From Leek to the Peaks

Setting off from Leek made me think of Alan Paton’s famous opening to Cry the Beloved Country:

There is a lovely road which runs from Ixopo into the hills. These hills are grass covered and rolling, and they are lovely beyond any singing of it.

Ixopo is in Natal, South Africa, and it looks to me as though all the roads from Ixopo run into the hills:

Leek in the Staffordshire Moorlands is rather like this.  Whichever way you go, it’s uphill.  And if you head east into the peak district, it’s lots of uphill.

But it’s worth the climb to get the views.  This is from the ridge called the Morridge looking towards the Roaches:

And here is a view from the road out of Ixopo:

I’d call both of these beautiful roads, and one day I hope to go and cycle round Ixopo.

This week, though, it was Leek, and I went riding with friends John and Alison who seem to enjoy riding up hills, saying things like Let’s drop down to the Manifold River and up the other side…

After fine weather to start with we were rained on and had to take refuge in the Greyhound at Warslow.  To our previous cake stop we now added a pint and chips.  Clearly we would need more uphill to work off the calories.

After a great ride we dropped back to Leek.  Plotting the route on MapmyRide showed we had done no less than four ‘real’ climbs, so what if three of them were Cat 5, (the easiest). The interactive version of this map, with 3-d flyover, is here.

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Pedal Problems

When my right pedal broke, I thought it would be a straightforward matter to replace it.  Wrong! For some reason my right pedal, unlike the left, (yes I know, odd pedals) was a different size to the usual and too big for my pedal spanner.

So it had to be an adjustable, and this didn’t give me enough leverage….

Give me a lever long enough…..

Putting Archimedes to the test meant extending the length of my lever:

This gave me a six foot long spanner, which still didn’t do the job …

Admitting defeat I headed off to my LBS  (Local Bike Shop) which on this occasion (I have a choice of LBS’s) was Supreme Cycles in Crewe. Returning an hour later  they had succeeded – I didn’t ask how.  Probably had the right tool for the job.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Supreme Cycles have only once turned down a job for me, when the seat post on this same bike was well and truly attached to the frame and wouldn’t budge.  I had to sort that out myself, and the solution involved lumphammers, drilling, and very long levers….

 

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Going Up

My brother is a hairy man
But I am a smooth man

Jacob, Esau, Monty Python.  Where does all this come from?   Peering backwards in time into my psyche I think I was pondering the fact that Cheshire is a smooth county,  but other counties are hilly.  If you set out from Alsager on a bike, with the aim of going uphill, you have two choices:  Head towards Mow Cop, or head towards Talke Pits.

You guys are the pits of the world.

If you are old enough to remember that quote, you are of my generation.  John McEnroe was the brat of Wimbledon and the media agonised over the meaning of the pits of the world.  Armpits?   You can not be serious.

Anyway, heading out of Alsager I went up, up, up and I wasn’t on Mow Cop, so I must have been on the way to Talke Pits.  At the highest point I found this:

A water reservoir of the Staffordshire Potteries Water Board.  No doubt this no longer exists as a public body and has been sold off to a foreign company or a multinational.  But no matter how low the ownership goes, the reservoir itself is at the highest point for miles around.

This looks like a piece of squareist abstract art, or like a Motte and Bailey built by a particularly finicky tribe, but is in fact a simple water tank.

By jumping the fence I attained a state of nirvana – the highest you can get – looking out over the plains to the other high point, Mow Cop:

I have to admit that having cycled to both, Mow Cop is the tougher ride.

The positive side of getting to the highest point for miles around is that you have downhill all the way home.

Now, dear reader, ask yourself this: Do you know who supplies your water?  Do you know what dam or river it comes from? What company brings it to you?  Was your water fresh from last week’s rain or has it languished for a million years in an underground aquifer?  Should you know these things?

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Cycling the Dales

I’m afraid it’s not the Yorkshire Dales this time.  It’s two Staffordshire valleys, Apedale and Silverdale,  once busy coalmining centres and now transformed into country parks.  We once lived in the nearby village of Miles Green, when Apedale was a large opencast mine and Silverdale still a working deep colliery.

This is a short loop, all off-road, to have a look at how the areas have turned out.  Apedale has a visitor’s centre with mining museum, trips down the pit and even a tiny narrow-gauge railway:

Heading towards Newcastle it is quite hard to believe that you are only a mile or so from the town centre:

To my surprise I came across a newly built bike and pedestrian path that leads from the valley to the new industrial estate at Chesterton, with a branch to Knutton.

No sooner had I been admiring the new facilities than I was reminded how some of the locals treat their amenities…

The Bike path into Newcastle is pretty good except for this strange  junction with a busy road where there is not so much as a pedestrian crossing:

Can anyone explain why there has to be an End of Cycle Route sign followed immediately by a Start of Cycleroute one?

