Now that the excitement of Le Tour is over, Northern Soul’s Cycling Correspondent talks about his love of summer evenings and shares one of his favourite routes.
It was the best evening of the year so far.
I was on my own. The heat was amazing. Sometimes I was up a hill; sometimes I was whizzing through the city streets. What’s so good about this? Let me explain.
The onset of summer brings the usual and oh-so-short heatwave. This year’s seems to have been longer than most. At the same time the nights are also drawing in – from late June they get shorter by seven minutes per week. The combination of these two factors make July THE month for lovely leisurely evening rides.
Last Monday evening I was free as a bird. I’d worked in my home office, periodically checking the forecast and looking out of the window. It was lovely all day and the forecast didn’t budge at all. By half five I was done. I was in my kit and on the road. I was going to do my favourite evening ride.
Long rides for me often involve the Peak District. This requires zipping through South Manchester to reach the countryside. It can be a battle with traffic but in the heat I seemed to simply sail through. Is it that more people leave the car at home in favour of walking or pubic transport? Or just that positive effect that sunshine has on a city? Either way I ticked them off my list: Stretford, Chorlton, Didsbury, Northenden and so on.
Before long the road turned upwards. Of all the 1,100ft elevation gain from the lowest to the highest point of this ride the climb begins very gently as soon as you pass Manchester Airport towards Styal. The environment is suddenly less urban and the houses become posher. The road flattens out through Wilmslow but the environs stay similarly appealing.
Leaving Wilmslow the world becomes more rural. Mottram St Andrew and Adlington follow, then the road really points upwards. There’s a lovely climb that takes you up to the Shrigley Hall Hotel and Spa. It’s round about now that I start to revel in the knowledge that I have cycled across most of the west/east diameter of our second city and I’m now, frankly, in the middle of nowhere (sorry residents of Pott Shrigley but I bet most of you live there precisely for that reason!). I’d also not spoken to a single soul. Perfect.
From the picturesque village of Pott Shrigley there’s a more challenging climb of 600ft or so. It takes you through what’s known as the Brickworks which is now an arty haven of micro businesses selling vintage car services, metallic garden statues and designer kitchens, among other things. This most unlikely of industrial estates has an almost legendary status among Manchester’s cycling community. If you speak to any cyclist from South Manchester they’ll know what you mean. It is just about the best and closest decent climb to our pan-flat urban core.
Shortly after the Brickworks the whole landscape changes. The trees disappear and are replaced by heather, gorse, grass and sheep. For me the acid test of a decent climb is when the height of the climb changes the landscape so dramatically. I love it.
A few farm houses later and you find yourself in the lay-by at the top of the world (pictured left). This is the spot I consider as the gateway to the Peaks. From here you can see the route down to Whaley Bridge, New Mills and onwards to Kinder Scout and the Hope Valley, or south to Buxton and on towards Derby. But they’ll have to wait for a longer weekend ride. Tonight my plan is to chill, descend as fast as possible in the warm air and enjoy the benefits of going down the hills I’d just climbed.
The air was cooler than in town but not cold by any stretch. Even at speeds of 40 mph and over the warmth stayed with me and I descended Blaze Hill. It’s fast and scary. I’m a decent descender but I never lose the fear of speed. As Billy Bragg wrote in Walk Away Renee: ‘It’s like a ride at the funfair. The sort you wanna get off cos it’s scary; but as soon as you’re off you wanna get straight back on again.’ It’s a mix of decadent madness and self preservation. But tonight it’s pure and unadulterated hedonism.
At the bottom of the first descent I met a chap on a hybrid. He had a map in his back pocket, a sure sign of a newcomer to the area. We chatted and I discovered that we’d been up the same hill but he was in fact a resident of Bristol. While staying with his brother he’d had the same summer evening plan as me. He pootled off on his borrowed bike, taking a right turn before the return visit to Adlington Hall. Those chance conversations on a bike are part of the whole experience for me.
On the way back to town I was really flying. It was hot, the road pointed downwards and it was truly amazing. My mind turned towards town. I thought about all the cool places I’d pass on my way home. Burton Road in West Didsbury and Beech Road in Chorlton are two of my favourites. The temptation became too much. A quick text to a friend and I was soon belting towards Burton Road for a pint in Mary and Archie. A couple of pints and a bowl of chilli nuts later and I was back on the bike.
The heat that had dissipated in the lay-by on the top of the world returned now I was nearer sea level. Cruising through the streets was warm, very warm. It was a bit like swimming in a foreign lake. There were patches where trees had shaded the road all day where the cold air was like a current from a mountain stream.
Some guy decided he wanted to race me. I didn’t get drawn in and just left him to it. A few minutes later I was home. I ate like a horse, safe in the knowledge I’d been on the bike for over three hours and could eat what I liked.
What a night! July… what a month!
August is often just as warm but has shorter evenings. I, for one, will be charging up my lights and getting out again. Autumn will soon be here so I’m planning to make the most of the summer while it lasts.
Images by Andy Groves
Northern Soul is starting the Riding the North virtual cycling club. If you have a favourite ride you’d like to share, then this is the place for you. And suggestions for routes for Andy to ride and review for Northern Soul are very welcome. All you need do is upload Strava to your smartphone, join the Riding the North Club, ride your route and email Andy. You could even join Andy on the ride!
You can follow Andy via twitter and instagram @riding_north or contact him by email at email@example.com