The Britannia Times
True BritPublished on 31st. March 2017
Travel writer David Else looks back at the 2016 edition of the Eroica Britannia
Eroica Britannia attracts leading travel writers and journalists, eager to experience the global phenomenon on home turf and embark on a truly Great British Adventure. We catch up with David Else to find out about his 2016 experience of Eroica Britannia. David is a writer specialising in travel, trekking, cycling and walking. He writes guidebooks for Lonely Planet, articles for Cycling Weekly and his work has also appeared in numerous magazines and websites. His account of the legendary Tour d’Afrique is featured in the book Epic Bike Rides of the World published by Lonely Planet. With thanks to David for his words and snaps along the way!
David Else: Never tire of Blighty
In my work as a travel writer I’ve been lucky enough to visit many places around the world, and I’ve always included a bike ride where I can, whether it’s pottering along the beaches of Zanzibar, tackling the hills of Marin County or pedalling into a headwind across the deserts of Sudan. But I never tire of Britain and I’ll always enjoy cycling in my own back yard; beyond Blighty’s cities and major highways there’s a network of quiet country roads where it’s still eminently possible to enjoy riding a bike for sheer pleasure. And so it was on last year’s Eroica Britannia – based in the town of Bakewell in Derbyshire - a wonderful outing on two wheels through delightful scenery in the company of like-minded cyclists. I’ve long been a fan of old bikes, mainly because in over 50 years of cycling I’ve never thrown anything away, so for Eroica Britannia I dusted off my steel Jensen, hand-built in 1966 and given to me as a birthday present by my dad in the 1970s. This bike still has its 27x1¼ wheels and tyres, as well as other classic accessories like Stronglight cranks, TA rings, Brooks leather saddle and Blumells plastic mudguards. Even better, my dad joined me on the ride. Now over 80 years old, he still cycles regularly, and for Eroica Britannia he rode his own classic steed – a 1979 Vitus, one of the lightest frames available in the pre-carbon days.
Naturally we dressed for the occasion: lace-up leather shoes (to go in the toe-clips), cotton caps and Eroica jerseys. My dad wore his old ‘hairnet’ helmet and 1970s wool shorts. However, donning my own 40-year-old shorts, complete with crispy chamois, was step too far for me.
We’d opted for the short ride and rolled out from the start with all the other cyclists who’d chosen relaxation over distance. As well as all the retro racers there were many more people on period bikes dressed in matching period costume, from the chaps in tweed on venerable Edwardian machines to the ladies in swinging 60s gear on Raleigh RSWs.
Out on the road, we saw a postman on a classic red post-bike, a group of nurses on 1930s sit-up-and-beg bikes with baskets on the front, and policeman from about the same era who never seemed to mind as passing cyclists called out ‘Allo Allo Allo’ or ‘Is that a truncheon in your pocket?’. There was even a guy with a whisky bar on the back of his bike, also with wine and a selection of other tipples.
Within the first few miles we were on the Monsal Trial, a former railway line cutting through the heart of the Peak District. This off-road section caused a little consternation for some riders, not least because the rough surface took a toll on ancient fittings, and several people had to stop to tighten loose mudguards or – in one case we saw – an entire chainset. But no-one was in a hurry and the friendly atmosphere meant other cyclists were always ready to stop and help with repairs.
With about 10 miles done we reached Millersdale, where many cyclists stopped for a rest. An enterprising local in an ice cream van did a roaring trade in teas and coffees alongside the lollies and 99s, providing us with the perfect opportunity for a stroll around to admire other bikes and chat to other riders. The relaxed ambience continued as we meandered through the Peak District lanes to reach Tideswell and lunch. Once again there was plenty of time for strolling and chatting. Then it was back on the bikes for a hilly section to reach the mid-afternoon halt at Thornbridge Hall where a swift half of Handsome Ale (specially brewed for the Eroica Britannia by the Thornbridge brewery) provided the necessary invigoration to see us through the last few miles back to Bakewell.
We rode into the finish to the applause of spectators and then enjoyed celebratory tea and cake followed by another celebratory beer in the giant marquee where the atmosphere was a magical mix of hipster café, stately home and bike shop – and the perfect end to our jaunt.
All in all, the 2016 Eroica Britannia was – as Derbyshire folks might say – a reet good day out. Thousands of friendly people, an entertaining route with plenty of stops, and a never-ending display of beautiful bikes made it the perfect homage to the glory days of British cycling. Here’s looking forward to the 2017 edition!