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Peter Milner's 'Resurrection Ride' Recollections

A cycle ride from Leeds to Derby in aid of Wingfield Station

At a DHBT meeting to discuss ideas to support our campaign to raise funds for the Wingfield Station project, someone (could only be a a keen cyclist) suggested we bike ride the length of the original North Midland Railway starting in Leeds and finishing at Derby railway station – a mere 75 miles or so – visiting as many of the original station locations as might be possible. And, as always, such ideas gather a momentum of their own without any thought about logistics or the fact that at least two of us are septuagenarians!


However, I found myself volunteering – and promptly went out and bought a bike – an electric bike, which ended up be amazing! The date was set for Friday 19th August for the first leg - Leeds to Barlborough and Saturday 20th to complete the ride taking in, of course, Wingfield Station.


Day One

Given the horrendously hot weather of the preceding fortnight, and the portend for summer storms, I had been watching the weather forecast with some trepidation in the lead up to the start of our 80 mile bike ride. But, as it turned out, we were blessed!


Sunny with lots of clouds to ease the chance of sunburn and a predicted maximum temperature of around 24C. Up at 5-30am Friday to walk the dogs, car all loaded ready for leaving for the drive to Leeds to meet my fellow riders who were all travelling up together, whilst the bikes (apart from mine) were being transported by our amazing support team consisting of Tony and the 'White Van'.


It was a perfect morning and the drive to Leeds could not have been easier. Nothing could possibly go wrong until, that is, a text message while we were on the M1 to say that Tony and the White Van were stationary in a huge traffic jam blocking the A614 just short of M1 junction 29 and might be delayed. So, my son, Ben, and I peeled off the M1 to enjoy a coffee at Woolley Edge and then re-joined the route to Leeds Armoury – our rendezvous point.

The planned 9-15 start sadly failed to materialise, as the incident that had closed Junction 29 took more than 90 minutes to clear. Eventually, riders and bikes were repatriated and we set off southwards alongside the Aire and Calder Canal. The first 12 or so miles were gentle and easy riding alongside the canal without a car or lorry in sight.

Tony’s good friend Matt had been tasked with refining the route we were to take, most of which had been trialled earlier in the year by fellow rider and DHBT volunteer, Heather. It turned out to be quite an amazing route – for more than 60% of the time it avoided main roads altogether and allowed us to take in some splendid scenery at a gentle pace.


After we had finished following the Aire and Calder, the route took on a more urbanised appearance as we passed through the first of the former mining villages that had developed alongside the deep mine collieries established as a direct result of the construction of the North Midland Railway. The route of the line devised by George Stephenson back in 1835 was intended to largely follow the valley bottoms passing through the then “virgin coalfields” of the Amber, north-east Derbyshire and South Yorkshire. George’s reasoning for the base of the valley was that the deep mines would be sunk on the valley sides and their coal could be send down to his railway simply by gravity; thus costing the coal masters nothing to access the NMR line and once on it, they would then pay!


The first village we reached, and the site of the first station south of Leeds, (there still is a station but it is modern) was Woodesford followed by a short ride to Methley (no longer a station) before navigating to Normanton - our first White Van rendezvous.

The original station is now long gone, replaced with a modern 'bus shelter' type platform. Normanton, like Derby, was a “Tri-Junct” Station build by the NMR and shared with the York and North Midland Company (linking Darlington) and the Manchester and Leeds railway. In its heyday, Normanton must have been a seriously busy railway town. After light refreshments and a photo session it was back on-board two wheels and then, following a very urban route, we made our way gradually south towards out first proper stop for lunch at Thurnscoe Park.


This was a great choice of venue by Tony who arrived, aided by Ben, bringing sandwiches, fruit and gallons of water. Derek seemed strangely concerned that we were being watched all the time we munched out way through this great feast, suddenly disappearing into nearby shrubbery and appearing over the top astride the local gorilla!! Another great photo opportunity before leaving for the second half of our circa 50 mile ride.

The 1842 map of the North Midland Railway shows the stations south of Normanton as Oakenshaw, Royston, Barnsley and Wath. These become difficult to identify given that they have all disappeared and replacement stations – such as they are – occupy different locations. It is possible that Thurnscoe Station might have been the location for for Barnsley and Goldthorpe Station for Darfield. We certainly passed by Wath (no station) and at this point returned to off-road tracks reaching Swinton Station and turning onto yet another canal side tow path before passing under the railway at Kilnhurst (no station).


It became a real mix of back streets, main roads and cycleways heading for the centre of Rotherham. In 1842, the station for Rotherham was at Masborough on the west side of the River Rother. Masborough was a very significant station. George Stephenson had intended the line would connect Derby to Sheffield and Sheffield to Leeds but on realising the severity of the incline to reach Sheffield, he by-passed the town (as it was then) forming the station at Masborough. By the time it had been built, the Sheffield and Rotherham Railway Company was building its line which would pass under the NMR line with Stephenson as Chief Engineer and Frederick Swanwick over-seeing the construction.


