A ‘peek’ amongst the Peaks, and not just about the bike!
Whenever we get the chance, we jump at the opportunity of taking a few days break elsewhere in the country to discover a few hidden gems. This time it was to the edge of the Peak District and, with National Trust membership, we headed for Kedleston Hall, a Robert Adam designed Neo-classical mansion built almost solely for entertaining and
displaying extensive collections of art and memorabilia. Amongst the wealth of things on display, what really caught my attention was this ‘cock-fighting’ reading chair, designed so that the reader sits on it backwards, rests the book on the adjustable table top, and uses the arm rests for comfort. Sensible in the days when books were usually big, hefty volumes, and when drowsiness overcame the reader, they could slump forwards and enjoy a bit of ‘shut-eye’! And they were called ‘cock-fighting’ chairs simply because there were several paintings of the era depicting people sitting on chairs backwards as they watched cock fights. I was tempted to try it for size, but a little notice warned me off.
In sharp contrast to the lavish country mansion was Mr Straw’s House in Worksop, a Victorian semi-detached house left to the Trust by two bachelor brothers who have left almost every aspect of the house untouched since 1923, when it was last decorated. From the coats hanging in the hall to the correspondence piled up on top of the piano, everything has been left as it was when the last brother died 11 years ago. For over 60 years, very little was thrown away by the family, and they eschewed the modern comforts we take for granted today, living so simply that they left a fortune of £1.5 million in their wills. To enter the house is to take a step back in time and history.
A ‘bespoke’ route: Hathersage-Winnats Pass-Tideswell-Monyash-Bakewell-Chatsworth (40 miles)
Though this trip was ‘not just about the bike’ (yes, this man does have other interests!) the bike was still tucked into the back of the car as a ‘just in case’. The chance to visit old stomping grounds was too tempting, and there was one climb in particular that I had to re-visit. Some of my first club riding took place in the Derbyshire hills back in the 1970s, and routes were calculated to take in some of the biggest climbs, like Winnats Pass, Holme Moss and Jenkins Chapel. I’ve always looked on Winnats Pass (20% average gradient), that climbs past Blue John caves, as a kind of thermometer of my hill-climbing ability and evidence of passing years. Would I be able to climb it now? My general level of fitness has been good recently but……………………ah, the ‘anno domini’ is something out of our control. It would also be a test of the bike I was riding, an Airnimal Chameleon, which I had never ridden in the Peak District.
Going along the Hope Valley, past the site of the climbing shop run by the late Joe Tasker (a friend from my school days), I headed up to Castleton, wended my way through the hordes of students on a field trip, and began the monstrous climb that is now the only way out of the valley (the Mam Tor road now being closed). The serious part of the climb starts just after Speedwell Cavern and works its way steeply through the limestone gorge, unremittingly climbing upwards without respite. I can honestly say that if the climb had been a few hundred metres longer, I would not have made it.
But make it to the top, I did, and rewarded myself with a banana to celebrate. If you like cycling in the hills, Derbyshire has a surfeit, most of them moderately inclined, but a select few that will challenge even the best of hill climbers. Unlike road engineers on the continent, British road engineers took a long while in discovering the virtues of ‘switchbacks’ to even out the gradient over hills. It does mean, however, that across the country there are climbs that appear on the ‘iconic list’ for cyclists, and Winnats Pass is one of them.