Friday, 9 July 2010

Trans Pennine - Day Two

Cheadle to Pollington (South of Selby)
Start Time 10:00
End Time 20:30

After an uneasy rest, due to the unbearable night time heat and the unavoidable inability to breath due to my hay fever, I awoke feeling only slightly less tired than I had the previous day. We had stayed at the lovely Butterfly Guest House, and after a hearty full English, it was time to recommence our journey. Which was easy enough for Dave – he had two pedals on his bike. I, however, had to get a taxi up the road to Southport. Thankfully the chaps in the shop were able to fix it easily enough – it was just a case of wear and tear. It did mean that I was already behind before I started. And on our biggest day – 85 miles, over the Pennines – it was an interruption I didn’t need. By 10am I was on my way.

Both Dave and myself had been surprised to wake up that morning with very little ‘ache-age’. Our legs felt reassuringly fresh. This wasn’t to last. Due to my slight relocation in order to repair the bike I opted to take an alternate route to get me back on track, in terms or being in the right place and, hopefully, the right time. However this deviation from the official route was a mistake. As mentioned, the Trans Pennine Trail is designed as a flat and easy route to navigate. My alteration did not have such guidelines to follow, and seemed to thrive in this geographical freedom. In short, it was a right hilly bastard. Up and up I climbed, only to be confronted by more hills. In the distance the Pennines loomed, and by gosh, they looked high. It felt impossible that I was climbing such gradients and not encountering the opposite – every action has an equal and opposite reaction, right? So where are my downhills?!

Some were so steep, I found myself walking the bike up them – I simply couldn’t stay on the bike. That was bad news considering it wasn’t even dinnertime yet. I passed through Hyde and Hattersley, and was at least being treated to the beginnings of some wonderful scenery. I then passed through Broadbottom, which was probably my most favourite place on the entire trip. It wasn’t the scenery though, or the place itself, or even the mildly amusing name. It was the fact that it was built on the steepest and longest stretch of downhill I would encounter. I sped down its couple of miles in a matter of minutes, like a toboggan working my way through the winding tree lined route. I sped past the cautious cars and lorries – the fools! Cycling is the way to go, don’t you know! Only at the bottom did it hit me. The couple of hours hard work I’d put in reaching that altitude had been a waste. I now had to do it all again, and more so. Like a dieter, resisting fry-ups and take-aways for weeks only to blow it on a massive donner meat pizza at the end of the month, I felt like I was back to square one. Still, if I’d been doing this East to West instead I’d have had to climb that bloody thing. It’s all a matter of perspective I guess.

My next major stop was Hadfield, known as the fictional town ‘Royston Vasey’ in The League of Gentleman. It’s a nice place, though disappointingly normal. Only two shops on the main street had decided to cash in on the connection – a cafĂ© ‘for local people’ and the butchers, though I couldn’t see any special stuff in the window (under the counter, obviously). It was fun to look at the buildings and figure out whose houses they were though, and the angel statue that opens every episode was there. I called Dave. Unbelievably he was already in Penistone, that’s the other side of the Pennines and a solid 16 miles away. I best get moving.

The route crosses the Pennines via Woodhead Pass. Dave had taken the road, but I was to take the official route, a dusty path at the other side of the numerous reservoirs. It was approaching midday and the heat was increasingly dramatically. It was definitely warmer than the day before. And in my haste to get moving, I had taken the decision to not eat. “Eatin’s Cheatin”, as someone who’s not done the Trans Pennine Trail might say. Its something I’d come to regret.

I pressed on and was treated to some wonderful scenery. The scale of the place was hard to take in, huge roaming hills and steep crevices all rolling down towards the reservoir. The further I travelled along, the more shallow it became, until towards the end it had been reduced to what was essentially a tiny stream working its way though the disgustingly black silt and rock. It was movingly dramatic. I took plenty of pictures, but inside I knew this was mainly because it gave me an excuse to stop for 5 minutes. I was struggling.

