Welcome to the Trans Pennine Trail
A national coast to coast route for recreation and transport – for walkers, cyclists and (in parts) horse riders
TPT 2021 For Papyrus
I have been a bit obsessed with the Trans Pennine Trail for a while now. Ever since I completed an ‘end-to-end’ in 2009. Looking back on it I was under prepared and things didn’t run to plan from things like, not having much of a clue when it comes to nutrition or being so sleep deprived and exhausted that I got lost using the old paper maps and not recognising where I was up to!
I attempted it in 2018 but that was a low point for me. I wasn’t fit enough and again I didn’t plan enough and I had overly focused on nutrition to the point where I was fixated on using gels and isotonic powders instead of normal food. The first section went well, but I was dehydrating quickly in the midday sun as my camelbak clogged by the isotonic powder that didn’t mix with the water. The section between Didsbury and Stockport saw me break my bike – by snapping the rear derailleur and it swinging into the back wheel and taking out a few spokes . I swapped to my reserve bike…… and I broke that part way up the infamous Green Lane moon crater section. Being honest I don’t think I would have completed the trail even if I hadn’t broken the bikes. That feeling of missing out festered with me until last year when I got some devastating news. During Lockdown a friend of mine at work lost his son to Suicide. At that moment I wanted so desperately to help him and his family. I want to say or do something, anything to help them. But what can you say to them? I couldn’t find the words even to discuss it with them, I didn’t want to make things worse or inadvertently open up fresh pain. The only way I thought I could make a contribution would be to help prevent others from going through what I saw my friends’ family dealing with. That is why I chose to ride the TPT for PAPYRUS.
PAPYRUS work to prevent young suicide with their hopeline for anyone whether need to talk themselves or are worried about a friend or family member.
Hopeline UK 0800 068 41 41
Using everything I learnt from my two past attempts and doing a lot of training rides during lockdown of different sections and using one bike with enough spares to rebuild well practically everything short of the frame, fork and handlebars (on the assumption that if I broke those, I’d have done something serious enough not to be getting back on a bike – if you catch my drift!). I felt a lot more prepared and confident.
I set off on the 9th of July at 12:05 and the first leg from Southport to Warrington went by easily. I had planned a timetable of when I was going to meet my Brother who was my support crew, at key points and the first point of call was the Morrison on Wilderspool Causeway in Warrington. I was practically spot on schedule, just 5 minutes early. A quick change to Halo Twin Rail tyres (another known quantity from my 2009 ride) and I was off to the second section. Again, the route was clear, and the navigation seemed easy. My obsession over the TPT and countless test runs mean that I’ve almost committed the route to memory and I was barely looking at my GPS as I rode, apart from when I just wanted to double check the odd minor detail or junction choice. Although the diversion is still in place I took the original TPT route into and through Stockport to my 2nd stop.
The way I’d split the route up, the third section from Stockport to Dunsford bridge is a Biggie. Practically all the climbing and to make things better, the weather was closing in and this was where 2018 had ended, there was a mental load on me too. Again the Diversion between Tiviot way and Reddish Vale didn’t seem to be there so I continued on the standard route, Managing to get through the rough brick torture as you leave Reddish, the awkward slow twisting and turning climb of Haughton Dale and up on to the infamous Green Lane Moon craters…. not easily but I was now passing where I failed before. The elation as I got to Chain Bar lane was immense! And it practically carried me through Broadbottom and most of the way up to Charlesworth. I will admit that for the sake of not bursting a lung I did walk part of the Charlesworth climb. That’s when things started to hurt. The elation was being matched by a realisation that I had over 130km under my belt and I still had the long drawn out slog from Hadfield to Woodhead….. And that’s when the rain came!
