was sitting in his new wheels and I was pulling him up the driveway. The smile on his face was a good start.

Before our first trip proper, I swapped the stock Burley tyres for Schwalbe Marathons – after seven years commuting across London on these ‘boots’ I knew they would be a reliable replacement. I also purchased a wheel set for the front of the trailer, which converts it to a stroller (these are included in the Thule chariot package).

Joe strollin’ in Suffolk

Then there was the subject of the hitch. The Burley Solo comes with a standard Burly steel hitch normally secured by the rear wheel’s quick release on regular framesets. My intention was to tow Joe with the Ogre and Surly-heads will know this frame features a do-everything-reasonably-well rear drop out. I was able to make use of one of the 10mm threaded holes intended for Surly’s proprietary hitch from its trailer range. I sourced an m10x1 bolt along with some spacers and lock washers. This may all sound a bit of a faff, but I run the Orge with a Rohloff and EX box and this causes clearance issues with trailer hitches. This solution may not be the most elegant, but it works really well. The trailer is off centre (the Burley is designed this way, anyway) and in practice it tows very well indeed.

A bit Heath Robinson? Maybe, but it works well.

In fact, on my first test run with a load of books in the trailer rather than Joe, I forgot I was hitched. This is no doubt testament to the low rolling resistance of those 20” wheels, the quality of the trailer design and the heft of the Ogre (officially, the world’s heaviest bike) that meant I just didn’t notice the Burley.

Our first family pedal was to the ever-popular Derwent Valley. I packed the Ogre and Sophie’s Sonder Camino in the back of the van and, after a quick fold and unhitching the quick release wheels, Joe’s trailer fitted in with plenty of room to spare. Folks with more regular family cars will have to get creative, though, no doubt enlisting the services of bike carriers, roof boxes and the like.

That first sortie was a real pleasure. Joe loved the novelty of his new wheels and after 15 mins or so, was happily snoring away. Bliss! It was great to see Sophie back on the bike again so soon after her pregnancy and she loved the sense of independence while I took care of the towing. We completed one slow circuit of the valley, taking our time and stopping for lunch.

It all fits!

This early success opened the floodgates somewhat. Numerous trips on the strade bianche of the White Peak have followed along with a glorious trip to Suffolk where we pedalled the quite lanes around Southwold. Here, the stroller wheels came into their own as we pedalled to pretty villages, parked the bikes and then were able to push Joe. The Burley solution is not as elegant as the Thule in this regard, but it still works well enough. Weather protection, while not as good as the Thule, has also proven to be satisfactory, although an additional rain cover can be purchased as an optional accessory.

Ideally, I would like to load the trailer up, the Ogre and Sophie’s Camino for a bike camping trip. We might just fit this in later in the year, although maybe a little distracted. The trip to Suffolk culminated in a pedal to Dunwich beach in balmy late Autumn sunshine where Sophie proposed, modern girl that she is!

I said ‘yes’.

Tackling the sand in Suffolk

Early morning ECR

I’m not really a fan of loading the bike in the car and driving somewhere to ride… seems kinda’ counter intuitive for this rider.

However, I succumbed at the weekend. Recovering from manflu, I didn’t think it would be the best idea to pedal over the Snake Pass (and back) from Glossop to the Upper Derwent Valley where I fancied a pootle on the Monster Truck (read: Surly ECR). So I loaded the bike in the back of the van and let internal combustion take the strain.

I left early and found sublime conditions in the Upper Derwent. It may have been chilly, but I enjoyed the best of this lovely valley and made good my escape before the crowds descended.

A perfect Peak District wild camp – Going up west

The aim of a wild camp is, surely, to find somewhere remote, allowing the participant to connect with their surroundings. On our relatively crowded islands, and certainly south of the border, this requires backpackers to aim high and increasingly off the beaten track.

A wild camp spot on the banks of the West End River, Derwent ValleyHowever, factors governing the remoteness of a particular spot are not confined to location. This Easter, the unseasonable Arctic air stream which has dumped considerable snow on our usually wet land has had the advantage rendering the accessible inaccessible… inaccessible for those unprepared to put in a bit of effort.

On the week leading into Easter, I’d been keeping in touch with conditions in the Derwent Valley, that busiest of Dark Peak attractions. The snowfall had been so extensive, even the Fairholmes visitor centre was closed. With the cold persisting, my hope was that conditions would be tricky further up the valley and that my planned camp spot – the forested valley of the West End river -would be at peace. Continue reading

Going up for air

Times are tough and so is work. So tough, in fact, that gloomy thoughts of the future are hard to shake at the moment.

I needed to go for a walk… to clear my head… to get some air.

The weather was fine and I headed over the Snake to the Derwent Valley.

Derwent EdgeThis is a justifiably popular area of the Peak, a stark counterpoint to the dark cites of the north.

It’s a gratifying landscape of water, woodland and high moorland. The dam walls of the reservoirs are to be admired, too, for their solid engineering and architectural grandeur.

My route was straightforward: I’d follow the sinuous banks of the Derwent reservoir to the Abbey Tip Plantation and head up to the grit stone edges and weather carved ‘pepper pots’ of the moor. This area is well known for its families of rock sculptures, and all manner of ‘anvils’, slab reefs and contorted Dali-esque heads thrust head and shoulders above the peat.

I followed the forest track along Derwent and my mood lightened. The conifer plantations were shimmering reflection in the glassy surface of the reservoir while, up high, a farmer noisily gathered his flocks with a flurry of whistles and cries, alongside intermittent barking from his team of tireless Border Collies.

I skirted the reservoir and took a track east. Bearing right, I climbed steadily along the side of a valley. Crossing the head of the declivity, the high ground came into view.Derwent Dam

It was later September and an indefinable blue haze hung in the air. The heather was on the turn and the sun, on breaking through banks of cloud, set the ruddy hillsides aflame.

I crossed blank moorland and headed to the clear summit of Lost Lad. My route south and then east lay before me, a clear line of flags joining a series of small rock gardens. The path was deserted.

I pressed on, enjoying wide-ranging views of the Derwent Valley and the bowl of the Vale of Edale in the distance. I traced the classic line from Lose Hill over Mam Tor, along Rushup Edge and round to the mass of Kinder. From this aspect, though, the valley seemed deceptively shallow, a green saucer amid bruised, brown tops.

I had planned to drop down the bridleway to regain the eastern banks of the reservoir, but I had made good progress so pressed on to The Ladybower Inn for a pint of Peak Ales Bakewell Best.

I regained the track with a slight alcoholic fug – not eating enough again – and joined the trail alongside the reservoir after Ashopton. I watched anglers expertly cast their flies from a boat but no fish were rising in their range.

Absorbed by the rhythm of their casting, my Zen was disturbed by two Tornadoes screaming down the valley. I clamped my hands over my ears.

The route back to the Fairholmes café was over all too soon. I dropped down to the reservoir banks and watched the shadows lengthen as evening descended, delaying the journey home for as long as possible.

A(nother) postcard from the edge

More edges? Well this is the Peak District… and it is well know for its gritstone.

Sunday was spent in a new neck of the woods. I drove to Hathersage and parked at the National Trust Longshaw estate.

I followed the network of trails through ancient woods and jumbles of rocks to the start of Froggatt Edge and kept on trudging in the rain until I ran out of rock at the Robin Hood Pub near Baslow.

I walked back admiring the edges from a different angle from the shelter of the Derwent Valley. The weather was pretty miserable all told, but this would be a fantastic trip in the summer, with plenty of opportunity for the odd scramble.

Here’s to longer and, hopefully, drier days.