The Uphill Struggle

The Uphill Struggle –   Lenny Fairhall 21/11/2017

The road from Llanachaer in Cwm Gwaun over to Dinas Cross rises 250 feet or so in the first half mile, and the initial couple of bends are killers. Actually the next couple of miles are a challenge too, but at least there’s next to no traffic and the views are lovely. As the final stage of a very pleasant autumn run out to Strumble Head this was a great chance to try out a bit of hill climbing technique. There had already been hills on the ride, but not quite like this.

A couple of years before Id been cycling in the same area with the same friends and one had remarked that, instead of hating the hill climbs, you should love them. You have to go up them to get the best views, and the downhills are exhilarating.

So, maybe the hills are really about your head, not your legs and lungs. Of course the head isn’t everything, otherwise you’d end up rolling backwards and falling off. But having a positive attitude certainly seems to help in getting up them, and even more importantly in converting some degree of dread into anticipation. It can help to know what the hill ahead is like, and how long it has taken you in the past. In this case, I knew it was evil at the bottom, but the gradient becomes easier further up.

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At an even more basic level, you should be approaching hills knowing that your tyres are well pumped up, your gear shifters are working, your brakes will work on the way down the other side, and the cables are in good nick.

My bike is a fairly standard hybrid (Giant Escape) with straight handlebars. The lowest gear is a 32 rear sprocket with a 28front chain ring. I’ve fitted bar end extensions so that I can hold the handlebars like Im holding a steering wheel, rather than gripping a trapeze, because it seems to be more comfortable like this. You can get a similar position with drop handlebars, holding the brake hoods and of course there’s a million positions available with butterfly bars. I also have strapless toe-clips on the pedals, which means I can pull them up as well as push them down. I can’t be faffed with cleats, and being strapless, the clips let my feet come off the pedals when I need them to.

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The road out of Llanychaer doesn’t give you a chance to get a run at the hill. You’re into bottom gear from the off. I always try to get into the right gear a couple of bike lengths maybe before a hill really starts, or the gradient increases. Of course you can get off the bike and walk but then I wouldn’t have written this if  I’d decided that was always the way to go. On this particular hill, walking up is almost or as quick anyway.

So I started the climb holding the bar extensions, leaning a bit forward and staying seated. I find leveraging my legs by pulling on the bars with my arms and upper body helps. I never get off the saddle and pedal standing up. (The last time I tried this on a steep hill, the chain snapped and off I fell. Thanks for your concern, but I was unhurt.)

This is hard work, but 10 or 15 minutes of aerobic exercise is not excessive. You are allowed to stop and rest when the road gets a bit less steep and you know youll be able to get started again.

Having both a mental and physical strategy seems to work. Personally I also like an extra-strong mint.

A couple of us stopped to give the lost and slow a chance to catch up. While we waited we agreed another tip for the hills, namely to take it easy early in the ride and on long hills to give your body a chance to warm up, and you leave something in the tank for later on. It’s not a race…er…unless it is, but if you’re into racing, then I’m not writing this for you.

Riding a bike in any area like this part of Pembrokeshire is wonderful, and anticipating rather than dreading the hills makes it even more so. Love the hills!

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Is this person actually clinically dead? – ed

 

Air Quality and Transport in the North

I went to the Campaign for Better Transport meeting with Bridget Fox, a national campaigner with CBT. She really had two big issues to tell us about so I’ll deal with them first. This is in semi-note form so please bear with me – anything you don’t understand please get in touch. 

 

  • Air Quality

 

The big news is the successful Supreme  court judgement in our favour stating that the government is legally liable for its negligence on AQ.

The Campaign to support this should be nationwide  not just London

Cities are likely to be covered but what about smaller towns & rural areas?

What is the extent of the legal requirement?

BF – 80% of emissions are from vehicles. Rest is from old heating systems and diesels on building sites. Particulates can be from braking systems.

  • most buses in the North are diesel.
  • Linked to liveable cities, de-carbonisation.
  • Increasing numbers of players in the space.
  • Breathe Easy groups are growing
  • Large chunks of the country are failing to deliver on air quality
  • Current legislation is unenforced and lenient – enabling rather than mandatory.
  • Lead campaigner is Andrea Lee
  • Poor AQ is “Lethal and illegal”
  • Tests are not effective – see VW.
  • The regulators are In bed with motor manufacturers
  • A new Clean Air act is needed.

