Friday, 11 May 2012

What sunshine? Peak District riding day 2

Late on Saturday night, after a few-Sloe-Gins-too-many, a conversation was held between myself and Barry about the next day’s riding. This was a real meeting of cycling cultures, and at one point when an 8 a.m. departure was mooted, the mountain-biker’s response was “that’s even earlier than I set off to ride trails” – clearly the early-morning roadie mentality hasn’t made it across the hairy/non-hairy leg divide. After a fairly fitful night’s sleep (including, bizarrely given the amount of salt-ridden food consumed on Saturday evening, a cramp in my left calf), we ended up having a fairly sleeping 9 a.m. start, and made our (quite circuitous) way to Chapel-en-le-Frith in the car.

Having ridden through Chapel on my way back from the Peaslows climb the day before, I knew that the terrain was only going to head one way as we went straight into High Peak – not something that filled me with joy as I would have preferred to have a bit of time to warm my legs up again. As it was, we headed almost straight up 600 feet of climbing and onto the tops of the hills; so much for an easy start…Once up there, though, the ride became a lot more pleasurable as the route picked its way down tiny lanes, barely touched by cars and with plenty of time to take in the scenery. After just over 10 miles, we were back down at riverside level, and travelling through a narrow valley on the way to Monsal Head. As an abandoned railway viaduct, it’s very pretty to look at, but there is a very steep looking ascent up the ‘wall’ at the end to keep things in perspective. As it turned out it, the climb was fairly nicely paced and, although hard work, the fact that it kept at a similar gradient of about 15% all the way up meant that your legs didn’t burn out through the changes in pace. At the top, there was just time for a quick photo op before pushing on:

Knowing the distance and hills left to cover, we reluctantly decided not to stop in Bakewell, and fortunately didn’t pass any pudding shops as that might well have seen us making an extended stop. Coming out of Bakewell saw a fair chunk of climbing the hills again, before descending into a horrendously busy Matlock. For some reason, all the tourists in the world had decided that Matlock was the place to be for the Sunday Bank Holiday, and the place was heaving with traffic and pedestrians. Having earmarked the town as a decent place to grab a bite to eat, we were a bit disappointed to see all of the local sandwich/coffee shops closed. Instead we were presented with a choice between greasy Pukka Pies and the Co-Op, and although it would be a lie to say that Barry’s eyes didn’t light up when someone crossed the road carrying sausage and chips (with associated aroma), I did manage to persuade him that this probably wasn’t the food he wanted to be carrying in his stomach while trying to ascend some of the steepest hills in the country. Missing the turn the first time, we looped back to head up Church Street. Starting out at a fairly modest lick, this climb weaved up through some residential streets (complete with lots of traffic, roadworks and speed-bumps) before turning off to the ominously signposted ‘Not Suitable for Large Vehicles’ Riber Road. It was here that the climb started to get fearsome, with tightly packed switchbacks, loose gravel surfaces, and forested on either side so you had no idea of how close to the top you might be. A great climb, though, and well worth the 9/10 rating, even if the tough-stuff is fairly short lived.

Probably should have gone down
to get a better picture...

Having descended Riber, there was to be no rest for the wicked as the next climb, Bank Road, came only 3 miles later. Apparently one of the steepest residential roads in the UK, it’s also dead-eye straight and there is no way to take your mind off what lies ahead. It’s remorseless double-digit gradient was tough, but as it’s only a little over a kilometer long the going soon gets easier and it’s one of the few hills that you can look down on from the top to get a good sense of exactly what you’ve just ridden up. That said, I didn’t stop to take a picture because I was hungry! By now, we were officially out of the Peaks, but still high up on the hills and in exposed moorside. The wind had started blowing, and we were definitely ready to chow down on whatever might be open and selling food – annoyingly everything seemed to be shut down (perhaps not surprisingly on a Bank Holiday Sunday, but certainly not very entrepreneurial). After a great twisty-turny descent into the town of Rowsley, we saw a corner shop advertising sandwiches and jumped at our chance to re-fuel. Essentially buying them out of lunch stock, I was surprised that the change from a £10 note included a lot of pound coins – I have clearly become too London-ised, and feeding two hungry cyclists for a fiver is just the norm for the North…