I was expecting some rain on this third section, probably when I got the ‘THE WALL’ the infamous climb up the side of the wood head pass and across the exposed felland cris-crossing the A628 as you go. I was also mentally prepared for the daylight to fade a bit, but not quite like this! About three km from the wall, the rain got steadily heavier and by the time I reached the first road crossing I was already wet and trying to clamber up the side of the hill in cycling shoes, using my cleats like cramp-ons, it was getting seriously dark. Not just setting sun dark, I mean big-ominous-dark-cloud-blocking-out-the-sun type dark and that was paired with the wind picking up and I decided it was finally time to put on my wet proof top. It’s funny how one layer can change your mood but for a few minutes as I scrabbled along I felt at least 14% more fearless. Bearing careful not to release the random sheep that were now following me to the second road crossing, I met another rider heading the opposite direction. He said the rain had just started, which lifted my spirits further as I figured that meant the other side of the Pennines must be dry. My outlook was also improved knowing I was about one km from the summit and that would be the vast majority of the climbing done.
My brother Standing at the summit filming me in the rain was a very welcome sitght and I knew a big chunk of the work of the ride had been done, but as I looked down the valley there was no dry oasis like I hoped, just more clouds and more rain.
We stopped in Dunford, I took on more food, put on my leg warmers, overshoes and buff to try and keep some of the wet out and heat in. I’ll be honest it worked and as I started my descent I had that lovely cocooned feeling of dry warmth….. For about 10 minutes until I started to get the cold trickle from the odd seam here and there. The rain was now incredibly heavy, mixed with low cloud hanging between the trees on the former railway line I was on, I was struggling to see as the last bits of natural light disappeared. I couldn’t wear my clear cycling glasses as they were steaming up and the rain was pelting my eyes if I went much more than walking pace. This made this even trickier as I left one old railway at Oxspring and climbed over to near Silkstone. In the now deep dark My main light was providing a good about of light, but the brown/black of the mud was hard to distinguish as to what was more ‘satin finish’ and a bit slippery or ‘matte finish’ and more grippy. The full ‘Gloss’ mud was to be avoided at all costs as it would make the bike slip and skid under me. I knew there wasn’t long before I’d get to the new flexipave section near Dodworth, but each time the bike tried to fight me was another alarm bell and I was even shouting at myself to be careful. Even though there are villages nearby, sods law would guarantee that falling off the bike would mean I’d land on one of, if not both my phones and leave me unable to call for assistance – I’d be just another body found by an early morning jogger (sorry that went a bit dark).
As I rolled into the carpark service stop in Brampton, shivering and barely able to stand off the bike.The plan was to get a couple of hours sleep in the Van but the state I was in wasn’t good. My brother ushered me into a hotel (I think it was a Premier Inn?) whose car park we were actually parked in. I tried to eat, have a shower and get into some dry kit for the next stage. I also tried to get a bit of sleep but my mind was spinning and my shoulder was killing.
A Couple of hours went by I may have dosed for 45-50minutes before the alarm went off. I boiled the kettle for the porridge and quickly threw the rest of my gear on. We rushed out of the hotel to the van and got ready to go again.
The rain had stopped but the ground was still wet, infact bits of the trail had mini floods across them, but it wasn’t until Harlington and what I call ‘The Gallops’, section of Horse racing fence randomly following the line of the path That I started to notice dawn breaking. As I climbed the Coinsbrough corkscrew up and behind Kingswood it was definitely getting lighter and mixed with the fog and tired eyes, shapes of trees and the viaduct loomed out of the gloom like some creepy horror movie.
I completely forgot that there was supposed to be a diversion at Sprotbrough as there weren’t any signs and it wasn’t until I came across the fallen tree that I remembered. That was a fun moment as I decided to shuffle under the trunk and continue on to Bentley. By now I was 16 or so hours into the ride and my hands were aching from the rougher sections and just the position of being on a road bike and the new section of the tarmac and more flexipave at Bently was joyous! Although the continual attack of spiderwebs was exactly the opposite.
