Fringe Box



Uphill All The Way – Miracle in Northampton (Bletchley to Mkt Harboro’)

Published on: 30 May, 2014
Updated on: 2 Jun, 2014

UATW 002 470This is the fifth report on the author’s progress in his bid to cycle from Guildford to Edinburgh. The reports follow: Uphill All The Way – The Idea and Uphill All The Way – The Plan (Part One) and Uphill All The Way – The Plan (Part Two)

All Uphill All The Way articles can be found under the Leisure section heading on the front page, in their own sub-section called Uphill All The Way.

By Martin Giles

“Please let it be dry today,” was my prayer as I sent off to face 42 miles of planned cycling to my next stop, Market Harborough.

The rain had not taken all the enjoyment out of the last three days but quite a lot of it. I fondly recalled the first day and the pleasure of the Hampshire lanes.

I had looked at the map with some trepidation. I needed to go through Milton Keynes. It looked like a maze. However, it turned out to be not so bad and when Surrey Road turned into Berwick Way (Berwick is a later stop on my way to Auld Reekie) I knew the portents were good.

I reached Watling Street the famous Roman road that heads north. The Romans did not face the navigational complexity of today. They only had 20 or so main roads. When a body of Roman soldiers got to a junction the centurion only had two choices.

A Roman soldier would not have faced this.

A Roman soldier would not have faced this.

No doubt he would have consulted his second in command, (always useful to have a scapegoat if things turned out badly).

“Which way do you reckon Jules?”

“Marcus, I always say, when in doubt, it’s dexter. My rule of thumb is – dexter is normally right.”

That’s probably why we have all the legends of “lost legions”. They were lost, I suppose, but only because they had turned dexter instead of sinister and just went to the wrong place.

I had contemplated following for some miles to lessen to navigational challenge but buoyed by my initial success I decided to follow a red route as indicated on my iPhone.

One of Milton Keynes' red routes.

One of Milton Keynes’ red routes. What you can’t hear is the omnipresent traffic noise.

The red route proved okay. I spotted a tern. Eventually the route took me to the centre Milton Keynes. It is not my kind of town but it must be said that the planners, given a clean sheet, have managed to co-locate the railway and bus stations and provide bike parking on a scale I have only previously seen in Amsterdam.

Railway station, bus station and ample bike parking, all close by. They have definitely got some things right in Milton Keynes.

Railway station, bus station and ample bike parking, all close by. They have definitely got some things right in Milton Keynes.

With some further map checking, I negotiated a route to the edge of town. The dexter edge!  [That’s enough Latin jokes. Ed] I picked up “National Cycle Route 6” (They need snappier names. Why not “C6”?) which would take me most of the way to Northampton.

Things were looking good. I was still dry. I had escaped the sprawling Milton Keynes and I was by a river with meadows beyond. I spotted a little egret. A lamb was following it hoping it was its mum.Well it was white I suppose.

The lamb that needs an eye test.

The lamb that needs an eye test.

Anyway things were looking up. This was how I had imagined my Uphill All The Way journey would be.

Shakespeare’s King Lear knew a thing or two. He famously said: “As flies to wanton boys, are we to the gods;
They kill us for their sport.”

They don’t seem to have murder on their mind for me, nothing so quick and merciful, instead they have been killing themselves laughing as they doused me with shower after shower. Now bored with that they had another trick up their sleeve.

The river, I think it was the Ousel, was in spate, unsurprisingly given the amount of unseasonal precipitation. As I cycled along the riverside path in dry clothes and with my spirits lifted I saw a slight overflow on to the pathway. “Pah!” I thought. “Had I not cycled through fords in France and flood water in Shalford and Millmead? This was nothing.”

I proceeded with confidence...

I proceeded with confidence…

I proceeded  with confidence but instead of the expected depth of a few inches I kept going down until the water was over my boots. I did not dare stop and managed to cycle through but the damage had been done and I was left with wet feet for the rest of the day. The water had been about 16 inches (40cm) deep. The gods were no doubt wetting themselves too.

