The theraputic blast

Two or three times a week I really do appreciate how lucky I am to work from home much of the time.

It’s not the blissful ‘commute’ across the landing each morning to fire up the laptop, or the convenience of being around when the boiler needs fixing.

No, it’s the ability to finish work, change into the lyrcas, grab a steed from the garage and pedal a few clicks over some Saddleworth hills.

It’s a cleansing process, an hour or so of shaking off the hefty baggage of work and injecting some much-needed separation between labour and leisure.

Commuters will claim they have this division twice a day… something I understand as I commuted across London daily for five years.

These post-work rides feel different, though. There isn’t the traffic for a start or, more importantly, the urgency to get home. If time, inclination and the other half allow, I can be out for hours.

I try and make the most of the long summer evenings up here as the lunchtime sprints of the winter months don’t feel the same, somehow.

Going back to work after a ride taints it somewhat.


Windy, loaded miles

Managed to get out over the weekend and get some miles in on the Club Tour with a full camping load.

The bike handled it all very well. 50kmh descents with no wobble and, although I could have packed the panniers a little better, everything felt assured.

The only slight glitch is chain line. I am going to purchase a shorter bottom bracket to remedy this.

Fun in the sun

Mad dogs and Englishman go out in the midday sun and I paid due heed to NoelCoward’s song on Saturday.

Ogden BrookI needed to test my recovering back so I loaded up my GoLite Pinnacle with tent, sleeping bag and the usual backpacking paraphernalia and headed off.

I thought I would try to squeeze in at the Crowden campsite, although didn’t hold much hope. The pack weighed 20lbs-plus (hardly lightweight) and it felt good to be able to move fluidly under this load.

I took my poles to help my posture and I was glad of the decision.

I walked past Walkerwood reservoir on my usual beat and headed to kinder countryside. A trout reservoir this may be, but I watched a large common carp bask in the clear waters.

Ogden Brook bubbled excitedly en route to Arnfield and Tintwistle, and foxgloves lined the banks.

I skirted the reservoirs of Longdendale via the Trans Pennine Trail and then the Pennine Way. The waters had receded, exposing a parched moonscape in the valley bottom.

I reached Crowden and it was a mini refuge camp… with cheek-by-jowl tents separated by pub brollies and tatty awnings shading smoking barbecues. The owners were not benefiting from the shade, though: tattooed skin sizzled in the sunshine.

I sat under a tree, had lunch and considered my options. I would press on along the Pennine Way and cut across to Chew Reservoir and then Dove Stones before working my way home.

It was frustrating not to camp out, but the site would have been purgatory even if I’d managed to squeeze on.

I climbed along the ‘Way to Laddow Rocks. The familiar ground allowed me to concentrate on my posture and technique. Up high it felt good to be on the moor again… and alone.

Here, a bit of drama… I ran out of water. I considered my options. Good water is hard to find on the tops so I would to press on.

It was a bit touch and go by the time I reached Dove Stones and the lovely woman who runs the ‘green monster’ – an old Ford refreshment van – was there. Two bottles of water vanished quickly.

I trudged home long the canal, feet sore and back a bit stiff but no real hardship.

The real marker would be how I felt the following morning… surprisingly sprightly.
Consequently, I went for a ride!

What to do…

The weather may have caused plenty of disruption last week, but the duricrust of windblown snow gave the hills of Saddleworth mountain-like qualities on Saturday.

The slopes glistened in the winter sun and folk were out… sledging, skiing, horse riding and, of course, walking. Indeed, I saw one chap trudging through the streets to Dove Stones reservoir decked out in winter gear and armed with two, yes two, ice axes.

Despite these wonderful conditions, I needed to test my back on the bike and got 40 miles in on thankfully clear roads.

High up on the pass to Holmfirth, the hummocky peat had been covered with a meringue of fluted snow ridges – like mini, white barchan dunes.

It was beautiful, and although I didn’t have a camera with me to do the vista justice (just a poxy phone), the experience was sufficiently vivid.

Blue Monday

Frustration reigned on Monday. The sun was a blazing orb, the sky clear, and I was working.