Q’s  what percentage of the problem is caused by buses, diesel trains?

  • over 50% in York.
  • Taxis are also a problem
  • HGV’s in particular areas

There are no financial incentives to buy petrol over diesel  (I’m not sure there should be- electric cars and bikes maybe.)

Light vans can be electric.

Hybrid tech is developing

This field could be a lever for regeneration of U.K. manufacturing

Cost is irrelevant in terms of the legislation.

  • It’s time to apply pressure onto LAs – please clarify with the government what they need to do to ensure compliance.
  • But risk that bus companies will cascade bus fleets to non compliant areas.

What impact will Brexit have? It is EU regulations that are being broken.

What was the impact of Black Friday, post-Xmas sales?

UWE report says that waiting for tech solutions won’t work.

  • councils are up against the buffers for revenue. (They could be raising revenue on polluter pays basis).

Air quality policy strategy  could be a necessary criteria for bail-outs (combined authorities)

Fleet procurement, modal shift, demand management.

Government strategy is about economic growth and jobs.

We must move forward with electric vehicles more quickly.

  1. Transport for the North.
  • is a membership body.

Strategy & vision comes from the Northern Powerhouse.

Formal consultation will be in spring 2018,

On the agenda:

Autonomous vehicles

Smart ticketing.

Road-rail

International

Freight.

CBT – has been engaged to produce a challenges and opportunities report.

Focusing on strategic not local issues.

Carbon reduction

Air quality

Network connectivity and integration

There are positive challenges.

Hopefully this will be a positive process and involve local people.

Attitude to TfN may have changed with new govt.

Timetable for phase 2 – January start.

Landscape Quality is an important issue for the North – tourism, outdoor pursuits

Network Rail has run out of money and is disbanding the teams with skills to undertake rail development in the north of England. Resource is moving south so NR can meet their commitments on GWR etc.

Walking and cycling seems to be a long way down on TfN’s agenda.

Smart ticketing seems like one thing TfN actually could deliver.

Are the modes being equally dealt with? It would seem not and we should make sure we get that point made.

Best way to get views represented is to get them into Bridget ASAP.

In Jan/Feb, however, there will be another opportunity to comment. To Amy bcc Bridget.

Very short timescales which is not CBT’s fault.

Clause 8. – says that TfN  must have regard to the results of the public consultation

So far we feel that there has not been enough consideration given to the Social and Environmental impact of strategy. E.g. Carbon impact of new projects, A66/69

Climate Change Act.

What are the other (road) lobby groups doing? Grubby handshakes behind locked doors I suspect,

Is the TFN Board open to the public? AR will check.

DM Suggested we get a Client Earth person up to talk to us.

Exploring legal action to get LA’s to meet their obligations.

  1. Tees Valley – very poorly served by rail even by comparison with other Northern areas.
  1. Greater Manchester spatial strategy will be the template for other studies commissioned by the LEPs.

Study envisages massive house building.

Targets for using brownfield are lower than ever.

Andy Burnham has reservations – he is most likely mayor. This Shows the potential importance of having a mayor.

Manchester has unprecedented local powers on health and other areas.

Simon

(Representing:-

Northern Cycle-Rail Forum

Friends Of the TPT

Cyclenation, Bike-Rail Rep.

Cycling UK Right to Ride for Sheffield.

Sustrans Volunteers Sheffield

University of Sheffield Cycle Forum)

SCR goes FNR – report

19 valiant riders gathered at the Tap for the off on a close but pleasant evening. Our first section of cycle route was the Peak Park Anniversary Route, also part of NCN6, and our first stop was on Charles St to admire the new pedestrianised area outside a Hallam development. Could this be the diverted route for NCN6? Not until they’ve finished building stuff and sorted out the mess they’ve made around Cambridge St (maybe that will happen as part of the New Retail Quarter?)