Arriving at Braithwaite I felt more Awake and motivated. I’d later find out that I had picked up an inch long thorn in my front tyre and that I’d had a slow puncture. Luckily I swapped back to road tyres for the remainder of the ride so I never had to change the tube, I only found that puncture when I’ve been looking over the bike after the event! The Quiet canal side blended into the quaint villages between fields, even the normally loud and busy A645 seemed eerily silent at this time of the morning. I was truly woken up by the jarring divots of Burn Airfield though, which had me wide eyed and ready for a rest stop at Selby. I’d actually made faster progress than expected as a lot of the distance had been on the roads, and My brother hadn’t got to the Service stop by the time I arrived. When he did, a couple of minutes later, he handed me a large McDonalds Coffee and everything seemed right again.
The next section of the trail is one of the ones I’m not that keen on, only for one tiny maybe half mile bit near Barnby on Marsh where you need to pass through a farmers field. Sometimes it has sheep in it, on a training ride it had bulls in it, this time it was Sheep and Geese. The Geese decided they didn’t like to be destrubed (I went nowhere near them!) and the decided to chase me!
Once past Kilpin the rain came again and it was time to struggle into my wet, wet proofs just before my second to last stop in Blacktoft. Again I was shivering. But not because I felt cold. I was utterly drained. I was struggling to keep pedaling for more than about 30 seconds at a time as my left knee was in agony. It was a case of just pedal-coast-pedal-coast even with the looming prospect of the final set of hills from Ellerker to Welton up ahead
At this point I knew I was close to the end and I was determined to complete the ride. I was trying my best to focus on remembering each next turn. Not because I needed to for directions , the GPS I was using was working faultlessly, more as a distraction from the pain. I counted off each of the remaining hills one by one. Even on fresh legs the Hill from Elloughton to Welton is a struggle for me in anything other than the lowest of my gears. But I was determined not to walk, it was one of the last acts of defiance I had left in me and it made getting over it even sweeter.
My final stop was near Hessle Train station and stood beside the road we had a number of people ask us what we were doing and when we’d started, along with the expected “well notlong left!” Granted that was true, I only had about 20miles left, but I was again very shaky on my feet, I’d been eating on schedule and I had too much fluid onboard if I’m honest. I was having to do nature wees quite often (Sorry) as I didn’t seem to be sweating as the overcast mist that had rolled off the North Sea was keeping the temperature down.
The final leg was fun. My watch gives me beeps every 5km and I’d started measuring sections in beeps per section. This final one was a 6-beeper. Being the section I got lost in during my 2009 ride I’d done two training rides here and I was intently focused on my GPS unit. In no time at all I was through Hull town centre. And on to the old Hornsea rail line. I was still having to pedal-coast my way along. Politely ringing my bell as I caught up to others completing their TPT adventure. I didn’t want to rush past them, I couldn’t! I was way too tired and had only caught them slowly. I just waited for the path to widen and I was ushered through – even to cheers of well done from some groups – something I gladly said back as everyone on the trail deserves support!
I know the Hornsea end of the trail pretty well as it hasn’t changed in the 12years. And there are two little bridges that look quite similar yet sit a few km apart on the run in. I’ll be honest when I got to the second one, I wasn’t sure if it was the second one as I was that tired and confused. But the second bridge is just before the path opens up on to the promenade and you get to see the Marker and as the path widened in front of me the realisation hit me
I was literally delirious and randomly blurted out a laugh as I rolled to a stop (much to the confusion of the people on the seafront). Just after 1pm on saturday the 10th of July. Through torrential downpours, wind, midgy attacks, super slippery mud, high humidity, cold , the dark and everything that seemed to have been thrown at me I’d done it! Unlike any other event I’d done, I’d never once thought of finding an excuse to stop or just giving up. At no point did I think ‘I can’t do this’. I knew I couldn’t stop and that was because of why I was doing this.
I really hope that my efforts and the money I raise help prevent anyone having to go through the dark moments surrounding suicide.
By Rob Chalmers