Saturday, 4 December 2021

The sad demise of the X-57 bus service

A minor departure from the usual tittle-tattle about hill going antics. 

The x57 bus. A brilliant idea, but not really carried out with the best attention to detail. For those of you who are unaware, the x-57 is a bus service (soon to be kyboshed- Jan 2022) run by Hulleys of Baslow. It is a truely heroic route, running from the centre of Sheffield, along the A57, over the Snake to Glossop, and then onward to the centre of Manchester- and beyond(!) to Manchester Airport. 

What a route. (and reviewed a long time ago by the father of a friend who knows stuff about public transport... or at least- has opinions)

It provides pretty much the only direct public transport route from Glossop Eastwards toward Sheffield, and is unique in it's East/West reach across the Dark Peak.


 Unfortunately it has been plagued with issues. Not least, starting the service up during the second Covid lockdown last year, when pretty much NO-ONE was travelling- that was a bit of a bummer. As much as we wanted to catch a bus, it just didn't seem like a good idea. 

The second is that there are very few passengers, in part due to the ongoing concern about covid on public transport etc. 

The third is reliability issues. Not entirely surprising when you consider the length of the route- on public roads- there are bound to be some hold ups, but the reliability (or lack of) became a bit legendary. 

Initially there were reports of buses sailing merrily through Glossop 20 or 25 mins *before* scheduled time. You'd see bewildered passengers standing at bus stops at the right time- or even from 10 mins early who had missed the bus. Which seems a bit odd. 

In September I started University in Manchester. The X57 seemed like the perfect answer. It goes from the bottom of my road and drops me right outside university. 

Brilliant. 

I caught it there and back 6 times. 

4 times it was late (twice it was more than an hour late- and this in BOTH directions) and twice it simply failed to turn up. Ever. 

Somewhat reluctantly I now take the train. I know they have their reliability issues, but thus far, it's been fine. 

It is disappointing, but equally unsurprising that this ambitious and exciting bus route is being cancelled. I can't imagine it was ever making money, or hugely popular- but when you have something that is a good idea AND unreliable, the unreliable thing tends to be in the forefront of peoples minds.

The Green alternative?

The majority of people I have seen on the bus (bearing in mind I live pretty much at the bottom of Snake in Glossop) have been walkers and runners. It has been a boon to people who don't want to leave cars in crowded car parks at Snake Summit etc. along the Snake. It has been marvellous for access into the Peak District National Park for those without cars, and those wanting a "greener" alternative and it is a real shame that it is being axed.

 The fact that there are bus stops which have been built along the A57 means that the infrastructure is still there. I wonder if there might be an appetite to run a Spring/Summer service from Sheffield to Glossop and back again as a kind of shuttle service? 

There have been various shoutings across the media about "too many cars in the national parks". Sarah Fowler- Chief Exec of Peak Park is on record as saying that bus services would be a good idea (see here) though of course it probably only applies to the Hope valley and Hathersage areas...

The main flaws of the X57 - started in a pandemic, crazy long route with many places for being delayed and erratic schedule maintainence by the actual buses can be rectified to make it a useful and efficient service into and out of the Dark Peak. Surely a shuttle bus on the same scale as the Snowdon Sherpa would be a great idea? (pricing might also be an issue... I, for one, wouldn't pay a fiver to get to the top of the Snake from Glossop. £2.50- yes, I'd do that relatively often. But a fiver to get to Ladybower- yep, that'd work). 

I digress....

Can it be done? Will it be done?

I realise that would mean that the Peak Park would probably have to subsidise the buses and would then get less cash in flow due to fewer people paying to park their cars in car parks across the Snake, (well, ok, there is only Ladybower) - but *surely* this would be a great idea in the lighter months (and indeed the darker ones) if we could get it off the ground.

Yes it would need a fair amount of publicity. Yes it would need a fair amount of "political" willpower from the Peak Park, but Yes - it would be an excellent addition to creating equality of access to one of Britains most popular National Parks. 

Monday, 15 November 2021

Wearing Black on a Bike?

There may be some pushback on this. However...


Cycling clothing tends to come and go in phases. One of those phases/fashions never really seems to go out of favour, and that is the fashion for Black, sometimes known as "Stealth". 

