Of all the fun things you can do with a bicycle, to me by far the most enjoyable is cycle touring: load up a couple of panniers, sling them on the bike and pedal off into the great unknown. My first few tours were solo endeavours, but as I got more into the cycling scene and befriended other riders, I detected a distinct appetite among them to give cycle touring a go. And lo, using my own modest experience as the springboard, the Pootlers’ Touring Club was summoned into life. A forum for people from Manchester and beyond to exchange notes about all aspects of cycle touring: bikes, gear, routes etc. And of course, to organise cycle tours.
The inaugural pootle in 2015 was a five-day coast-to-coast ride from Scarborough to Walney (or thereabouts); next we tackled the Reivers Route, Lon Las Cymru (Wales end-to-end), Coasts and Castles, Way of the Roses.
Apart from being utterly awesome rides, these trips all have one thing in common: they entail multiple days’ cycling over often difficult terrain. For some novice cycle-tourers in the group, these trips seemed somewhat daunting, and so we adopted the idea of the “bike overnighter”: a one-night mini-tour to a given destination and back home again the next day. We first ran this ride in 2017, and enjoyed it so much we went again this year. It’s an ideal early-season leg-stretcher, kit-shakedown and get-together – and of course ruddy good fun.
I selected Edale as the destination for a number of reasons. At around 29 miles it’s a comfortable day’s pootle from Manchester; it’s in the stunningly picturesque Peak District; it has both camping and hostel accommodation to cater for everyone’s preferences; you can ride there on- or off-road; there are train stations along the way in case anyone is unable to continue for mechanical reasons etc.; and you have to conquer a ruddy great hill to get there and back. In short, it’s a perfect microcosm of the conditions you’re bound to encounter on a cycle tour pretty much anywhere in the UK (unless you go to the flat bits, but where’s the fun in that?).
That appetite for cycle touring was reflected in the healthy turn-out for the trip: 21 of us made it to the start point at the Velodrome on a soggy Saturday morning in early April. And for those interested in diversity in cycling, it was a nicely mixed group, too: six women, one child, one pensioner, one tandem and two e-bikes alongside and among the more familiar men-with-bikes cohort.
A real benefit of having run the trip in an almost identical format the previous year was both that we learned a few lessons from that experience and also had a willing body of capable veterans across whom to spread the logistical and organisational load. Thus I had five eager helpers to assist with navigating and marshalling this by no means negligibly sized group around the roads, tracks and trails that lay between us and our destination.
Now, moving a group of this size takes time. Lots of time. Much longer than you’d imagine if you’ve never done cycle touring. That was one of the lessons we learned last year: having left Manchester by 1:00 p.m., some people didn’t manage the 29 miles promptly enough to make it to the pub in Edale by 8:00 p.m., when the kitchen closed. So this time we were extra-careful to leave punctually, and thus, at the stroke of noon, rain or not, Pootlers were go.
Off we trundled down the Ashton Canal to the Fallowfield Loop; on that as far as Reddish; and thence to the Transpennine Trail. Here the first hold-up and break-up: as the front riders forged ahead, a few stayed back as a chap cycling towards the rear had developed a spot of unwelcome rubbing, the remedy to which involved rending struts and yanking panniers till everything moved as it should. Reunited and friction-free, we duly proceeded through obstacles such as an unlit canal tunnel, narrow gullies skirting steps not built for bikes, and of course the miles and miles of rutted, muddy, puddly towpaths. A couple more succumbed to mechanical woes along the way, yet the rain had lifted, our spirits remained undampened, and one lucky Pootler even scored a can of cider from a passing party barge.
Another lesson learned from last year was that if you’re planning to descend on a pub with 20 or so hungry pedallers in the middle of the afternoon, it makes sense to give them a bit of warning. And thus we returned to the, ahem, Soldier Dick in Furness Vale, who this time had kindly taken our orders in advance and served up scrumptious pies, quiches and sandwiches within virtual moments of our arrival.
This is further an ideal spot to prime the group for the next phase of the ride: as the sodden towpaths give way to tarmacked roads, so their inherent flatness yields to more undulating terrain as we pass through Whaley Bridge, progress to Chapel-en-le-Frith, and from there labour up the tauntingly titled Rushup Hill, and ultimately back down to Edale, at the bottom of the exhilarating/terrifying (delete as your temperament dictates) Mam Nick descent.
Now anyone who cycles knows that hills are best taken at a rider’s own pace, and this was our approach here. The majority of Pootlers set off together, eager to tackle the climb and reach their night’s rest. A small bunch stayed back not only to enjoy a second pint, but also to give succour to any stragglers we may catch on the ascent. One fellow was struggling awfully with recurrent back trouble, but the patient encouragement of a seasoned tourer in our party got them both up the hill and down the other side without too much of a delay.
Tents pitched/bunkbeds bagged, we massed in the Rambler pub for food, drink and good cheer, before retiring for a more or less restful night’s kip.
Sunday dawned cloudy but dry, and hostellers and campers had arranged to rendezvous at Cooper’s café for breakfast at 9:00 a.m., in order to commence the ascent of the formidable Mam Nick by 10:00 a.m., with the instruction to assemble in a lay-by on the main road. This is a difficult-enough climb under ordinary conditions, and to tackle it with a fully loaded tourer is, depending on your perspective, courageous or bonkers. I take the former view and am proud of everyone who got up by hook or by crook, and everyone did. Bravo Pootlers!
The valiant ascent of Mam Nick is rewarded by another white-knuckle descent back down to Chapel, which folk understandably again took at their own pace, and then to Whaley Bridge. There a Pootler congress, with some opting to return along the canals, as others plumped for what they hoped would be a quicker, dryer way along the road (dryer it was. Quicker is questionable). I joined the latter group, through New Mills, a lunch break at the Sportsman, then an unwelcome hilly shortcut through Romiley to Reddish Vale, Floop, Velodrome and home.
And that was that. A truly splendid weekend on bikes. Old friendships cemented, new ones forged and the joy of cycle touring expounded. You can’t ask for much more than that of a weekend, can you?