Cycling through the pedestrianised shopping centre of Rotherham was an interesting experience and soon we were climbing uphill to reach our final interim stop for coffee, just north of the entrance to the Rother Valley Country Park. Once again, we were met by Tony, Ben and White Van, who were all busy making sure that we were served with drinks of our choice. By now it was approaching 4pm and we had some way to go, so it was back on the bikes and through the absolutely delightful Rother Valley Country Park with its lakes and traffic free bridleways.

Our route took us onto a disused railway that would eventually take us south to Staveley the following day, but for now, we were heading for Renishaw and then to our final destination, the Ibis Hotel at Barlborough. But first, to our delight, the disused track took us through the long abandoned station at Eckington. The original platform on the west side remains plus various retaining structures. Another one “ticked” off.


We had not been able to locate Treeton and Woodhouse Mill as the line was too far over to the west to be accessible, but we passed the approximate position of the former Beighton station on the edge of the Country Park.


Now it was a gentle and comfortable ride along the track to Renishaw before the cruelty of the route planning showed itself. Renishaw is at the bottom of the valley and Barlborough is at the very top – some 2 miles of near vertical ascent to be tackled after almost 50 miles of pedal turning! But, thankfully, we all made it and headed for the Ibis.


We had managed to ride more than 50 miles without incident or damage to either people or bikes. But then, less than 150m from the Ibis car park, we had to pass along a very narrow passageway with a high Hawthorne hedge one side and rough cast concrete panel fence on the other. I arrived at the Ibis with blood streaming down both arms. The left arm was from Hawthorne rash and the right one was from concrete abrasions! It is strange how much mirth can be garnered from an injury.


Ben and I loaded the bike back on to my car and headed south for home leaving my fellow riders to enjoy the delights of the Ibis bar and restaurant.


Day Two

At the very kind invitation of the Sitwells, day two was to begin with a full English breakfast at Renishaw Hall and a quick look around their museum and gallery. The coffee shop and restaurant at Renishaw is a true delight and the breakfast was beyond compare.

Suitably prepared for the final phase of this epic journey, we re-joined the cycle way (Sustrans route 67) which would take us all the way to Chesterfield. At Staveley (station gone), the route switches to the Chesterfield Canal tow path reaching Tapton Lock and from there, a short ride to Chesterfield Station to have a photo shoot alongside the statue of George Stephenson.

It was a absolute joy of a route meeting walkers, cyclists and those playing around on boats. The sun was shining and apart from a minor collision with the side of a bridge (I have a seemingly strange attraction to all things concrete when riding a bike) without incident.


After saying farewell to George Stephenson, we had a second photoshoot then headed southwards, out of Chesterfield on the Alfreton road, but turning off into the newly created Avenue Country Park that would follow the Midland Main Line past Tupton and the point at which the Midland Main Line meets the Erewash Line before reaching Clay Cross (station gone) and the renowned mile long Clay Cross tunnel – a huge feat of engineering at the time.


We cycled into Clay Cross itself and turned onto the A61 that would take us to Higham (Smithy Moor), Toadhole Furnace and on to lunch at Wingfield Station (sole surviving station house from the original 26 that were built).

We were cheered and greeted there by Tony, Ben and our Trust Executive Officer (and Wingfield Station Project Coordinator) Lucy Godfrey and another very welcome picnic lunch partaken while my fellow riders admired the restoration work completed in the first phase of our project.

Lunch over and off we set reinvigorated to reach Ambergate turning onto the A6 for the final leg of this amazing journey. Belper station was passed unseen as was Duffield as our route now took us over to Little Eaton and the cycleway through Darley Park, past the Silk Mill (The Museum of Making) and to our final destination – Derby Station, the Brunswick Inn and a pint of their finest ale.

We had all made it, intact and without too many aches and pains. The Mayor of Derby, Cllr Robin Wood, greeted us at the Brunswick generously buying the first round. A brief rest, finish the pint and then it was final goodbyes. It had been a real adventure with the most wonderful, generous and supportive group of fellow riders.


The Riders

Derek Latham : Ian Webster : Heather Lounds : John Hambley : Rod Muir : Kathy Farr : Martin Farr : The High Sheriff of Derbyshire, Michael Copestake : Peter Milner


Support

Tony Edwards : Ben Milner : White Van

Back Room

Lucy Godfrey : Matt

Statistics

21 Station sites visited or passed.

Total mileage – Day One – 51 miles

Day Two 36 miles

Day One average speed 6.7 mph

Overall average speed 9.5 mph

Total riding time excluding breaks – 09 : 03 : 13


Stats taken from my Cats Eye Cycle Computer. Others may have differing results and have covered a greater distance as they returned time and time again to collect and encourage back markers.


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