Which, I must hasten to point out, is *very* cool. Hacking around in stuff that is black is definitely something that I aspire to, however, it is not something that I will be doing. 

Why?

Let's get the victim blaming thing out of the way first. I am not in any way, shape or form saying that people wearing black or dark coloured clothing when cycling are responsible for getting hit.

Nor am I saying that the poor old car drivers didn't stand a chance because people wearing dark colours meld in with the background and couldn't help hitting the cyclist. No. Drivers should damn well pay attention and should be able to see cyclists no matter what damn colour they're wearing. 

This is NOT victim blaming, this is attempting to look at things from different perspectives, weighing things up and trying not to die. 

Others may differ in their point of view. This is mine. 

Point 1

Sometimes people make this argument: "In the dark ALL colours are dark. Put a red jacket and a black jacket in a dark room and they'll be equally as unobtrusive". 

This is true, but also plain silly. 

Why do Special forces wear Black? Why do burglars/poachers/gamekeepers etc wear black? Why do people trying to hide in the dark wear black? If, as you contest, all colours are the same in the dark, it wouldn't matter what colour they wore. I suspect that if you asked the SAS to wear red on their next night mission because "it doesnt matter what colour you wear if its dark", they'd probably have something to say about it. And it wouldn't be polite.

A reason to wear black is to be unobtrusive, to not be seen. To be stealthy- which is what some companies like to sell stuff with...

Point 2

If a clothing company sells something with the idea that it is "stealth", or you buy something because it equally looks "stealth", I have to ask a couple of things. The main one is: What dyou reckon "stealth" means? 

If we look it up, it means: cautious, unobtrusive, intended to avoid detection. 

Great. So if I'm wearing something that is "stealth" then it basically means I'm trying to avoid detection. Not necessarily quite what we're needing when out on a bike. Or in a car. I refuse to believe that people say things look "stealth" as a synonym for "cool"- "stealth" means just that, Stealthy. (and yes, being stealthy can be cool- but they are NOT the same thing).

Don't dress up like that unless you are actually intending on avoiding detection- and if you're avoiding detection, don't ride on a fricking road.

Personally, none of these are things I want to be when I'm on a bike, which brings me to :

Point 3

Next argument is: "People drive into buses, walls, cars and cyclists even if they are lit up like christmas trees, so it doesn't matter what you wear, if you're going to get hit, you're going to get hit. Drivers are pillocks". 

I agree. However, I do like to stack the odds in my favour. If I'm going to get hit, it isn't going to be for lack of me trying to be seen by some idiot in a car. You'll notice how a LOT of drivers don't hit every single bus that comes along, or every other car. Yes, there are times when drivers get distracted, play with their mobiles, and generally act like complete imbeciles whilst in control of what is essentially a lethal weapon. I'm sharing the road with these loons and I'm going to take every damn precaution I can to not be hit.

 As much as I'm not going to hack about on a bike in black, I'm also not going to buy a car that is the same colour as "Wet Road in Bad Light" for much the same reason. I don't really want to be hit (though in a car it's considerably less of a problem than on a bike). 

Yeah, Hux is cooler than me. I still won't wear black.


 

Monday, 18 October 2021

The New Glossop Fell Race (AL) (TT)

 First of all, don't get excited about the title thinking there is a new AL Glossop fell race. The "new"ness of it simply distinguishes it from the "old" Glossop fell race- which I believe was discontinued in 1987 or so. The "new" route was run in 1994, and maybe once again in 1996, but was discontinued because of permission issues. (oh how modern). 

Both the Old and the New route cross A roads- the Old crossing the A628 twice in pretty lairy places, and the New crosses the A57 Snake in slightly less lairy, but still objectively not undangerous places. I can't think of many other AL races that require you to cross A roads, but in this case, it doesn't detract from the character of the route. 

Why was I doing this? Glossopdale Harriers have had a year long "champs" series with a different route being the subject of a Timetrial in each month. This gives significant advantages in terms of participation, picking a decent day, or just a convenient day- which has meant that participant numbers have been massively up on any other champs over the past few years. Octobers challenged was the "New" Glossop Fell Race. The only AL in this years calendar, and one of the few routes around here that I've never actually run as a route in and of itself. Previous fell routes in the series have been the classic 3 trigs and the Shelf moor race route, which although amusing, in a time trial format probably don't lend themselves to a specific blog. This one though is a little different, simply as there is so little information out there on the route so a blog is necessary. 

