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Cyclemaster Across the Pennines

by John Blackburn

I negotiated Macclesfield with apprehension and an uncertain feeling in my stomach in anticipation of the long climb into the Southern Pennines before reaching the easier slopes of Derbyshire en route to Sheffield.  Having travelled this way many times before by motor cycle, the route was familiar with its many twists and turns, and its hills.  So it was round the roundabouts and across the traffic lights on the edge of Macclesfield centre, down the hill, under the bridge, sharp left and under another railway bridge to begin the long climb up out of the town and up the road towards the Cat and Fiddle Inn.

The weather was reasonably kind in presenting me with a fine, if hazy, afternoon for the ride.  It was August, but not particularly warm.  I wore a Belstaff waxed cotton jacket, jeans, gloves and took a lightweight pair of waterproof overtrousers with me in case of showers.  I was fortunate in meeting none, but was quite thankful to use them later in the ride when the wind became noticeably cooler.  Having previously arranged to have half a day off from work to allow sufficient time for the journey, the Cyclemaster had been ridden to work that morning so as to save time in starting the journey.  After finishing work, food and tools were packed and I left Edge Lane, Liverpool just after 12:30 pm.

The Cyclemaster was going well.  Two weeks before, the magneto coil had been replaced by a new one supplied by Evans Cycles of Blessington Road, Liverpool.  Uncertain starting and running had followed a previous trip to Macclesfield to visit and, as it turned out, display the machine with other elderly vehicles at the annual town show.  So the route was familiar, via the B-class road to Widnes, then round the roundabout and past the very tall chemical works chimney to join the main road across the Runcorn Bridge.  If you are not familiar with this bridge, it is well worth a detour to admire its construction.  Constructed entirely of steel girders, it looks from a distance like a very large pale green humped-back bridge.  It can be a little windy at times when crossing, but the primary disadvantage of travelling by that route is that it lies within a complex of oil refineries and chemical works which can produce the most foul smells ever encountered.  The old centre of Runcorn itself is an attractive place with the railway bridge and canal being notable landmarks.  Runcorn Shopping City is a new experience which I have not yet been inclined to encounter, preferring instead the broad carriageways which sweep one past and, in this case, onto the road to Northwich.  More smells are encountered on the road to Northwich, but though they may be strong, they are more naturally occurring, emanating fron the Bass and Guinness breweries.

The countryside which now opens up on the road to Northwich is gentle and undulating and I can recall the need for only a few twirls of the pedals to exit from a steep dip in the road at one point.  The approach to Northwich itself from this direction is not particularly pretty.  Rounding a long downhill sweep to the left, one comes into view of a large and run-down looking complex of mills and factories on the outskirts of the town.  Northwich is in fact quite a pretty place, especially in the centre, where the main road crosses the canal by a decoratively painted iron bridge.  It is also the home of the Cheshire Salt Museum, which tells of the history and importance of salt to the nation and of the routes by which it was carried to all parts of the country.

Motoring on all the way up the hill at the far end of the town past the tall church on the right, I allow the motor to pull me gently up without any assistance.  Now we pass through the outskirts of the town and take the road to Lach Dennis, where we are alone again on a minor country road.  Surprisingly for August, I'm starting to feel the cold, so a stop is made to consume another sandwich and to wrap a scarf around my neck.  Cheshire is a pleasant county and to be seen at its best in this area, very green with many trees and hedges and interesting, varying country roads.  Soon the big dish of Jodrell Bank comes into view.  As you approach closer, you see just how big it is; no wonder that for many years it was the biggest radio telescope in the world.  The joy of cyclemotoring is that by travelling at cycling speeds, one can observe so much of the coutryside.  The speed at which you travel means that you have time to identify birds in the fields and even butterflies hovering about the hedges and verges.  The thing which you of course sacrifice for the sake of having little or no requirement to pedal your cycle is to hear the sounds of the countryside.  So sometimes it is good to stop and silence the motor for a few minutes just to listen to the sounds about you before going on again.

