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Hebden Bridge, 14-15 July

August 16, 2012

Ever since the chattering classes invaded Hebden Bridge
And priced the likes of me and mine
To the pots of the Pennine Ridge

Lord Hereford’s Knob

With our squad strengthened by summer signings David Davies and Richard Clarke, we’re off again.   Daringly, we’re temporarily combining the HMHB place-name project with the dawn of a new challenge – to eat at every restaurant visited by Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon in ‘The Trip’.

The plan is to get the train to Preston, and stop off there to inspect a painting of interest to Nick, David and me because it features on the cover of St Etienne’s Tiger Bay (it’s of no interest to Richard who – without any shame – loves Keane) before cycling to Whitewell for an expensive dinner and probably some port, ponces that we are.  We’ll revert to our HMHB agenda on Sunday.

So, by lunchtime on Saturday, we’re wheeling our bikes self-consciously through Preston town centre, looking for the Harris museum (AKA  the Fred Harris / Keith Harris / Rolf Harris museum).   Leaving Richard to mind the bikes and listen to some dreary piano-based ballads on his I-pod, we discover James Clark Hook’s ‘Welcome Bonny Boat’, and try to remember which members of the group play the different characters in the painting.  We also wander round and have a look at the other assorted modernist and pre-Raphaelite works, commenting expertly as we go.

I grew up near Barrow-in-Furness, so a day trip to Preston, which had proper record shops used to be a bit of a treat.  But as we cycle through its outskirts, David notes its resemblance to a “grim northern town straight out of Central Casting”, and I have to admit, his description hits the N. on the H.  We stop off for lunch at the Derby Arms in Longridge, where conversation topics range from the number of dead animals we’ve seen (hedgehogs come out on top) to who’ll win the different prizes on the trip (I’m nailed on for the prestigious Gayest Shorts accolade).   We also watch a ruddy-faced Oliver Reed character shouting and staggering around, and all agree that it would be good to be like him in our dotage.

After lunch, we encounter a fellow cyclist, sporting an AC Milan top.  He’s following a route recommended by the Times and is sadly non-plussed when Nick enthusiastically explains the HMHB challenge.  Arriving at Whitewell early, we decide to make a detour through the Trough of Bowland, which is very hard, and involves varying amounts of dismounting and cursing, but is successfully negotiated.  On our way back, Nick gets an early pre-dinner amuse-bouche, swallowing some liquid cow-shit as I briefly overtake him, and then a fly.    The progression to our evening’s accommodation is then punctuated by a brief pause while David excitedly photographs a spiral radio aerial which will apparently be of considerable interest to his father, and by the fact that we get lost.  When we find ourselves down a muddy track that is clearly some distance from civilisation, Richard rings the B & B owner Heather, to be met with the confusing assertion that “You’re not where you say you are, then.”  On our eventual arrival (after I’ve emerged relatively unscathed from a hedge I managed to fall into) Heather greets us warmly, and proves to be a very hospitable host, albeit one who likes to disagree with absolutely everything anyone says to her.  She seems to take particular pleasure in contradicting Richard, refusing to accept that Surrey, where he lives, is not in the South-west of England, or that it could have been raining there, because he saw some cows in a field.  However, she kindly arranges transportation to the Inn at Whitewell where we dine like the Kings of the Mountains we unquestionably are, with two of our number considering it the best meal they’ve ever had.

Gorged on venison and sticky toffee pudding, then Heather’s cooked breakfast, we speed towards the Lancashire / Yorkshire border on Sunday morning, laughing in the face of the hills in our path, although not in the face of the wild-eyed man who gets off his bike to tell us a long, rambling joke which is utterly incomprehensible.  Things get a bit more daunting when we arrive at the foot of Widdop Moor, which turns out to be the Bastard Hill Nick has been darkly warning about all weekend.  On the scale of climbs we’ve encountered, it’s certainly a winner in the bastard stakes, thoroughly deserving its status as a full Piers Morgan.  As we contemplate the scale of the task ahead of us, a walker watches us with apparent amusement, informing us that his Range Rover had trouble getting up the hill, then throwing back his head and laughing cruelly.

We do ok though, particularly Nick, who’s well on his way to winning the King of the Mountains competition.    The marked improvement in his performance is the subject of controversy, although the consensus is that it’s the result of several pints of Black Sheep – not exogenous erythropoietin. As I toil up a particularly difficult stretch, I’m inspired by the strains of Richard’s heart-rending version of Kate Bush and Peter Gabriel’s ‘Don’t Give Up’ behind me.  Although I do promptly give up.   Annoyingly, we’re harassed by proper cyclists, who wear lycra and ride bikes made from super-light metals from other planets.  As they speed past us, they offer  condescending words of encouragement, which particularly infuriates the usually unflappable David, whose general tolerance levels have already been worn down by the lack of padding in his shorts.

Nick, now assured the Yellow Jersey, gets a measure of revenge by overtaking them on the fantastic descent past Widdop reservoir.  After a drink and sausage sandwich at the Packhorse Inn, there’s more descending all the way into a very sunny Hebden Bridge, which still has sandbags everywhere, having been flooded two days ago. We join the Chattering Class invasion and celebrate by drinking real ale and sneering at the poor sound quality of the busker’s P.A. system.  The only shadow on proceedings is cast when my ill-considered toast to the lesbians of Hebden Bridge is a bit too audible, resulting in pained silence all round.

 On the train journey back, our reflection on what a good time we’ve all had is disrupted by a tiresome gentleman who talks loudly on his mobile to his family  then keeps intervening in our conversation.  While he’s chuntering on about the Olympics and what a brilliant film Avatar (or something) is, I have a sneaky look over at his laptop and note that he appears to be involved in some kind of industrial tribunal. The uncharitable thought crosses my mind that I hope he loses, even if his dismissal was unfair.

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