Down by the Riverside – Nottingham to Newark by Bicycle
A fine day was forecast, a heady for August 23c and sunny outlook. I awoke to an ash grey sky however and so the day would remain. The bikes had already been stowed in the back of the car ready and waiting for the day’s challenge, that of cycling from the centre of Nottingham to Newark-on-Trent adhering to the River Trent.
My friend and I set off steadily through the late Saturday morning shoppers on Milton Street and the Clumber Street precinct and bore left to the quieter Lace Market district before reaching the landmark of Meadow Lane Football Stadium and its adjacent cattle market. Turning right over Lady Bay Bridge we were soon enthusiastically wheeling our cycles down the steps to our first view of the River Trent, under the nearby shadow of Nottingham Forest’s City Ground Stadium.
What immediately confronted us was what appeared to be a foot race along the Trent towpath of a long thin stream of mud-splattered individuals. Indeed, one or two looked as if they had been driven over by a tractor or perhaps spent the night residing in a potato patch. A good solid British fun morning out in the fresh air.
Very quickly the pleasant path took us brushing into the Holme Pierrepont Water Sports Centre with a brief sight of the cold, grey sporting waters before cutting over a rugby pitch and heading down the slightly eerily quiet Adbolton Lane towards Radcliffe-on-Trent. Curiosity and time on our hands soon saw us taking a short detour to have a peek at Blotts Country Club before we proceeded cheerily down the narrow lane towards The Green and onto Radcliffe’s busy main street.
A check of the map and a peruse of an estate agent’s illustrated front windows and we were passing Radcliffe railway station and facing our first and only hill of the whole journey. Energy levels were high as we steadily tacked up the hill to be faced with extensive views over the surrounding countryside. Very soon the prettily situated Shelford village came into view. In the foreground busy Autumn ploughing of the fields was in full flow with rapt and rabid attention from a flock of shrieking gulls. A long, steep descent and a speedometer reading of all of thirty miles per hour took us whizzing into the quiet little village with barely a soul to be seen on Saturday lunchtime.
An aim of our journey was to hug the river as consistently as possible and before long we were passing over the River Trent’s only crossing between Nottingham and Newark, the dependable looking Gunthorpe Bridge. The bridge, along with the upstream Gunthorpe Lock was opened in the 1930s being a project to create work for local people in what was a time of austerity. Prior to this time the main traffic ran directly through the little village of Gunthorpe towards an original bridge with its toll house standing sentinel next to it. The toll house still remains in the guise of a restaurant and upon close inspection both ends of the long-removed bridge can still be observed in the undergrowth.
Gunthorpe Bridges, old and new
It was high time for our first refreshment of the day as we steadily picked out way towards the patio of what was formerly a fairly basic tearoom at Gunthorpe Lock and is now a pleasant bistro named Biondi. Whenever I see this nice facility it reminds me of the days a few years ago when there nothing here apart from a car park for visitors. One winter’s day, cooling down after a long run along the Trent towpath a researcher, clipboard in hand approached me and asked what type of facilities might be provided in the area? ‘Somewhere to get a cup of tea’ was the first response I blurted out that day and it’s gratifying to see that this and much beyond has come to pass.
Replenished with hot drinks and a fruit scone, we unlocked the bikes and rode through the kissing gates at the lock onto the soft, lush grass of the Trent Valley Way and towards our next destination of Fiskerton. After two miles of fairly well walked path we were soon negotiating the gates onto the pretty pastures of Hoveringham. The numerous sails of the local sailing club framed an elegant and eye-pleasing formation to our left. A few miles in and it felt good to be here. We stopped and inspected wild fungi largely enshrouded in the emerald turf, puffballs with their creamy and heavily mushroom smelling insides.
Notably, idyllic Hazelford came into view with its former public house, The Star and Garter, now a residential care home sadly, some may say. This place was something of a former haunt of mine with its very lovely riverside setting. A nice memory was of picking at delicate and delicious Lemon Sole in the former conservatory restaurant on a summer’s evening. In stark contrast, a couple of gates later we were overlooking the scene of violent and roaring waters rushing furiously over the weir at Hazelford Lock.