The view from my officeThe view from my office mocked me.I watched a solitary walking stride purposefully across the hill. Perhaps he’s retired, with no worries of mortgages, credit crunches and negative equity plaguing his day-to-day.

He could have been having a ‘mental health day’ – a restorative bunk off work when the weather is so divine that a day stuck in a stuffy office is a waste when there are hills to climb, beaches to comb, cricket matches to watch, fish to be caught.

Try, as I might, to justify the skive, I was not be able to join him that day. I had documents to wade through and interviews to prepare for.

To rub salt into the wound, the post arrived and among the humdrum brown envelopes was a catalogue for an outdoor retailer and the summer issue of Backpack magazine, the quarterly journal of the Backpacker’s Club.

I leafed through it and it got me thinking about where I could, or should, be.

I ploughed on through the day and spent the evening watching the sun retreat behind the breast of my hill.

Tuesday dawned dull and I went to London . I climbed aboard a connecting train and noted its nameplate with a smile: Benny RothmanThe Manchester Rambler.

A walk ‘round the block

The great frustration for anyone who likes to be outside, and unfortunately works indoors, is finding ways of maximising time in the open.
Upper Swineshaw Reservoir
Depending on what you require from your outdoor recreation, most places that satisfy an appetite for wildness or tranquillity are generally found in the lesser-populated areas of the country, which, in turn, tend to be less accessible.

You can move, of course. The more determined or lucky ones among us will have upped-sticks to the sticks and headed north of the border.

Other enterprising souls will have founded training consultancies and opened teashops in the verdant valleys of Lakeland… and still have no time to hit the fells. For the rest of us, we can find some outlet in our backyards.

I fall into the latter category. Having settled in the North West, I have the rough and tumble of the South Pennines on my doorstep.

Tameside, to the east of Manchester, has more than its fair share of urban grime, but it also has hills and moors.One route I regularly follow is a circular around and over Harridge Pike. Walkerwood Reservoir catches the evening light

It starts amid the bridleways and litter of Stalybridge Country Park but soon leaves the detritus for higher ground. It’s a perfect evening escape, when the dog walkers have gone home and shell-suited teenagers have found somewhere else to get stoned.

On this early May evening, the sun was low but still warm and the Brushes Valley was quiet. Climbing through the park and passing Walkerwood Reservoir, the trout active in an evening ‘rise’ munching on aquatic insects, I followed the water company tarred track to rougher ground.

The higher I walked, the quieter the urban rumble became until it was almost imperceptible, save for the odd piercing police siren. Above, Airbus and Boeing angled a course into Manchester Airport interrupted the relative peace.
A 'D' drawn with pebbles in the path
Nevertheless, the melodic song of blackbird was dominant in the mixed woodland that fringes the track as it climbs the side of the valley. Breaks in the foliage offered views of the chain of reservoirs, which, looking back, caught the sunlight and made golden pools of light against the dark hills.

The contours separated and a relatively flat section took me into the moors and I saw heather, some of it regenerating after planned burn, and heard the cries of grouse and pheasant, reared for the gun.

The gold and green of landscape in evening light were then spoilt by the rusted, hulking mass of a National Grid pylon, which delivers power from the other side of the Pennines. A necessary evil.

Turning left at Higher Swineshaw Reservoir, it was time to head across the moor proper. This can be a wild excursion in bad weather, with the moors in an eerie cloak of mists. Today, the calm also had an enclosing effect.

Despite the far-reaching views, all the way to Bleaklow in the Dark Peak, up here the soundtrack appeared to have been sucked from the landscape. I stopped, sat down and savoured its completeness. The descent off Harridge Pike

I then came upon an odd ‘D’of pebbles in the track marking a junction of routes. I photographed it and wondered how long it would remain.

Beginning the descent, the views were spoilt somewhat by the ugly scar of Buckton Vale Quarry; but the evening light softened even its sheer excavated faces.

All too soon the roof of my home came into view as I reached Higher Hydegreen. A steep descent across a field full of horses and rabbits and I was nearly home.

An hour had passed since I’d left and the short escape has been rewarding – as always.