So here we are. No photos at all for this- I was trying pretty hard from the off, you'll just have to accept this is text only. Just pretend you're reading it on teletext or something. 

It's Saturday morning, a decent if cool day, on my back is a small bag with FRA race kit, plus a small amount of extra food and an emergency bag and a warm layer just in case I end up doing something silly (or finding someone in a worse position than myself). I wander from the house to the start line at the Turning circle on Shepley street with Lynne, and as she turns to go back in order to head off to a market to sell some ceramics, I head out up the track towards the hills. 

This is a long race route- about 34km and 1200m ascent. I have a couple of times that I'd like to hit in terms of the first half, but have no idea what will happen after that. Ideally, Shelf Moor trig (CP1) should be about 30 mins in, Alport (CP2) might take about an hour... maybe?, and I *might* get to the Snake- technically halfway... but not really- it's the furthest point out, but not actually halfway- in about 1:30. At the time I started, my inkling was that this was about a 32km route (no... I didn't actually check) and thought that it would be amazing to finish in 3:30. The key to a fast time- or at least a time close to that- would be to keep as many kilometre segments at below 6 mins per km- that way if it was flat I'd be on for a sub 3 hour 30k, but with the hills there would be some kilometres that would be considerably slower, so I'd have to claw back as much as I could on the "flat" sections.... 32k in 3:30? hmmm.

Off up out of Glossop, a quick turnover up past the Owl barn, the red of the sunrise briefly lights up the sky as I pass Spring cabin and up James Thorn past the pond- crossing the fence at about 25 mins. Don't want to go too fast too early, especially as I didn't bring any water. This might be a mistake and that thought is already occuring in the back of my mind... I have a couple of gels which are *very* liquidy, and I might be able to convince myself that they're watery enough to consider to be hydration... and I'm well on my way now, so.. oh well, no water for the next few hours then.

Up and across the moor to Shelf Trig, a look at the watch and I'm on 34 mins. A couple of mins slower than hoped for, but then, considering recent form- I've been a bit faster in my head than in real life (yes darling, I'll only be gone an hour.... oh THAT took longer than expected... sorry!)... Touch the trig and belt off down towards Herne clough via the B29. Quiet as anything, no-one else around yet. The trod takes you down and direct into Herne basin- with that funny tree with two vertical branches out up to the North (Must go and take a photo of that at some point), and down the clough to the gate into the Swamp where I fumble the latch for a moment, thinking "gah- there's a few seconds that I won't get back... bet I'll pay for them later).

Into the Alport- there is a choice... head up to the ridge and along the top to Alport trig, or down the Alport itself, with a steep climb up out of Miry clough to the trig is the question. I opt for the trip down the Alport valley, always a delight. The trod wends it's way down the North side of the valley providing you with amazing views all the way down. Quick steps are needed to get over the tricky bits of ground, and I look ahead to check where the ascent line from the valley to get the trig is. I see a bit of a ramp out of the valley too early to be the line I'm looking for- it's a sheep trod, and it takes you to the top... again, it's a bit early- promising some tough bog crossing and heavy running to get to the trig, but it is an alternative to going the slightly longer route around (on good runnable trods) and then the climb to the top. 

On a whim I go for the route I've never taken before, trying to run as much of it as possible. A slight increase in effort and quickly start looking about for the sheep trods through reeds and across fairly significant boggy mire... looking up, there should be a trig. There is not. It is a fair amount further on than anticipated. Well, it would be silly to go back to the runnable trod, now far below- might as well make a decent fist of it and bash onward. Trying to get above the drainage, I stay high, fairly confident there will be a sheep trod somewhere around. I keep the pace high and head upward, continuing towards the highest part of the horizon and am eventually rewarded with a trod. A glance at the watch and I'm still sub hour. Just.... 