Bargains left right and centre

With Barry being powered by a gummy snake, and myself by some exceptional flapjack, we rolled out from the lunch stop raring to go. Once again, it was straight uphill from cold, this time up the 6/10 graded Rowsley Bar. Steep and fairly long, it wasn’t a particularly memorable climb, and I’m surprised that the descent we had come down before lunch wasn’t the climb listed in the book. Once up and over the summit, we looped back to where we had come before. One of the annoying things about trying to string the climbs together is that there isn’t always a good route to and from the climb in the right direction – so you might notice some of the route maps have strange circles in them; this doesn’t necessarily mean that we were lost (although it is a possibility..). One the first pass, I had remarked to Barry that the GPS track looked to be leading us down a rocky looking bridleway, and surprise surprise this was yet again one of the ‘Google special’ route-mappings. As we headed down, the terrain got worse, going from gravel to mud to large broken rocks. There were some pretty bemused looks from the walkers and mountain-bikers on the track, but with a touch of skill (and probably a lot of luck) we both got down in one piece without puncturing or breaking anything. In fact, I think we were both so tickled by the fish-out-of-water nature of our equipment at the surroundings that we giggled like little girls most of the way down – even bunny hopping off the top of a couple of jumps that had been built up. Pretty sure Google must have just bought shares in an inner tube manufacturer though…

Looks much more benign in the picture

Inappropriate fun!

Rolling through the grounds of Chatsworth House (which must have been second on the list of all of the Matlock tourists, judging by the amount of traffic) and then further North still, we hit Calver and my old University hill-climb haunt of Curbar Edge. I have memories of this climb being pretty atrocious, but then again I was trying to hit it at full pelt in front of a crowd of supporters – which probably goes some way to explaining the strong taste of iron that I vividly recollect at the top.  Fortunately, this time round (and perhaps with the perspective of climbs like Porlock and the Rosedale Chimney in the back of my mind) it wasn’t so bad – probably the equivalent of Rowsley – so a nice little effort know that there was only ‘one’ hill left (inverted commas included as riding through the Peaks is a guarantee of continual hills, but only one of them would count for this blog’s purposes).

Top of Curbar
A brief interlude followed the ride away from Curbar, as Barry’s ever-reliable home-made wheels decided that they didn’t like their current spoke pattern. But a quick tweak with a spoke key and we were away again – Barry moving noticeably quicker thanks to being one spoke lighter on his back wheel! Finally on roads that we knew were leading back West to where we had left the car, we picked up the pace, and were also revived in spirit by travelling through the excellently named village of Shatton:

The last hill of the day is one of the beasts of the Peak District, and is as epic in scale as its reputation suggests. As we passed through Castleton, it became clear that the village was surrounded by a wall of hills, each as steep-sided as one another and with no obvious way across. Fortunately, nature had been so kind as to heave a cleft between two of the spurs of the hills and this is Winatt’s Pass – although only wide enough for a single-track road and still up a significant gradient. There is a long false flat up to the ‘start’ of the Pass, so by the time you arrive your legs are already feeling less fresh than you might have expected, and you have also burned through a few more gears than you might have liked. The road itself is very similar in feel to Cheddar Gorge – very isolated and quiet on the way up so you can hear your breathing and thumping heartbeat all the way to the top. Admittedly, Winatt’s probably felt extra difficult because it was the last hill of a long day (around 8,000 feet of climbing), but even so I would definitely say that it was the hardest climb on that ride.

Summiting Winnat's
A quick flat section and then rapid (40mph) descent down brought us back into Chapel to the car park. Both buzzing from a great ride, we headed back to Manchester to gorge on barbecued food and drink late into the night laughing at Barry’s sunburn (quite an achievement, given the lack of sunshine, and the fact it was cold enough for me to be in merino and longs all day…)

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