A Solstice SO24 Ride Fail Report
Steve’s suggestion of a solstice ride was a perfect opportunity to step up and contribute with some route planning and detailing. I had previous with the Roaches, having taken nine fellows out there to celebrate my 55th birthday a couple of years back. It had to be the perfect setting for an epic sunset and the more important sunrise, being south-facing and, with the current British heatwave, all was set fair.
Meeting at the Sale paper elephant, I came over all flustered on being presented with my enamel GUTM badge. Soon we were pounding out of the urban landscape, passing the airport’s chaotic roadworks through to the first substantial greenery – routing through the Carrs park on Wilmslow’s borders. A French-style coffee house served up decent coffee and pastries in the 27 degree-and-rising sunshine, then we were back at it towards Macclesfield for lunch.
Passing through Prestbury, we couldn’t resist looking into the new centre-of-all-cycling-as-we-know-it. Rumour has it that Prestbury will soon be the go-to destination for the discerning randonneur!
A chance meeting with local bike mechanic Logchopper Paul and his mutt meant we shared sandwiches in his vast spannering space amongst the myriad ‘proper’ workshops of Macclesfield, walls bedecked with retro Saracens and other obscure brands. It was here I first noticed how hot the day was really getting, being still was way worse than actually riding, so briskly away we went towards the first planned highlight of the microtour – Wincle Brewery.
Sure enough, the smell of freshly cut grass mingled with unmistakable brewing odours – a wave of hoppiness (sic) came over us, as we examined our tempting draught options. Outside the locals quizzed our journey as we basked and bevied in 32 degree sunshine.
The last leg to the Roaches was dumbly extended by not being able to read the map on the phone screen in the brightness. Another increasingly long tramp upwards, which then became a push’n’grimace as the 1657’ summit of the Roaches hove into view – a delicious stretch of grass up the middle was the visual icing on top.
With nearly 12 hours to while away until that significant sunrise, we rode across the base of the Roaches to squander time and money in the nearest pub, The Rock. A spare pork pie washed down with Marstons Pedigree, then procuring a couple of bottles of wine for the evening meal.
Riding back again, the vista was truly immense – a summery mist layered the distant trees and walls like a Japanese woodcut masterpiece, a distant reservoir glinting back at us. However, by the time we had got to the path that would lead up to the top of the Roaches, our intended cook-spot, a real wind had whipped up from the north east. It quickly gathered an ominous grey mist on the ridgeline, so we opted to cook down below in the intended wild camp spot.
And so it was love amongst the gritstone ruins – the wine and olives ambassador’s reception was quickly established, then a round of ‘Crit My Shit’ – where two or more bike packers reveal the contents of their boutique tourist bags – happily whiled away an hour. Then food, Steve rustling up some surprisingly tasty John West boil-in-a-bag stuff and I, on more traditional dried pasta and fresh runner beans. Being thus distracted we had not observed or respected that grey mist, becoming ever darker and threatening – by 2230 it really was looking like a rainstorm. Our recently audited kit list was built around the 30 degree plus days we had been having, so no tarps, no down jackets… we were being made to look like fools. About to be very damp, cold and miserable fools at that. In moments such as these, where time is of the essence, we made spontaneous agreement to do a runner to the nearest bunkhouse, of which we had seen a sign earlier. With the wind whipping us like scolded curs and visibility down to 15 metres, a hasty 30 mile an hour downhill with only one set of lights between two bikes, took on epic and life-saving proportions!
The bunkhouse was eerily dark and closed. On to the pub for advice – nothing round here at this time of night, we’d have to go into Leek town centre and try there. Another furious downhill for several miles had us outside Lenny Henry’s chain of motels after midnight, thankful that they had a room left. Fortunately we had a credit card between us, so we were soon in the room wondering what the hell had happened to the brilliant plan. Posh cheese and Pineau from the hip flask was some solace, but the lack of macho-outdoor endeavours complete with an epic sunset and sunrise was going to be hard to explain to our connections. Thoughts of downloading stock photography were seriously considered to alleviate the shame of credit-card camping, but 4200’ of climbing was about to take it’s toll…
No epic sunrise but a cooked breakfast and the reappearance of sunshine meant we could forget the regret and hit the trail out of Leek. A fabulous old railway line, complete with expanding narrow gauge track, led us to Rudyard Lake reservoir. With a surface of 164 acres, it’s a sizeable beast.
My original return route was to be up Meerbrook, a pretty stiff climb. The flat route out of Leek beguiled me into thinking we might miss the climbing, but veering east toward Congleton soon restored the need for those low gears. Once on top of Dial Lane, the descent into Congestion was magnificent – the whole of the Cheshire Plain rushed towards us at over 35 miles and hour, breaking village speed limits as we went.
In the centre, we sidestepped our brew gear again and took local refreshment in the form of banana milk shakes and egg custards. Onward to Jodrell Bank, now solely on cycle routes, through another fine park, spoilt somewhat by screeching children having too much fun. The last snorter of a climb and we were coasting all the way home. A fine lunch at the telescope, with various misshapen cyclists, then towards and through Tatton Park, only to be undone by more pop-up roadworks thwarting attempts to get to Dunham Massey. Why are roadworkers so shouty?
When such frustrations arise on a bicycle you can always reroute and restore equanimity in short order – in our case this meant The Greyhound at Ashley, where we could recalibrate our return to the homesteads by lingering over a few pints. The final revolutions on the towpath home had me reaching for an energy gel – as Mozzer once said, the last mile is the hardest mile….
Statistically, my plan had been for a 31 mile day one – with all the misty to-ing and fro-ing, this somehow became 44 miles (4,200’ of climbing) with day two managing to stay on budget at 47 miles, having slightly more climbing than I’d imagined with 2000’. I rode my Genesis Vagabond, shod with Sim Works Homage-to-Wildslippers tyres and Steve his trusty Shirley Straggler with Volvo daylights.
Words and pictures – Neil Ruddock.
Black & white gallery pictures – Steve Makin.