Reconnecting the trail, we dragged ourselves up a steep dirt track to join the latest in the line of old railway lines. Slicing through the Reddish Vale, the track led us through leafy banks where squirrels darted up twisted trunks. Sadly (not a normal reaction I realise), the ascent led us to a descent. A set of uneven, long, horse steps. Not great for a laddened hybrid. Andy the daredevil set forth, headfirst, down to the bottom, leaving me to walk sedately – but probably not gracefully- down to join him. This dirt path proceeded to guide us out of the shelter of the woodland round the edge of a large grassy meadow/ parkland. In glorious evening sunshine, this provided us with a breathtaking almost panoramic view of a long, tall viaduct. I had to pause, it was just crying out for a photo opp. I was told by a very friendly passerby that this was the 16 arches viaduct, and whilst I didn’t stop to count them, there were enough to make me think he was telling the truth. (Quite why he would lie on the subject I don’t know.)
Catching up with Andy, we passed out of the open park and followed the path as it guided us around one edge of a large pond, with equally stunning views of the viaduct and resident wildlife. This included the resident Mandarin duck, though it’s nativity is probably questionable.
The Trail proceeded to wind back up hill, sweeping under the viaduct (providing a useful pausing place for photographs as the path was not particularly even).
Strewn with bricks and stones, the path continued to wind up the hill, finding yet another equine alley, passing between large fields of very sedate horses. Chugging up hill in a low gear, I will admit to impressing myself that I hadn’t given in to the urge to dismount and walk. Given the unevenness of the path and the weight of my panniers, I would probably have found that harder anyway. Andy was struggling, as his arthiritic knee from years of gymnastics and free running (I told you he was the daredevil) and was pushing his much lighter bike at a walk. The path was carving into the hill, such that the fields were in parts much higher. With a break in the hedge boundaries, we found a speculative dozing Skewbald pony alongside the fence. This time (for those who know me too well) it wasn’t me that made the first approach. Andy, seeing a flat ish bit of path on the approach, whizzed past me, then leaning his bike on the bank alongside, scrambled up to introduce himself to the now curious horse. Naturally, I followed – because we weren’t really in a rush…
Managing to tear ourselves away from our new friend, we followed a pair of ponies (and riders) to the top of the hill, before crossing the M60 (again – though less spectacularly this time) and winding through woodland, up hill and down dale along the trail before connecting with the River Tame for a short, fairly dramatic spell in Hulmes wood.
Passing an open glade alongside the river, we spied a group of four children perched around a picnic table (on the benches and on the table top) with a patient white pony standing alongside. With a ribbon on its bridle (of the prize variety), the reins looped into the hands of a jodhpur and helmet clad youngster, who was clearly showing off his talent to his friends. We decided that this was the local version of the Famous Five – with Timmy upsized from dog to pony.
Reaching Apethorn, as I waited for Andy to walk up the hill I called my brother to find out where he was as it was six o’clock and we were not at Hadfield to meet him. As we paused, we ate the remaining cookies that had been our sustenance, and a friendly dog walker stopped for a chat. Helpfully, he declared that we were doing the trail the hard way round, having ridden it himself several times in the opposite direction. He also suggested that we were only about eight miles from our destination. This gave us hope that we had only a short while (about half an hour) to go, and we set off with a fresh wind.
After forty minutes along a straight, flat route, we decided that the man (who we passed shortly after setting off) had been a little generous with his summary. By this time, the evening was setting in. More people were walking the trail (or cantering along the parallel horse dirt track), passing under the many bridges that spanned the old railway path.
Turning off the route that stretched before us, we started on the first of the evening’s epic climbs. Green lane is a spectacular steep roadway that doesn’t appear to have been cared for arguably since its creation (I would have thought many years ago). Full of pot holes, exposed and raised bricks or stone and in parts streaming with water. Reaching a cross roads part way up, I asked a passer by if I was at least half way and he did agree with that – even commenting I had done well to achieve that and that the worse was to come (always reassuring a tired cyclist). In fact, I discovered that the second half of the route was much easier – as it was tarmac and much smoother – even if I had to stop a few times to avoid on coming cars (seemingly clean and a bit smart for the state of the road to come – but the single track road was not wide enough for me to continue on their approach). But, with much straining of the legs, deep breathing and low low gears I made it to the top! Despite the fact that there are bound to be other cyclists who have achieved that and arguably more, I am really proud to have managed that road.
Sadly Andy’s knee was becoming increasingly painful and troublesome, but the wait for him to reach the top did provide me with a very useful breather.
Having cycled to the top of the hill, the next section of the trail followed the road downhill. Sweeping down the busy Stockport Road, we built up a very good speed – my handle bar mounted speedometer reaching up to 24mph (with me pumping the brakes as much faster than that I get a little worried – not being much of a speed junky). Gradually, though, the descent became another ascent – a sure sign that we had entered the pennies. Even along the smooth tarmac routes, uphill Andy’s knee was causing him problems, and as we entered Hattersley he suggested that I went on ahead. It was 7pm (an hour after we had thought we would arrive at Hadfield) so I pressed on uphill as fast as I could. The trail took me off the main road and onto the muddiest stretch on the trail. Ridges of mud lined footprints and bicycle wheel trails full of water crossed the path.
This was followed by an epic down hill. Flying through Broadbottom, pubs, houses, shops and cars passed as a blur. The speedometer at about 28 mph my heart was decidedly in my mouth as I curved down the hill. Reaching the bottom of the hill, I followed the first Transpennine Trail sign that I found, and took a ten minute detour as I cycled up, down, back and all the way to the turning, where I discovered that I had attempted to follow the pedestrian trail, trespassed and wasted time. Quite infuriating really.
