Crooked spire to Humber Bridge – Mike Firth – 2013
PREPARING for my first long-distance cycle ride, I found myself packing a few essentials (water, sweets, camera and maps), but mostly my bag was filled with items I rather hoped I wouldn’t require (pump, first aid kit, waterproofs, puncture repair patches and enough spanners to strip down a car, never mind a bike).
Less than ten minutes into my ride from Chesterfield to Hull, I had already used both the pump and first aid kit. An elderly angler at Tapton asked me to help him inflate the three flat tyres on his trolley and, in carrying out this good deed, I somehow gashed the back of my ankle and needed a plaster.
It wasn’t the most auspicious of starts. I hadn’t even made it to my intended departure point as roadworks prevented me leaving from outside the Crooked Spire. Instead, I had waved an early-morning farewell to my back-up team – wife Helen and daughter Olivia – from the town’s Holywell Cross car park.
This three-day adventure was all down to Olivia. Having learned to ride a bike herself a couple of years ago, we had enjoyed many runs together along the local leg of the Trans-Pennine Trail. I’d often wondered about the possibility of exploring it further, so when Olivia suggested I should do it to raise money for the Sport Relief cause, I studied the route maps.
The Trans-Pennine Trail crosses the country from Southport to Hornsea, with links to York and Leeds in the north and Chesterfield in the south. I reckoned the stretch from the Crooked Spire to the Humber Bridge would, at around 100 miles, be a big enough challenge, with overnight stops in Barnsley and Selby.
Being familiar with the route’s first ten miles-or-so, I made good time along the fabulous Chesterfield Canal towpath through Brimington to Staveley Basin, then on the former railway route to Renishaw, Killamarsh and past Rother Valley Country Park. Next, my route took me through Beighton, the Shirebrook Valley and on to Handsworth, all of which I had ridden before.
Over a bridge crossing Sheffield Parkway, I was now pedalling in new territory… and within five minutes I was ‘lost’. The blue ‘TPT’ direction signs which had been so easy to spot, suddenly ran out and I found myself in the middle of dark woodland near Darnall. As if by magic, two police support officers appeared on the scene in their fluorescent uniforms.
“Have you noticed anyone in the woods looking distressed?” asked one of the PCSOs.
“No, sorry. Have you seen any signs for the Trans-Pennine Trail?”
We hadn’t been much use to each other, but five minutes later I was back on track, heading through Sheffield’s east end, passing the Arena, riding along a stretch of the Five Weirs Walk and then feeling very strange indeed arriving at Meadowhall on two wheels.
Here I spotted a bizarre sign indicating distances to all manner of places and then stopped for a cuppa in a great little cafe before heading northwards on a section of the trail which ran parallel with the M1. This was really easy-going and a surprisingly beautiful stretch of the ride, but lying in wait was a particularly steep incline into Thorpe Hesley. About 20 years ago, I remember enjoying a delightful meal in a pub in this village and I’d bargained on returning there for lunch.
“Sorry, we’ve not done lunches here for about 20 years,” I was told, but then fortunately spotted The Masons Arms where I tucked into a hearty pasta dish. Replete, I was soon back on the road and the steep decline of the route out of the village saw my speedometer indicate I was doing an incredible 24.5mph!
This was Jubilee Weekend and many villagers had really made an effort to trim up their homes in red, white and blue. Wentworth, reached after another steepish climb, looked a real picture and so did Elsecar.
The end of day one was approaching and the final stretch along Silkstone Common to Stairfoot at Barnsley was particularly attractive with lots of birdlife and rabbits. Thirty-eight miles done, but it was already clear that I had underestimated the route’s total distance.
The weather had been quite kind to me, in fact I suppose it had been just about perfect for cycling. This continued on day two as I pedalled through the Dearne Valley where much of the land has been reclaimed from former colliery workings. Past a huge nature reserve, I met up for breakfast with my support crew in Harlington… but not before briefly losing my way and making an unnecessary climb up the hill to the village of Barnburgh.
The sun came out and the Trail was at its most beautiful as I pedalled through woodland to the River Don at Sprotborough, passing close to Conisbrough where I discovered the castle isn’t the village’s only impressive building; it also boasts a remarkable railway viaduct.
In Bentley, I had to wait an age at the level crossing for two trains to pass by, then it was on through Braithwaite to join the New Junction Canal towpath and then into Sykehouse which I discovered was “Yorkshire’s longest village”.
Calling in a pub for a rest as much as a drink, the landlord was amazed to hear I had cycled 82 miles from Chesterfield: “I would be tired after driving that far in my car,” he told me.
The stretch between Snaith and Carlton took me past one field of donkeys and another full of cricketers, then the run towards Selby should have been straightforward. However, after missing a signpost hidden behind undergrowth, I found myself riding an unnecessary two-mile circuit of Burn Airfield – the last thing I needed towards the end of a 55-mile day.
Day three brought continuous rain, together with a strong head-on breeze. I was soaked through before I had left Selby behind. Fortunately, much of the final day’s riding was on lanes through tiny villages, plus Howden where I enjoyed a hearty breakfast as I attempted to dry out some of my clothing.
Now with the Humber for company, it was easy going for most of the way, but the noise of traffic on the A63 came as a real shock to the system after the peace and quiet of the country lanes.
At last, I made it beneath the Humber Bridge, having spent exactly 130 miles in the saddle and with more than £300 raised for Sport Relief. Thanks to everyone who contributed.
Written by Mike Firth
Pat and Bryan’s story has helped our Partners right across the Trans Pennine Trail network to see how changes can make the route more accessible. Take a look at what they've helped to accomplish.