If I were forced to use just one word to describe our entire UK road trip, it would be this:
That’s right. Sheep. Not castles or curries or funny place names or even cycling, though those things did factor heavily into our travels. But starting in the Peak District, it seemed to be all sheep, all the time.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let me start by saying that this portion of the trip was largely dedicated to cycling and hiking, so that’s what we did.
After saying goodbye to the husband’s family and departing Newark, we drove to the Peak District, the UK’s first national park. We made a quick stop in the town of Bakewell to gorge on Bakewell pudding and Bakewell tart, checking off two more items on our What to Eat Where list. I wasn’t surprised to find that the husband and I disagreed on which was better. (It was the tart.)
We then made our way to Castleton, which would be our home for the next four nights. We stayed at Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese Inn because how could we not stay at place called Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese Inn?!
We knew going in that there would be no WiFi in the room, and we were prepared to live with that (until we realized how inconvenient it is to always go next door to the pub for Internet access – never again!!). What we weren’t prepared for was how few hooks there were in the room. Hooks? Yes, hooks. In a region crawling with cyclists and hikers, you’d think rooms would have ample space to hang up sweaty gear. Not so – not even in the bathroom. Aside from door handles, this was all the room had:
Even still, it was a cute room with a charming independent pub next door that used the wooden ceiling beams to record every innkeeper from 1748 to present.
Though there’s not a lot to do in Castleton (other than outdoor pursuits), the town and surrounding countryside are very picturesque.
Being in a region with hilly terrain was a welcome change from the flat landscape where Newark is situated and in which we live now, but it spelled agony on the bicycle. Our first challenge was Winnats Pass.
Narrow, curvy, and exceedingly steep, the road up to Winnats Pass is off limits to buses, coaches, and certain heavy goods vehicles. I wish it had been closed to cyclists. With an average gradient of 10% and a max somewhere between 20-28%* (why is it so hard to find consistent statistics?), it is the embodiment of heaven for the husband and hell for me. For the first time ever, I had to get off and push my bike up the pass – this would become something of a theme in the Peak District – with cars whizzing by to my right and sheep baaa-ing on my left. Even pushing the bike up was a serious workout necessitating several breath-catching rest stops. To his credit, the husband managed to stay on his bike the whole time, which also helped him keep a safe distance from me and my ire.
*For comparison’s sake, Alpe d’Huez, the famous oft-used Tour de France route, has an average grade of 8% and a max of 13%.
Winnats was just the first of many cycling ups and downs (literally) in the Peak District.
We also got our first exposure to narrow “B” roads, something we would have many adventures not just cycling up and down, but driving the van up and down.
Fortunately for me, this section of the trip was not just about cycling. We also hiked all around the bucolic countryside. This is where we started to encounter sheep in earnest. You see, we’ve all heard of African safaris, but did you know you could go on safari in England? If you hike up to Mam Tor or Kinder Scout, or presumably any route in this area, you can have all sorts of encounters with the animal kingdom.
You see, England is set up differently than the US. Hikers are allowed to walk through private grazing land. They just have to be sure to close the gates so animals don’t escape.
Naturally, after our English safari adventures, I didn’t appreciate seeing this sign around town 😦
Hiking provided a great workout and spectacular views, but all the animals are what made it so much more fun than your average hike.
One of the few sedate things we did during our time in the national park was to visit the Eyam Museum, which recounts the efforts of Eyam’s townspeople to stop the spread of the bubonic plague beyond its borders in 1665. They managed this by essentially quarantining themselves in the town. They got food and other goods by bringing money to a stone outside the village and leaving the coins in holes that they bored into the stone and then filled with vinegar. This was known as the “boundary stone.” Someone from a nearby village would bring food and other supplies and leave them at the stone, taking the wet, disinfected money in exchange. How they managed to set this all up without text messaging, email, or telephones, I have no idea. The actual boundary stone still exists, but the husband and I didn’t have time for the hike needed to get to it, so I took a picture of this half-size replica instead.
More reasons to be glad I live in the 21st century:
And then our time in the Peak District was finished. I was ready for a break from cycling and pleased to be headed to Wales next, which was a designated “no cycling” portion of the trip. However, I had no idea what physical challenge would be in store for us on our first full day there…
Costs associated with having a rental van for this portion of the trip:
- $0.00 (Free off-street parking provided by Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese Inn – yay!)
- Subtotal: $1,253.98 (stay tuned for more charges)
Posts in the UK Road Trip series: