WHAT'S NOT NEW; CYCLISTS LOVE THE PEAK DISTRICT

Home to the Eroica Britannia, a selection of sportives and audaxes – including some pretty gruelling grimpeurs – and with many miles of traffic free cycle trails and off-road routes, the Peak District is accessible to many thousands of cyclists …. and this has been the case for many years.

 

"The small but mountainous district known as the Derbyshire Dales is, unfortunately, hemmed in by districts which are densely populated, dirty and ugly, or violently difficult. It is practically enclosed by Manchester, Huddersfield, Sheffield, Derby and the Potteries …. In spite of these forbidding approaches, the country enclosed by this ring fence of black industrialism is amongst the most striking in these islands."

(Kuklos, The Modern Cyclist, 1923)

 

Howls of derision from denizens of Staffordshire and Cheshire at equating the Peak District with the Derbyshire Dales? Fair enough. The real point is that the Peak District is the National Park with the biggest catchment of potential visitors next door to it. That is one of its attractions - and one of its problems.

 

The “smoky” approach was also a sign of getting home. A chance conversation in Burslem with a cyclist of some fifty-five years riding …..

 

"Getting away to the moors was the highlight of the week, but coming home Sunday, down bank by the Roaches or over Morridge, a layer of smoky cloud let you know it was back to the bench.”

 

Despite “the forbidding approaches” and some tough climbs, the Peak District was something of a workers playground. The famous mass trespass on Kinder Scout was not the only challenge to the establishment. For years the National Clarion Cycling Club – with its socialist message in tow – had chosen the Peak District for its Easter Meet.

 

Denis Pye, in his fascinating “Fellowship is Life”, points out that it was this very accessibility to the industrialised towns that made Ashbourne a desirable venue for the first Easter Meet in 1895;

 

"… half-a-dozen from Yorkshire, about fifty from Biirmingham, Nottingham and the Potteries, ten from Liverpool and about forty from the Manchester area. Some cyclists came from places with no Clarion CC yet, like Sheffield and Halifax."

(Denis Pye, Fellowship is Life, 2004)

 

The next two meets were held in Leek and Bakewell, whilst Buxton featured frequently as a venue in the years that followed. Active preaching of socialism was not always appreciated by local inhabitants; there were some “lively” incidents. Yet, the Clarions amiable style in which socialising and cycling were given greater prominence as the years went by – to the disappointment of the more politically active - generally ensured a warm welcome. Indeed, the founder of the Clarion movement, Robert Blatchford, stated that, the best argument for socialism at these Meets was the behaviour and attitude of the ‘Clarionettes’.

 

A few years earlier Nauticus had tricycled into the Peak via Sheffield and Chesterfield, partly attracted by “black industrialism”. With a much deeper pocket than the wealthiest of the Clarion cyclists (most of whom hardly came from the labouring working class, in any case), he aroused suspicion in Sheffield; 

 

"Rode up to the hotel in Sheffield looking much more than an animated mud pie than anything else. My extraordinary condition evidently caused dire consternation and suspicion amongst the authorities; happily the timely arrival of my portmanteau by rail dissipated the temporary cloud."

(Charles Edward Reade, Nauticus On His Hobby-Horse, 1880)

 

Next morning he visited Roger’s cutlery workshop, Sir John Browne’s factory and Dickson’s electro-plating works. Suspected, at first, at the latter, of being an industrial spy, he was only admitted when, in his own words, he was recognised as a ‘duffer’. In the afternoon, he took the train to Chesterfield, pedalled the four miles up and the four miles down to Chatsworth House, only to be told that he was too late to gain admittance. Even his calling card did not impress the estate staff.

 

In the mid nineteen-twenties, Charlie Chadwick and his friends toured extensively in the Peak District. Charlie wrote rapturously;

 

"Painted it was, slashed with colour, daubed effusively, extravagantly, yet delicate – delicate! A painted paradise from the misty, shining rocks, down to the tiniest trembling leaf …"

 

But he was not blind to industrial scars as they, “skimmed along to Peak Forest Station, where an entire dale has been turned into one vast quarrying concern.” Yet, after tea at Chapel-en-le-Frith;

 

"…. The velvet sky was star-lit, a fitting culmination to a day snatched from Spring. Joe, still leading, earned our everlasting antagonism by taking us over the Stockport setts. The, by the old suburban roads, we made our way home – there to stay ‘put’ until another six days had passed."

(Charlie Chadwick, Rough Stuff, edited by David Warner, 2012)

 

References

 

Charlie Chadwick’s pre-war cycling diaries, edited by David Warner, are published by the John Pinkerton Memorial Publishing Fund, as “Rough Stuff” and, a second volume, “Further Adventures”. Both are available from the Veteran Cycle Club www.v-cc.org.uk

 

Fitzwater Wray (Kuklos), “The Modern Cyclist, 1923” is published in facsimile by Old House Books www.oldhousebooks.co.uk

 

“Nauticus On His Hobby-Horse” by Charles Edward Reade, was originally published in 1880 by William Ridgway. It is reprinted in facsimile from Kessinger Publishing www.kessinger.net

 

Denis Pye’s grand history of the Clarion Cycling Club – “Fellowship is Life” - tells the story of a club that grew from love of cycling with a strong political purpose – to spread the Clarion version of socialism. Though the author is politically committed to the cause, it is a balanced, entertaining and happy read. It was originally published by Clarion Publishing in 1995, with a new edition in 2004. It is available from the National Clarion Cycling Club at http://www.clarioncc.org/about.html 

 

PUBLISHED FEBRUARY 2016

 

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