Sadly, the cycle (and horse) route isn’t as direct as the pedestrian route as it carves its way up the Besthill quarry walls (it is probably worth noting that it is no longer a quarry!). If I thought that Green lane was tough, this was worse! Even with a quick breath (photo) stop up the first zig, I ended up walking the last two (or it might have been three) zags.
At this point, I discovered that Chris had already reached Hadfield and understandably wondered where we were. Through a series of texts, disturbing my onward progress up the hill to Charlesworth (where I had initially thought to over night, but had been unable to find any accommodation) Chris explained he was exploring the possible pubs for refreshment. It then turned out that Andy had cheated and was also already in Hadfield so I arranged with each individually to meet each other (for a first introduction, I think that a random meeting in Hadfield waiting for me is probably not the ideal situation) and continued on my route.
As I cycled through Gamsely the sun was setting, and I was growing increasingly frustrated. For a social trip, the last few hours had been increasingly isolated. I was tired, getting hungry and wondering how much longer I had to cycle for. The setting sun did provide some relief, as the silhouetted hill ridges supported some fabulous buildings with a stream of following cloud patterns. Dipping valleys were painted red with descending light.
At Woolley Bridge the Trail led me back down hill, through increasingly gloomy woodland before coming out alongside the River Etherow. By this point I didn’t care about the scenery, and was just desperate to host my friend and my brother as I should be doing; to get off my bike and to sit down without moving my legs. I paused only to put on my coat and high visibility jacket. With my lights on (though how much good they did I don’t know,) I pedalled frantically and eventually, with guidance from a passing elderly dog walker, I made it to the main road and swung round the corner into Hadfield.
To say I was relieved is an understatement. To see my brother and friend standing on the pavement watching my approach was a delight. Andy wore an undoubtedly relieved/ guilty look while my brother had on his biggest ‘my sister is mad but she is here’ grin. Stopping the bike, I think I practically fell off it as I tried to disentangle myself from the seat/ frame.
My brother took my bike (complaining at the weight), and cycled uphill to where they had already located the cafe and b & b, whilst I phoned the owner. The time was 8.25pm, and I had cycled 57.98 miles after ten hours of cycling! I forget at time of writing the name of the owner of the Hikers and Bikers cafe and B&B who was to provide accommodation for us, but he mumbled over the phone and agreed to come and meet us. Apparently they (I have no idea who the other people were) had discussed our likely arrival time and he had only been five minutes out. He assured me that he would only be a few moments.
We waited outside for him (I may not have been the best of company, making the most of the bench that we found outside of the entrance. We continued to wait for him, and as we were about to call him again, a gentleman ambled downhill towards us. He stopped, eying all three of us with a very puzzled expression. He didn’t seem to notice me nor had he introduced himself or asked if we were the people he had been waiting for. So, I prized myself to my feet and introduced myself. To which his response was ‘there are three of you’.
Clearly he was puzzled, as we had ordered a twin room (for two people), but it was rather stating the obvious. After explaining that Chris was only here for the food, we took our bikes round to the back, and through a serious looking steel door into a maze of bikes and bike parts. Andy couldn’t fit his tyre into the support, and I couldn’t (nor could be bothered to try hard, I will admit it) get my bike close enough to the rack to fit it in, so we rested them in suitably clutter free spaces, locked them up and carried all the bags back round to the front of the building. Chris was very gentlemanly and carried my panniers as our host ambled up the narrow stair way and mumbled instructions to Andy about using the keys (which key for which door type of thing). The room was small, compact but much appreciated, with an adjoining en suite.
Having waited for his arrival, we had a bit of a job encouraging him to leave. We did make the fatal error as we all returned to the street of asking about places to eat. With a friend in the area, Chris and I had heard of some places and wanted his opinion. When Chris suggested that a certain (I forget at time of writing) pub did good food, he agreed but rather bluntly stated that it was closed. There were several places like this, so the options were rather rapidly narrowed down to the chippy across the street or the local Chinese restaurant. Having heard good things, we decided that was a good bet and meandered (more slowly) up the hill after him. It was exceptionally clear as we watched him stagger up the pavement that he was quite drunk, and as he hesitated outside the pub we weren’t sure that extra drink was needed, but he clearly did.
The Red Dragon Chinese Restaurant was precisely what we needed, although we were a little startled to walk into the local bowling alley (closed) before heading upstairs to the restaurant. We decided to share a platter for three, which provided a lovely mix of foods (some of the mains being a bit spicy for my taste, but the stir fried veg and egg fried rice were lovely) that incredibly defeated us. Try as we might, we couldn’t finish many of the plates – perhaps the chicken soup and spring roll and other fried nibbles (prawn toast etc) starter was a bit oversized.
At about ten, Chris darted off to catch the last train, and Andy and I returned to the B and B. I’m not sure I have ever been so grateful for a shower and a comfy bed – the normal mattress was such a relief.
Sadly though, that wasn’t to say I had a good night’s sleep. For some strange reason, with my stomach stuffed to the gills, my brain simply wouldn’t shut down, and I lay tossing and turning listening to Andy’s heavy breathing – he was clearly far too comfy – and overheating it took me some time to gain the benefits that sleep can brings.
Day two of my cycle adventure along the Transpenine Trail in Cheshire/ Derbyshire/ Yorkshire, April 2012