Helen Moat starts training for her big trip and discovers every journey – long or short – starts just outside your door.
So the Christmas tree has been dismantled and the New Year celebrations already seem a dim and distant memory, as does my trip to Scotland. Now all I can do is plan and read and dream about the big trip in the summer, then plan and dream some more … and hopefully it will see me through the long, dark, dreary winter months here in Britain.
But that’s not altogether true, because there’s a whole world to explore just outside my front door. On my travel blog, the description says: Go and open the door. Maybe outside there’s a tree, or a wood, a garden, or a magic city. (From poet Miroslav Holub.) And today, I opened the door and found all of those things outside, waiting for me.
Of course, the motivation for getting out is to train for my cycling trip to Istanbul. If I don’t get my butt into gear (or bike), I’m not going to make it out of Holland, never mind reach Asia. But my relationship with the bike is already changing … and I’m slowly being seduced by the whole cycling thing. Okay, so I’m still cycling on the flat and I’m still avoiding those hills like the plague. I still don’t know how to fix a puncture. Neither do I know what it’s like to cycle day after day with no break in between. But it’s a start.
I open the door, grabbing my bike, and fly down the hill and over the bridge to the railway station. I love it. I’m there in five minutes. And I love the fact that I can load my bike on the train for free and go anywhere I want. The whole country lies in front of me like an unopened book.
The train slides out of Matlock and winds its way through the Derwent Valley. It’s a gorgeous journey through tunnels, past rocky cliffs, steep-sided hills and narrow valleys, on past rivers and woods and houses and gardens, until it reaches the wide flat valley and the city of Derby.
On our bikes now, Tom (husband) and I head towards Pride Park Football Stadium (Home of the Rams, aka Derby Country) and on to the river Derwent. Soon we hit the river and cycle through an industrial landscape, past the sprawling buildings of Rolls Royce. It has its own semi-urban beauty.
Before long, we reach open countryside. The wheels are spinning, I’m breathing in handfuls of pure cold winter air, and I feel alive. My heart’s pumping and my blood’s rushing and the air’s surging through my lungs. And I get it now. I get cycling. You feel the speed and yet you’re moving slow enough to take in the whole world that unfurls in front of you.
At Attenborough we abandon route 6 and head for the Nature Reserve. This is a beautiful wild place, just a stone’s throw from Derby, Nottingham and other urban centres. It’s been listed as one of the top ten eco destinations, not just in Britain, but in the world by the BBC Wildlife Magazine. We stop for a coffee at Attenborough Nature Reserve Café which sits out on a causeway surrounded by water and all kinds of aquatic life. There are Canadian and Egyptian Geese, Swans, Great Crested Grebes, Little Grebes, Mallards, Tufted Ducks and Coots – and goodness knows what else, if only I could identify them. If you’re lucky at Attenborough, you might see a kingfisher – or a lonely heron on the river’s edge, as we did.
And here’s where the surprise begins. At this point, we are only a few miles from the city of Nottingham, I’m expecting our journey to feel very urbanised from this point on, but nothing could be further from the truth.
We cycle between lakes (flooded gravel pits) and the River Trent. With water all around us, it feels like we’re at sea. At Beeston the river and canal are lined with long boats and river cruisers. Beeston Marina has a seaside feel to it with its little holiday cabins, boating shop and riverside pub.
At this point, we choose to follow the canal rather than the river into the city centre. But we meet up with the Trent again and continue alongside it until we reach yet another canal in the city centre. What’s incredible is the fact that in this city, we only have to cycle on roads for the last 200 yards before we reach the railway station. I’m sold on urban cycling.
So don’t fret too much if it’s a while before you go on that overseas trip. There’s a whole world just outside your front door. You may not think it’s very exciting, but if you have a look, the chances are you’ll be surprised. Go and open that door.
Helen Moat spent her childhood squished between siblings in her Dad's Morris Minor, travelling the length and breadth of Ireland - all for a soggy, sandy sandwich and a quick runaround on a damp beach before returning home on the same day. Strangely, it didn't put her off travelling - quite the reverse.
This year she plans to cycle from the Hook of Holland to Istanbul even though she's not that keen on cycling and hasn't a clue how to fix a puncture. And we'll be following her every step of the way. For more information, visit her website.