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  • Jamie Shannon

I'm finally on my way. To Nottingham.

So with my day of departure having finally arrived and with many goodbyes having been said to my family and friends, I was full of anticipation at my impending trip. So many months of planning and dreaming were all finally coming together and I was delighted at the thought of what lay head.

I had read many times before about packing only what you needed rather than what might come in handy and now with everything strapped to the bike I could really see what people actually meant by it. The panniers were bulging and the bike was difficult to even lift out of the door. I knew that I would be losing some things along the way. I just wasn’t sure what yet. Why was I bringing a chair along for instance? Surely this was a luxury afforded to cars only and not a mere bicycle. I did end up throwing this away a few days later. I am however digressing as I still had to get out of Manchester for this story to start.

I took my usual route through the suburbs of South Manchester as I had done on countless occasions whilst on my way to and from work which all proved effortlessly enough. My knees weren’t hurting yet but I would have to wait until the next morning to realise that.

Having made my way through Stretford, I stopped in Chorlton to say goodbye to my friend’s brother. After this done I cycled through Didsbury and Stockport before finally reaching the small towns and villages just before the Peak District National Park. I came to my first big hill coming out of Stockport and having cycled up that, I had to pull over for a breather. I was literally dripping with sweat because of the humidity and was indeed a little intimidated at the thought of the many hills and mountains I would eventually have to cross. I knew though that at the same time, my conditioning would improve day by day and it would certainly get far easier. The traffic was quite heavy at this point and I was still getting used to handling a fully loaded bike after six months off it and so there were a few scares and wobbles along the way. Most people were actually very courteous though.

Coming into the Peak District, I never realised how beautiful it actually was, having always travelled through it in a car but upon closer inspection, Europe’s busiest National Park is very pretty. Huge rock faces overhung steep, stark valleys and rustic little villages dotted the landscape which were all dominated by one kind of stone that I suspected came from the valleys I was travelling through at present.

I didn’t stop as much as I probably should have to explore my surroundings as I really just wanted to get out of England as soon as possible. This wasn’t because I wasn’t enjoying cycling through it but simply because it was just all too familiar. I was travelling by bicycle in order to experience something out of the ordinary and that, I thought, would come with a change in language and customs, hence the lack of pictures here.

Towards the end of the day, I was travelling on amazing roads out of Buxton with hardly any traffic to speak of, a river running right beside it on the left and an extremely steep cliff face overhanging the road to the right. It was pretty thrilling, and after some fairly steep climbs at the start, I was relishing the speed and adrenaline rushes that came with cruising along the roads here. This is what it’s about I thought and did make all that hard peddling worth it.

A little while later I saw a footpath that I knew always probably led off into some distant woodland or track which would be perfect for camping and so I made way along it hoping for the best. Along the way I asked a couple what lay ahead and they told me there was a walking/bicycle path that led along an old railway line to the town of Bakewell about fifteen miles ahead. This was all they needed to say for me to decide that this was the way to go; flat, smooth terrain, opportunities to camp and very little people (few people that is, not tiny people). About halfway along, I found a small woodland that led off the path and decided it was time to camp. I was also pretty tired and hungry by this point and knew rain were coming very soon.

There was only one problem though: my clothes were wet, my shoes drenched and I was pretty filthy with dirt and mud. This trip wasn’t starting off easily at all. I have to say though that, although I would have preferred it to be beautiful sunshine, I knew that at some point things were going to get tough where the weather was concerned and I kind of relished the challenge of it now. I guess I wanted to see how bad things could get but see that I was still managing to push through it. This is what I was now doing; It’s no easy feat putting up a tent when it’s raining and then trying to get inside whilst at the same time, trying to get your muddy outer clothes off without dirtying the inside of your home. I managed it though and somehow the battle had been won.

I ended up getting only a few hours sleep as the wind was so intense that I lay awake half the night worrying that a huge branch would snap of one of the trees overhead and fall on me whilst I slept. This didn’t happen in the end but I now knew to check how delicate the surrounding trees were in any place that I intended to camp before setting up my tent in the future.

The next morning began with the usual anticipation of what lay ahead, and having drank my coffee and eaten my porridge, I was on my way at around 08:00. I did have a small worry that by camping in such difficult to reach places, simply pushing my bike in and out required going over logs, fallen trees and broken branches. Whilst not a problem if this was to last a couple of weeks, it would become a big issue over the course of a. I thus knew that repairs might lie ahead. Back on the track though, the weather had improved and it was a lovely first couple of hours to Bakewell.

As I neared the end of the peak district, things began to unravel slightly as my small UK map wasn’t quite adequate at the scale I was travelling, thus I had to continually stop to ask for directions. This was however always quite advantageous as human contact, I suppose is always good.

Nearing the town of Matlock I stopped at the side of the road to make some lunch. As I was adjusting the brakes on my bike however, a dog sneaked up behind me and helped himself to my sandwiches. Annoying was a word I would use here as It’s quite a tedious thing to stop, unpack, make some sandwiches and also wash everything. From now on I would always keep my good eye pointed directly at my food.

Coming out of the town of Alfreton a while later, I found myself cycling on an immensely busy duel carriageway. I knew that it was legal to cycle here but as it was close to rush hour now, it was particularly dangerous. Every five metres or so I had look in my mirror to see if there was any oncoming traffic before moving over slightly to avoid cycling over the cats eyes that lined the road. There were also many pot holes and rubbish too which just made it all the more difficult. After this, I crossed over to have a rest and examine my map in the hope of finding some smaller A or B roads with which to use to cycle into Nottingham. Upon closer inspection though, I saw that just ahead, the Duel carriageway spat out a slip road which was the one I actually needed to enter Nottingham properly and so, I thought I would take my chances.

It wasn’t so long later that I found myself exactly where I needed to be and within a half hour, was pulling into my friends road; delighted to be in one piece. Dan the man Shaw looked after me for the evening and made an ironic dish of tuna pasta bake. Lovely.

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