Those of you who have followed our blog (?) for the last few weeks will know that yours truly has taken up cycling.
Not the kind of cycling that requires slithering into a lycra bodysuit & the really dark sunglasses that serious cyclists wear to visit tea rooms, but plain and simple bicycling in the countryside, nice and easy, on the cycleways of the Peak District. No traffic, virtually no gradient and passing through mile after glorious mile of stunning scenery. Interrupted only at intervals of a few miles by opportunity for a sandwich or cake and coffee or just occasionally a beer.
In the past few weeks we've done several trips on the Tissington Trail, The Manifold Trail, The Monsal Trail and other less well known routes. Last week, it was time to hit the High Peak Trail.
I'd walked a few tiny stretches of this over the years, where walking routes intersected with The Trail for short distances, so I knew it passed through the Derbyshire Dales at a high elevation and thus had commanding views over the countryside, but I was more than surprised when we cycled it's full length over two Sunday evenings.
It's brilliant! Like the other cycleways, it follows the track of a long defunct railway, but what a railway! Whoever engineered a steam railway passing so high on the fells, where there is no natural water to replenish thirsty locomotives, was;
a) Ambitious in the extreme
b) An engineer of some considerable talent and
c) Backed by someone with access to unlimited funds
d) Possibly verging on insane
Built in stages between 1830 and 1857, at the very start of the railway era and before the economics and reliability of steam locomotion were widely accepted, it was a staggering feat. It's summit at Ladmanlowe is 30m higher than the famous Settle-Carlisle railway, itself branded the "impossible railway"!
The last operational train ran on the considerably foreshortened route in 1967.
As a railway, it couldn't sustain enough traffic to stay open. As a cycleway, it's a masterpiece.
It's official! The great radio telescope at Jodrell Bank has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site!
How important is that?
Well, other WH sites include the Pyramids at Giza, The Vatican City, the Taj Mahal and the Galapagos Islands - that's how important it is!
Since 1957, the great white dish of what is more correctly known as The Lovell Telescope has dominated views over the Cheshire landscape and is easily iindentified from the Roaches. Right from it's beginning, it played a major role in the Space Race, tracking satellites launched by both the USA and USSR.
Part of the University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology, it still probes the limits of deep space day and night 365 days a year and it is still the third largest telescope of it's type in the world. It helps make UMIST one of the world leaders in deep space exploration.
If you are contemplating a stay at Roachside Cottage, we can recommend it highly as a fantastic day out.
How prescient then that, when we called for a drink at The Ship Inn at Wincle last week, they had a new beer on the bar, clearly endorsed by that most recognisable of the University's staff; Professor Brian Cox!
This time last year it was blazing sunshine and baking hot. I know that because this date last year there were not one, but two emergencies on The Roaches, both requiring the attendance of the Mountain Rescue Team to stretcher casualties down the rock face of the Upper Tier. The presence of half a dozen emergency service vehicles, a small army of red-uniformed Rescue volunteers and lots of ropes and aluminium stretchers on a hot Sunday drew hundreds of onlookers, craning their necks and shielding their eyes against the brightness of the sky.
This morning, Scout and I went for a romp along the Swythamley Ridge to pass some time before the guests at Roachside were ready to vacate. It was quite sunny, but the northerly wind cut through my, supposedly wind-proof, fleece top and I was almost jogging to stay warm. Even the return journey, along the valley floor and with back to the wind was seriously uncomfortable. The young pheasants have started to fledge, we can hear the cuckoos, we can see the mowed meadows on the hillsides round about - so it is summer. It just feels like early March!
A cloud bank moves in over the Cheshire plain on a stiff northerly wind
One of the “perks” of owning a place like Roachside Cottage is that, every now and then, we can have a day or two here ourselves and sometimes invite friends.
Thus it was last week when some American guests cancelled at short notice (maybe they spotted some of my Twitter exchanges with their Orange Idiot!). We packed up our larder box and chucked a few tee shirts into the car and moved in for 5 nights.
With such an extended stay, it seemed like a good opportunity to invite my old Scouting mates for an evening ramble, a meal and, given that no one would need to drive home, maybe a few drinks.
Thus it was, the lamb shanks (which came all the way from the Manifold Valley 8 miles away), were bunged into the oven to cook very slowly while we all had a wander over the Roaches Ridge and back. Now Scout and I normally do this circuit in about 1 hour and 5 minutes, but on this occasion, we had a “Twitcher” with us. My old mate Steve became a bird watcher some years ago and I think could now be described as a fully paid up Twitcher.
He was keen to see our Curlews, of which there are many. Certainly, that very day, on our early morning walk, we’d seen 3 pairs at close quarters; two pairs who nest near Shawside and another pair who seem to be living along by the cattle grid above Brownsett Farm.
Typically, the Curlews had gone into hiding for the evening – their haunting call rolled across the moor, but the birds themselves were staying hidden in the tall grass. That didn’t stop Steve from pausing every few minutes to scan the moorland with his binoculars. So, the walk which normally takes just over an hour lasted well over two!
We did spot a Meadow Pippet and a couple of large owls – we know there are Short-Eared and Long-Eared Owls, Barn Owls and Little Owls, we see them every evening when we go down to The Lazy Trout. Hence, Steve’s Curlew disappointment was alleviated a little.
The lamb was cooked to perfection (even if I say so myself – a Jamie Oliver 5 Ingredients recipe – anyone can do it!). The wine was good, all the corny old stories were told again and by midnight the single malt was being tasted. So much so, that everyone eventually “hit the sack” at about 2am.
I took Steve for another walk in the morning to see the Curlews that I confidently predicted would be only to happy to show themselves.
They didn’t. But that’s birdwatching for you. Sometimes, the birds just won’t play the game!
Just to illustrate that birdwatching on The Roaches is normally a rewarding activity - one of Liz Owen's fabulous owl studies
My goodness it’s been busy here this last couple of months! An unending stream of short term stays with 5 or 6 guests at a time certainly keeps an old bloke busy!
I haven’t even been able to find time to do any blog-posts – that’s despite having thought of several ideas for essays and taking hoards of photos to illustrate them. Every evening, after laundry, ironing, hoovering, greeting guests or whatever, I’ve just had about enough energy to pour a bottle of Wallaby and watch the BBC news at ten.
Except that; I bought a new bike!
My last bike, a real top-notch mountain bike, was a present for my 40th birthday, 25-odd years ago.
I rode it no more than 20 miles before my, then 15-year-old, son seemed to adopt it as his own and rode it to oblivion round Snowdonia and the Peak District.
Hence, buying a new bike was quite exciting. Biking looks to be the future now as my knees have become a bit wobbly and sometimes feel distinctly vulnerable on steep slopes and uneven terrain. Moreover, several of my regular walking friends are afflicted with similar conditions to a greater or lesser degree – we have reached, or are rapidly reaching, the time when 10 & 15 mile days on the hills are at the upper edge of our capabilities. Hence, we’re all buying bikes and hitting the cycleways of the Peak District with the aim of continuing to get plenty of exercise and fresh air in the countryside we all love.
We’ve done a few of these trails now; The Manifold, Monsal and Tissington and even the old railway track from Leek to Rushton Spencer alongside Rudyard Lake. Brilliant fun, great tea rooms and pubs and a significant reduction in knee-related conversations.
And Scout? Well she can’t ride a bike yet, but she loves to run along in front – 17 miles at a time seems little effort to her!
Monsal Head Viaduct - one of the spectacular features of the Monsal Trail