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Out in the Styx Run

by Dave Stevenson

Sunday 10th October

Starting point at the Jolly Saior

The Dukeries Section crawled tentatively from under its stone this October to organise a 35 mile odyssey running up and down the Trent.  There is something about roads that travel to the extremities of the land.  Their possibilities are limited in one direction and they benefit, not only from reduced traffic, but also from a sense of spatial finality.  It was appropriate then that the gathering point was the Jolly Sailor, commemorating that breed of men who do not recognise the finality of the coast, at least not from we landlubbers' direction.  What else they might have been jolly about I leave to your imaginations...

The wind had turned Nor'-East and the air was sharpened by its long journey from the Norwegian Coast, across the white-caps of the North Sea.  A small but intrepid band of 18 hardy souls shivered in the car park.  In the vanguard of the iron-mounted band, their sinews taut with anticipation, were the cyclemotor men: Messrs Hirons, Adams, Hook and Moore, joined in the axe-head of the throng by one Selvey.  His mount, the grizzled grandman of the guard, a 1936 Cyc-Auto, ancestor of all the rest.  Next in venerable age, a triumvirate of New Hudsons pranced smokingly awaiting the slipping of their leash; their knights in cask and overcoat: my Lords, Hutton, Ashworth and Speak.  Two bronze AV89s guarded the flanks, their traces handled by Lord Brearley and my Lady Brown.  On steeds the Samurai had tamed, four outriders of the apocalypse lurked in thrall, the leader of the pack, His Holiness the Casper, the housecarls Jackson and Tordoff and behind them the dowager Goodwife Smith.  Your humble scribe, aware of his unworthiness in this illustrious company trailed upon a bedraggled Puch.  And at the rear, as radiant as the new risen sun, Bishop Kilmore's ray of light, his Sunbeam chop.  On point were that serf Nuttall and his concubine, Linda yclept, their steed fleet of foot and long of flank (but hardly club-eligible).

All this forms part of the introduction to my new novel Lord of the Rungs, confessions of a Trentside roof tiler available on a top shelf near you.

The assembly crossed Keadby Bridge, an impressive lifting structure which encompasses both road and rail, and turned down the quiet roads which parallel the river.  A large embankment walls in the brown waters of the Trent down its entire length at this point so only occasional glimpses of the tidal river were available.  Traffic levels returned participants to the 1950s with a narrow strip of tarmac imitating the long sweeping bends of the river.  Low hills were visible to the west, but on the east the flatness runs almost to the sea. We passed a 'Dutch' house arrayed in its exotic gables dated 1689 and a plain looking brick building proclaiming its origins to 'the old hall' of circa 1500.  For the most part the houses were Victorian or later, with large arable fields the dominant feature.  Hedges were few, as in much of eastern England from Cambridgeshire to the Ouse, and, apart from a tasselled fringe of small willows on the river side of the embankment, trees were mostly grouped around isolated farms.  The farmyards were full of rickety and unkempt buildings, as in many areas where space is not at a premium, and from some thistle patches poked the noses and tailgates of ancient, and possibly collectable, jalopies.  Risking the short section of dual carriageway into Gainsborough before negotiating its surprisingly extensive suburbs, the bikes returned to a similar scene travelling northwards on the eastern bank.  The sweet vegetable stink of the sugar refinery disappeared behind on the cold wind.

The mopeds and later autocycles soon outdistanced the four cyclemotors and the Cyc-Auto that ,with the escorting Sunbeam, made a dignified procession around the course.  Speeds were considerably higher going down the west bank with the wind than they were coming back up the East into its teeth.  Mark Adams broke a spoke and performed running repairs before shimmying back on an S-shaped rim.  Peter Moore's Mini-Motor, sounding very sweet after its rebuild following the Coast-to-Coast, had thrown one of the screws from its float chamber. 

It anointed the roads with petroil like a Middle-Eastern patriarch riding the bounds as the sweet smelling smoke arose from its censer exhaust; at least until the holy water ran out and Peter had to pedal the last mile back.

With everyone safely back the review began.  The general opinion seemed to be that it was a route worth putting on the NACC list of regular runs with a stop at Gainsborough to regroup and refresh the pedalling limbs.  I add another thought.  If anyone wants to introduce a northern hundred miler, three laps would total 105 miles exactly. We like to do things bigger up here...

First published, Febrary 2005

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