Following a tour around the Restrap factory in Leeds, Michael Drummond discovered perfect hidden Gravel tracks and Byways on his way south through the heart of England to the South Coast.
As trips go this was to be a simple overnighter, with a brief flurry of factory investigations, then we (myself and Katherine Moore, south west cycling legend and bikepacking route plotting jedi) and the Restrap posse were to venture north towards the start of the Dales for a hammocking good time.
Logistically simple, however with all new fangled tech and plans in general not always going as intended, problems started to appear. Hairline fractures in the silky smooth concrete plans that had been proving like delicious delicious dough….
The removal of trains… Yes trains from the train lines would see my return journey thwarted, but this wasn’t a total disaster as being somewhat new and eager to endurance cycling, my ego combined with twitchy legs and big Ol eyes I already plotted a route south after… Not home… Just south..
The next curveball came in the shape of bike storage on trains… I still find this conundrum most infuriating and rather ridonkulous; 350 or more passengers on a train. But only 4 bikes permitted.
But luckily I made my bike reservation, and things were looking up ya know.
I acquired my Pret brekkie/brunch for the train journey; to fuel the furious thumbs that are typing this very text.
Wow… wow.. I know right.
You’re here with me aren’t you?
The secure bike storage now on LNER are upright cubicles much like an ‘affordable’ one bed in the capital of our once shining nation, a glorified walk in wardrobe.
Alas the wheel hooks for hanging bikes aren’t all that accommodating for anything too aero. So anything above a standard Dominos Deep Dish is a sure fire no.
But a quick bodge, a less than adequate lock and I walk away, hoping to see the Hot Pink Party Bus on reaching my destination; These concerns I firmly put to the back of my mind as I sit with my snacks and write this.
and Now I need the loo.
“We will shortly be arriving at Grantham.”
Fast Forward 80 mins Leeds city meets the train effortlessly, cushioning its arrival like a badminton net and an oblivious running child.
Swiftly navigating the horde of disembarking bipedal earthlings, the threshold is crossed unto the city itself and i turn the pedals over to join the cycle lane which sees me comfortably peel away west of the city only for about 5 minutes to arrive at Restraps new digs, HQ, base of operations, command post, mission control..
Next up, human hellos, genuine interaction with body language and the like without mute buttons or any of those green screen backgrounds we’ve come so accustomed to.
I’ve been on the phone for chats, shared talks on the lines and exchanged emails with Katherine for a year yet had not met for realsies and what better time than a visit to new lands for both of us to do so.
Cautious Hugs were made and we; along with Jon, head of marketing at Restrap snuck in an icebreaker pint at the very well situated Kirkstall brewery, just 12 frame bags and a roll of bar tape from the new Restrap HQ.
The next few hours would see us walk through the incredible new facility which houses all manner of machinery and talented staff that come together to produce each and every item by hand all with the attention to detail that has seen Restrap grow into one of the mainstay brands in the bikepacking industry it is today.
Having ticked off the lines of enquiry around products, sales, provenance and saddlebags it was time to saddle up and make moves out of the city.
But first another Beer.
We tactically ingested some very local, rather tasty refreshments while waiting out the flurry of rain… (see; tactically) we saddled up (once more), making moves north, zagging and weaving through ginnals, alleys and trails lined with dry stone walls.
The summer light misleading the minds eye, feeling much later than it was, but destined to enjoy 6 more hours of the days glow before night would clock in to work its fiendish magic in shadow play and more.
And now for something inspiring and refreshing…
I will here introduce a new literary feature in the form of a “Waynes World alternate future fade”
Wibble, wobble, some excellent mid 90’s fades and you can click here to read more about our excellent Restrap Factory visit and the ruddy marvelous hammocking good time written by Katherine.
Or if you have already taken time to dive into her excellent piece, read on to jump forward in time with me a full 24 hours into the future and my journey south.
South. Like South South.
The events which are to unfurl in the following paragraphs of gratuitous metaphors, lengthy anecdotes and often misplaced adjectives are the result of inquisitive route planning thumbs and greedy legs, and will perhaps be more a cathartic release for me and my often jumbled thought train, not dissimilar to the box of christmas lights ready to be draped over another tree.
See, i’m already shoe-horning all sorts in.
The road ahead was sure to be long, somewhat difficult and oh so very dusty; having tried to encompass as much gravel in the north – south direction as possible along with a concerted effort to include large sections of well worn national cycle routes.
This fine mix of surface, known routes and pleasant detours all married together were to ensure I would be taking on some rather magnificent regions of our wonderful and verdant island.
So after a shower for both me and the bike at Restrap HQ I about face from the black gates of the factory wave goodbye to the Kirkstall brewery and commence operation sunburn.
Starting things out with the textbook traffic lights and cyclepaths under the order of red, green and amber, the evolution from city sprawl to hedgerows tall was swift.
