The High Peak Trail – by bike from Edale to Whatstandwell in 2004

A propos of this rather excellent Go-Pro timelapse footage of a cycle ride down the High Peak trail, https://youtu.be/mbttC49o5Hg, here is a slightly slower but just as interesting account of a similar journey taken in 2004 before Go-Pros were invented…

Arriving at Edale Station at 10a.m, I set off uphill, and was soon walking… Nevertheless 10.25a.m saw me at Hollins Cross on the Mam Tor ridge. You could not walk from Edale Station to Hollins Cross in twenty five minutes. Thence riding and walking up to Mam Tor, and carrying my bike down the stairs to the road. Thence down Winnats (peaking at 37mph just before the Speedwell cavern), through Castleton and up into Cave Dale, where I had once again to carry my bike, so rough was the ground. I was up and out of Cave Dale and onto the moor, whence I lunched, at 11.35a.m. Then onwards over bridleways, quite slow going, bringing me down through some quite delightful woodlands to Peak Forest on the A623. I came east a few miles along the main road – unpleasant work, mostly uphill with heavy freight traffic sweeping past me, and very little safe room to walk the bike – and then struck south to the west of Tideswell, along minor roads firstly, and the Limestone Way secondly, bringing me to Millers Dale after a decent interval, again mostly by bridleways.

From Millers Dale, up along “long lane”, another bridleway, strongly upstairs, to the A6 at the western end of the Taddington bypass. Through Taddington and further south again, minor roads leading me to the “Bull in t’ Thorn” on the Ashbourne-Buxton road for a much needed pint at a little after 1.30p.m. Thence a hundred yards or so to Hurdlow. The first section of the ride was over – 20 miles in a little under four hours. Very good riding but quite slow. At least five miles on foot, maybe as much as a mile having carried my bike.

I hared off down the High Peak Trail, whizzing through Parsley Hay about 2.05p.m. This were my target points – Parsley Hay by 2p.m, High Peak junction by 3p.m (I gravely underestimated the time and distance – nearly 18 miles – from Parsley Hay to High Peak junction.) So concerned was I with keeping my speed up, that I missed the junction and continued burning down the Tissington Trail, only realising my mistake at Hartington signal box! I was able to cut a couple of miles across country on a bridleway, getting myself easily back onto the C&HPR.

Thereafter, a very long leg with only one or two brief rests, along the railway track, which due to the pace I was having to sustain, was only slightly enjoyable. With increasing saddle sore and tiredness, wrist pain and thirst, I came to Wirksworth a little after 3pm. I had made 32mph down Hopton Bank, but so slow was my progress (8mph) down the much steeper Middleton Bank, that I abandoned the High peak Trail and went down the much faster main road into Cromford, arriving at Cromford Wharf at about 3.25pm.

I had planned to arrive at High Peak Junction – still a good mile away – at 3p.m. I was running very late and had been thinking about that for well over an hour. It wasn’t that I couldn’t make it home, it was that I wanted to be home in time to get showered up and ready to take Cubs at 6.15p.m. Had I rode all the way home to Derby, I should have arrived, very tired and very stiff, and most likely well after 5p.m. I needed a break with the trains. So I was very pleased when, almost as I turned into the car park at Cromford Wharf, the clickety-clack of an approaching northbound train could be heard across Cromford fields.

I now knew that all I had to do was ride along the towpath through to Whatstandwell station in the time it takes the train to run up to Matlock, rest a while and set off back again. I  figured I had a little under half an hour. I pushed very hard along the tow path, hindered in the first mile by pedestrians, and I had to draw on inner reserves to keep the pace up as I drew near to Whatstandwell. I was constantly expecting to hear the sound of the train running through the woods, signalling that I would have to ride all the way to Derby. But, I need not have worried. I was ensconced on the station at Whatstandwell after a fifteen minute dash, and the train did not arrive for another ten minutes. An excellent day out in the White Peak.

Arundel

We started out with brunch in an Italian cafe. For her, some very sweet waffles. For me, a sausage bap but the sausages were from a boar. Tasty. Then, a short tour round in the summer sunshine. To my eye Arundel resembles Uckfield with its steep main street and pleasant buildings. It’s nearly all cafes and restaurants, though we did find an actual grocer trading on one side-street. And there were antique shops, which is always a good thing when we’re out together.

Thence to Arundel Castle, which I found eye-opening and not entirely refreshing. Whilst it is in superficial appearance a Norman castle, the majority of it is Victorian. It is, rather like Bamburgh Castle in Northumberland, something of a reconstruction, a Victorian ideal of what a Norman castle should be like. That may be a little unfair, but only a little. Both had been “real” castles back in the day. Both, interestingly enough, were reduced during the Civil War. Bamburgh by artillery, Arundel, by siege and thirst. The Parliamentarian besiegers cut off the water supply – game over, as they say. Surprising to find the Royalists held out for so long – for 18 days.

Arundel is a centre of Roman Catholicism. The large and very French looking cathedral church in the town is not Anglican but the seat of the Roman diocese of Arundel. The owner of the castle is the Duke of Arundel, also known as the Duke of Norfolk. I already knew that Norfolk was a Catholic peer, and also the most senior nobleman in England. What I learned today was that the Duke of Norfolk is also the hereditary Earl Marshal of England. It is he to whom would fall the burden of organising the Queen’s funeral and the coronation of her successor. It is fascinating to me that right at the heart of the ceremonial State, right next to the Crown, to a protestant monarch, you find this high Catholic nobleman.

Going round this home of a Catholic peer, this tremendous castle, made me feel very Protestant. I recall a time some years ago when I was sat one lunchtime praying in Westminster Cathedral, and the priest started talking about the uniqueness of the virgin Mary, and I found I had to get up and walk out – I just could not be doing with listening to such stuff. I didn’t realise how deeply Protestant I was until thrown into that Catholic environment. It’s not sectarian hatred – there’s no orange and green with me. It’s just doctrinal differences. I’m aware that in writing this I may set myself up for “POT/KETTLE/BLACK” responses…

The other clear learning from the visit – though I knew it in my heart – is that had I lived in the English Civil War, I would have taken the Roundhead or Parliamentary side – at least in the war itself. But I am no fan of the coup, overthrow of parliament and military dictatorship that followed the Civil War, nor any respecter of Cromwell’s memory. He has so much to answer for in England and Scotland, to say nothing of the lasting damage he did in Ireland. Some years back in less stable parts of the world than ours, there was a spate of politically motivated toppling of statues. I’d nominate the statue of Cromwell in London: not for toppling of course, but perhaps for egging, or some of that horrible string that squirts from a can – or perhaps a student to put a traffic cone on his head.

History has much to teach us; we miss much by forgetting the fact that we are deeply shaped and moulded as a people over centuries. You want to understand the EU? Study the second world war. Where did the Troubles come from? Learn about Cromwell and even further back into Irish history. It’s worth going back and remembering that the Catholic/Protestant divide in the 17th century was as much about who was in charge, about state power, as it was about religion. The superpowers of the day were underpinned by these ideologies, even as in our youth, they were underpinned by Communism and Capitalism. Then, as now, we ask: who is in charge? A leader, a hereditary King, or an elected Parliament? Who should be in charge? And should they who are in charge account for themselves to the common people? Do we follow the status quo and leave things as they were, or do we embrace change? These were and of course are, vital questions. That most of the answers to these questions seem obvious, and come easily to the mind, does not mean that it will always be so. We should take nothing for granted.