It was around one and a half miles further up the riverside path to Fiskerton and hopefully some food but the path was ominously beginning to become a little more difficult with tricky little inclines on the riverbank and a narrowing way with thick nettle beds either side that were thankfully dying back a little. Quiet little Fiskerton was soon in view along the waters however and we were feeling pleased with ourselves as we arrived just in time to order hearty late breakfasts. Settling down at a window with a river view, our plates soon arrived and what plates they were! What looked like two wagon wheel sized platters covered liberally with bacon, sausages, baked beans, eggs, black pudding, tomato, fried bread and mushrooms were placed in front of us by the pleasant and obliging landlady. Suddenly from looking forward to the lunch I honestly began to wonder how we would manage to eat all this food. They say that exercise is an appetite suppressant and having just immediately climbed off our bikes, it was all a little too much. We considered that just one of these huge meals between us would have been more than adequate and our plates were left with half meals as we bade a cheery goodbye.
The Bromley Arms, Fiskerton
Perhaps he first signs of weariness were beginning to be felt at this point. The surface was beginning to take its toll on our efforts and noticeably we were beginning to talk about time and if we indeed had enough of it for our purposes considering the daylight hours at our disposal. Contingency plans came to the fore as we scoured our maps for tarmac surfaced country lanes if they should become necessary.
The eerie and slightly ghostly yet scenic former battleground of the Battle of East Stoke spread out beyond the opposite riverbank as hard going under our wheels took us past the village of Farndon and its attractive marina, tantalisingly across the water. In older times there were many small ferry services across the river at such points as Radcliffe, Hoveringham, Hazelford and Farndon but sadly no longer. Our only choice was to head on and persist with what was beginning to seem an interminable journey past the huge Staythorpe Power Station, whose shadows we could not seem to leave behind.
Although there was plenty of afternoon remaining, the day already seemed to be closing in on us as we wearily pedalled across a field of mud. My friend tried a ploy of dipping her bike wheels in the Trent water to clear some of the thick mud and regain some grip on the long grass. I think at this point of the day we were beginning to realise we had a genuine job of work on our hands in order to complete the distance. A fast-approaching lack of daylight was beginning to beckon and our thoughts were running towards having to get off our bikes and push them alongside a dark and busy road if necessary.
Hazelford and Averham Weirs
We approached the diminutive village of Averham (pronounced locally as A-ham, I understand) and realised that our time by the river bank had sadly come to an end for the day. A deep dyke inlet into the Trent barred our way and leaving the river for good was now imminent. We cycled through the quiet and quaint village wondering what fate awaited us as we rode towards what I knew to be a very busy main road towards Kelham and subsequently our destination, the historic market town of Newark. At this point, the luck we had tended to enjoy for most of the day continued as we discovered there was a narrow but empty pavement for our tiring legs and sore bodies to pedal along to Kelham and its pub, The Fox Inn and the narrow but picturesque hump-back bridge.
There are two main landmarks when approaching Newark, namely the British Sugar factory and the Church of St. Mary Magdalene in the market place. Both were now happily, clearly in view in the distance perhaps just two miles away. Over the bridge we easily relocated the Trent Valley Way that we had adhered to for some time and rode a flat track through the thick smoke of bonfire in an adjacent field and into the slightly acrid air of the sugar factory. We were all but there – not a moment too soon – as the murky air surrounded us. Alighting on to a main road with a cycle path offered us our last decision to make and sure enough a few hundred yards down the road was the pleasing sight of Newark Castle and Newark Castle railway station.
Approaching Newark: the British Sugar factory
As is the way with these things a celebratory drink was in order and we parked our bikes next to The Castle Barge, a floating public house at the Town Wharf, close to Trent Bridge. I forced my tired legs down to the below water level bar and ordered a couple of beers and we sat to enjoy them outside in the gathering gloom, under the lights of the attractive Pizza Express building nearby.
Newark’s Castle Barge and castle ruins
Our peace was interrupted by a few people stood and sat around outside The Barge who looked like they’d probably been there all day. Two men were unsuccessfully trying to coax a reluctant and seemingly very drunk woman into the bar.
Before long it was time to make our weary way onto the train at Newark Castle Station and back to Saturday night Nottingham. The 7.02pm service being full of apparently underage girls made up and ready for fun in the city. Our bikes stowed behind the driver’s cab, the 35 minutes journey passed quickly and we were soon negotiating Nottingham Victoria Station and pushing our bikes through the city centre weekend revellers and back home. A lifetime away from that quiet riverbank with its calm amongst the long grass, kissing gates and flocks of geese.