Sunday, 10 April 2011

Two old gits, two old Trumpets, sunshine, steam trains.... and Copper Dragon

Just turned on the laptop to receive this e-mail from my mate Tony:

Meriden Triumphs, Steam engines, Sunshine and copper dragon. Does life get better ?
Thanks for a cracking day out.

My vintage Triumph Bonneville has had a few short runs this year, and Tony (who I bought it from 2 years ago), having taxed his even older Triumph Trident, was keen for us to go for a ride out. These old Trumpets are well matched on the road, being happy at medium speeds up to about 70mph, though they can go much faster, with moderate acceleration (by motorcycle standards) but good handling for fast cornering. Modern bikes are much more powerful and have fierce acceleration, but they don't make good riding companions with the old bikes (though it must be said that by car standards, even the oldies don't hang about!). These bikes are from another era; well matched to blatter along together, but not a particularly good mix with today's fast and silent machines.

The two Trumpets last year (I forgot my camera today!). My T140D 'UK Special Edition' Bonneville nearer the camera, Tony's T150 Trident behind.

Today was one of the few free days in my diary and I'd originally planned to go flying, but the Chipmunk is still awaiting paperwork completion by the tardy Civil Aviation Authority. So it seemed an ideal opportunity to go biking with Tony. But where to? Somewhere far enough away to make it 'a day out', but not so far that it's chore riding there and back. And somewhere interesting, and preferably somewhere we could have lunch. The Churnet Valley Railway's southern terminus at Froghall in Staffordshire is an interesting not-too-far bike ride away from home, offers the chance to watch steam trains, and has a lovely tea room ( ).

The two Trumpets left Wilmslow at 11:00 am in warm sunshine under clear blue skies and enjoyed the winding Cheshire lanes and a couple of 'A' roads through Marton, North Rode, Bosley, Leek, and Ipstones before arriving at Froghall about an hour and quarter later. Almost as soon as we arrived a steam train ran into the station headed by Great Western 'Prairie' tank locomotive 5199.

CVR's GWR 'large Prairie' tank locomotive 5199

I watched as the loco (blower on, a haze of coal smoke at her chimney top) was uncoupled to run around the train, pausing for a top-up of water from the column on the far platform, ready for the return to Leekbrook Junction, before I joined Tony for a spot of lunch and a mug of tea at an outside table in the sunshine. Amazingly, another T150 Trident had arrived, and Tony was chatting to the owner. He told us he had come from Llangollan and was heading home to Sheffield, and had arranged to meet his mates from the Sheffield Triumph Owners Club here. Soon, they arrived; mostly Bonnevilles (vintage Meriden ones like mine and modern Hinckley models) and Speed Triples with even a Trident 'trike' conversion.

To the steady background roar of the river Churnet falling gthrough this steep-sided valley, we chatted with fellow Trumpet enthusiasts, with locals, and with the folk on the railway. One chap told us of his time working at Bolton's Copper Works, mostly gone now except for some remnants still making specialist products; "at one time there were so many Poles working at Bolton's you could 'ave your 'air cut, get your watch fixed, or 'ave yer shoes mended all of a lunchtime such were their skills". The first trans-Atlantic telephone cable had been made at Boltons, but that part of the site was now long abandoned. The valley brought back memories, for me, of navigating the Caldon Canal about 20 years ago in a narrow boat; the canal joins the river Churnet for a couple miles further up the valley, and steering 70 feet of narrow boat downstream at a water-speed of 4 knots but a speed relative to the bank of at least twice that took some getting used to.

5199 having departed for Cheddleton and Leekbrook, eventually arrived back at Froghall. The afternoon was getting on, so we decided to do the same.

The Bonnie started first kick in this exalted company which was a relief, as I'm sure it was to Tony when his Trident did the same. We headed back north though Ipstones, me leading as before, but instead of turning for Leek we headed up into the Peak District, climbing through Onecote on the sweeping road to Warslow as the magnificent Peakland views opened up around us. At Warslow I turned right off the 'B' road to Hulme End, then took the minor road through Sheen which climbs up onto and then follows the ridge-top between the upper Dove and Manifold valleys. Here, the views (right) down into the Dove valley, and (left) down into the Manifold valley, were simply stunning. And these minor Peakland roads are almost free of other traffic. The Bonnie was her usual characterful self; purring along on a closed throttle, or woofing loudly from her exhausts and pushing me back on the seat if I wound on the power a tad. She pulls lustily with lots of torque and no flat spots all the way from sub-1,000 rpm through a viby 3 to 4,000 rpm (but with a bit of primary transmission 'play' at low RPM) to a smooth 70mph cruise; what a great bike for this sort of ride! All the while, Tony's headlight was intermittently visible in the distance behind me.

At Longnor we headed across to Hollinsclough, with with full-on views of the 'Dragons back hills' looking just like a dragon's back in their long and narrow spiked humpiness (Chrome Hill and Parkhouse Hill) off to our right, to briefly join the Leek - Buxton road before doubling back onto a single track road across Axe Edge Moor to emerge onto the Buxton - Macclesfield road a couple of miles east of the Cat & Fiddle pub. On this road, we had to be wary of the recently - installed 'average speed cameras' that enforce the blanket 50mph speed limit.

I turned into the 'Cat' car park and we shut down the bikes. Tony rolled a ciggy while we enjoyed the views from this high point. The car park was full of every type of modern bike, but it appeared that ours were the only vintage ones.

As we were now in familiar country, I offered Tony the lead for the last lap to home. "I fancy a pint to finish off the day" I suggested. Tony readily agreed, and said "why not the Horse & Jockey (our local)? It's got Copper Dragon (my and probably Tony's favorite pint) on draught, we can park the bikes on the front, and sit out in the garden".

We took it easy on the descent of the 'Cat' into Macclesfield, me riding echelon port or starboard to Tony (the Bonnie corners better than the Trident, so I dropped back a bit on the bends so I could take them a tad faster!). Shuttlingsloe's angular peak, the 'Matterhorn of Cheshire' was on our left, Cat's Tor's steep southern slope soaring above us to our right, and away to the west the long ridge of Alderley Edge stretched away from us into the haze, its far-away tip, dark with woodland, diving steeply to disappear into the Cheshire Plain at a point that marked our destination.

Snaking around the final tight curves of the 'Cat' we were soon through Macclesfield and onto the Silk Road for a quick 70mph blast down to Prestbury, then through Mottram St Andrew to the Jockey.

Several regulars greeted us as we shut down the bikes. Once our first pint of the superb straw-coloured hoppy Copper Dragon was poured (we just had the two!), we joined them in the garden for a bit of relaxed banter.

What a super day! Two old gits on two old Trumpets, the lovely Cheshire lanes, steam trains, more Triumphs at Froghall, the magnificent Peak District on a glorious day, the 'Cat', and finally a pint or two of Copper Dragon to help us digest it all.

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