Onto the main road now on the outskirts of Macclesfield, the motor pulls easily down the slope towards the town centre, past the pretty flowers laid out neatly in the entrance to, I think, a nursing home.  It was at this point that I began to consider the impending climb up into the Pennine hills.  Mastering the controls as we made our way through the traffic left little time to dwell upon this until actually starting the climb up out of the town.  The bike was pulling well and the weather was good, so what need to worry?  A few twirls of the pedals helped us off under the bridge and up the hill, so now I just sit and listen to the motor working hard at full throttle as we glide gently on keeping a wary eye open for potholes toward the edge of the road.

On past the de-restriction sign with the long wall on the right and the road is beginning climb more steeply now.  The motor is slowing and it seems wise now to help propulsion with a little light pedal assistance.  There is a sharp right, a sharp left turn and now a hairpin right and hairpin left leading to a brief steeper climb until the gradient eases again.  Easing off on the pedals, I assess how well the little engine (for this one is only 25cc) will drive us along on its own.  But the climb is steeper than it looks and it's clear that pedal assistance is still required.  However, this is truly LPA; pedalling no harder than would be required to drive an ordinary pedal cycle along a level or almost level road.  Very soon a really breathtaking view opens up across the Southern Pennines and into Staffordshire and Derbyshire.  This is lovely country and well worth the effort to get here.  You can also enjoy some fine walks in this area.  The road itself is well known to and loved by motor cyclists for its seemingly never-ending series of sharp bends, dips and hairpins: an incessant concerto of lean the bike this way, lean the bike that way all the way to Buxton, 12 miles away.  Even on a cyclemotor it is necessary to ease up on some corners and lean the bike hard over, watching the road keenly as the tyres scrabble for grip on the uneven surface.  The gradient eases, then climbs some more, twisting and turning all the while between the limestone walls.  The pace is leisurely and enjoyable, the traffic light and the only thing one could wish for is bright sunshine to make this a really glorious ride.  Still periodically giving pedal assistance, we finally reach the Cat and Fiddle Inn at the summit and deem this an appropriate point at which to call a break for a few minutes.

Was I out of breath, perspiring, in need of major sustenance to enable me to continue?  Not a bit of it.  The opportunity to pedal was very welcome in the face of a cool breeze.  At no point was it necessary to rise from the saddle to exert myself harder on the pedals.  Were I less than fit, I could have happily have reached this point without distress.  It would be true to say that I had thoughtfully chosen the route which I considered to have fewer steep gradients in this part of the Pennines than any other, but then it would have been foolish to make a foray into the steeper parts without having previously assessed the likely capabilities of one's machine and oneself on easier routes.

So gladly I made my way downwards past the turn from Congleton to reach the Axe Edge road from Leek on the outskirts of Buxton.  At this point, I chose to turn momentarily towards Leek before turning left again towards Harpur Hill, thus avoiding the descent into Buxton (a fine spa town with a number of places of interest to see) and the subsequent climb to Taddington.  The route to Harpur Hill is not without its gradients, however, there being a steep dip in the road into which you descend and out of which you must climb before reaching the village.  This was negotiated at an even pace, akin to pedalling up a gentle gradient on an unassisted cycle.  Quickly crossing the A515 from Buxton to Ashbourne, this appeared to be a good time and place, on the road near Chelmorton, to stop for a longer break, to consume the rest of my food and also to don my overtrousers, the weather now blowing up noticeably cooler.

It was while here that I thought it sensible to check both the cycle and the motor to ensure that nothing was out of order.  But what's this?  Sideways movement in the rear wheel doesn't look right, together with a very loose final drive chain.  It appeared that one of the rear wheel bearing had begun to collapse.  It was noticeably tight when re-fitted after overhauling the motor, so perhaps the stress had been too great.  The situation wasn't grave, so the drive chain was readjusted and the journey continued cautiously.