My intention was to leave these artefacts of the bustle and metropolis behind, linking up quiet lanes and parts of the national cycle network to ensure my tyres crunched over gravel, whizzed over tarmac and skipped over rocks.
Bridleways, tow paths, singletrack and Byway, half chosen and half relying on the Komoot app and its routing wisdom, all in all plotting it was effortless only required a handful of click and drags to allow me to better see the variety of landscape and waytype i set out to discover.
Last minute changes to the first few hundred kilometres came from curious minds with local knowledge, one such mind being Jon Hickens of Restrap. Unfortunately for my legs and snack reserves his local knowledge came in the shape of knowing the proper climbs that would rise high out of the valleys within the northern fringes of the Peak District.
Long; yes, steep; rather, worth it; id say so!
Now, while the peaks of Derbyshire and the roads south out of this beautiful region are part of cycling lore, to me the latter half of the trip was where my focus lay.
Part of a grander mission to trace sections of the Wessex Ridgeway and get an idea of how difficult this section a sprawling route that finishes with the peddars way, the other end to the 400 mile long greater ridgeway.
A combination of four long established routes that span from Holme-next-the-sea at the far north of Norfolk’s coast, right the way down to Lyme Regis, in essence connecting the North Sea to the English Channel through The Peddars Way, The Icknield Way, The Ridgeway and Wessex Ridgeway, check out the Komoot collection here assembled by Katherine Moore.
Pictures at Pace?
Here in the UK there are all sorts of landscapes to uncover, moving through them at whatever pace you might choose. Having set myself a deadline though the journey was to be a little faster than a tour, but not quite race pace. So while documenting a journey and travelling at pace don’t exactly go hand in hand, I had to formulate at least some sort of plan for the pictures I was going to make.
Of course though things don’t always go to plan, and that’s the exciting bit, the bit that leads you astray, to discover and adapt. To be stopped in your tracks by something so simple and so striking that nothing else matters.
Sure enough I was to meet people en route, and better yet people on bikes!
People taking on their own journeys, tents in bags, snacks in pockets and smiles in abundance.
I met many and talked to all, and we shared our tales, shared our appreciation for the simple pleasures of rolling through the verdant landscape and the machines that were allowing us to do so.
Yet I did not raise my camera to these faces, and kept my lens tucked away for the places.
Leaving my focus on them and with their stories of which I will keep with me, knowing they might even do the same with mine.
The observations in between these encounters were the simple pleasures of place, like witnessing the majesty of Yorkshire and climbs like Holme moss that lead you into the Peak district. Routes that hold a different energy entirely to the dusty and vast rolling terrain of Wiltshire, while the tow paths of Warwickshire lead you like an arrow south past Birmingham, free miles along pancake flat terrain offering hints to industry of times gone by.
Making time to patiently watch on, as Herons patiently watch their lunch dart underneath the shimmering water, or pausing to study the wild flowers that thrive on the banks of shadowy lanes that climb up through hills in the Cotswolds.
Time on the bike enables the mind to witness things, things like the change in stones used to build quaint cottages in the hamlets cars would perhaps just bypass, hamlets that become villages, villages that become towns, towns that eventually ebb once more into smaller pockets of farm buildings and then to almost nothing until all that lay ahead are worn grassy lanes faintly recognisable through wild meadows brimming with colour and life.
Thats the gift gravel, all road, all terrain riding; or however you coin it offers.
Vistas that would go unnoticed and escape the gaze if only roads were utilised.
From time to time it takes me a while on rides to often realise that i’m guilty of rushing, stopping to take in, breathe in and enjoy the simple nuances that so often will go unnoticed.
Then I realise there is no guilt, its all just there for the taking, thats the magic and flexibility of the journey by bike and the joys that are stumbled on are extra nuggets that construct the whole experience.
Slowing down to overlook a reservoir in the Peak district listening to the sounds of mystery birds deep in the woodland, or taking in a sunrise through the spokes of your bike while silhouettes of livestock across the valley amble and stir in the morning light.
Enjoying the wind rushing past your bike and ears as the worlds screeches by as the sea level becomes closer and closer while winding down a valley side, holding on, feeling alive.
Its a balance.
The Stages –
Leeds – Buxton
Mellow gradients and gentle hints of undulation were short lived on leaving Leeds, residential streets took sharp angles towards the sky and one such stretch I sat down happily spinning my way up while my ears strained to make sense of grinding and creaking noise, my eyes darted from cranks to wheel only to catch a rider in my periphery steam past weating Reebok classics and gym kit, his calves alive with local miles.The bike creaking and twisting as he raced ahead swirving into a rabbit warren of terraces.
Each crested hill revealed another sloping descent to be swiftly followed by another climb, the last major one would be Holme Moss, the descent down though was spectacular, forested hills, arm pump and settling down to a road that forked around a reservoir. Veering left onto the Longdendale trail and the Pennine Cycleway was a welcome rest, crispy flat gravel married with th sun flitting through the leaves reflecting off the reservoir down below was a magical way to transition west out of the Peak District.
