Friday: another long, busy day, the sun shining bright and inviting through the office window, not that I’m bitter. Five o’clock: down tools and scarper.
Where to ride? Nottingham is the city where traffic cones come to die, and at this time on a Friday, gridlock means my options are limited. Another ride around the slurry lagoon? More ducks and herons?
No. During my last few rides, I have been casting a speculative eye at the opposite bank of the river. I had to be careful, because sometimes kids on the other side were casting speculative stones at me. It looks like a good place to ride, but I’ve never worked out how to get access to that particular stretch.
But this evening, the silicon ship inside my head is switched to know the road, and I suddenly realise how to get there: over the Gunthorpe Bridge (that bit was obvious!) then right towards Shelford, then turn right in the centre of the village and see how far the road takes me. I have vague memories of driving down there once and coming out opposite the Ferry pub - and it makes sense that if there was once a ferry there, there should be road access to the other side.
It works. Stoke Ferry Lane is narrow and winding, but eventually I reach a small lay by. The options here are to park or to continue and make quite a splash. The lay by is unappealing, with clear evidence of the carbon footprint of a car that has been burned out at some time in the recent past. However, I decide I should be safe at this time in the evening.
I climb over a stile and onto the top of a low flood bank that runs parallel to the river. I am directly opposite the car park where I normally park. Familar bends of the river look different from this side, and it is more peaceful. I am alone in the field apart from a few dozen sheep and lambs. Voices carry across the river, but only faintly.
The top of the flood bank is shortish grass, and the riding is easy. To my left is a drop of a metre or two to a fence and then field of yellow rape. To my right is a similar drop, then a narrow strip of grazing land and a short drop to the river. Swallows swoop low over the water and the field, feeding on the wing. Startled sheep and lambs skip out of my way then, after only three or four steps, forget to be startled and resume their grazing.
After a few hundred metres, I reach a stile and dismount to climb over. After the stile, the flood bank curves to the left, away from the river. The top is less well groomed, and riding is slightly more difficult. My view of the river becomes obscured by a thicket of willow trees. To my left, the rape field has given way to rough grazing land. Far to the left is a steep hillside, with a tempting looking wood at the top.
A few hundred metres further, the climb starts in earnest. I am already probably five metres or so above the river level, but now the flood bank is no longer needed, and the land rises naturally. I choose the narrow path that is sign posted “Trent Valley Way” (an official long distance path) rather than the informal path that runs parallel to it on the other side of a hedge.
I can hear a child giggling, and the squeak of bicycle brakes. A small girl and her father are riding bicycles down the hill, but on the other side of the hedge. The father is shouting encouragement. The child glimpses me through a gap in the hedge and is surprised, but concentrating too much on steering the bicycle for her brain to function properly. She squeals, “Look, Daddy! That man’s on another one, on an only one, look!” Her brakes squeak again, and Daddy shouts a warning to concentrate. I tense guiltily, waiting to hear the crash and the scream, but she keeps control.
The climb gets steeper. The path is hard packed mud, with chippings and ballast embedded in it. To my right, woodland drops down steeply towards the river, and I can see interesting paths, but exploration would be at the expense of hard-earned gravity karma, and I stick to my task, slogging up the hill. Most of the time, I stay in the saddle, but my quadriceps and quintriceps are starting to burn, and my breathing is getting heavy.
Soon, I am at the top - I made it without a stop - and I am faced with a choice: carry on along the path, which is now level or slightly descending, or turn left and climb further up a rough grass and mud farm track to the very top of the hill. The hill is the one called Malkin Hill on the link posted later in the thread, and the map suggests I am only 50 metres or so up, but it looks further to me - maybe a trick of perspective, or just wishful thinking. For now, I decide to carry straight on. I’ve earned a rest, so I cruise easily for a while.