The time is by now only about four o'clock, so a good average is being maintained with only twenty odd miles to go.  From here we join the Buxton to Bakewell road near Taddington and descend the hill against a noticeable headwind.  The alternative and picturesque route through Miller's Dale, Tideswell and the Hope Valley was considered, but the chosen route is shorter with, if anything, gentler gradients.

The dale through which the road to Bakewell passes, past Ashford-in-the-Dale is full of flora and fauna.  There are many species of wild flower to be found on or about the limestone crags, it is a known haunt of badgers and I have on one occasion, although several years ago now, seen an otter by the river there.  This is quite an enclosed valley with the grass and tree-covered slopes rising high up on either side, though the pasture is very lush on the valley floor.  Ashford is reached and we turn off passing through the village past the well, still dressed every year with flower petals to portray a Biblical scene, in thankfulness for the gift of clean and uninfected water which flowed throughout the plague of the fourteenth century.  This celebration is made annually at a number of village wells in North Derbyshire between May and August.

The road from Ashford is almost level, along the floor of the valley and past what was once the railway station by the crossroads with the road to Hassop.  Soon we meet the main road from Bakewell to Baslow, slightly downhill with sweeping turns.  Using almost full throttle here means that cars coming up behind have to wait their turn until a straighter piece of road appears before overtaking.  I sense that a good 30 mph is being achieved along this stretch of road.  Before long the road from Chatsworth Park is joined and followed across the bridge over the River Derwent, turning away from the old village of Baslow, but motoring up the slight incline past the large hotel on the right and down again past the village green, the petrol pumps and to the roundabout by the other entrance to Chatsworth House.

Here the road divides, the right fork going to Chesterfield on a rising and falling route with many bends.  We follow the left fork towards Sheffield, which requires a long but gradual climb up to and across Baslow Edge, past Wellington's Monument high up on the hill to the left and up onto the moors.  The motor labours a little up the gradient on full throttle, but pedal assistance seems unnecessary, so I allow the engine to pull me up the incline in its own time.  From the top of the moors, a panoramic view is had of Sheffield and its surrounding countryside.  Notable are the tower blocks of flats at Gleadless, constructed high up on one of Sheffield's seven hills.  Like Rome, Sheffield is a city of hills and river valleys, all the rivers finally flowing into the Don, which then flows on in a North-Easterly direction through Rotherham and Doncaster before eventually reaching the Humber Estuary.  If one passes this point on the moors after dark, a dramatic view can be had of the extent of the city of Sheffield.  It forms an oasis of light from the darkness of the moors.

From the top of the moors here, the road twists and dips before reaching the Peacock Inn at Owler Bar, the bar referring to the fact that this road was once a turnpike road, the turnpike trust being formed by Act of Parliament about 1820.  From Owler Bar, the road into the centre of Sheffield is downhill virtually all the way, past the refractory works, the rifle range and entering the city outskirts at Totley.  Further down, you pass the lovely Beauchief (pronounced "Beechiff") gardens on your right.  Next to these is the dam which still holds water for the Abbeydale Industrial Hamlet, well worth a visit, but especially on a working day when you can again see the furnaces glowing and the tilt-hammers pounding the steel into shape.  Opposite Millhouses Park you travel along a piece of dual carriageway, the side next to the woods once being the tram track before the trams finally left the city after a grand last parade through the streets in 1962.

Total time for the journey was five hours, including stops, which represents a very good average speed over a distance reckoned at 80 miles.  Approximately half a gallon of 25:1 fuel:oil mixture was used. The rear wheel bearing was discovered to be cracked right across the inner journal.

This was replaced easily, it being a standard size.  However, the looseness of the wheel on its pivot had allowed the final drive chain to score the inside of the wheel hub which it drives.  This was not too serious and a thick coat of paint was applied to mask this.

First published in two parts - February & April 1991

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