The exit was brief as I clung to the number 68 cycle route, an excellent meander with stunning views. The last few miles of the day took me back into the hills in search of a place to bed down for the night. Bed would not come before wading through knee deep fords and hike-a-bike down slabs of slate and sharp rocky sheep track all to satisfy my off road tendencies. Planned, plotted and as luck would have it perfectly timed to perch me up high for a restful sleep that would see me start the next day feeling fresh.
Buxton – Coln St Aldwyn
A clear morning set the tone for the days to come, blue skies and no cover ensuring the beating pulse of the suns heat was inescapable as my ride south continued. I scurried down one side of the valley only to clamber back up and out the other side, a tough start which tee’d me up nicely to drop all the way through to Buxton, stopping off for some free fountain water fill ups and architectural appreciation. On rejoining the Pennine Cycleway i got a chance to finally ride the Tissington Trail and High Peak trail, tracks i’ve driven over and only seen through car windows on previous trips up to the region.
Darting pasty Derby and inching down through Warwickshire the canals and towpaths were excellent for making up time between the frequent ice cream and drink stops, quaint bridges, intricate locks for river navigation and beautiful homes on the water all adding to the journey.
Joining momentarily routes 41 and number 5 the section following on from Stratford Upon Avon was stunning. The heart of the Cotswolds, almost a second home for me, winding country lanes an excellent second choice where no off road options were available.
The day closing out in a sleepy village with a friendly face, the next day to come was to be the most exciting.
Coln St Aldwyn – Cranborne Chase
A lush introduction to Wiltshire and my first taste of the Wessex Ridgeway, joining the route in the tourist dense Avebury, home to the famous stone circles and Stonehenge.
Taking a brief pause not so much for the stone sites but to witness the draw of eager tourists. I perched in the shade to inhale two ice creams and then lathered on a few coats of sunscreen in preparation to really dive in and uncover what the trail was all about.
Words genuinely can’t describe the scale and dreamy nature of what it was like to steam along mixed use Byways of fine dusty gravel, these perfect wide open trails surrounded by vast landscapes abound with a whole spectrum of greens and yellows.
For a brief moment high up on the Salisbury plain where the King Alfreds easy intertwines with the route it’s easy to think you are elsewhere in the world, with no sign of civilization it took me by complete surprise.
Continuing to hug the perimeter of the Imber military firing range until Cranborne Chase and the Wiltshire Downs where things got extra lush, diverse forests and muddy trails further enhance the sensation of being elsewhere, but happily reminding myself that this is all part of home, a true gem of the South West.
Home for the night would be a patch of grass and a guaranteed view for the morning.
Melbury Downs – Lyme Regis
Rather than dealing with a tough climb to start things off, the mornings first 3 miles were down down down, a rough choppy and bone shaking descent leading me straight through the county border into Dorset where things got lumpy. Weaving through rooty woodlands, and muddy strips of forest where the sun seems to never reach.
Ive had many moments enduring Dorsets hills and this was no different, apart from greater percentage of mud, grass and gradient. Hike-a-bike aside the landscapes were sublime and the Dorset AONB is genuinely outstanding.
More grassy meadows and fast descents down into green valleys peppered with wildflowers were moments ill never forget, memories also accompanied by the somewhat ironic experience of being herded by cows. My 60th Mile was spent escaping what felt like imminent attack, followed by a full 60 minutes of trying to navigate the farmers land in order to rejoin the route while avoiding the bovine threat.
Some bikeless scouting and brief walk i found my escape and continued on road to finish my journey, rolling into Lyme Regis after one more climb, of course.. Its Dorset after all.
Arriving to the beach, removing my shoes and swiftly donning swimming attire i soothed my sun charred skin and soaked in all the memories of those id met along the way.
That certainly a loaded question and while on a grander scale I would care not to answer that on a public platform, when responding to it in reference to this ride, i think it was to set out to do something and accomplish that. Invest i a little bit in backing up my claims and achieving goals i set myself.
I managed to see so many beautiful landscapes while on my way south, ate alot of ice cream, did some sightseeing, had a giggle to myself while pushing my bike up stupidly steep rubble tracks, appreciated the wonderful kindness of strangers, spent more time laughing at myself for finding yet another ridiculous ascent and finally meeting my match in a herd of very unruly and aggressive cows not more than 7km from end point.
It didn’t end how I planned, but how i got there is what matters, and the images I took are the reminders to myself of the places reached through the partnership between my bike, and thats my adventure.
It wasn’t perfect, it wasn’t easy, but what it was, was fun, eye-opening and a reminder of why taking a few days or even just one to see whats out there can be rewarding.
Beyond sharing my journey I would love to hear any stories in the comments below of anyone else who jumps on any segments of it, wether thats the Wessex ridgeway or plans their own point to point ride, ironically with out much of a plan.
Last modified: 6th August 2021