From my perspective this ride could be termed an accidental journey. It was one I’d only vaguely held in the back of my mind. But when I casually mentioned to cycling buddy James that I wanted to cycle down to see my youngest daughter in Brighton he ‘ran’ with it.
A few days later I got a call to say he’d planned a route and had a couple of hotels in mind where we could stay. “Oh, OK James.” And it went from there. The dates of 4/5th June were agreed – job done.
There was only one material difference in the plan as far as I was concerned and that was that I’d thought I could do it in a day. What I hadn’t realised was it was 259 miles – hmmm, ambitious as I’ve never cycled more than about 130 miles at one stretch. I have been considering/looking into Audaxing for a few months now and am on the point of giving it a go. And having checked the Chesterfield to Brighton distance it would fit a DIY 400km audax perfectly.
On the morning of the 4th I rode up to James’ place near Unstone and we set off from there almost bang on our intended departure time of 8am. The forecast was for rain and although the sky looked like it was going to fulfill its promise the heavy stuff didn’t materialise until after lunch.
Heading south from Chesterfield I soon realised James’ route wouldn’t be sticking to roads – he’d let his route planner use cycle paths as well, which turned out to be something of a bonus for getting through Nottingham. And that’s where we had the first of the rain albeit only a few spots.
During our circumnavigation of Nottingham we were on a quiet leafy lane of a cycle path, James was a few hundred yards ahead and I was savouring the shady coolness. Next, a small Fiat overtook me. Really? This is a cycle path for goodness sake. Not content with fracturing a few of the rules of the highway code, said driver then honked at James, because he was riding in the middle of the path.
I was pleased to note James maintained his position and made the car wait ’til the end of the cycle path, which unfortunately wasn’t very long in coming.
Other than that the passing of Nottingham was pretty uneventful, skirting Beeston, Long Eaton, Ratcliffe-on-Soar and Kegworth before heading vaguely east to Rempstone, then south towards Walton on the Wolds.
By this time I was starting to get hungry. Confession here: I’d intended stocking up with Hike bars from Aldi before the journey, but it just didn’t happen. James was now getting hungry too so the hunt was on for a place to have lunch. But you know how it is – in a strange place the one thing you want to find can’t be found.
We travelled on through Paudy Cross Roads and raised our hopes on arrival at Seagrave. And the only likely looking place was a pub… which didn’t open ’til 6pm. Arrgh! We stopped, took a few photos and moved on.
Finally, on reaching the next village, Thrussington, we stumbled upon a delicatessen-come-cafe complete with wooden floors and a glass vault ceiling, a wonderfully airy experience, where we waited nearly half-an-hour for the best poached eggs on toast I have ever tasted. It was so worth the wait. A large pot of tea accompanied the eggs, which aided the revival process.
Feeling fit to continue we left and as I went to mount the bike I noticed I had a flat. Ah well. There could be worse places to puncture. I wheeled the bike across the road onto the village green and replaced the inner tube in about 10 minutes. A little further down the road, I started to hear a rubbing noise, which very quickly became quite loud. Stopping the bike, I checked the brake blocks weren’t rubbing – nothing. Perplexed, I removed the wheel (and panniers) to discover the problem – a large piece of chewing gum stuck tenaciously to the tyre causing it to rub against the mudguard. It took some removing!
Just as we got on our way again the rain started. A few spots to start with but it very soon turned into a steady downpour, which lasted almost to our accommodation in Woburn. But, of course, once you’re wet you can’t get any wetter, although we could have done with the temperature being a little warmer.
Carrying on, the terrain was getting gradually more lumpy and whilst not on the scale of difficulty compared to our native Peak District, nevertheless it was sapping the strength from our legs as we passed through a series of villages before reaching Market Harborough where the navigation threw a temporary wobbler, sending us around the houses, so to speak. Hiccup over we carried on in a south westerly direction.
Now I was beginning to see place names I recognised, like Desborough, Rothwell and Loddington as they are close to Kettering where I have friends. I nearly suggested a detour for a friendly cuppa, but time was marching on and I was looking forward to dinner.
The 100 mile mark came just west of Wellingborough. We continued to soldier on through the rain. Eventually we passed through Newport Pagnell, not a particularly scenic scenario but for me it signalled we were nearing the end of the journey.
At 8:15pm we rolled into Woburn and found The Long Inn hotel on Bedford Street. On arrival we were told food stopped being served at 8:30pm. I don’t think two guys have ever showered and changed so quickly! My chilli con carne was delicious, although I think anything would have gone down well that night and the house Merlot hit the spot, too. James had fish and chips with a beer and he gave his meal a thumbs up.
After the meal we returned to our room and hit the sack. Around 4am I woke to a yelling James as he experienced a bad attack of cramp. As someone who suffers with cramp quite a lot and has learnt how to deal with it I leapt out of bed grabbed his ankle and pushed his foot back. It did the trick and we both got a couple more hours sleep, thankfully!