Then we admired Barkers Pool, which shows that shared space can work if you have plenty of it, (and you don’t share it with motor vehicles as well) and headed up Division St – such a pity this wasn’t pedestrianised when the council has the opportunity. Heading along the rather narrow cycle route alongside Devonshire Green into the Naked Streets approach of Broomhall St, followed by the segregated cycle route along Broomspring Lane and into the 20mph zone of Broomhall with it’s clever traffic management. Why does the whole thing read like a compendium of street designs?

We turned into Lynwood Gardens, an attractive urban wildlife park with a pub attached that avoids most of the nastiness of Glossop and Clarkehouse roads and headed up Park Lane to get on the western end of Clarkehouse – thankfully no cars parked in the bike lane this evening. Them we bumped up Endcliffe Vale, with it’s “traffic calming” that is designed to encourage cars to speed up to get through the chicanes, and a downhill swoop to the entrance to Bingham Park. Here we left NCN6, and a short dogleg down Rustling Roads got us onto Route 85. This involved a fair amount of climbing which everyone managed fine and we stopped to look at a short section of path at the junction of Dobbin Hill and Grestones Drive which has been widened out to make negotiating this tricky junction easier.

Just a little bit of climbing on Dobbin Hill and we snuck through the churchyard to begin our descent into Abbeydale. A handy little bit of footpath took us into Ecclesall Woods which never disappoint, and the woods were our friend until we popped out on Dore Road. This isn’t a nice road and we were happy to get away from the well-heeled inhabitants of the suburbs with their over-powered vehicles that they drive too fast. A little trip down Water Lane was just the tonic and we gathered at Dore Station to discuss the problems and the opportunities that the Park and Ride and the plans to develop the station had wrought.

We could hardly leave the area without a trip through Hutcliffe Woods, with its “rad” BMX park and we could see that with a little path improvement this could be a very pleasant cycle route. A warm welcome awaited at the Ale House – well it would be a strange pub that turned away 19 thirsty cyclists wouldn’t it?

Refreshed, some members of the group headed either home or on to more Friday Night Fun, while a hardcore of us took the Sheaf Valley Route in the gloaming, taking in the short section of Sheaf Valley Walk near Granville Sq that not everyone knew about, back to the Sheffield Tap, although we were too tired for more than a quick nightcap.

Our star rider was Muriel from Chapeltown by way of Swansea, who hadn’t been on an FNR before, rented a bike from Russell’s Bike Shed  and tackled the hills with aplomb.

SCR goes FNR!

As Mick takes a well-earned break in August, I thought I’d step in and arrange a ride or those of us who are marooned in Sheffield for the summer. On Friday 12th we will travel along a varied selection of Sheffield Cycle Routes, taking care to find the most pleasant and leafy sections, and of course with a pub stop en route.
Join us on a journey through time from the rural past, through the Industrial Revolution and on to a high-tech future as you explore the cycle routes of England’s fourth largest city.
I hope this ride will inspire both experienced and new cyclists, whether commuting on a daily basis, going out on leisure rides or visiting Sheffield from afar, to explore less well visited parts of the city by bike.

Meet: 6:30 at the Sheffield Tap.

Worcester to Bristol with only a Garmin, Two Smartphones and some paper maps to navigate with

My pal, occasional contributor and soon-to-be co-editor for this site cycles down from Sheffield to see his father in Somerset once a year and this time I joined him for part of the ride. This was also an opportunity to try out my Garmin Edge for real navigating and see how it performed in comparison to paper and Google maps.

The train from Sheffield to Worcester was all good. Foregate St is the best station  to get to the Mill House campsite. There are no cycle facilities on A38 and a very poor footpath on the A449, all of which stops people on campsite from cycling into Worcester to spend money. Lovely campsite though.

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The author with his “shit”.

We bumped our way into town and picked up the very good route along the river. The route from Worcester to Malvern is either half finished or we missed something but coffee in Malvern perked us up and some stiff climbing followed before  descending to Ledbury, a lovely town. This was the moment when R. decided to buy a new e-bike, as you do.

