Tuesday, 9 October 2012

Giro de Nottingham - Day One

Team Pannier set out on another expedition but this time they were shunned by one of their own members. Jon had decided to go 'sans pans' - he would ride with just a rucksack. Having read the Guardian's cycling blog this was clearly a no-no with tales of regret and aching backs. I set off smug in the fact that he would soon regret this faux pas and want to rejoin the team at the first opportunity.

So where were we off to this time? With two coast to coasts in the bag it was clear to all what we should do, whatever we do - stay away from the sea where cliffs only lead to uphill roads. So Sheffield, the city furthest away from the sea was the scene for the start for our next expedition. In fact it was to be a tour of previous university cities with Jon, John and Neil all attending Sheffield Hallam and Rich taking us back to his university roots in Nottingham.

The plan was to set off from Neil's house and head through the centre of Sheffield and out east and then down to Nottingham for an evening out in Spanners old haunt. Day two would see the rest of the clockwise circuit route completed as the team would head south out of Nottingham and then back up the west side back to Sheffield.

Day one got off to a slow, relaxed start as Jon's promise of riding over to start was renegotiated to a lift as the start time of 9 came and went. Once all together they were waved off by a small fan club of parents and other halves. It was a quick start with a nice downhill to Millhouses Park and then a zigzag through the city to   the offical start of National Cycle Route 6. With the traditional picture at the start taken it was straight to the hills as the team climbed out of Sheffield.

Once on top of one of the seven hills, it's just like Rome don't you know,  it was steady progress as the team negotiated control gate after control gate (example above). They're designed to stop motorbikes being ridden on the cycle paths. The only problem is you can't fit a bike through them, we all had to stop and turn our handlebars sideways to fit through. It was slow progress and as some unsavoury characters eyed up our machines it was not the best place to be slowing down. It wasn't helped by Rich mentioning his last time riding that bit of track, he was asked by a friendly chap how much his bike was worth - bet he rode it quick that day.

As the slow progress continued we were already quite behind schedule. The hills and gates were not a cyclist's dream and yet the peloton were in good mood as the sun was out and we were stretching our cycling legs for the first time in quite a while. The talk amongst the camp was quite different from the first C2C, the four all now a bit older and certainly with more dependants. Talk this time was of babies, children's TV and the annoying theme tunes we couldn't get out of our heads. Even Jukebox was struggling to overcome Timmy Time.

Heading down in to Rother Valley we managed to crash a women's triathlon and soon started passing all the ladies on the course, they may have been only jogging but we still showed them a clean pair of heels. We wowed at the cable water-skiing and yurned for chips as we stopped for a quick comfort break and took in the wonderful smell of food. Despite the lovely aromas, suntan weather and surfer dude music in the form of Grouplove's album we decided to push on.

As an adopted Bristolian I (John) was enjoying being back in my native Yorkshire and this was none more evident than riding through the car park at Rother Valley and the car park attendant, a guy in his twenties, shouting top of his voice "ey up, you alright?". Ah friendly northerners, how I've missed you.

So the team headed out of the valley and of course that means hills and a bit of a test as the team headed through Wales (the village not the country). Then it was some lovely little villages and countryside before pulling up beside a canal. This was celebrated as we all know canals are generally flat. This became a double celebration as we found The Lock Keeper pub beside the canal for lunch. It was a perfect setting, in the sun, pub grub and some miles in our legs.

After a spot of lunch we hit Worksop. Or it hit us. It didn't start well, the team lost the scent of the trail and soon we were at a roundabout not knowing which way to turn. A quick consultation of the map on phones (Spanners and Jukebox now enjoying the delights of smartphones) and we were back on track - even if it did require a quick dash across the road, down a bank and across a field.

We then headed off up in to a housing estate and, already aware of our less than salubrious surroundings, we were greeted with a call of "lock 'em or lose 'em" from a local. Cracking a nervous smile we pedalled on looking forward to the end of Worksop. I think the irony was lost that we were worrying for our possessions as we headed deeper in to Robin Hood territory. Thankfully it wasn't long before we were hitting the wonderful sites of Clumber Park and another chance for us to show our age as Neil revealed his National Trust membership would come in handy if we needed parking.

