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Daughter Number Three, who has always been far too energetic for my own good, decided that she wanted to go bike riding.
That's OK. I'd no objections. She's a big girl. But wait! She has no bike. Well there's a tricky how do you do.
"Never mind, Dad," she chirruped, "We could always drive to some place where they hire bikes."
This was also an idea to which I would have assented cheerfully, until I realised that a) she has no car either, and b) she had slyly slipped in the use of the first person plural.
Thus it was that "we" decided to go bike riding on Saturday, to the beautiful Derwent Valley in Derbyshire.
Driving there from my neck of the woods it is necessary to hack through the traffic in Glossop, before climbing to enjoy the stunning scenery of the Snake Pass, in those brief moments when not shuddering from the roar of passing bikers on their revved up rides. Signs frequently remind car drivers to "Think Bike". How about one or two signs telling bikers to "Think Car", or even just "Think"?
Anyway, turning off the A57 just before the Ashopton Viaduct (or just after it, if coming from Sheffield), we drove the two or three miles alongside Ladybower Reservoir until we came to Fairholme Visitor Centre. Despite the fact that this was a Sunny Summer Saturday and that we didn't get there until about 1.00 p.m. there was still room to park.
We headed straight for the bike hire shed and I said to the nice chap who greeted us:
"I suppose we're too late to hire a couple of bikes, aren't we?"
I'd rather hoped that he'd catch the subtle use of a stealth imperative there, but it would seem that his excellent understanding of the bicycle isn't matched by his sensitivity to rhetoric.
"Oh no, sir. No Problem at all!"
My heart sank, but I coughed up the £13.00 per bike per half day and £20.00 deposit with as much insouciance as a man can muster when he knows he's about to undergo torture. They take cards, which is how I paid for the bikes, but I gave him cash for the deposit, as it makes it easier and quicker to refund it. They need some proof of identity, but a bank card itself will be enough for that.
He didn't volunteer to give us, or hire to us any helmets. I wasn't sure if we were supposed to take our own, or if he'd taken one look at me and decided it wouldn't make any difference if I landed on my head. I wasn't bothered, as I'm not a helmet person, and anyway I had my straw hat, but I will say that most of the people we saw WERE wearing protective headgear, and rightly so. I should have asked about helmets and I'm sure he would have sorted out something for us. Don't be as daft as me, because off-road biking can be just as dangerous as on-road biking, if you fall on your head.
We set off north, up a made-up but restricted road, with the Derwent Reservoir on our right. The traffic restriction applies to all motorized vehicles except the odd bus that runs up as far as the top of Howden Reservoir and the rangers' vehicles. The fact that we were going "up" the road meant that I was heartily glad when, after a few hundred yards, we came to the Derwent Dam and I had an excuse to order a dismount so that I could give a short lecture on Barnes Wallis and the exploits of 617 squadron. Jess seemed more impressed that the dam looked like something out of a Robin Hood or Harry Potter film. I wasn't going to waste good oxygen by arguing.
The ride continued and the analogies shifted to Heidi and "The Sound of Music" as yet more breathtaking views surprised us at every turn of the road. The tree-clad slopes and their enchanting peaks created a little wonderland around the water that gave no sense of it being a man-made feature, despite the dams. It felt like Mother Nature was enfolding us to her breast. Speaking personally, that hasn't happened for a while and I quite enjoyed it.
I was also starting to get my third or fourth wind and had mastered the intricacies of the gear system. There were times when I positively zoomed along the smooth road. Then again, there were other times when I hopped off and walked up the slightly steep hilly bits. There was never anything very challenging and it was never long before I could saddle up again.
We stopped frequently in any case to enjoy the views and to drink water. If you do decide to do something like this then you really must take water with you and take a drink regularly. Remember, if you need to take a drink because you're thirsty, then you've left it too long. Have a drink every ten minutes or so and you won't get dehydrated.
There's a spot at the head of Howden Reservoir called King's Seat where the made-up road runs out and you have to move onto off-road riding. It's still pretty good, but a little bumpier and you do need to be careful not to let your speed run away, as the surface is looser and sudden braking could lead to a skid.
Above the reservoirs you cross the river by a small stone bridge and it seems to be a popular place for people to picnic and paddle. I wanted to stop and join them, but Jess wanted to press on, so we did. It was shortly afterwards, as we came down the other side of the reservoir towards Howden Dam that I got a strong sense of what 617 Squadron had done in the Ruhr Valley, and indeed in that spot, some seventy years ago.
We passed and were passed by all sorts of people - some walking, some riding. Among the riders there were the serious bikers, who were probably going off onto some of the stiffer tracks that led off the main way - through to families with children on little bikes and toddlers in carriages that were pulled behind Mum or Dad. There were even some couples on tandems - all available for hire from the bike shop.
The last few miles were perhaps the easiest to cycle, but what took the edge off it for me was the fact that I was saddle sore! I strongly recommend padded cycle shorts!
Nevertheless, even a numb bum couldn't prevent me enjoying the last mile or so, through which I was able to freewheel while loudly singing Eric Coates' "Dambusters March". Passers-by might have thought I was mad, but I was passing them by too quickly to care.
We got back to the bike shop two and a half hours after setting off, having completed the eleven mile circuit. Had we wished, and had the time, we could have done the six miles below the centre, around Ladybower Reservoir. Having the bikes for a full day would have cost only three pounds more per bike, so well worth making a day of it. It worked the same with the pay and display car park, which cost £2.50 for two hours and £4.70 for twenty-four hours. A bonus was that on our return the nice man in the bike shop gave us a half price voucher that we could use next time.
A refreshment kiosk sells snacks, drinks and ice creams at what seemed to be reasonable prices and the Visitor Centre offers maps, books and information on the area, as well as the ubiquitous fridge magnets and pencils with rubbers on the end (or at least that sort of thing).
The toilets were of a good standard and well maintained, and seemed to be coping very well with the large number of people, which never seemed like an oppressive crowd. There's a public telephone up there too, which could be handy because one cannot be sure to get a decent mobile signal.
For those who want to follow up with a pint, The LadyBower Inn and the Yorkshire Bridge public house are not far away.
We settled for a large cup of tea before setting off for home again, and I had time to reflect on what a splendid afternoon I'd had. What a good idea of mine to go bike riding!