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Virtual e-bike showroom above Ledbury

With more climbing and some excellent minor roads we made our way towards Gloucester.There’s a diversion after the Bridge at Maismore that could have been a lot better, broken glass and debris alongside the main road. Getting back on the route, decent enough, gets you in to spectacular Gloucester docks. Good pint at the Dick Whittington with live music outside.

Our first try at using the Garmin got us most of the way to the cider orchard where we were staying but with an inexplicable order to turn left near the end when the destination was clearly to the right.

Our lodgings for the night were in a yurt with a stove, electrickery, composting toilets- luxury! So good we slept in & didn’t get on  the road till after 10.

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5-star accom near Gloucester

Sunday, we’d decided to compare Garmin navigation with the route Richard had planned and it has to be said they didn’t agree very often! Every time they did, the cry of “Verona”! went up – those who have seen the Handlebards version of taming of the shrew will understand.

Our route took us down to Stonehouse where we picked up NCN45 (?)  not very clearly marked or maintained (vegetation & surfaces) at first, got better as we passed Stroud  (stop at Sainsburys for provisions/ coffee.The rail trilogy continued and spat us out in gorgeous countryside, taking us towards Tetbury  (big Hill but worth it for the  run along the high ground) & Malmesbury  (lunch stop at the abbey).

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Wanting to make up time we stuck to more major roads for a while which were fine. Entering Wiltshire we seemed to have an interminable grind uphill with a headwind – not steep but hard! Also it seemed the harder it got the more cries of Verona! were heard.   Crossing the GWR and the M4 we reached  Biddeston where our paths diverged –  Richard heading for Bradford on Avon, me for Bristol. I’d decided to rely on the Garmin to get me into the city, or at least as far as the B2B. Although there was a signed route close to where I started, the G. decided instead to take me up a long hill on the main road then veering off to cross a steep valley and into a village where I had to get off and walk it – the only time on this trip. All I can say is that Mr. Ga. wasn’t doing the pedalling,  Mr. Ge. was!

Soon after that we were back on the bike route (17) which was not without its challenges. A long climb running parallel to M4 – not right by it thankfully – had me dehydrated and I stopped at Tollcross  (?) for a pint of Orange Squash & water bottle refill. Soon after the downhill started – the G. keeping me on the more major road down a lovely but steep wooded valley – and at Mangotsfield the effort that has been put into making Bristol more cycle-friendly started to show with an off-road path leading into the B2B – all good quality, some extra signage needed at (?) roundabout though. Mr. G. was protesting strongly at this point, desperate to keep me on road.  I preferred to join the stream of cyclists coming into the city on the railway path, all ages and abilities, some with camping gear, looking like they were coming back from a great weekend or day out.

Entering the city centre, my navigational aids started to come unstuck. Mr. Garmin didn’t know which Premier I wanted while Ms Google kept trying to take me through the most packed touristic bits of the city. The only way I could get a sensible route was  by telling  Google I was driving! By the way I do think the Garmin has some masculine properties – taking the macho approach to staying on the road – while Google has some female ones, apart from having a female voice, tending to go off down narrow alleyways and pedestrianised areas which while car-free aren’t very conducive to cycling – at the risk of sounding sexist, often having good shopping opportunities though! The Garmin doesn’t seem to understand urban off-road routes very well.

I fucking love Bristol. It’s a progressive, multicultural inclusive city. Sure there are still problems with the road system and it lacks a metro or tram network  – a new bus system is being put in- let’s hope that takes some of the traffic out of the centre as a place to wander around have a drink and something to eat it’s great. I imbibed at the Highbury Vaults that I used to drink in about 1978 – they’ve moved it across the road from what I remember, it’s Youngs instead of Wadworth, but still a great pint – and took craft beer & pizza for tea at Beerdz.

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A great couple of day’s riding.

Across Caledonia

We took our bikes on the Caledonian Sleeper to Fort William, cycled across the Cairngorms and came home on the sleeper from Aberdeen. Here’s the story:

Sleeper from Crewe to Fort William. Note that if you take this train with bikes you are likely to have get up at 03:30 in Edinburgh and move them from one coach to another, because the train splits and the bike carriage for Ft William only joins the train then. Our host was able to squeeze the bikes into an empty compartment but it was quite a palaver getting them in and out.

