Tuesday, 25 September 2012

A Yorkshireman in Lancashire - a weekend in Manchester

Not as catchy a title as that Sting song, but heregoes...

Day 1

Getting away from work is no easy task these days, but my luck held and the on-off-on-off trip up to Manchester to stay with my sister finally went ahead this weekend, with a glorious couple of days riding and hillbagging in some decent September weather.

A late night drive up on the Thursday night made me very much welcome the sign of a comfy bed – although less so an early start on Friday to head out riding. Armed with a stomach stuffed full of cement-like porridge (food of champions) and a keen riding partner in Barry, the first bit of excitement was a trip in Barry’s legendary van. This is the kind of van which leaks through the sunroof even when it’s not raining, has a two-tone paint job thanks entirely to the sunshine, and the sound system to match personal cassette players of the early-80s. That said, it is the perfect bike-mobile and got us from A to B with zero technical problems (aside from me slipping out of the back while wearing cycling shoes, and then being laughed at by an eight-year-old ginger kid…) – I felt I should add this just in case I ever want to get in Barry’s van ever again!

First up (literally mile 1 of the ride) was Nick of Pendle:

Nick of Pendle

Not the best thing to do with cold legs, but the best bit was the sight of a mountain-biker ahead of us on the road, which was ample motivation to kick up the nicely steep climb to the nook between hills at the summit. Second best bit was the worlds smallest ski slope on the backside of the hill – featuring a dry ski slope which couldn’t have been more than 200m long:

World's smallest ski slope
Moving through the terrain, which was lumpy to say the least, Barry and I found ourselves at the top of a hill, discussing the relative merits of the ‘Trough of Bowland’ and why it had been included in the book…only to descend down the other side to find ourselves at the base of the next hill and the real Trough of Bowland. We have some way to go on realtime navigation and hill identification (more on this later)

Trough of Bowland
The ToB is a fantastic climb – enough to get you out of breath and to generate that feeling of self-worth in having reached the peak, but not enough to make you cough up a lung and with a road that winds through a series of interlocking spurs it is serenely quiet and beautiful at the same time. Yes, interlocking spurs is a term I learnt during GCSE geography…

Rising over the last dip, we could just about see the brown murk that passes for ocean in this part of the world: probably the combination of being close of Liverpool, Blackpool and Sellafield I would imagine, but it really was almost indistinguishable from the colour of the surrounding heather. Time for a photo op!

The Sea! (Somewhere in the brown stuff)
The next hill on the road was Jubilee Tower. It’s described in the book as climbing up to a tower built in celebration of Queen Victoria’s jubilee, and so as we wound our way uphill, we were a little surprised to see the hill capped off by this short, squat thing:

Not exactly a flotilla on the Thames
Hardly compares to what Queen Liz received this year, but they were different times I suppose (I'm not sure Madness would have been allowed on the rood of Buck House back then)…Still with a fairly sedate climb up, and great views over the moors at the top, it was a worthwhile inclusion.

A quick climb back over the ToB and our legs were definitely telling us it was lunchtime. As luck would have it, a local tea room was open and serving, so we popped inside to find a roaring fire and an old couple sat staring silently at each other. With the temperature rising and the atmosphere a little on the uncomfortable side, we took our chances and sat outside to dig into a couple of toasties. Obviously not enough for Barry, he opted for a ‘side-order’ of giant sausage butty:

Round two *ding ding*
Next up was the Cross of Greet, after a fair bit more of climbing to get to its base.

Road up the Cross of Greet
Probably the best climb of the day, the road rises to the highest point of the moors and up to a non-existent cross: at least they are consistent with the misleading hill names round here. As a climb it’s very similar to Alpine ascents, although without the hairpins, and with a lot more stoic moorlands in the foreground as opposed to stunning mountainous vistas. Still, it is a little bit like an Alpine climb in that it’s quite long and has a gentle average gradient.

Time for a quick photo op at the top, and then headed back to the van, via a few hills we had forgotten about, and feeling a bit of the knock on the ascent of the backside of Nick of Pendle. Not a bad ride though, covering 8 decent peaks and riding 3 of the 4 ‘categorised’ climbs up both sides
Sunlight over the hill

Laughing in the face of danger

Day 2
Having been stuffed up to our eyeballs with bucketloads of spaghetti carbonara lovingly prepared by Laura on Friday night, the enormous bowl of porridge on Saturday morning was probably unnecessary…but never one to begrudge food it would have been rude not to. Another exciting trip in the van took us up and over the Woodhead Pass, and down into Holmfirth – straight down the climb of Holme Moss that we were about to ascend. In contrast to Friday, the blue skies had appeared and although there was a chill in the air it was a perfect autumn day to be out on a bike.

