Post: A nice gentle day for Charlie, recovering from his eye problem, and starting with his black protective eye patch. But instead of recuperating, he must have thought, hang it, I’m going to enjoy myself today, and got stuck in !!
Sunday, December 13 The Street and Goyt Dale
I journeyed across to Tom’s yesterday afternoon, just for the half day, on my bike, for I was not sure that cycling would do my eye any good just yet. But when I got astride the dear old machine, feeling the jolting road and the twirling pedals, the eye was forgotten in the ecstasy of the returning joy of cycling – my insatiable craving was at once satisfied, and I immediately felt part and parcel of the machine – the little, lively, low-geared lightweight. I felt free once more – ‘Free! Free!! Free!!!’ And to feel free and unharnessed, to feel that your only master is the Road, to feel that you would not bow to any man on earth, or be subject to no will but your own, get on a real light bicycle – and the world is yours to conquer – you feel you made it speed along the road via Trafford Park to Manchester.
I felt at home immediately with the city traffic and soon reached Tom’s place. I was asked to stay – Tom had to meet Joe at Kingsway End, 9.30am. Then I fell – in short I wanted so badly to spend the day in the hills of East Cheshire that I decided to let the eye take care of itself, and go. And I went, and the eye took care of itself so well, that it is better than ever despite the wintry conditions. Which all goes to show that cycling is beneficial, in more ways than one.
We got up sleepily enough at 7am, and at 9am made a start. The morning was very cold, our noses ripening in a short time. Neither of us are without. Needless to say, by a sordid jumble of streets and factories and tramcar lines – and setts, we reached Kingsway End just on time. Joseph was shading the watchman’s fire when we rolled up, and yielding to the overwhelming temptation, we joined him. We paid for it when we restarted along Wilmslow road. At Handforth we turned into the lanes and passed into a glittering fairyland.
Nature was robed in a new silvery dress – fascinating to my eyes which had been bored with the dullness of life at home. A lively pace was kept up, and we were soon skirting the end of pretty little Prestbury, crossing the frosty highway and climbing up to the white roofed town of Bollington. Here, Joe aroused the inhabitants – and us – with a skid off Tom’s back wheel – Tom always seems to be implicated with Joe’s skids (which are numerous). Right again, and we were soon on the long trail onto the roof of Cheshire, which was lost to sight in mist. Seasonably enough, a blinding snowstorm made its appearance, and soon the road disappeared beneath a white mantle. It was glorious. We tramped on in the teeth of it; I put a shade over my bad eye for protection, but the eye protested vigorously and I found it more comfortable without it. Besides which, the shade being black, Joe called me ‘Captain Bones’ and Tom thought ‘Long John Silver’ more appropriate. I hate the sight of eyeshades now!
When we were able to ride a bit, Joe thought we had reached the top, but was soon disillusioned. The beggar about this thing, he complained, was that there seemed no possible way for the road to go up – being on what seemed the highest point, but yet it kept on climbing. Joe has not yet learned that this is an elusive habit that Derbyshire and East Cheshire byways have, and the moral to be drawn from it is, ‘Never expect the summit on a Derbyshire road’. We stood at Patch House, hungry, and half decided to go inside for lunch, but Tom urged us on. Had we known what was to happen, we might have stayed at Patch House! Down now, in the cutting snowflakes to Blue Boar Farm, along that narrow road to the corkscrew, where we had more than one slippery sensation on that super descent to Saltersford Valley. The climb past Saltersford Chapel to the Street, on Cat’s Tor was terribly slow – and warm despite the snow. Our inner men cried long and often for food, a snack only served to enhance the hunger, and the road climbed one hill after another, the snow snowed, I got absolutely leg-weary (I had not ridden for five weeks and was badly out of condition). At long last, the lone signpost heralded the summit, and I halted to change over to freewheel, then started again, and got a real fright. I got going downhill, on a surface of ice and boulders; I put my brakes on, but they wouldn’t stop me. I had a real job to stop, too, and was ‘skidding all over the shop’. I changed back right away to fixed, and found it the only safe and effective brake. Freewheel is alright in its place, but on the roads that we experienced that Sunday, a freewheel is a positive danger. There were times when a touch of either back or front brake would have sent us flying, but when the ‘fixed’ gave us complete safety. Which goes to demonstrate that ‘fixed and free’ are the ideal combination.