It was great to wake up in the highlands with snow-covered mountains all around.

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However, by the time we got to Fort William the snow had retreated to the mountain tops. We followed the bike route (NCN78) to Inverlochy Castle,  took an unecessary detour around Corpach, then on the well-laid cycle track alongside the Caledonian canal. Came off at Garelochead, saving the rest of the route to Inverness (now fully open – the Scots have been busy) and over to Spean Bridge to stay at the excellent Spean Lodge with dinner at Russell’s – an expensive evening.

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Next day following an aborted attempt to follow a back road, on to the A86 over to Newtonmoor. Not too much traffic on this road and gentle climbing, stopping at Strath Mashie  Wildlife reserve and Achduchil getting onto NCR7 just outside the town. at Newtonmoor we stayed at  (? B&B) and ate at (? Restaurant) Good beer at the Glen.
Next day continuing along 7, on good off-road paths and forest roads to Boat of Garten (just one poor bit at Coylumbridge  Just outside Aviemore with busy traffic. )
Took the Speyside railway to Aviemore and cycled back on the off-road over moorland – a great easy route.
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Monday from BoG via the Osprey centre – the nesting pair are incubating eggs, everyone’s on tenterhooks hoping for a successful delivery – then over the hills to Tomintoul. Our first impression was that this is a town that doesn’t really know what to do with itself – great walking and cycling and there’s the whiskey tour but nothing to really entice you to the place. One feels that dead hand of the Crown Estate.
But by Tuesday  we had warmed to Tomintoul – our hosts were very hospitable. We toured Glenlivet and enjoyed the wee dram, got hailed on along the road, picnicked at the Bridge of Avon and finished off with a damn fine Pizza at Gordon’s. The Crown had certainly furnished the area with lots of picnic sites and walking and cycling trails.
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Wednesday was a hard day. We could see at breakfast that the clouds were heading in the wrong direction and predictions of 20mph winds with 40 mph gusts turned out to be true. We started out well but as we headed up the hill towards Lecht the going got harder and we were soon off the bikes, pushing hard against a punishing wind. By the time we got to the ski centre we were desperate for transport to Ballater to get us out of a dangerous situation but none was available so we just had to carry on walking even down the hill.
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The total lack of any cover meant that we were hanging on to the bikes as we descended and it didn’t get any better as we passed Cockbridge and into Strathdon. There were short sections we could ride but then we had turned into the next pass which was just as bad. Finally the road turned and we enjoyed  the last 6 miles or so into Ballater. I reckon we had walked about 10 of the 27 or so miles we travelled that day. Walking with a bike in a blasting head and a side wind isn’t the most ergonomic thing you can do so our backs and shoulders really took the strain – it’s going to take a fair bit of back massage and yoga to sort that out. This being the 5th day of the very merry month of May, you can imagine what it’s like earlier on in the year. The last 6 miles however were bliss – the road changed direction and we were blown down the valley.
We stayed at the Deen Hotel in Ballater – not somewhere I’ll be rushing back to. A noisy pump somewhere in the innards of the building ensured a restless nights sleep. Luckily the Alexandra Hotel had furnished us with an excellent fish and chip supper with pints of  Cairngorms Trade Winds beer that had also sustained on previous nights.
Thursday. Forcing down yet another overblown hotel breakfast, we took to the Deeside trail which was to be our route down to the bright lights of Aberdeen. Ballater had suffered from floods over the winter and I feared that the trail, the former Deeside railway that brought Queen Victoria up to Balmoral back in the day, would be rough going, but it had fared reasonably well with some emergency repairs. The worst problem we encountered was some dustbowl conditions where a farmer had ploughed his land when it wasn’t ready for it and the topsoil was blowing away. Having said that the surface wasn’t very good for much of the trail – as we were heading down the valley with the wind behind it didn’t really affect us but if we had been heading in the opposite direction we might well have taken to the roads, which weren’t that busy.
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We took to the road between Aboyne and Banchory. Once we reached Peterculter though, we had a good quality surface all the way into the city centre, where Google Maps took over and directed us to friendly Skeyne House, our City Centre apartment. Good beer and food awaits us at the Grill, Fusion and Under the Hammer. and then we repaired to the apart hotel to await the election results.
On Friday we had a walk around town, had a great lunch at the Adelphi Grill, strolled up the coast to the River Don estuary and back via Old Aberdeen and the University, stopping in at the busy St Machar for a pint, followed by great Tapas at Nargiles and a final beer at Aitchie’s Ale House before boarding the Sleeper. They had “lost” the 2nd class coach – careless of them – so we had to sleep in first class, shame. Even getting turfed off at Crewe at 5:30 the next morning didn’t seem so bad.

