Haste to the wedding

23 Aug

Northamptonshire (where I live, for those new to the story) is quite pretty, in a gentle, rural way. Rolling hills, lots of fields, pleasant towns – a place of spires and markets as my old headmaster used to say. It’s a long, narrow county with the River Nene as its tranquil backbone, which miraculously changes pronunciation north of Thrapston, a navigable waterway that (when it’s not in full flood) has its fair share of pleasure cruisers, barges and canoes. It’s a pleasant contrast to the merciless flatness of the Fens, where the Gods gather to drink beer and play billiards, or roll cabbages in crown green bowling.

But if you want drama in a landscape, then you have to go West, young man, in search of peaks and mountains, escarpments and gorges. In truth, you could go NorthWest and SouthWest too (for the purists amongst you)….and this time the adventure leads to Derbyshire.

So, to Buxton, home of spring water, for a wedding. I get invited to one of these every year, and each year we predict who the lucky ones will be. This year sees the turn of Paul and Caroline to step out on a life of joy, happiness and more cake than you can shake a stick at.

But what would make it an adventure? What would make it unique? What, in short, would be mad enough for it to get mentioned in the groom’s speech?

What about cycling there?

DSCF7237Well, short of absolute lunacy, perhaps some reason needs to be added to the plan. For me to cycle to Buxton is going to take several days… so perhaps we’ll use the train as well. So, rising early and off to Corby station. Early experience reveals several new pieces of information. Firstly, it’s much harder cycling with a 20 kilo pack on my back. Secondly, Corby is pretty much 90% up hill. While heartening for the trip home, the trip out isn’t going well, particularly since I have also miscalculated the distance. Pedalling furiously, I scream into the station just in time and collapse onto the train.

Of course, negotiating the station platforms is fun too, but eventually I alight at Matlock station ready for the next leg of the journey. I just wish my legs would co-operate.

So, an afternoon cycling along the Derwent. For the non cyclists amongst my readers, the word ‘along’ is a preposition beloved of the two wheeled fraternity, like its companion, ‘down’. ‘Along’ means flat, gentle and calm. Of course, I’m following the river up stream, so there is an insistent rise to the terrain. I arrive into Bakewell, home of the Pudding and the Tart, along with the Rain. This is enough excuse for a coffee and a scone as I watch hikers pour off the Monsal Trail – the fortunate ones  have umbrellas or newspapers to fend off the deluge.. the less prescient have lopsided and sheepish grins and look very bedraggled.

CampSite (6)The final few klicks introduce a new word into the vocabulary. ‘Steep’. This is the description of the final push to the campsite, where I unpack my tent (see right) (and suddenly the pack seems much lighter) and collapse onto my mattress. Eventually I unfurl myself enough to walk to Monsal Head for a pint – suddenly realising that this is the first alcoholic beverage I have had since March.

CampSite (2)Next day a stroll along the Monsal Trail, 8 miles of disused railway line and a flat route (if I had but known it) from Bakewell to my camp site. ‘Flat’ is another good cycling word, and a plan for my return unfolds.

(this is the view from the camp site. Nice, huh?)



Nr CampSite (9)Nr CampSite (8)

(left hand side – Monsal Trail viaduct – right hand side – River Wye)

And then to the wedding. The road down to the river Wye is speedy and fun, but another adjective describes the route up to the wedding venue. ‘Vertical’. Convinced that no-one can attempt that particular hill without crampons and rope, it’s time to walk (slowly) up hill. I’m very early, and the staff are somewhat confused as they aren’t expecting wedding guests to be wearing muddy shorts and looking quite so dishevelled. But after recuperation, I change into the suit that I have been carrying for so many miles, and look reasonably presentable.

And what a marvellous wedding. Much happiness, a beautiful bride, lots of romance, witty speeches, plenty of confetti, marvellous cake, nice people and cheesy 1980s dance music. Not, perhaps, a time to dance the blues, although both Paul and I briefly push the modern jive boat out.


Although I am quite looking forward to the hill this time (the word here is ‘down’ along with ‘whizz’) my friends take pity on me and whisk me back to the camp site, where, mercifully, sleep claims my weary body swiftly.

And then, a gentle cycle home. Well, you’d think so, wouldn’t you? But no, if mountaineers climb mountains ‘because they are there’ then the same thing applies to a cyclist confronted with a flat trail. So before I set off down the Monsal Trail to Bakewell, it seems only appropriate to see where the other end leads. Which is, of course, nearly to Buxton. And, after a wild mountain side ride down to the trail – it’s all uphill. Fun though – although later on the trail will be full of cyclists, walkers and joggers, it’s quite in the morning as I pass abandoned platforms, disused mills and cycle through old tunnels, and pass the abseilers gearing themselves up ready to leap off the bridge. Time then to relax briefly before turning round..

Monsal Trail (27)Monsal Trail (9)Monsal Trail (5)Monsal Trail (3)

Disassembling the tent I repack my bag, wishing yet again that I had a one man tent and not a three man (weight, it’s all in the weight) and set off back to Matlock. Which should be downhill. It doesn’t feel that way, but I do seem to be faster arriving back, despite being overtaken by weekend cyclists who want to emulate Boardman and Hoy (or they’re late for Sunday lunch).

DSCF7236The train (not, I have to say, this train, which is the Peak Valley Railway) zips me back to Corby and then the final ten miles. Mostly downhill. It’s been a good, fun weekend.. but I think I’ll stick to walking for a bit. And I’m beginning to see the attraction of the unremitting complanate velodrome that is the Fens…


Although a plan to rollerblade round Edinburgh next week is beginning to evolve….


(all photographs © Tim Hodgson 2012)

(‘Haste to the Wedding’ is an Irish jig. It seemed appropriate somehow)

Oh, those distances:

Oundle to Corby – 10.8 miles

Matlock to the camp site – 10.7 miles

Camp site to Cressbrook – 1.7 miles

Camp site via Monsal Trail to Wyedale – 13.5 miles

Camp site via Monsal Trail to Matlock – 13.5 miles (and I took a bit of a detour on the way back)

Corby to Oundle – 10.8 miles

So 61 miles in total.


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