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The Long Way Home.

The Long Way Home.
Recently I headed over to The Isle of Man to take part in the, very brutal, Manx100 mountainbike race. It had been an eleventh-hour decision to go. At the same time I made another rather rash decision – I was going to cycle home too. The Manx100 didn’t quite go to plan (that’s another long story: see here) so when the sun shone on the morning of my departure back to the mainland I was emboldened and was looking forward to a few days of very pleasant cycling through England’s finest green and pleasant lands.
I planned to cut across country from Morecambe to Settle on The Way of the Roses and then pick up The Pennine Bridleway (PBW) from there all the way back home to Derbyshire. It was a basic plan with some wiggle room for any potential disasters along the way – which turned out to be a fortuitous plan, as it happened, because I didn’t have a map or actually know the way.

I knew that The Pennine Bridleway was fairly well signposted, particularly in The Yorkshire Dales, and I did have a map of sorts for the southern part of the route. (Not that I find maps much use these days – I’m red/green colour blind and can’t really see fine details anymore even with reading glasses).
Thankfully The Way of the Roses was very well signed, and I ambled forth along quiet cycle paths, bathed in pleasant sunshine, to Lancaster and beyond. Once clear of the towns, and their lovely smooth network of former railway lines, the route followed very quiet country lanes through chocolate box villages all the way to my destination for the night.

En-route I happened across a fellow touring cyclist, who appeared to be very heavily laden compared to my minimalist set-up, and we chatted for a few moments before I continued on at more energetic pace. A break for coffee at the Hornby Tea Rooms-cum-Post Office proved to be a delightful distraction (highly recommended if you’re passing through) and I lingered there awhile whilst admiring a large clock on the wall emblazoned with the phrase “Anytime is cupcake time”. I found myself quietly nodding in agreement to that piece of sage wisdom.

Throughout the day I had been mildly irritated by a slight clanking noise in the general drivetrain region and had stopped a couple of times to investigate but couldn’t spot anything. Eventually I discovered that my rear cassette had worked loose and would need tightening before very long at all. I Googled “Bike shops in Settle” and to my delight came up with the 3 Peaks Cycles Bike Shop & Cafe – if that’s not a perfect combination then I don’t know one that is. I made it in the nick of time, they were just packing away, and the mechanic whipped my bike into the workshop and had me back on the road in no time at all. I called ahead to a nearby campsite, the opulently titled Knight Stainforth Hall, and scored myself a good deal for the night – they gave me the backpackers rate of £8.50. It was a lovely place, with an excellent shower block and equally excellent restaurant, nestled perfectly in a valley on a thundering stretch of the River Ribble (I made a mental note for a possible future packrafting adventure).

My plan was to get under way quite early and put in some long miles before the stormy weather arrived later in the day. However…, as often happens, Sod’s Law kicked in and the heavens opened five minutes before packing up my tent. Once the storm had subsided I gave the tent a good shake and wiped off the excess water with a cloth, then dilly-dallied around for a while until it wind-dried sufficiently to be tucked away.

I whizzed down into the valley and crawled back up the other side, just in time for another brief shower. My Gravitas rain jacket came to the rescue, for the first of many such occasions, and I soldiered on regardless. It took about 40 minutes to reach Settle (which would have been 10 minutes on the road had I known) where I called once again at the bike shop.

I ordered breakfast and waited patiently for it to arrive. I then waited a bit more, and then a bit more. Forty-five minutes later a flustered member of staff sheepishly asked me if I was still waiting for a drink? At which point I politely pointed out that I was also waiting for my breakfast too. My coffee arrived promptly, followed ten minutes later by my breakfast – It was worth waiting for, the black pudding was delicious.

I was now a couple of hours behind schedule as I stepped across the bike and nervously eyed the building storm clouds in the distance. Time to get a wiggle on. I followed the PBW “Acorn” signs out of town and up a very steep hill before turning right across the moors. The view from the top was wonderful and I pulled over at a convenient bench to admire it whilst treating myself to a few Jelly Babies. The descent to Long Preston was equally thrilling and I arrived in the village with the wind in my hair, and, sadly, no sign of any acorns. I may have missed a turn on the way down. With time ticking on and no appetite to retrace my steps I once again consulted Google Maps and searched for an alternative to get me back on track. I knew that the PBW passed through Barnoldswick and I could pick it up again there, so I followed the Sustrans Route 68 along quiet lanes before being deposited on the Leeds-Liverpool Canal a couple of miles shy of the town.
It was at this point that things started to unravel a shade. Crossing over a hump backed bridge I put a bit of extra power through the pedals and felt a very strange sensation. The front chainring had collapsed. A few choice words and phrases didn’t resolve the situation, so I had to resort to more conventional tactics. Think Neil, Think. OK it’s no problem, the Hope Technology factory is just down the way, I’ll try my luck there, maybe they can help?

The chainring itself was a modular system from Superstar Components, thankfully the crankset and BB were both made by Hope.

I scooted, one-footed, along the canal for about two miles and then rolled through town to the factory. A lady replied over the intercom and I babbled frantically about what I was doing and about my current situation, barely pausing for breath.

I think she was either dazed and confused or just felt sorry for me, either way she buzzed open the door and let me in (in the nick of time too because the mother of all thunderstorms unleashed itself at that very second) Phew.

