Planning this weekend’s ride, and other stories

Well last weekend I chickened out, I set off to ride the Isabel Trail but decided a short way round (again) that I didn’t have the energy. I did a small circuit but then kept going, and completed my familiar route around to Baswich and back, and it turns out I did have some energy left after all. On this week, I’m just going to ride there and not allow myself to give up because my legs feel tired.

  The Isabel Trail is a stretch of former railway line that runs from the centre of Stafford to the outskirts. It used to be part of the Stafford to Uttoxeter Railway, and is named after a train that is rather famous in Stafford, a narrow gauge engine made by Bagnall, a locomotive builder based in Stafford. Isabel is well known because after working in a mine she was purchased by Bagnall and refurbished by apprentices, to be displayed as an example of Bagnall’s work. After Bagnall’s closed down at the end of the 1950s Isabel was placed on a plinth in Victoria Park outside the railway station and basically left to rot. In the last few decades she has been fully refurbished and returned to work at Amerton Farm, where a short loop of track has been laid specifically to give Isabel somewhere to run.

So what’s the connection between This Bagnalls narrow gauge loco and the Stafford to Uttoxeter line? Basically none. The line was a standard gauge, while Isabel is 2ft gauge, and as far as I’m aware Bagnalls never sold an engine for use on the line. If they’d had a bit more imagination they could have called it the Webb Trail, after Francis Webb who was born near Stafford and chief designer for LNWR at the turn of the  20th century. His engines WOULD have run on this line, and there’s still one or two in running condition.

But I digress… I’m going to join the train at the far end after Saturday’s coffee with the GF, as it makes the return trip a bit more straightforward. It’ll still be easily the longest trip I’ll have attempted, and the furthest I’ll have cycled in at least fourteen years. Given that railways are essentially flat though, I’m curious to find out whether I find it that tough or whether it’s the uphill stuff that’s making me feel tired.

The fact that I can be so precise about the fourteen years leads me on to a story of the last time I used a bike to commute. I was working in a ceiling tile factory (sounds thrilling, huh?) and had recently crashed my car (see Every Car I have Ever Driven, part 1) so given that the factory was some way away from home I got the bike out. Despite allowing extra time I spectacularly underestimated how long it would take to ride there, and got to work a good half hour late. It was a graphic illustration of the convenience having a car had given me, and that my idiocy had taken away. 

I half-expected to be sacked, and was somewhat shocked (and a little perplexed) when the foreman just shrugged and said it was ok to be late as long as it was no more than once a week. Another thing I remember was that at that time the BBC was showing repeats of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, and having not been born the first time it was shown it became mandatory viewing for me when I got back from quite a tough job.

So that’s the plan for Saturday – to ride the Isabel trail. I’ll be somewhat committed as the trail leads away from home before quite a long route back, but I’ll manage it somehow. I’ll be keeping a lookout for Stafford Common station, a station on the line that was demolished in the 1950s. I seem to remember reading that sections of the platform are still there, and there’s a bridge that is a dead giveaway for its location.


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