@ 18:19:15 by ashtonboatman
The wide valleys of middle England
It was still dark when I woke. I lay in my sleeping bag listening
to the twittering of birds as the sky gradually brightened. Last
night's fire had provided me with a flask full of hot water, so I
made myself some black coffee and lay listening and watching.
With sleepiness eased away by the caffiene hit, I sat up in my bag
and fumbled about until I had the makings of a bowl of muesli. The
sun was up now and I heard early morning dog walkers on the footpath,
no doubt wondering about my bike that was locked to a tree.
Breakfast completed, I dressed and started packing my equipment,
dragging it through the hedge and loading it on to my bike. I noticed
my friend the wren pecking around my rucksack and looking at me with
interest. In folklore the wren is a king of birds, wise and cunning,
symbolising wisdom and divinity
I like the story of a wren winning a competition for who could fly
highest by hiding in the eagle's feathers until the eagle could go no
higher, then popping out and flying up some more.
A woman walking her dog eyed me with suspicion as I pumped my
tyres. I mounted my humble steed and pedalled slowly uphill along the
footpath, soon passing the woman along a field edge. The path led to
the edge of an estate of middle class houses, circa 1970. My route
lay through the middle of this, so I spent 20 minutes pedalling
through suburbia looking for a way out. The ancient map that I was
using was a little ambiguous about roads in this neighbourhood. My
intention had been to find the little road that crosses the Derwent
valley to the village of Elvaston. Instead, I found myself among the
roaring traffic of the Derby ring road.
Desperate to get off this roaring dodgems rink I followed a track
that seemed to follow the river downstream, but it petered out and
the way was barred by a huge fence protecting a sewage works. I
returned to the road and soon crossed the river. I was pleased to see
that there was a riverside path heading downstream, and I thankfully
set off along this peaceful, smooth surfaced route, encountering only
friendly walkers and the occasional cyclist.
The Derwent is a beautiful river that tumbles down from the bold
limestone hills, but here, in its last few miles before securing
oblivion in the mighty Trent, it is ponderous and wide. It is a
heavily managed waterway, with weirs every now and then, high, neatly
graded flood banks and pumping stations. Nevertheless, it is pleasant
to ride beside its gently curving banks. Eventually I reached the
little lane to Elvaston and set out for this pleasant brick village.
On my way I skirted the grounds of Elvaston Castle, Where the famous
"Women in Love" scene of Alan Bates and Oliver Reed
wrestling naked was filmed
After following the bendy road through the village I turned left
on to what, not so many years ago was the main A6, now by-passed, so
it was a pleasant quiet cycle ride into the river crossing place of
One of the first buildings in the village was a shop, a welcome
sight as I needed provisions. In particular I wanted a battery for my
camera, but the shopkeeper shook his head and said I'd only get one
of the sort I needed at a specialist camera shop. I trundled on and
crossed the canal near the magnificent restored warehouses
It would have been nice to head down the towpath, which would keep
me close to my straight line on the map, but I was aware that the
long horse bridge at the junction of the canal and the Trent had been
removed, sparking a long running controversy about its replacement
Instead I carried on past the marina and across the Trent bridge
until I saw a cycle route marked Long Eaton and Kegworth. Kegworth
was on my route, so I followed it. Somehow Kegworth disapeared from
the sign posts, but I carried on alongside a road until I reached a
river lock. I realised my error. I was looking now for the river
Soar, but this was Sawley lock on the Trent. My map was of little
use, pre-dating many of the roads and omitting the smaller ones. I
retraced my pedals a little way and decided to strike off down a lane
that said "no through road for motor vehicles", which
seemed to indicate that unmotored vehicles would be able to get
After skirting Sawley Marina, the road took me through rough low
lying fields. A tractor with a flail mower was busy macerating the
hedges. The land had a degraded feeling, as often happens in the
vicinity of cities. I passed a gravel pit and struggled up a steep
bank to find myself at a huge roundabout, mad with hurrying traffic.
This was just what I was trying to avoid.
I dodged across the roundabout and followed a dual carriageway
that was familiar to me as I had often driven this way on journeys to
and from my parents home. It led me to a junction on the M1. After
crossing this I was able to leave the motor mania behind as I
freewheeled downhill into Kegworth.
I turned off the A6 and rode gently downhill through Kegworth
until the river came into view. Some steel boats were moored in a
loop of the river and beyond the main river bridge the road crossed a
cut that took boats on a shortened route. A flood lock, with the
gates chained open most of the time, closing only in times of flood
to control the water.
I left the road and carried my bike down some steps to join the
towpath, no more than a rough path through a field. I sat down and
ate some of the food that I had bought in Shardlow. I watched first a
fibreglass cruiser then a smart washer josher type narrowboat with
brass all over it pass by.
My map didn't show my destination, Zouch, as it is such a small
place. I wasn't sure of the best way to complete the trip. My thought
had been to follow the river, but the path looked very rough. The
alternative would be to go along the Eastern edge of the valley
through Sutton Bonington. My judgement was swayed by a signpost
pointing towards a bio-energy project, so, lunch over, I set off
along Station Road towards Sutton Bonington.
The station was a long lost stop on the Midland main line. Little
trace remained and today's trains whizz past without a thought. A
right turn on to College Road took me parallel with the railway past
the campuses of this a university village. I imagine that the bio
energy project that took my interest was somewhere within this
complex, but I saw no further trace of it.
Another right turn took me across the railway again and down Marle
Pit Hill to join the long long main street. Eventually the village
was behind me and I came to a junction. A right turn took me across
the flood plain of the wide Soar valley. My destination, Zouch, was
entered by a bridge over the lock cut of the Soar navigation. Just
upstream the weir stream leaves under a low towpath bridge. The
village is just a gathering of houses each side of the single road.
On one side is the main flow of the river and weir and on the other
side is the navigation channel leading down to a lock. It seems a
pleasant, unassuming place, though it must be rather nerve racking to
live here in the winter, at the mercy of the Soar's vicious floods.
Zouch is the last settlement in my gazetteer of british place
names, which is why I selected it as my first destination. It should
not be confused with the nearby town of Ashby de la Zouch, though I
suspect the derivation is similar. Ashby got it's name from the
Norman Roger la Zouche, which apparently means stocky. I have found
no source for the name of this little gathering of houses, but I
imagine it was in some way related to the same short fat frenchman.