I was greeted by a very nice man called Johnny Henstock. I followed him upstairs to the workshop with the bike and then he proceeded to sort it out. Johnny turned out to be a very nice man indeed and we chatted away about this and that for the hour or so it took to put things right.
By the time I rolled out of the factory I had a shiny new chainring, a new drive-side bearing, and tapered insert, all charged at a nominal fee. Johnny Henstock was now on my list of heroes.
I was now about three hours behind schedule and my plan to reach the village of Summit or beyond was in serious jeopardy.
Under instruction from Johnny I found the trailhead and then pointed the bike in the southerly direction. This also turned out to be a bit of an issue. An hour or so along the trail I took shelter from a storm in a small copse of trees. To while away such an idle moment I checked on Strava to see my position. Hmm. That didn’t look right? I was heading north again. Apparently the PBW loops around the southern side of Barnoldswick and then turns sharply north towards Settle, so my intuitive decision to head south was the wrong way, I should’ve gone east. Big sigh. OK, Google Maps again. Time was definitely now against me and I decided to take up the kind offer of a bed for the night in Hebden Bridge by fellow Alpkiteer (and Olympic double Gold Medallist no less) Steve Bate. Cue further miles on Route 68. Thankfully the weather remained foul for the rest of the day and I was subjected to a deluge of constant heavy rain, woo-hoo. The route took me up and over the moors and around to Hardcastle Crags, and no matter how much it rained it was a thrilling and enjoyable ride.
My arrival in Hebden Bridge coincided nicely with the demise of my phone battery, which was handy, and with everything soaked through I struggled to get my powerbank to breathe life into it. I did manage to fire off a message to Steve telling him my location before it died completely, and a few minutes later he rolled up onto the eponymous bridge to save the day.
I then spent a thoroughly enjoyable evening in the company of Steve and Caroline, for which I am eternally grateful.

My final day was set to be a big one, much bigger than I originally planned that was for sure, and as I blissfully rolled through Hebden Bridge, following the Rochdale Canal for about ten miles to Summit, I pondered the day ahead. The early forecast was fine, and it looked like it might remain reasonable heading south so long as I kept up a decent clip. With the value of hindsight the forecast was a tad optimistic.

A short coffee stop at Hollingworth Lake set me up to tackle the high moors and I made good progress for a while. Descending towards Dowry Reservoir the clouds burst and subjected me to a session of torrential rain, completely exposed to the elements and with no sign of shelter. It was thankfully short lived, and I climbed and descended again, into Diggle, whereupon I spied an ominous looking storm brewing in the distance. I chanced upon a timely positioned pub – The Church Inn -in Uppermill and decided to assess the situation over lunch, and very nice it was too; a splendid Tuna Ciabatta and side salad washed down with a half-pint of fine ale. The storm broke just as I got settled and didn’t abate for quite some time. The sky above the moors continued to look ominous and I decided that Route 68 might be the sensible option; heading over the High Peak in those conditions would have been foolhardy. 

From Uppermill all the way to Whaley Bridge the route took me along mile upon mile of canal towpaths which, under normal circumstances, would make for some speedy riding. It also rained the whole time; mostly just heavy, but occasionally interspersed with prolonged periods of torrential just for good measure – it actually rained for seven hours, I even thought about jumping in the canal at one point just to dry off a little. The temperatures remained mild though, so although I was exceptionally wet I was never suffering.
At Whaley Bridge I enjoyed a takeaway coffee (the cafe was just closing on my arrival) and I took shelter under a bus stop. A young fellow admired my bike and we chatted a bit about mountainbiking before he hopped onto a bus and I hopped back onto my bike. I climbed steeply out of Whaley Bridge on Old Road and was subjected to a torrent of water the likes of which I have only previously experienced during monsoon rains in Asia. Like The Severn Bore it was flooding down the hill in a constant sheet, and the gullies either side were literally gushing. At a couple of points the road dipped slightly and each time my bottom bracket (and feet) were completely submerged as I ploughed a bow wave through the tide. (The following day Whaley Bridge made international headlines when the town was evacuated due to partial washing away of the dam at Toddbrook Reservoir). The monsoon continued all the way into Buxton where I again took brief respite, this time under the canopy of the small but spectacular Opera House. A police car drove by and I thought, given the state I was now in, that I was in danger of being arrested for vagrancy or, perhaps, bringing the Opera House into disrepute. I sloshed onward.
I passed a Premier Inn and very briefly considered giving up for the day, but I was made of sterner stuff than that, and knowing that I was now only a couple of hours from home I decided to endure; besides I couldn’t actually get any wetter and I certainly wouldn’t get my clothes dry for morning so I elected to save myself some money (I could always use it later to treat myself to some nice shiny bike parts, or some Jelly Babies).
I re-joined the PBW at Chelmorton – The High Peak Trail – and got my head down for twenty miles of flat riding. By the time I reached Middleton Top the rain was finally falling into submission, and by the time I’d whizzed down to the canal at Cromford little streaks of sunshine were actually streaming through the clouds and lighting up the treetops with an evening alpenglow. My final few miles were a bit wobbly, apart from a couple of cereal bars I hadn’t really eaten anything since my lunch, some six hours earlier, and I weaved my way up the final little climb to home slightly delirious, with almost a hundred miles in the bag.
I hadn’t planned for it to be quite this much of an adventure, but it was an adventure, I even saw a horse in a Zebra coat, and I’d do it all again in a flash.
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About The Author

Neil Cottam

Neil is the founder of Chase The Rainbow. He has spent a lifetime exploring the outdoors, from a childhood climbing trees and scrambling his bike around old pit heads to hiking in the Himalaya and backpacking around Europe and Asia.

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