Birmingham – York: the ride

I did it!

240 miles on a bike and 6 days’ worth of data beamed in near-real time to a reactive sculpture back in Birmingham.

The route I took between Birmingham and York

Kim Wall joined me for the second half of the journey, but for the first 2 and a half days it was just me, my bike and some camping gear, slowly making my way northwards and up and over the Peak District.

My bike as I left South West Birmingham

On my first night I was to be camping at Marchington Cliff near Uttoxeter. A not-too-shabby ride of about 55km if I had taken a direct route, however I wanted to ride along as many disused railway lines as possible as a nod to the project’s origins in response to the Duddeston Viaduct.

A detour to take in the Harborne Walkway added a bit more to the journey, mostly because I then also had to loop back down and around the city centre in order to avoid some canal towpath that would have been a bit of a ‘mare to try and ride along on a loaded bike.

Worth it though – I love how the Harborne Walkway is a hidden gem of a path, rising up above the houses in its own leafy world.

The Harborne Walkway

After negotiating the canal towpath under Spaghetti Junction and out of Birmingham, I was on to unfamiliar territories. I very much liked sweeping across Pipe Hayes Park and riding along the New Hall Valley Cycle Route.

After lunch at Sutton Park, I was soon out into the countryside proper and enjoying cycling along the lanes.

I’m not sure where this was, but it wasn’t in Birmingham

Lovely though it all was, 75 kilometres into the adventure I was very, very ready for the campsite and a chance to stop and rest. I just about got my tent pitched as the rain arrived.

Waking early the following morning, but expecting rain again by 9am, I made the most of some sunshine and got packed up as soon as I could.

Early morning sunshine in Staffordshire (click for full size version)

Tuesday was going to be the toughest day on the ride – climbing through the Peak District to get to Buxton. Here’s the elevation profile of the ride to put it into context: Monday had been a bit up and down, but Tuesday was up. A lot of up.

Elevation profile, with red vertical markers showing the split for each day

The Met Office’s radar map for rainfall showed a great big patch of intense yellow unleashing itself on the Peak District in the afternoon, so all the way to Ashbourne I was wondering if perhaps I should re-think and find an alternative means of transport rather than cycling an exposed off-road trail.

The rain was just starting as I got to Ashbourne and I thought I’d better check in with the tourist office to check on the sanity of what I was about to do, however a chat with a local outside Sainsbury’s put my mind at rest and I decided to get on with it.

The Tissington Trail was a gentle but constant pull uphill over its 13 miles. Similarly for the drizzle. I passed a few walkers and a handful of other cyclists, but for the most part I had it all to myself.

Panorama from the Tissington Trail (click for a full-sized version)

Lunch and a few fettling stops were taken whilst sheltering under bridges.

The photo doesn’t really do the view justice, but it was a great feeling when the trail emerged from under the tree cover and I found myself up on top of the hills

That night I stayed at the house of a friend’s parents, making full use of the drying facilities, curry supper and maps. Lots of maps.

Applying local knowledge, A-Z, road atlas, Ordnance Survey and various online tools to re-think the route

After the Tissington Trail I’d joined the High Peak Trail before then having to use main roads coming into Buxton. Unhappy about using these roads again (too many large, fast quarry lorries), and with much help from my hosts, I changed my plans for the following day and, instead of exiting Buxton via the High Peak Trail, on Wednesday I took the Monsal Trail instead.

The Monsal Trail alongside the River Wye near Blackwell Mill

The River Wye was looking gorgeous with the sun nice and warm. Not that that helped much a bit further on once the trail started carving its way through the rock…

Sunny + shady

The trail goes along the Wye valley, except for when it goes in the Wye valley

I stopped and started a bit to take photos and peer over the edge every so often, although I have to say that being on foot would probably have given me a greater appreciation of the viaducts which I didn’t really get to see properly.

After leaving the Monsal Trail at Great Longstone I was back onto lanes and gradually working my way out of the valley. Hard work, but a mere warm-up for the hill up out of Baslow. That was 20 minutes of hard grind! Once at the top though, it felt like I was on top of the world! As noted; this is the sort of place where rivers are born.

Looking back, up on Ramsley Moor

I had a reminder of this in the form of a rainbow that appeared to my left, but fortunately I stayed on the sunny side and had a speedy freewheeling descent into Chesterfield with my speed rarely dipping below 30 kph.

(click for larger version)

Once in Chesterfield I met up with Kim and we set off along the canal and various other incarnations of the Trans Pennine Trail. I was very impressed with the TPT and indeed we were enjoying blatting along it so much that we over-shot where we were supposed to leave it to head out towards Worksop and that night’s campsite.

Thursday’s ride was a shortish one of about 56km, a bit of a slog along rainy, busy roads into Doncaster and then a brighter final leg with a tail wind into the flatlands of the Vale of York.

Friday was my first experience of the Vale proper. Mostly this seems to consist of viewing power stations from a variety of angles without them getting noticeably closer at any point…

Lots of open space and Drax, or Eggbororough, or…

Conveniently, the Trans Pennine Trail ran from right near our campsite all the way into York, so this was a very pleasant day’s riding along quiet lanes and other interesting bits and pieces.

Breighton Airfield. (Click for a larger version …and a better view of the distant power station…)

And the power stations; always the power stations.

When we got to Pluto, I knew we weren’t too far from York.

This grey and gold field was the point where I felt I had finally made it to York:

But we officially marked our arrival with a photo on the Millennium Bridge before making our way to our host’s house and a well-earned bath. Oh, and a gig. *zonk*


That then just left Saturday morning to provide the pedalling to wrap up the sculpture’s official run. With a local guide and no camping gear whatsoever, we headed out into the lanes South West of York and had a very pleasant few hours that, by chance and careful planning, ended up at The Blacksmiths Arms in Naburn.

It’s been one of those epic efforts and journeys into the unknown that’s needed looking at the lines on the map and all the photos to really begin to take in how much ground was covered and how many new things encountered. There were a few times when I was considering bailing, but on the whole there was some very nice riding and I’m very, very chuffed at what I managed to achieve.

Thanks to everyone who helped me on my way!