Just like Friday, the route went uphill from mile 0, climbing the 1,200 feet up to the summit of Holme Moss. Maybe it was the weather, or maybe my legs have finally come back into form, but I felt very sprightly heading uphill and really enjoyed the 4 mile ride to the top

What a day for riding
Summit of Holme Moss
The ride got even better after that, with a perfect descent off the back to the Woodhead Road, casually topping out at around 45mph and with little need to touch the brakes until the base. Unfortunately there was little option to then join the busy A road crossing the Peaks to get to our next climb, and we slogged our way upwards climbing to a similar height we had just descended to with the traffic flying past only a few inches from our elbows – not massively pleasant. When we finally turned off the road, I had to drag Barry (a materials scientist) away from the Tata steelyard that had caught his attention – something to do with the way the steel was drawn from metal pipes into more and more narrow wires I think

Fascinating medal
At the base of Pea Royd Lane, we stopped briefly to allow a massive waggon to whine and stall its way up the first few corners before taking it on ourselves. Another knee-breaker, it starts with a fairly robust gradient which only flattens out a few hundred metres from the top. One of those that you look up at from the base and realise the amount you have the climb in such a small distance by just looking at the towering cliff ahead of you.

Pea Royd Lane
(complete with van of cheering builders)
After this, the road undulated over the top of the moors, winding through farmland and an enormous windfarm before dropping into Jackson Bridge. At this point, I somehow lost the GPS track, and missed a crucial turning without realising how costly a mistake this was. Having climbed past some roadworks, and descended an incredibly steep and narrow road, we found ourselves in the middle of a Food Festival, and after a bit of head scratching realised we had gone through the Holmfirth without having climbed the Jackson Bridge climb in the book. This was a minor disaster, as we both had one eye on lunch and the produce on offer, as well as realising that by back-tracking we would have to climb up the 25% Cinder Hills Road

Cinder Hills Road
With nothing to be done about it, it was a ‘grit your teeth’ moment and we headed back the way we had just come, knowing that even more climbing awaited us in Jackson Bridge. Once we got there, however, the road up Tenter Hill was really something to behold, and wound way up to a farmhouse at the top – and the marvellously named Dick Edge Road

After that, it was down, up, down, up and down again into Holmfirth for lamb sandwiches and cake (plus a burger for Barry)

Lamb sarnies
Knowing we were a bit pushed for time, we drove up to the next loop around Halifax rather than riding – and having ridden the roads there we were pretty glad of this decision later on. Halifax and the surrounding hills are incredibly tough – constantly up and down meaning that by the time we’d done the two climbs on a 20 mile loop, we’d actually climbed 8 peaks and over 3,500 ft.

The first official climb was the infamous Shibden Wall. A cobbled climb of over a mile, we were lucky to get through with all of our fillings in place. Having said that, there’s something about riding over rough terrain on a completely unsuitable bike (skinny and slick tyres, no suspension, and bike frames set up for racing on smooth tarmac) that is immensely satisfying and very fun.

Contemplating cobbles

Shibden Wall

More up and down followed, as well as a tour through what looked like the set of Shameless (albeit with a few more scary looking families hanging around on street corners), before we descended to the base of the ‘last’ climb of the day – Halifax Lane. Another tough one, I think the day’s undulations made it harder than it would have been with fresh legs, and it was a relief to get to the top and the fantastically named Halifax Vandals RUFC.

Halifax Lane - cobbles optional

Wheelie + concentration in Halifax

A warm welcome by a line of cows was a photo op not to be missed:

Bovine welcoming committee
Before jumping in the car and rushing back for our 8pm dinner reservation

Getting ready in a hurry

Day 3
Not to be missed before heading back was a quick ride up The Rake in Ramsbottom. To  be honest, this climb was much shorter and easier than I had expected…maybe my legs are coming back into form after all…

Mid-way up the Rake


  1. Hi Nathan - enjoyed catching up on your latest exploits! I noted with interest you 'lost concentration' in finding Jackson Bridge - I had a similar experience (also with Pea Royd Lane). Shibden Wall is something else and quite satisfying to conquer. Must admit you must have had good legs for Park Rash - I found it horrendous although I wasn't on a good day. I was always gutted I missed the '91 National Hill Climb (Boardman won) but I don't feel so bad now...good luck with the final phase - the logistics in Scotland are challenging but you know that so fingers crossed you have decent weather. Bealach-Na-Ba is worth it.


  2. Cheers for the note Steve - been back from Scotland for a couple of weeks now but keep thinking about how great the riding is up there. Starting to publish the write-ups and photos now so stay tuned :)

    And yes - Bealach is so so so worth it! Applecross Inn makes all the travel and riding worthwhile - I hope you had a minute out of your schedule for a prawn or two...