 

Across the Border to Flintshire

I visited some friends in Flint-shire this weekend. I set off on the Brompton catching the 8:40 Liverpool, full of smartly dressed people clutching boxes of Budweiser and heading for the Aintree Iron. De-training at Stockport, I caught the Cheshire Lines service. The last time I got this it was a crowded Pacer and not very comfortable, but this time it was a 3-car Sprinter and OK.  This train takes a crafty route to get to Altrincham, the most direct route having been taken over by Metrolink, but after that heads across the plains towards that most Roman of Northern cities.

I’d taken the millennium greenway before out of Chester and knew it was a great route so resolved to do it again. The Shropshire Union canal heading north links up with it, and then it’s a straight shot out to the Hawarden Bridge to cross the Dee. Following my nose I used the Liverpool – Wrexham line as a route guide and headed up a narrow lane that was closed for patching – clearly there had been some flood damage around here. Climbing the hill got me to my friend’s house.
That afternoon we headed back down the hill and crossed the bridge again to visit the Wirral. This is an area I hadn’t visited before and it was a very pleasant surprise. On the north side of the Dee estuary, you cross a bird sanctuary on a raised walkway and follow the route to Park Head.
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There’s a great pub called the Harp and fish’n’chips to be had.It was a spring tide so there was water right up to the shore, unusually.
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Later on we visited the hostelries in Hawarden, ancestral home of the Gladstones.
The next Morning after a leisurely breakfast over cycling chat,  I headed in the Homeward direction. Sadly the wind had got up and was not in my favour, but nevertheless I was determined to follow the River Dee into Chester. The city is blessed with two traffic-free routes into Wales, the disused railway and the river path and both are excellent quality. They also join up to make a great oval route for a leisure ride and many people were taking advantage of that.
They also form part of the North Wales coast cycle route. Today, however, it was heavy going with that blasting headwind slowing me down considerably. In these circumstances it is best to treat the headwind like a very long uphill climb, select a gear you feel comfortable in and pootle along – trying to fight the wind and go faster will just wear you out.
Rather than head for Chester Station, however, I had resolved to cycle through the city and head east towards the forest of Delamere. It’s easy to switch from the river to the Greenway in Chester – just head for the canal
The Greenway continues through the city – I had spotted it from the train on the way in – so with a short diversion to the retail park for provisions I carried on through. As well as the Greenways, Chester has a network of off-road paths that are of reasonable quality. Other attraction such as the Zoo are linked from the Greenway.
There has been a spate of pics on social media comparing a UK muddy track with an excellent Dutch cycle route – this amongst many other projects across the UK show that not all our bike routes are like that.
The Greenway ends at the former junction with the live railway east of the city and you have to take the roads. NCN5 had veered off somewhere – I’m not quite sure where. There is a section on an A-road but this was not busy – the area has plenty of motorways and dual carriageways as well. Then it’s back onto the lanes.
Beyond Mouldsworth there’s a short climb into Delamere forest, I found a back route in, but the area of forest I found myself in is the MTB Skills area, with steep banks and very muddy tracks  that had been churned up by the MTB’ers, so hard going on the Brompton. I climbed out of that however, crossed the road and used a hard track to get to Delamere station which is on the south side of the forest. Trains on only once every two hours on Sundays and I had an hour to wait, but there is a station cafe so I was able to while away the time with a cup of tea and Piece of Bakewell. In time for the Durrells, Undercover and even Indian Summers on +1!
Back in Sheffield, I noticed the new pocket park that has emerged in the CIQ next to the Matilda building.
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 These little parks collect back-filling water in times of flood, allowing it to drain away later.