After the familiar insult of being overtaken by what, in a more sensible world, would be my inferiors – this time two old men – I made it to Woodhead Tunnel. For a moment I thought the route would take me through it, which would have been the single greatest thing ever – I could feel the cold emanating from its beautiful beautiful shade. But it was not to be. It is derelict, though there were plenty of work men there. Instead I had to climb up onto the road, and then climb up further. And I mean climb. I had to check my map – this didn’t seem right. I was working my way up a very steep set of steps onto the very top of Pennines, far above the road. But the map confirmed that after my epic climb - that would have challenged a normal, fit man, without a bike and a bag full of stuff he’ll never need - I would come across a road. Well, I thought, it HAS to be downhill there, because there’s nowhere else to go.

Near the top I looked back to see where I had travelled. It was an impressive view. But I was exhausted. I’d run out of water and I was a good 8 miles from civilisation, either direction. There was no shade whatsoever up here. And the sun was hotter than ever, it was undeniably the worst time of day to be stood atop a massive hill. I could barely move. And this road I’d climbed for? It did not exist. It was a rocky, bumpy dirt track the farmer must have used to reach his sheep. I think even they were laughing at me. ‘You’re warm?’ they seemed to say ‘I’ve got this great big woolly jumper on!’ I didn’t give them the satisfaction of a reply. I just tried to avoid their stares of contempt. I checked my phone and saw there was no signal. I genuinely remember thinking ‘maybe this is where I’ll die…’

It would be nice to say the next hour or so flew by, that through pure heat exhaustion I just trundled on, in some kind of trance. But no, I remember ever single, horrible second. And for the second day I cursed my aerodynamic, clean shaven face. Having not experienced direct sunlight for some years it was reacting with massive heat rash, aggregated further by the strap from my helmet. And STILL no downhill.

Some miles further, having rejoined a proper tarmac road, I joyfully came across a brisk downhill stretch which brought me to a pub. I was overjoyed. Not only would I stop for a drink, I could perhaps get something to eat too. But in a scene that would repeat itself many times over the 3 days, the pub had closed down. Old vines snaked around its once imposing figure, the paint on the door pealed off. ‘Maybe that’s just the style of the place’, I tried to convince myself. But the door would not open. If I’d had the foresight I could have taken a picture of all the pubs I passed that were closed down. There were so many, especially in the villages. It was a sad sight, even more so as I was delirious with thirst.

Eventually the going got a little easier and I slowly made my way down into Penistone. I felt like I’d run a Marathon. I made it to the Spar in the town centre and bought a massive bottle of water, a Capri Sun and a Lucozade Sport. I guzzled them all and then went back for an ice cream (well, I may as well try convince myself this is some sort of holiday). After filling up with a sandwich it was time to get moving. Having spent some time in the shade, and with the opportunity to re-hydrate myself, I felt revitalised and ready to move on.

A gentle downward gradient carried me all the way to across the M1. It was an almost enjoyable run, purely for the fact I knew I was making good progress for the first time that day. Once again I had hit the old railway lines and quiet country lanes which meant I could get my head down. I wanted to get to Doncaster for teatime.

Somewhere around Mexborough I hit a nice downhill stretch, so switched it into a nice low gear (is it low or high – see I don’t even know that!) and built some speed. Then I heard this terribly crunch, a harsh snap, followed by my chain falling off. Oh no, what now? I pulled over to find the outer part of my gear ‘thing’ had snapped off, and my chain, which hadn’t quite fallen off, had just got stuck in the mechanism. I got it back on and carried on. But 10 minutes later, the same thing happened again. It was clear I’d lost the outer 6 gears on the bike, meaning downhill I no longer had an advantage. Combine this with the fact I didn’t have the inner 6 gears anyway (hadn’t since we started) meant I had to kind of hope that al the roads I came across from here on in were pretty steady, otherwise I’d struggle (even more)

Despite these problems, I made it to Doncaster. I didn’t stop – I’d spoken to Dave and he was already at the B&B, planning to go down the local pub for some tea. It was clear I wouldn’t make last food orders for 20:00 but I didn’t want to be out here ALL day. A quick break and hot sandwich in a bland out of town chain pub was enough to give me the energy to carry on. Thankfully the landscape had really settled down compared to the morning and the final section of the day was a fairly pleasant trip round some country lanes and along some canals. On a normal day it would be rather lovely – at the tail end of an 85 mile death march I couldn’t care less. I made it to Pollington for around half 8, half walking the last mile or so as the days activities finally caught up with me. I found Dave chilled out on his bed watching the football. He’d been there since half past four. Bastard.

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