Then came a steady, rather steep descent down the Roman Road, which is called ‘The Street’, running, I believe, between Derby and Manchester (I am not sure though). We agreed heartily that it has not been repaired since the Legions created a lot of potholes. Boulders, frozen lumps of clay, streams frozen solid, and biting sleet made for us a rough passage, but lower down where it reached Goyt Valley, the scenery made us forget the hard road. Oh, it was wonderful! Imagine a woodland glade, the ground a soft white carpet, the brown tree trunks holding little gleaming patches of snow, the branches covered with delicate flakes, every rush and blade of grass and twig was covered. Really fairylike it looked.
We reached Goyt Bridge, a scene enhanced by the snow effects, and soon found Goyt Bridge Farm, a regular cyclists and walkers feeding place. So ravenous were we for a drink, that I, for one, drank eight cups of tea! Instead of going round by the bridge, we crossed the Goyt by means of stepping stones, placed widely apart and sometimes submerged, sometimes unsteady, on the edge of a small waterfall. With bikes on shoulders, it created a bit of fun!
Then the climb through the Vale of Goyt. The limestone dales of Derbyshire and Yorkshire are very beautiful, but nowhere outside of Scotland can compare in my estimate with Goyt Dale. The steep hillsides clothed with fir and pine, the river deep below, on a boulder-strewn bed, and the higher moors are just magnificent – all the valley might have been a miniature Trossachs (of Scotland). ‘Tis said nothing is so exquisite and peaceful as a Welsh Valley; I am great on Welsh scenery, it is incomparable, but this is a different type, and just as beautiful in its own way. The road was overshadowed with glittering Christmas trees (which, by the way, look finer here than filled with baubles and coloured lights as at home), now and then the valley would turn and we would get a glimpse through the trees of the sparkling Goyt.
Low cliffs sometimes fringed the road, from which hung long pendant canopies of icicles. In one place was a thick, even pillar of ice from the overhanging rock above to the ‘shelf’ below, whilst yet again was a waterfall frozen fast to the rock, for all the world like a colourless specimen of stalactite. Tom’s camera was working overtime here. Then leaving the trees behind, we came into the moorland ‘col’, where the road was frozen over, and where a motorcyclist stopped and told us in violent language what he thought about it. Then he skidded cursing away. What manner of man is this that does not appreciate the beauty of snow and ice? Of course, petrol burners are that way inclined, you can’t expect anything else from them. One cliff we saw was chock full of huge icicles.
Derbyshire Bridge now reached, we soon came to the Cat and Fiddle (1,690 ft) on the Macclesfield road, then sped away on the long snowbound descent to the silk town. So bitterly cold was it that my hair was frozen into a stiff mass (Tom and Joe had hats on), and the snow froze as it collected on our bikes and shoes. Through Macclesfield and across to Alderley Edge, beautiful in its white cloak, to Mrs Powell’s for a rousing tea. The return journey was a nightmare, the main road being frozen like glass, so that the slightest pothole or turn of the wheel produced a nasty skid. Near Handforth a motor bus had skidded across the road and blocked the traffic. Progress was dead slow, for we dared not use any brake except the ‘fixed’, and we had to walk down School’s Hill near Cheadle. After a chat at Kingsway End, Tom left us and from there the road had been thawed with salt and was only slushy. Stretford, Barton Bridge, then another slippery road – and home at 9pm.
A day ‘pinched’ has seemed all the sweeter for the taking, and shows what I have missed all these five long Sundays. My eye, so far from being worse for the cold, still improves, and the ‘spell’ being broken, I am free again to ride. 82 miles