Eventually the path came next to the eastern mainline and rose up out of the range of the overflowing tributary to the Rive Ouse. I tried not to let it spoil my day and continued along route 6 for miles off and on road until at a village called Quinton I left it at that point to take a more direct route through Northampton.

I was determined not to break for lunch until I had traversed the town. By then I would have broken the back of the journey.

It was on the approach to Northampton that the miracle occurred. The sun came out. But by now you have probably seen the event reported on the national news so I need not go into details save to say that fate is no doubt lulling me into another trap.

Progress was slow. I felt the need to constantly check the map but it did give me a route that was mostly off road. I emerged by Killington church. There was a pub opposite built in the same orange coloured sandstone. I went in. It was like the Marie Celeste. Half drunk pints but not a soul to be seen.

Killington, and attractive village subsumed into Northampton. The abandoned pub was just around the corner.

Killington, and attractive village subsumed into Northampton. The abandoned pub was just around the corner.

I went round the back. There was a sign saying: “No entry. Private function.” So private, it seemed, that no one had come. Anyway if they were going to be so impolite with their signs I would take my custom elsewhere.

A man was working in the churchyard. “Is there another pub nearby?” I asked.

“Oh no,” he replied.

“What none?”

“Well no … not nearby… not for at least a mile.”

I have noticed that many members of the population regard bikes as only suitable for journeys of a few hundred yards. Even panniers don’t give them a clue that this might be a slightly longer trip. When I told him I had cycled from Bletchley I might as well have said Moscow. It could hardly of got a more astounded look.

After going up and down a grubby littered and muddy lane that should be called “Fly Tipping Way” I was convinced I had taken a wrong turn (I hadn’t). I regained route 6 which followed the course of and old railway line all the way to Market Harborough. Brilliant all I had to do now was peddle.

The sun shone and I could feel the damp warmth associated with the rainwater evaporating from the verges. The meadows looked a picture.

Shortly I found a pub and had a decent and very welcome but late lunch.


The Windover. My lunch stop at Boughton.

The route from then on got a bit boring actually. Old railway lines can make good cycle tracks because the gradients are gentle. But they are often enclosed by overgrown hedgerows limiting any view. Nonetheless the knowledge that all I have to do was follow the path to my destination was reassuring.

Then came Kelmarsh tunnel. Once I saw it I remember reading about it. The sign said, well you can read it for yourself.

The warning sign at...

The warning sign at…

But for the second time today over confidence took over. “I have cycled though long dark tunnels before,” I thought and off I set. There is something very disorientating about cycling in the pitch black.

All of a sudden I felt the side of the tunnel brush my sleeve and I was off. I had not fallen completely but the bike was almost over. I was still astride but behind the saddle over the panniers which got in the way every time I tried to raise it.

Additionally my feet could not get a grip on the slimy wet surface in the tunnel, but it was the complete darkness that was the main problem. I was worried that both the bike and I would end up a tangled mess in the mud. There was certainly no one around to help.

The tunnel floor was damp, slimy and uneven.

The tunnel floor was damp, slimy and uneven.

Eventually I succeeded in getting the bike vertical and suitably chastised by a vision of my wife wagging her finger at me, I now obeyed the warning sign and pushed the bike through. Even that was nerve wracking given the uneven slippy surface. Further on there was another tunnel almost 500 yards long. It was not fun.

Market Harborough, or just “Harborough” as the locals call it seems a nice little town. I wish I had time to explore it better but I have not.

A newish shopping precinct that has been developed in scale with the rest of the town.

A newish shopping precinct that has been developed in scale with the rest of the town.

I am staying in the Angel Hotel, which like ours in Guildford is a coaching Inn with 16th century origins. I also has a hose in the courtyard which allowed be to hose down my muddy bike.

My trusty Raleigh half way through its hose down.

My trusty Raleigh half way through its hose down.

I have managed to get all my clothes washed and dried, well the hotel staff have, but as for my boots I think they will still be damp with Ousel water in the morning.

Tomorrow it is just 24 miles to Melton Mowbray which has declared itself England’s rural capital of food. I might have a pork pie.

29.05.14 UATW computer data:

Miles cycled: 43.63 miles

Average speed: 9.2mph

Cycling time: 4 hour 42 minutes.

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