I’ve ridden the Trans Pennine Trail out to Southport a few times but never headed in the other direction. It gets a bit lumpier out to the east and I’m sure I’ll go all the way to the North Sea at some point but nothing’s planned. I’ve had an urge to try rough camping, mostly inspired by the escapades of the awesome Jason Miles and I received a bivvy bag as a birthday present last weekend. There’s not much too it other than a waterproof body-bag shaped piece of material with a drawstring, so on Friday I set off with this and a few other provisions in my back pack towards the hills.
I deliberately didn’t take lights because I didn’t want to bottle out and make up a plan B at any point, though it was probably more fool-hardy to forget a spare inner tube and pump. I remembered this as I approached Stockport but wasn’t going to turn back at that point.
I’d fueled up on burger and cake at the school fair before departing Prestwich just before 7pm. I hoped to be at Stockport before 8pm where I’d pick up the trail for 2 hours of riding before finding somewhere to stop until daybreak. However, I got distracted from even this sketchiest of plans as I was riding through the Northern Quarter. I met the monthly Manchester Critical Mass riding in the opposite direction along Newton St and after a little moment of hesitation thought ah what the heck I’ll cruise around with these guys for a bit so took a 180 and joined the merry throng. I hadn’t ever ridden with the Critical Mass before and with the sun shining and Blue Monday blaring out from a sound-system on a bike trailer I was easily snared by their charm. I had a chat with local cycle enthusiast Nick who was buzzing with the week’s Beelines announcement coupled with Manchester hosting a national cycle convention earlier that day. The party on wheels drifted towards its finish point in Angel Meadows when I came back to my senses and headed across town for the 3rd time to pick up the A6 out to Stockport.
I was 20 minutes behind schedule and finding that high speed on a mountain bike is hard work. Sustaining any speed approaching 20 mph on the flat is tough and I also realised I had 20km of the day’s commuting in my legs as well. The TPT is very well sign posted I only overshot one sign and wasn’t often looking at my rough photocopied version of the map on the TPT website.
Progress was slow through Reddish Vale because of lots of access control points which I’m sure are quite necessary. Once through the vale there were a mixture of trails by the side of the river Tame, farm tracks and short sections of road. As I approached Hattersley I realised I was out of liquids. I’d been pushing on hard when I could in order to make up time but in the warm evening I’d quaffed everything I had. It was past 9:30 and didn’t know how quickly I could ride the rest of the route to take me to the Longdendale trail my target stopping point. I had a quick pitshop at a Tesco Extra to guzzle a bottle of full sugar Coke to give me a kick and I bought another couple of bottles of Lucozade for the rest of the journey.
Fortunately the terrain got smoother although there were some ups and downs which I was now happy to attack with renewed vigour. There was still light in the sky after 10pm which was just as well as I was still riding on the roads. Around 10:20 I was absolutely delighted to finally see the Palatine pub in Hadfield as I knew this was just around the corner from the Longdendale trail which the Tour of Tameside had introduced me to a couple of weeks ago. I stopped for a well earned pint of Guinness in there and people at the bar noticing I was a little hot and bothered encouraged me to have a pint of water too. I downed it in one and then savoured the Guinness whilst updating the rest of my family as to where exactly I was. With hindsight a 2nd Guinness with a whiskey chaser might have been a better plan to help me fall asleep but I’ll know that for next time!
Just over a mile along the Longdendale trail I started to look for somewhere to sleep. I found a tunnel under the former railway line and this offered a lovely view across a reservoirs to see hills on the edge of the Pennines. There were still some pastel like smudges of colour in the sky and against this backdrop you could see the smoke from the burning peat on Saddleworth moor. The tunnel was bone dry and had a slope which I though might be useful to keep my head above my feet.
I could hear voices of youths in the distance, probably a mile away down by the reservoir but other than this it was perfectly quiet. I got the bivvy bag out and used my trainers to rub any stones away from the ground onto which I was to lie it. I used the day’s sweat soaked t shirt to form a pillow in a Tesco bag and stuffed this into the hood of my hoodie which I pulled over my head to keep warm and bug free. The shirt molded itself into the back of my neck and then I rested my head on my backpack which didn’t have much in it to provide extra elevation other than a pack of baby wipes. I watched a couple of bats fluttering around, flitting in and out of the tunnel and then closed my eyes happy that I’d found a lovely sheltered spot with a bit of a view.
I lay there perfect still on my back for 20 minutes convincing myself I was comfortable (well I wasn’t uncomfortable) and warm (well I wasn’t cold) and not bothered by any creepy noises (the wind was picking up though). I shifted onto my side and tried again for another 20 minutes but still couldn’t settle. I either needed a bit of cushioning or more alcohol inside me to send me to sleep.
I think I slept for about 10 minutes up until 3am when I realised I wasn’t going to get a good chunk of sleep. I felt rested and was anxious to move off but knew that I needed some light in the sky particularly for when I would next ride on road.
The plan was to carry on east until I reached Woodhead and then return west along the Woodhead pass and back towards Ashton. I was a bit bored now and passed the time eating my remaining supply of Double Deckers and clock watching until 3:30am finally arrived.
I set off with legs and bum not feeling too sore at a steady trundle rather the anxious galloping of the previous evenings. I counted 95 rabbits before reaching Woodhead by which time at 4:10 there was enough light for me to feel safe riding on the road. The first 5 miles on road were gently downhill and my mountain bike tyres purred along the road. It then dawned on me that I had taken the wrong bike, my hybrid would have required 20% less energy to ride, no climbing had required any super low gear and with even just a single pannier on it I would have had more capacity for extra layers of clothing or a blanket to cushion my sleeping.
I headed back through Stalybridge particularly enjoying freewheeling down Mossley Old Road that I had run up a couple of weeks earlier as part of the Tour of Tameside. The smoke from the fires raging on Saddleworth moor was thick in the air of Stalybridge and almost as strong in Ashton. I found a 24 hour McDonald’s which was very welcome just after 5am and then after that there was just over an hour’s ride back to Prestwich and a comfortable bed for a couple of hours before a 2nd breakfast of the day.
I’d try sleeping out in the bivvy bag again but probably not this year. I might try sleeping out in my back garden to work out what cushioning I need in the bag but it’s only ever going to be a mid-summer thing when the nights are super short.