Last weekend I had the pleasure of a first ever trip to Stalybridge as a group of us from work took in the sights on a Trans-Pennine xBeeeeRL Train run to drown our sorrows at the loss of Stew from our office.
Catriona was taking Maria to see Fame at the Met in Bury so I took Alex out on a train based adventure instead. We met some of my colleagues in the bar on Victoria station and within a hour had boarded a train to take us towards the Pennines. First stop was Stalybridge or Staly Vegas as it is affectionately known, and I had committed us to doing no more than that whilst the others ventured as far as Huddersfield and even the delights of Dewsbury. With the lad in tow and me on the wagon for March we would enjoy the company of the crew for a couple of jars before they moved on. The station at Stalybridge is a truly wonderful place: Its selection of continental beers makes the pastime of trainspotting look a lot less pointless and I vowed to return with my wife (and possibly children too) on a fine summer’s afternoon.
I was pleasantly surprised by Staly Vegas though it did look like the type of small town that could turn manic and dangerous by night. The town centre was dominated by a monster Tesco store in the same way that Asda saps the life out of Radcliffe’s town centre. The block-paved precinct was eerily quiet for a Saturday lunchtime but made a great venue for a bit of pigeon chasing. There was lots of mill town history and interesting architecture if you could see past the fast food outlets, charity shops and assorted drinking establishments.
Me and Junior made our way to the town centre in search of a chicken based food solution. With only Krunchy available rather than Kentucky we chanced the Waterside fish and chip shop by the canal. The chips were so-so but the fish was excellent and as we ate by the canal I thought through the logistics of a return by bike.
I had previously ridden the Ashton Canal out of Manchester as far as the Portland Basin where I had taken the High Peak canal around the south of the city. The basin was only 4kms away and I wondered where the canal might go if I was to follow it up into the hills? The answer was Huddersfield ultimately but at Diggle there was a long tunnel that I wouldn’t be able to cycle through, so that would make a suitable turning point for a circular ride. I measured it at 55km though I hadn’t factored in the effects of terrain and gradients.
This morning I set off for a pre bike ride run with the intention of doing 6k on foot at a good pace. However as I reached the 2k point I thought that if I turned for home at this point I would spare my legs and allow some time to return to Heaton Park for the 9am ParkRun thus doing a run-ride-run in the same manner as the duathlon event I’m training for. On returning to the garage for my first transition I threw a pair of trainers, an extra SIS caffeine gel and a lock into my pannier and off I rode.
I attacked the first 9k making the most of tarmac to take me close to the City of Manchester stadium. Jeff Wynne’s War of the Worlds fired me up and I was averaging over 30kmh until a run of red lights slowed me a little. I picked up the Ashton Canal and made good progress but at a reduced pace with me on high alert for aggressive Canada geese (aren’t they an awful animal?). Around Ashton I was forced on to the road for a couple of kilometres but returned to the canal towpath as soon as I could.
A discarded kebab container on the towpath welcomed me to Staly Vegas and it felt good to be back. Beyond the town I started climbing towards Greenfields before a fence across the towpath forced me onto the roads again. At this point I had been cycling for 27km and almost 90 minutes and I suffered some sort of minor breakdown. It was provoked by trying to use my fingers to find my position on Google Maps. I suddenly realised how cold they were with me wearing just fingerless gloves and they were very reluctant to do what I wanted them to do. I was tempted to put them down the front of my compression tights to heat them up but didn’t want to alarm any dog walkers so I removed my hot headband to form a heated tourniquet around them. They took quite a while to warm and the effect of them reminded me of particularly ‘challenging’ times on seemingly brutal (they weren’t) school cross country runs in the depths of winter when I felt like my fingers might snap off due to frost bite.
War of the worlds wasn’t helping my mental state either; I knew it was all going to turn out just fine and dandy but I was still at the point when Parson Nathaniel was ranting against the world and all appeared bleak.
I whimpered and swore for about 5 minutes before snapping out of it and shouting at myself and it finally dawned on me that I just needed to get moving again. A switch to 5150 and the encouraging noises of Sammy Hagar certainly helped matters and I decided that the turn for home was happening now and Diggle could wait for another day. I then realised that to take a direct route home the only way was up, climbing out of the Tame valley to head towards Oldham. I know the run home from Oldham is mostly down hill and fairly quick but I had a steady 2 or 3k climb until I reached Lees and started to descend for the first time.
The Park Run could also wait for another day as I had a hot date with a cup of tea and a long soak in the bath. I covered 48k in the end and the ride home from Oldham proved that when fuelled up and in the right state of mind I could cruise again at 30kmh even after a couple of hours in the saddle.
Next weekend I’ll do 6k, 38k bike and a 5k Parkrun but the bike riding will be on the roadie and will be as flat as possible.
Some facts about Stalybridge:
- Stalybridge has the public house with the longest name in Britain – The Old Thirteenth Cheshire Astley Volunteer Rifleman Corps Inn – and also the one with the shortest, Q.
- Jossy’s Giant’s, the kids drama about a football team, (written by darts legend Sid Waddell!) was filmed there as too were scenes from The League of Gentlemen.
- Stalybridge is the location of the region’s last remaining tripe shop
- In writing The Condition of The Working Class in England (1844), Friedrich Engels used Stalybridge as an example: “multitudes of courts, back lanes, and remote nooks arise out of [the] confused way of building … Add to this the shocking filth, and the repulsive effect of Stalybridge, in spite of its pretty surroundings, may be readily imagined.”
I think Engels was being unduly harsh. If he were here today he’d eat his words (with a good portion of tripe). I endorse Staly Vegas wholeheartedly and can say without any doubt that it’s even better than Radcliffe.