Cardinal Spins 3: SE – Day 1: Hathersage to Wellingborough

The magic spinner told me I was going to cycle south east. This meant a trip to London. In fact, my straight line from Hathersage to Hastings passes straight through Greenwich, the home of time, so there was no avoiding a trip through the capital by bicycle.

I wanted to put myself within easy striking distance of London on day 2 of this Cardinal Spin, so I set myself a fairly long day today, the morning after a late gig in Hathersage for our rock band, Mill Stone Grit. It was a great night, and I am always on a natural high afterwards, which makes it difficult to get to bed at a remotely decent hour. Nevertheless I left the house at 9am and set out initially for Curbar Gap.

The climb up Curbar Gap

It will be interesting to see if this project can unearth 16 different ways to leave where we live, but so far it is three for three. This morning’s route involved a few miles along the Derwent Valley and then steeply up to breach Froggatt Edge at Curbar Gap, where this morning people were gathering for an open air wedding on Froggatt Edge!

Thereafter I followed a route I know across the moors above Matlock, avoiding main roads. After a couple of hours I was ready for a proper breakfast; but my intended cafe was closed due to illness. Luckily, there was a garden centre cafe a mile further on. Unluckily, they had a long wait for cooked breakfasts, so I only had a toasted tea cake.

Then it was out into lesser known territory along quiet lanes down off the Peak into pretty Pentrich, and then – with a bit of a jolt – the much more built up area leading through the former mining towns of Ripley and Heanor and into the Erewash valley, DH Lawrence country. Here, it was more red brick terraced housing and places that merged one into another. My first goal of the day was a lunch stop in Ilkeston, where I once lived many years ago. An old friend, Fiona, is still there and she provided a welcome injection of healthy food, as well as a box of mini Battenburg cakes, which I half ate and half took away with me.

There wasn’t time to linger unduly, because I still had a long way to go. Before 2pm, I was back on the bike, finding the best way I could, including sections of the Erewash Canal towpath, to the closest bridging point on the River Trent, at Sawley, where I entered Leicestershire from Derbyshire. A few miles after that, I began a delightful section of minor roads through really attractive red brick villages, like Sutton Bonnington, in the Soar valley. I was thrilled to see signs soon after that to a chain ferry. I spent enough years of my life in Nottingham to know this area quite well, and a chain ferry would not easily have escaped my notice. And yet, apparently, it did!

River Soar ferry

The location, a few miles north of Loughborough, was delightful, and the ferry landing was tucked in a field off the road in the pretty village of Normanton on Soar. It has operated continuously for hundreds of years, taking people and animals over to the fields and paths on the far bank. Today, it operates only at weekends from April to September; but I was still amazed to discover it. Today being a Sunday, the volunteer ferry man was in place in his shed. I disturbed him reading his newspaper. We chatted a little. He said this is one of only three such ferries left in the country. Well done the local parish council for maintaining it.

My next challenge was to avoid Leicester. This was achieved by taking a north easterly arc into the quieter lanes below the Wreake valley. The further I went, the more rural it became, with tiny villages snuggled around their Manor House and church. It was all very pleasant. I was particularly takes by the village of Billesdon, complete with market cross and thatched houses.


Around Billesdon, I was in the highest part of Leicestershire, whose loftiest village, Tilton on the Hill, I missed by a couple of miles. A cycling sign pointing there also showed the way to the optimistically named Cafe Ventoux. It wasn’t that hilly!

There was, however, a long descent into the Welland valley to reach the attractive and affluent feeling small town of Market Harborough. Its distinctive half-timbered market hall stands on wooden stilts, adjacent to the the tall, honey coloured parish church, with its impressively tall spire dominating the town centre.

Market Harborough

The roads from here on to Wellingborough were very quiet, which I put down in part to the fact that England were playing Slovakia in their first knockout game of the Euros in Germany. I passed many flags hanging from windows as I cycled along, happy to be doing something fun rather than watching England toil to beat supposedly inferior opposition. Somehow they snatched victory from the jaws of defeat; but it was much better enjoyed later in the highlights show in my hotel room in Wellingborough. My bike was given its own double room at the Hind Hotel, a traditional old establishment built of the local honey coloured stone, with a golden deer on its porch. I only had a single. But it did the job, offering bed, breakfast and a Wetherspoons across the road to finish a good day’s work.

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