At last the trig comes into view and it draws me in- touching the stone pillar at 1:00:17. Happy with that- but I'd best eat something. The track from here to Birchen Hat is pretty well defined (if a tad boggy in places), so I take advantage of the ease in terrain to eat a Shotblok and settle into as comfortable rhythm as possible down toward the next checkpoint, which is the wall at the top of Birchen. 

Easy running gets me there in short order, and on the way to the descent to Alport farm a solitary walker wanders past with a "good morning". No map needed for the descent, and my thoughts turn to those who created this route as a race- they certainly knew their way around these hills and how to make it a bit of a challenge! It isn't a fast descent, but it isn't the most technical either, and soon enough I ford across to the path up to the farm and my thoughts turn to the fast concrete trail down to the Snake. A chance to get some speed up to mitigate the slow ascent that is coming on the other side of the A57. 

When the race was run back in the day, the competitors were allowed to turn right at the road, head directly up it to the layby at Blackden and from there, go up Blackden clough. The rules for our TT dictated that under NO circumstances should this route be followed- even during the 2 week closure of Snake for repairs. The alternative adds on a bit of distance, but, more significantly the terrain underfoot is considerably worse than running up an A road. 

I crossed the ford on the Ashop at exactly 1:30 bang on time and was very ready for the pace to slow a lot as fatigue would inevitably take hold of my legs. A couple of shotbloks got stuffed down my throat and the map was dug out to check exactly what I needed to do next. Up toward the farm, around it and then a decent bit of bashing- either through vast amounts of bracken around the border of open access land, or following a decent track, and then bash through more bracken at a different level, about 100m higher up the hill, only to drop to the bottom of Blackden. This latter route had been the one I took at the beginning of the year on the Kinder Killer. Unless there was a decent sheep trod through the bracken at a lower level, that was going to have to be the plan. 

Up the hill and following the wall, there was a stealthy sheep trod that was generally well trodden right the way along the wall line. (I suspect previous GDHers have followed the same path and might have done me a favour with the treading down of the bracken), so the decision was made to stay low and hug the wall. The route was relatively speedy, though there were a number of trip/shin bashing hazards that needed to be avoided... that and the constant danger of barbed wire at face height, combined with fairly slippy ground made me pretty wary of attempting to go too fast. Coming around the corner I spied a barn. 

A Barn? What the hell? I'm meant to be coming in to Blackden. DAMN I've come too far... but I can't have done. I never crossed Blackden. Stop. Think. Look. Dig out map while looking at the features... I'm being a complete idiot... look, there is the layby, that's the hill you run down- you're looking at Seal edge, NOT Fairbrook naze. Put your map away and keep going- you are *exactly* where you think you are- stop second guessing yourself. That's another minute you aren't going to get back.... in fact, so close to Blackden- there is a big haul of a climb coming up, it's about time to have some "water"- the first gel goes down... mmm. Pretend it's orange juice. 

Thirst somewhat satiated, brain working ok(ish), the climb up Blackden begins. It's a great little climb with some lovely waterfalls, but some fairly objective dangers- not least next to the most spectacular fall- the erosion of the path has continued, so if you're heading up that way, don't be a pillock and take your time. The climb took a decent amount of time, and it must have been about 2 hours into the run before I got to the top. From here it is still a good way home- and it certainly isn't going to take less than an hour. So I wonder if 3:30 might be a goer?

Stuffing a fake snickers down my neck I start the run along the Northern edge of Kinder. Whenever I've run along here I've ALWAYS been knackered. It's kind of the accepted route home from this end of the Peak for me, so I associate it with being tired, cold, un-coodinated and generally tripping over things. Thankfully there is still a fair amount of glucose in my system and some semblence of a normal running gait is assumed. There are probably a load of "shortcuts" to get across this edge of the plateau in short order. I don't know them well enough to be certain of them, so stick to the edge path. Or one of them- there appear to be several now. Passing amazing rock formations, my brain consistently goes back to the thought that I really must run up here when I'm not totally knackered. 

