By Eddy Smyth
We set off an hour earlier than planned. Waking up to clear blue skies and the temperature being a few degrees warmer than usual does that to you. My Bother in law, Gareth taking his sparkling new Suzuki GSX 1250FA on its first long distance run and me with my much loved Yamaha BT1100 Bulldog. The first hour of the journey was never going to be much fun. Negotiating Wolverhampton with its countless speed traps, slow to change traffic lights and ridiculously poor roundabout configurations is only outdone by Staffordshire and the county town’s excesses in every quarter. I always believed that Stafford county’s slogan should read “Welcome to Staffordshire, the speed trap county”. The overzealous use of such road management systems has drivers and riders spending less time concentrating on completing a safe journey along the roads and more time trying to work out the random speed restrictions so as not to fall foul of the police force’s legalised money laundering scam.
If you don’t need to go near these cities to get to the true starting point of this trip then your journey might reach a pleasurable state of mind much quicker than ours did. Once you find the A518 heading for Uttoxeter the purpose of this part of the journey begins to reveal itself. Not far after the hamlet of Amerton on this lovely road is the ruined remains of Chartley castle. It’s on your left, quite impressive to the eye but more impressive for us riders comes just around the next corner or two: The Castlewood Café which is also on the left. We pulled into the parking area where a dozen or so other bikers had already done the same. Within seconds the lovely lady who runs the place came out and took our order for breakfast. Waitress service like that deserves a mention and the egg and bacon baguette was large enough to feed a whole family. Wonderful. She told us they do a lot for bikers, with special gatherings from time to time and it certainly seems a popular place. It’s now on my map for future visits.
Suitably fortified we set off for Uttoxeter, Ashbourne (via the B5030) and then the road gets even better as we hit that awesome trail up to Buxton. This whole section more than makes up for the abomination of the earlier route through the cities. I absolutely love this stretch along the Peak District. I’ll need to get a wider crash helmet or take out some of the lining as my face broadened with a smile that ached from here all the way to our final destination of the day. Stopping at any of the afore-mentioned towns along the way would not be a disappointment as many passing bikers will surely testify. We passed so many two wheeled convoys it was impossible to keep track. 40 miles of pure biking perfection.
Glossop, via Chapel-en-Le Frith gets a bit tricky as the habitation builds up but the surrounding hills beyond the dwellings keep you happy that you are not quite back in amongst the claustrophobic suburbs yet. That scenery only brings the mood down once we approached Oldham. My aim was to avoid as much of the built up areas as possible by heading up the eastern flank of Oldham but it did not work, I did not spot the turning I desired. However, we did manage to take a wrong turning heading east which took us right over the hills and down to the Torside Reservoir which might have been a long way for a short cut but this little road (B6105) is stupendous.
On a clear day, which we were still enjoying, the views are fabulous and as we snaked down to the water’s edge it was fun all the way.
We had to turn left onto the A628 or we would have been heading to Barnsley and way off our intended target. Sadly the signposts along this busy, twisty road acted like a sheepdog and still rounded us up and into the heart of Oldham. Yeuch, more ridiculously soul destroying traffic systems. A short stint on the A627M got us out of here P.D.Q and only Rochdale now stood between us and over the Lancastrian moors on the A6033 through to Todmorden. We stopped for refreshment on Bottoms Mill Café and shop. Riding through this district never fails to bring to mind the ‘Dark Satanic Mills’ comment as disused factories and blackened stone dwellings remind you of a once labour intensive period. The hills have little beauty to speak of and yet the impression is more than attractive and even magnetic. It’s a much underrated region and since I once lived in the heart of it all I still feel pangs of affection for at regret that I left.
We took the option to reach Skipton via Hebden Bridge and up and over these hills, through tiny, remote villages that makes one wonder where on earth the inhabitants find gainful employment. One long village, as we took a wrong turn somewhere, demanded we keep to 20mph as more speed cameras stood like sentinels along the roadside. The Sat Nav on my bike helped out here and we finally dropped down into the town of Skipton.
Our journey for the day was almost complete and with plenty of time to spare we could stretch our legs, and enjoy a few photo opportunities, particularly with the remnants of the recent welcome bunting and road surface graffiti that welcomed the Tour de France riders last summer still on show. There were even a few yellow painted bicycles still nailed to walls or suspended over arches. This is a nice town and the place sports a few very inviting and cosy pubs.
We were not ready for such indulgences just yet. The final stint was a 12 mile gentle roll along the A65 to Long Preston where the landlord of the Boars Head Hotel and public house was expecting us. Our hidey hole for the night.
It’s a great place, popular with bikers and the reason we chose to stay the night here. Derek, our host made us most welcome. He even introduced us to a couple of locals who advised us on some minor roads we should take to best enjoy the landmarks and riding opportunities as we plan to criss cross the Dales around here tomorrow. The bar food was ideal but if you want to splash out a bit, the restaurant also looks excellent. We met two other bikers during the evening: A couple from Merseyside, he on an Aprilia and her, the owner of a very smart Yamaha R6. Lucky man.