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.
An opportunity arose at the weekend to get out. I say ‘opportunity’, but this bikepack in the Dark Peak was complicated by my current state of moving house. Bike bags had been packed, sleeping bags and bivvy bags were neatly stowed in marked cardboard boxes, camp stove fuel and water bladder were stored God-knows-where.
An hour or so crashing around in the workshop later and I cobbled together some kit for the trip. With the weather sultry in Glossopdale, I opted for a tarp – a first-time outing for this simple shelter.
I strapped the bags to my ECR and pushed off at 5pm. While the heat of day hung heavily in the air, the sun had started its descent to the horizon and the evening light gave the Derbyshire hills definition, perspective and texture. The trails were agreeably quiet too.
I picked up the Pennine Bridleway and headed due-Edale over Lantern Pike towards Mount Famine. Feeling a little reckless, I turned the handlebars towards Jacobs Ladder and ended up pushing most of the way – underlining the heft of my bike and my hopeless skills as mountain biker.
Edale was full of weekenders enjoying the evening. The village’s Spoonfest had swelled numbers, but campsites would have always been full in this balmy weather. As a consequence, some enterprising folk had negotiated their own impromptu campgrounds on farmers’ fields further down the valley. The atmosphere was heavy with the fug of barbecues.
I didn’t delay.
I was headed for the banks of Ladybower north of Bamford where I hoped to find a helpful spot to rig the tarp and watch night fall. Pushing along the reservoir track I found a nice ‘beach’ and the branches of low trees provided perfect anchorage for my tarp ridgeline. Despite being my first outing, the tarp was ready in a couple of minutes. I rolled out my bivvy and sorted the bed for the night. A brew soon followed and I watched the light fade and the traffic illuminating the Snake Road – a mere whisper on the far bank.
So it’s been a while since my fingers have felt the need to dance on the keyboard and 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…
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’.
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.
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.
I shared the train journey to Glasgow with two coast-to-coast road riders who alighted at Carlisle. Their interest – and that of the train steward – in the ECR and it’s ‘ridiculous’ tyres set a tone that would resonate for the whole trip.
Unable to find anything that palatable on the Trans Pennine Express service save for a questionable cup of coffee, I carb loaded at Glasgow station on croissants while consulting Viewranger for a suitable escape route.
I’d walked out of this fine city before using the satisfactory Kelvin and Allander walkways. These seemed fair game for the bike too although I was soon distracted by blue signs drawing me to alternative bikeways.
Two weeks pedalling the Surly ECR along track, trail, byway and bike route proved a blissful escape from my common routine.
The simple pleasure of riding for maybe eight hours a day and having the time to linger and follow my nose allowed me to break from tyranny of schedule while the physical challenge served as a deliciously singular focus.
Stories to come but you’ll note from the title of this post that I didn’t spend all my time in Scotland. The weather proved to be very challenging in the west and, with little prospect of improvement, I decided to head east instead and, ultimately, pedalled all the way to my front door.
I battled along a good chunk of the West Highland Way, tackled the surprisingly tough Great Glen Way before hitting Inverness and heading to Aviemore. A mixture of NCN routes and bridle paths conveyed me home through the lovely Borders, superb Northumberland and North Yorkshire, giving access to an unfamiliar yet wonderful section of the Pennine Bridleway north of Settle.
In all, I cycled 1,300 km and climbed 13,500 metres.
In addition to rain, hail and snow in Scotland, I enjoyed at least one warm day, mostly headwinds, endured a number of minor mechanical issues and was chased by one dog. More to come…
I’ve been experimenting with packing for my trip to Scotland later this month. Given I’ll be riding off road as much as weather conditions allow the traditional pannier set up has been ditched and I’ve been forced to re-evaluate my packing routine.
A traditional cycle touring set up where the load is split across four panniers, bar bag and, maybe, a drybag on the rear rack offers the rider the chance to bring the kitchen sink – literally. For me, this results in luxuries such as books, a (relatively) large tent, hipflasks of whisky and bottles of ale, numerous electronic gizmos, extended camera kit, at least one full change of clothes including ‘evening wear’ for nights in the pub… you get the picture. Continue reading →
The last couple of weekends I’ve been getting the miles in on the ECR ahead of my trip to Scotland in May. Importantly, these have been largely off road miles and with luggage to a lesser or greater degree.
Last weekend saw me out with those fine folk from Keep Pedalling and a couple of other customers, among them Tim from Life in the Cycle Lane. We bimbled around the byways of the South Pennines on our passé geared machines while our hosts chewed up the trail on single speeds. It was the workout I needed and a salutary reminder that my fitness is not quite where it should be. Read Tim’s account here. Continue reading →
I had planned to head to France for this year’s bike tour and tackle the Grande Traversée du Massif Central, a 700km mountain bike route from Clermont Ferrard to Montpellier.
I bought the guidebook and had (nearly) sorted my slightly awkward logistics flying outbound and grabbing the Bike Europe Express coach service home. Naturally, I wanted to take the Surly ECR on this trip although this bike’s massive proportions would cause problems on both modes of travel. If you’re interested, Bike Europe Express will take fat bikes – be they half or full fat – classing them as ‘unconventional solos’. However, I think it’s a good idea to call them first if you fancy taking your monster truck. Continue reading →