A  little further on I turned right near the new Newcastle College and got onto the Bike Path to Silverdale, emerging behind rows of miners’ cottages.

The Church in Silverdale is a sad sight, because it has to be protected by high fences and closed-circuit cameras.

The actual site of Silverdale Colliery is now a housing development.  Although many of these are small and presumably social housing, I did wonder how many of the former miners who were made redundant would be moving in here.

A new track leads up past one of the last remaining signs that this was a mining area,  some sort of gas flue.  In the background are fenced-off toxic pools with warning signs against swimming.

No sane person would swim in here, but somebody has decided to take no chances and put in lifebelts anyway:

The track leads through the brand new  Silverdale Country Park.  Half way up I wondered about the odd green plastic fencing:

The answer appeared a few minutes later:

You emerge on Black Bank Road, where you cross back into Apedale Country Park.  For some reason these gates were all locked and I had to lift my bike over.

Apedale has a magnificent viewpoint with a mining wheel memorial:

There is also a ring of wooden uprights resembling a neolithic stone circle, but each pillar has a hole drilled aiming at a distant view.  Whoever dreamt this up is a genius.

This whole ride was only five miles, all off road, and with lots of interest all the way.  The map of the route complete with 3-d fly-over can be found here.

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Change and Decay

Swift to its close ebbs out life’s little day;
Earth’s joys grow dim; its glories pass away;
Change and decay in all around I see;
O Thou who changest not, abide with me.

From the viewpoint of evolutionary biology, this hymnwriter (Henry Francis Lyte)  got it wrong, because the opposite of Change and Decay is not Thou who changest not but rather Change and Renewal.

From the the philosophical point of view,   I prefer Dylan Thomas’ response to  Earth’s joys grow dim:

Do not go gentle into that good night
Rage, Rage against the dying of the light.

So what has all this to with cycling?   Well, today’s ride in the Wybunbury area seemed to have a lot of decay:

Was there really more decay than usual on this ride?    Or was I just looking out for it?  It was certainly no more than innocent curiosity that took me down this bridleway:

How could I resist a turn-off like this after a few miles of quite boring road?  Very soon I encountered the unexpected and the theme of decay began to take shape.

The name Ruston Bucyrus, initially appropriatre and then exotic, appeared on a number of abandoned machines:

A little further on I came to a broken fence:

Beyond the broken barrier was a whole graveyard of Ruston Bucyrus, which sounds just like an obscure species!

It turns out that the firm Ruston Bucyrus were given a top-secret job during the war of developing the personal brainchild of Winston Churchill, which was to be a 77 foot long nocturnal trench-digging machine called White Rabbit Number 6, or sometimes ‘Nellie.’

No, I am not making this up!

I get the impression that this was a vanity project and a white elephant  (hence Nellie?)  The army weren’t interested, but Churchill insisted, and the machines were built but never used.

Poets with a lyrical gift and a deep religious faith produced great verse that is still appreciated by cynical atheists like me.  I found myself warming to Henry Francis Lyte when I read that he started up a Sunday School for poor children, with very short sermons and long games and parties.  This brought back vivid memories of my own Sunday School picnics in Fountains Valley outside Pretoria.  (Another post for another day).  To cap it all the Rev Lyte lost much of his congregation who defected to the Plymouth Brethren.  As a defector from the Plymouth Brethren he has my whole-hearted sympathy. 

Rev Lyte wrote  Abide with Me as he was dying of tuberculosis.  It was put to music by William Henry Monk, soon after the death of his young daughter.  Both men turned personal pain and loss into something beautiful and lasting.  Dylan Thomas’ poem does so too but without the religious element:

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

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College Blues

Cycling home recently I took a small diversion through the grounds of MMU’s Alsager College, which used to be a busy campus specialising in teacher training and sports science.

Now all the college’s activities have shifted to Crewe and the site is likely to be redeveloped as a housing estate.  This is the rather sad sight that you see today:

The College has extensive sports fields and one version of the draft plans includes keeping the fields for public use.  I wonder why this makes me sceptical?

However, since the closure the tennis courts have amazingly remained open:

Alsager’s young people make good use of these.  I wonder whether those nets were left there as a deliberately public-spirited decision or were simply forgotten about and abandoned?

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A Ride With a View

Setting off at 7pm yesterday, with no particular destination in mind, I found myself in Congleton and headed up towards Swettenham. There was no traffic, the late evening sun was shining, and it just seemed a good idea to take some pictures along the way.

These farm machines seemed almost like a group of tired beasts of burden having a rest after the day’s work.

Another mile and another stop  and a shift from the mechanical to the botanical:

Approaching the crossing of the River Dane near Holmes Chapel one comes to this magnificent railway viaduct taking the main line to the North and Scotland.

It struck me that this could almost have been a Roman Aquaduct built two thousand years earlier.  The only thing a Roman architect who travelled forward in time might wonder about are the added-on electric pylons!

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