By now the weight on his bike was starting to slow Spanners down and the unexpected and unwelcome hills of Clumber Park were cheered up a little by the different calibre of person we came across in the park. There was one certain lady who we all noticed as she rode on her bike unsupported. With plenty of tattoos and two heavy pieces of luggage to carry herself we were soon speculating about what her job was.

It was then a twisting ride through the woods, and as tradition seems to have it, we passed the back of Center Parcs as we rode further through Sherwood Forest. We then came on to some nice trails as we passed Rainworth (my wife tells me it's pronounced Ren-earth) and towards my father-in-laws village of Ravenshead. He lovingly refers to the area as "all fur coat and no knickers" but it certainly looked a lot more upmarket than some of the places we'd ridden through. Heading out the top of Ravenshead it was starting to get dimmer as we reached 5 o'clock.

We headed across the A60 and in to Newstead Abbey, passing a sign saying we needed to pay to get in if we were on a bike. It was quiet and no one stopped us so I'm not ashamed to say we didn't pay to go on a national cycle route through the grounds. I am also not ashamed to say I just lost out on a race through the grounds - with an Aston Martin. As there are speed bumps on the road he kept slowing down to go over them and then speeding up. I however could keep up a steady pace and with the help of some downhill (finally) I came in to his slipstream at every bump. Sadly I think he'd had enough of me in his rear view mirror and then burnt me off.

Coming out of the security gates at the top we paused to catch our breath and Spanners started on a rant not dissimilar to Jukebox's famous breakdown near Hartside. From this previous experience Jon instantly knew what to do "someone give him some chocolate" and sure enough with Mars bars inside them Team Pannier pushed on towards Nottingham. The chocolate coupled with some downhill sections really got the team moving and they were through Hucknall (yes we sang Simply Red) and in to the heart of Nottingham in no time. Or flat Nottingham as it had been constantly been described by some members of the team (cough Spanners). Sure enough there were enough ups and downs to match any similar period on the route so far. Dipping in and out of valleys the team steadily spread out and as John pulled up along side Jon and Neil, Neil announced we were here. "The post code leads us here so we're right on top of it". John stayed put as Jon and Neil rode on to find the Igloo Hostel. Rich pulled up alongside and declared "we're here". Literally here, we had stopped outside the entrance and not even realised it.

The team may have been there but it wouldn't prove to be that simple. The promise of being booked in with some Swedish Au Pairs didn't look like it was going to becoming true. Despite our mixed-dorm booking confirmation they had no booking on the system. Having cycled a fair few miles and snacked on sugar and caffeine all day it was surprising how calm we were. As they tried to find room for us by moving people about Neil set about searching for accommodation with his phone. Within a short period of time he had not only booked us in to the Purple Palace but he had sweet talked the staff to storing our bikes inside. He then guided us through a non hilly route and to the door in five minutes. What a result, Jukebox had done brilliantly. The staff there were brilliant and while they couldn't promise us any Swedish au pairs, they did look after us very well.

It was then a dash to get changed and back out ready for curry and a pint. I swear the only reason Chef goes cycling is to have a pint as he led the way to the pub - Rich's local knowledge seeming a little confused. Whether it was the passing years, the change in the city or, more likely, the alcohol filled years he stayed there being just one big blur but he struggled to get his bearings and we actually walked past the curry house we were aiming for before he realised that was the one.

Settling down for a pre food pint we started to discuss the day and started to worry about the following day. Plans were put forward for a change of route, for a route with constant train stops should we run out of time or even an abandonment of the trip all together. It was decided we were no team of quitters, if we'd set out to do this route then that's what we would attempt the next day - plus we could easily grab a train if we needed to...

So after a curry in the place where all the celebrities go, well Cliff Richards and Jane McDonald, we headed back to our own rooms, with our own tellys to watch Match of the Day. Rock on.

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