Road Ride – Towcester, Salcey Forest (Singlespeed)

My sister had been kind enough to bring my singlespeed road bike down from Coventry for my stay in Towcester and I managed to wangle an afternoon off teen-minding to get a little bike ride in. I was joined by AndyB, a non-cyclist intent on proving that his impulse buy of a full-suspension Kona MTB with huge knobbly tyres was not the best choice for road riding. In this, he was to succeed admirably! 😉

Nephew had been sent out to spread the Gothic Gothness vibe to Greater Northamptonshire, but was under strict instructions to return before the stabbing hour descended. (Apparently, Northampton town centre gets a little rough in the evenings, especially for those who routinely dress like extras from a 50s Hammer horror movie! 😯 )

Niece was left to continue her training for a lifetime of servitude to a future lazy husband (she cleaned up the mess that the cats had made, did the washing up and got on with preparing a curry feast fit for hungry cyclists and starving Goths). I didn’t tell her to do all that, but it seems that eventually she got bored of simultaneously texting, phoning, emailing, Facebooking, MySpaceing and MSNing every person she’d ever met, and several thousand that she hadn’t yet.

I’m not used to spending time with modern-day teenagers so I wasn’t quite prepared for the amount of high-spec comms technology routinely employed in their day-to-day lives. They take multitasking to a whole new level, as long as verbal communication beyond cryptic grunts isn’t one of those tasks, of course! 😉 We had a major crisis one afternoon when Goth HQ was cut-off by a sudden mobile phone failure. This resulted in drawers full of dead mobiles being emptied out onto the carpet followed by a frantic sequence of SIM card transplants, none of which was successful. Knowing where your mates are going to be isn’t enough these days, you also have be able to contact them every couple of seconds to make sure that they haven’t experienced something interesting since the last time you breathed. But I digress (again)…

I’d worked out a little route to nearby Salcey Forest. It looks like a nice place to spend a day with children, but we didn’t have any of those handy. The teens weren’t interested in getting on their bikes and coming with us. I mentioned that it would be about a 20 mile round trip and jaws had dropped. 200 yards is generally the limit for walking. It look a lot of persuasion to get my niece to walk for an hour to the shops and back the other day. 2 miles is something you do on a bike if you can’t get a lift from the folks. 20 miles is something you don’t do at all unless you can get a lift, or a taxi, or a bus, or a train.

I’d included a couple of little detours in the outward route to take in some extra villages, with the return leg being as direct as possible. I’d correctly assumed that AndyB would be suffering by then and anxious to get back.

The mid-afternoon sun was shining brightly as we departed. We had to do a few hundred yards on the A5 before turning left after Towcester racecourse. The road was busy but not stupidly so on the way out.

I was quite surprised by how undulating the route was. There weren’t any massive hills and the ones that there were were not too much of a problem for me even on the singlespeed bike, but I did find that my normal seated climbing style wasn’t suited to the bike’s 39/15 gear. I chose to stand and sprint up most of the hills because my slow cadence sitting down made climbing too much of a grind. I was feeling good and kept getting way ahead of Andy without even trying. He hadn’t ridden his bike for years, and its knobbly tyres and weight certainly were not helping him.

We passed through Shutlanger village and then turned left at Stoke Bruerne and headed for Blisworth. There was a 160 ft climb to get over and I spotted a strange chimney-like structure in a field next to the road. I took a picture of it while I waited for Andy to catch up. He told me that the Grand Union canal passes under that hill in the 3rd longest canal tunnel in the UK (9th in the world!) and I was looking at one of the ventilation shafts. Interesting!

Blisworth tunnel ventilation shaft
Blisworth tunnel ventilation shaft

We turned right at Blisworth and headed east up another little hill. While waiting for Andy, I spotted another interesting landmark, this time in the distance on the fringes of Northampton. It turned out to be the Express Lift Tower, one of the UK’s youngest listed buildings. You learn something new every day!

We took a left onto the A508 and after 500 yards, a right towards Quinton. The peace of the countryside was shattered by the roar of traffic on the M1 which we passed under after about a mile. A right turn at Quinton and another couple of miles brought us to Salcey Forest where we stopped for coffee and cake at the visitors centre. I’d liked to have spent some time looking around the forest but I’d promised that we wouldn’t be away for too long. There is a wooden walkway up in the trees which I’d like to have had a stroll along. Another time perhaps?

Singlespeed bike at Salcey Forest Visitor Centre
Singlespeed bike at Salcey Forest Visitor Centre

Time to be heading back…

We turned right at the crossroads in the forest, and crossed back over the M1 on the way to Hartwell, then Ashton, and finally to Stoke Bruerne where we’d turned off earlier on the way to Blisworth.

I swapped bikes with Andy for a while to give him a taste of what a decent road bike could do. He found the lack of low gears made progress difficult, but he could tell how much easier a geared road bike would be than his Kona MTB. He said that he’d sell it if he could get enough to buy a decent road bike in its place.

Eventually we got back to the A5 which was now very busy with rush-hour traffic. It was a bit tricky getting across safely, and the 500 yards up it before we could turn off up a nice little country lane were not pleasant.

Andy’s legs finally gave way on a tiny little hill back to the house so he walked the last bit. I felt good and saw that we’d done about 22.5 miles and I wanted to make it up to a nice round 25 miles so I set off on a little tour of Towcester and discovered a superb little 1.25 mile anticlockwise circuit. All left turns on good road surfaces and very little traffic, with a couple of flat sections and a nice little climb and descent. It was perfect for some singlespeed interval training. I sprinted up the hill, recovered on the downhill and took it steady on the flatter sections. If I lived in Towcester, I’d make a point of going out a couple of times a week and doing a few laps to warm up, then (say) 10 laps ‘full gas’ on the climbs, and easy elsewhere on the circuit.

I’ve an idea for a similar circuit back home in the Hebden Bridge area. It is up on the hilltops a few miles from town. The road surfaces are not as good and I’ll have to watch out for farm traffic and gravel on the lanes. I’ll make a separate post about it later.

A nice ride and a curry waiting for us when we got back – super!

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