To my right, the drop to the river is almost vertical, and through occasional gaps I can see the river. The sound of the weir is surprisingly loud - a constant roar - although I seldom notice it when I am down by the river side. As I continue, and more gaps open up, I see the artificial lakes (the slurry lagoon) and the fishing lakes spread out below. The aqueduct that carries the railway looks different from here, the brick arches silhouetted against the silver blue of the river. This is a good place to be.
The path becomes tarmac, and quite formal, with a narrow apron of mown grass to my left, and occasional wooden benches. Most of the benches are marked as memorials to various deceased citizens of Radcliffe, and, surprisingly, there is little vandalism. It feels like the sort of place where older people can feel safe as they walk, sit, ponder, and take in the view. There are too few such places left.
The path starts to descend, and there are occasional individual steps. I treat these as kerbs and ride down them, but soon they start to come close enough together that I have to be more careful. I manage a few, then see an elderly lady walking ahead of me. Falling off and catapulting my unicycle down the steps at her is too horrible to contemplate, so this is the excuse I need to dismount. As I do so, the lady turns, does a discreet double take and then asks, “How far do you go on that?”
Here is a lady of unusual intelligence: she has asked a question that implies immediate acceptance of the idea that someone might have travelled some distance on a unicycle. We have a pleasant conversation:
“Oh, usually five or ten miles in an evening, sometimes a bit more.”
“Oh,”(thinks) “Shelford, then?”
“Not far off. I’ve parked opposite the pub on the lane from Shelford to the river.”
She makes no comment, but accepts without question that this is the sort of thing people do on unicycles. I like her.
We chat as we walk down the steps. At the bottom, she asks me which way I’m going. I suggest I may try to get to the river bank. She feels I am unlikely to succeed from here, but wishes me luck.
I turn right, down a road that leads towards the river. She takes the path opposite.
The road leads straight to the barriers at the entrance to a private mobile home park. I look and see no sign that says, “No entry to unicycles” and feel safe to enter. The park is well maintained, and feels like quite an enclave of civilisation and good order. I feel slightly as if I am intruding, but the one person I pass makes no comment.
There is access to the river bank, but only for a short distance. There is no obvious path or route for me to follow. I turn back, pass the barrier, and set off up the road. To my right is a playground that I used to visit as a teenager (I lived about five miles away) but it has now been greatly improved, with an excellent skateboarding/BMX facility with half pipes and quarter pipes. All that stuff is beyond me, so I carry on, hoping to find a route back to the top of the hill that avoids the steps. There is none, and I turn back, deciding I’ll have to walk up the steps.
I see four or five youths walking towards me. The tallest catches my eye, and it is clear he is about to say something. He comes to the edge of the pavement and I fear he may attempt to push me off. I raise my free hand a little, planning to lash out with the hard palm of my wrist guard if I need to.
“I’ve not seen you round here before…” he says.
Is this a territorial challenge? I decide to take his statement at face value.
“No, I usually ride on the other bank of the river. It’s the first time I’ve come this way.”
“Can you idle?”
An unexpected question! A technical unicycling term! I demonstrate.
“Can you ride backwards?”
“A bit.” I demonstrate.
“How far have you come on that?”
I tell him.
“I once rode my mate’s unicycle to Cropwell Butler.”
I stop and chat with the lads for a while. One is angling for a go on it, but, thinking of the pinned pedals and no quick release on the seat, I make polite excuses.
“Who’s that other guy who’s dead good?”
“Yes, him. He’s wicked. I seen his video.”
“Yes, he’s far far better than I am!”
“You seen unicycle dot com?”
“Yes. Do you go in the forum?”
“Er… sometimes.” (I guess he means no, but hello if I’m wrong!)
We chat for a while longer. One lad is the main spokesman for the group, and clearly knows a bit about unicycling. One of the others keeps his comments to the occasional, “That’s wicked!” or “That’s crazy!”
Eventually, I move on, with the advice ringing in my ears that “I’d hop up those steps.”
Right, I’ll bear that in mind. As I reach the steps, I see the old lady I spoke to before. We exchange greetings like old friends.
I walk up the steps. When I reach the flat bit at the top, I remount and poddle along at a steady pace.