Past Chinese wall, out towards the top of Fairbrook I cut down and up to a faint diagonal trod that brings me across to Fairbrook Naze. Unsure if this is gaining me time by being clever, or losing me time through being less runnable than the alternative, I find myself not really caring. The mushroom stone comes into view and by rights I should now plummet off the top down towards the Ashop. I'm older now, and my knees are less keen on "plummetting" quite as much as they used to be. Down to the fence, over that and then onward to the moor where a load of sheep get scared by a runner bashing across the moor and then tumbling into a bunch of heather. First fall of the day. Ah well. It had to happen at some point. 

Brush down, get up. Keep going. 

There is a line of grousebutts that I aim for, and then a quad track down to the Ashop, a bridge and the old Ashop Shooting Cabin ruins. Perfect- across and up onto the track for a jaunty jog westwards toward where I'm going to have to bash up through some more heather. Second gel goes down- again, pretend it's orange juice, and now really start concentrating on where you're putting your feet. I've come up this path in a race before. It was the end of a 12 hour adventure race- we were knackered and walking by this point- right now, I'm struggling to maintain pace, but the gel helps. 

Along and along- I can't remember where I need to turn- but it is definitely after the nightmare that is Withins clough. The next checkpoint is Moss Castle - the highest point of the Pennine Way flagstones on this bit of moor. Passing Withins, I ensure I don't go up there, and carrying on, I decide not to wait til the next clough- I'll take a bearing and bash on up this heather. How bad can it be?

Bad. 

For a couple of reasons. 1) underfoot it was generally crap and 2) the race route goes TO that un-named clough- it was a checkpoint that I had failed to put on my map. I missed it by about 200 yards because of lack of attention to detail in my preparation... 

Unaware of this point, I bashed up through this heather, checking my location on the map, choosing my way as fast as possible and eventually came out at Moss castle. Looking to my left was the clough I *should* have come up... it looked a LOT easier. (at this stage I merely went "meh - that would have been a better and faster route" rather than realising I'd missed a checkpoint). 

Moss Castle. Flags and paths from now on. It's just gone 3 hours... how long does it take to get home from here? It's definitely more than 30 mins. I hammered along the flags as fast as my legs would let me and reached Snake at 3:15. Now it is definitely going to take me more than 15 mins to get down Drs Gate, especially in the state I'm in. Ok, I *could* try and go as fast as I possibly can, but to be honest, I'm way more likely to do myself a mischief, and at the end of the day, I'd rather be un-injured than chase a crazy fast time. The final shotbloks get eaten and I head for Old Woman and then turn down Drs. Gate, trying to keep my kilometre splits as low as possible. The steepness and sharpness of the rocks on the descent slow me up a while. The bogs- meh- whatever, I plough through them regardless without pussyfooting around looking for rocks to stand on. 3:30 comes and goes, will a 3:45 happen? I think back to the fumbled gates, the standing around wondering if I was in the right place and the crappy heathery ascent out of Ashop... will they conspire against me? 

Past James Thorn, my legs are hurting, I really want to stop. I'm calculating just how fast I need to do the last 2km... but where exactly do the last 2 km go from? I have no idea. Along past Mossy Lea farm, through the gates and onto the track. A family spread out wide across the track with dog leads strewn this way and that, wandering along totally oblivious to me attempting to run as fast as possible behind them... "uh- excuse me?"... and ANOTHER lot! gah! 400m to go, and I look at my watch- 3:44:20 or so- this isn't going to happen. that damn gate! I stumble across the line at the turning circle in 3:45:32. 

Close enough- but no cigar. 

What an amazing route! 

The subsequent minutes were spend wandering around in a daze. Got home, had shower, looked at my route and realised DAMN! I missed a checkpoint that I didnt even realise was a checkpoint! Oh no! - (However, I DID manage to get 32km done in 3:30- it's just the route was 2.9km longer than anticipated).... still- a missed checkpoint. Shocker. What to do? Go back and do it again? I have time this month, so it isn't out of the question....

 Well- 

Having been contacted by the TT organisers, they're letting my time stand. The idea of the club TT's is to get people out of their comfort zones, and if there is a minor deviation from the route, that isn't too bad, so long as you aren't massively deviating from it- so I don't *need* to do it again. Phew. I still have a dissertation to write....

However... Now I wonder if that unnamed clough route is faster? Without fumbling those gates, and faffing with maps, a sub 3:45 is definitely a goer. 3:40 even? 

I might take some water next time.