geography has never been a particularly strong point of mine, a failing that manages to cross continents. with the announcement that next year's north american handbuilt show was to be held in sacramento, it was mere seconds before google maps had to be approached to elucidate the location of this (apparently) californian town. far closer to home, it takes not too long on the bike of a sunday morning before the mighty dave t likens the occasional scrappy islay road to that of one in the peak district, though i am reliably informed that the surfaces are nearer to pristine than those of the inner hebrides. ah to be free of argyll and bute council.
while i have committed to nodding sagely when the peak district is introduced to the conversation, this bears no reference to my being able to place it in geographical context. in short, i know it to be south of the border, but that's pretty much the extent of my knowledge. the mighty dave has manfully offered to place it in some sort of spacial context; my brother resided in belper near derby for many a long year, and it seems that the peak district lies in close proximity to the north of there. but, lousy sibling that i am, i failed to visit him in his abode while that was still his residence. now that he has moved a lot further south, i fear i have lost the ideal opportunity to visit and make myself known to the peak of which we speak.
should, however, the status quo have been maintained with regard to familial location, one of the latest volumes to arrive from cicerone press would likely have made up for my brother's lack of interest or knowledge in the way of the cyclist. written by the sonically named chiz dakin, as with previous comprehensive volumes from this iconic and informative publisher, few, if any, stones have been left unturned. stones, we are introduced to by ms dakin, that straddle two formats; millstone and limestone. these two are the principal building blocks of the district which, i was even more educated to discover, is a national park.
those of you more acquainted with british geography and embedded hubs of cycling, will be sniggering loudly at my ignorance and naivety. whether this makes me qualified to review books concerned with places of which i have little acquaint, or whether it makes me the ideal customer at which cicerone books are aimed could be made the subject of lengthy debate, a debate i have no intention of engendering here and now.
the opening pages advise many of the details that the would be cycling adventurer would be likely to ask, but probably at the wrong time in the proceedings. ancilleries to the act of cycling itself such as geology, history, wildlife, culture and the like are covered comprehensively yet briefly, creating a web of scenery that may form an informed backdrop to any prospective pedalist. perhaps more saliently, there are directions on just how one might transport oneself and bicycle to a suitable starting point in middle england. of course, it is also helpful to know when would be a pragmatic time to arrive and just where to access suitable accommodation for the trip.
assuming all the above to be in order, chiz dakin has then provided a total of twenty routes plus a five day tour that might be undertaken by the intrepid. with many of the routes following less than metalled roads, the basic information heading each route is perhaps not as encouraging for those on road bikes as it is for those on knobblies and springs. however, inspired by the exertions of the rapha continental on roads less smooth across the united states, perhaps ms dakin underestimates the tenacity of the modern rouleur. then again, perhaps not. there is, of course, always the cyclocross bike.
directions, maps and commentary are all helpfully comprehensive, but if i might be allowed a minor criticism, it is of several of the captions applied to the small colour photographs scattered willfully about the compact and bijou volume. while most are written to elucidate the reader as to the location or feature captured on film and thus perfunctory in their approach, one or two are bordering on the mundane. 'quiet lane signpost captioning a photograph of a 'quiet lane' signpost; a figure on a mountain bike riding a gravel track captioned typical terrain on an easy route. i'm sure you get the idea. it is sad to see a book of such credibility and informity be undermined by somewhat uninspiring picture captions. if it is truly obvious what the picture depicts, leave it alone, and if you can't think of a caption of merit, either leave the photo uncaptioned or leave the photo out altogether.
a minor gripe against a book that does exactly what it says on the cover, but if you're me with little real chance of making it to the peak district in the first place, publications such as this can fulfil a secondary role as escapist literature, escapism which is not enhanced by one of the types of terrain a rider will encounter on a hard route.
however, superficiality aside, if i ever make it to the peak district, this is the first thing being packed in the brooks saddle bag.
posted friday 4 march 2011..........................................................................................................................................................................................................