The last time I went up Cut Gate it was dusted with snow, frozen solid under a crisp clear sky. I think it was about -2°C, not somewhere to hang around. Today it was rather different, it hit 27°C at the top of the hill and looked like this on the way up.The Dark Peak has been baking under a full-blown heatwave for what seems like weeks now, and the paths are dusty and fast. Stream beds contain diminished trickles where normally you can be guaranteed wet feet, and permanent puddles are bone dry. Only the Bog Of Doom where the trail crosses Great Grough still held wet mud, but even this had dried out to the point where it was possible to ride right through it. I don’t think I’ve seen the moors this dry since I was riding over them on a lugged steel Raleigh. On the way up the hill I encountered clutches of baby grouse cheeping as they scattered across the heather. A mountain hare stopped to look at me before loping off the path, and pewits and curlews put in the odd appearance. I think I saw perhaps four humans between the A616 and the top, it was very quiet. Upon reaching the cairn marking the pass over to the Derwent valley I took advantage of the conditions and lack of traffic to explore a little off the main track and pay a visit to the trig point on the summit of Margery Hill, something I’ve meant to do many times, but never got around to. The path is vague and crosses plenty of what would be impassably boggy sections in normal conditions, but I was able to make good progress over the baked peat and found the white pillar in a shallow bowl of sun-cracked mud, with a few interesting gritstone boulders scattered around nearby. I had a bit of a sunbathe on a rock, listening to the birdsong and insect chatter, with only the occasional rumble of a distant aircraft to remind me of distant people and problems. I could have stayed up there for hours.I didn’t. I had the school run to get back for, and I was running low on water, so I set off back down Cut Gate via Langsett Barn (and a brief lie down in the only significant patch of mud on the whole hill). The drag home was tiring, I suspect because I’ve only ridden a bike three times in the past month and a half, and I only had a bag of Jelly Babies for the whole day. I still had a brilliant day off, I really should do this more often.
Ouch. I DNFed out of the Dyfi Enduro this year after binning it half-way around, at the top of the ‘World Cup’ descent, landing on some especially pointy slate, which cut clean through my gloves and deep into the palm of my right hand. It wasn’t entirely my fault for once, my unscheduled lie-down was precipitated by a rider in front of me choosing a very creative line almost perpendicular to my own path, forcing me to brake on slippery off-camber rocks, with the inevitable result that I parted company with my bike and got closely acquainted with the sharp edges of some Ordovician geology. It could have been a lot worse though: I had scrubbed a lot of speed before hitting the ground, and after my hands took the impact they were just badly cut and bruised, nothing broken. The one deep gash was quickly patched up by the excellent paramedics from St John’s Ambulance, called up by the nearby marshall. I didn’t feel up to completing the rest of the route on hands that could barely grip the bars, though, so I rolled down the road for a few miles before being picked up by a helpful course sweeper in a van who was ferrying a broken collarbone and another unspecified injury back to the start.
The weekend wasn’t a washout by any means, in spite of my latest foray into minor injury acquisition. I had enjoyed two days’ worth of excellent riding at Coed Y Brenin and the Climachx trail, along with a little more beer than was entirely sensible afterwards with various bike-riding friends. Dry, pleasant weather made a pleasing contrast to last year’s damp proceedings, and I thoroughly enjoyed the first half of the course, and, this time, the spectacular views. You could even see the top of Cadair Idris. It did rain a little later on in the afternoon, but by that point I’d already decided to head for home before any post-injury stiffening made driving more difficult. Hopefully I shall be able to revisit the Dyfi Enduro next year, and I’d certainly like to head back to the area for more riding in general -perhaps with some tougher gloves, just in case.
The Mary Towneley Loop is a not-quite-fifty mile circuit of bridleways and back-roads in the South Pennines, in between Hebden Bridge, Rochdale, Ramsbottom, and Burnley. It is named after one Lady Towneley, who was apparently a fantastically rich horse-pestering fox-murderer, rather than anything interesting to do with bicycles, but who did inadvertently put together a fairly interesting route for a bike ride whilst trying to find something to do with her sports-cow in between using it to hunt down and kill Lancastrian wildlife.
The loop has been on my to-do list for years, awaiting a day when I could muster enough enthusiasm for massive hills and double-track, and rope a couple of likely mugs into helping me open and close what is reputedly the finest collection of farm gates in the north. There are lots of gates on the MTL – someone told us there were about fifty or so, and in the interests of scientific investigation we decided to verify this by keeping a count of gates opened and/or closed on our way round. There were three of us keeping track so I’m pretty confident that we got the number for the day right, but we ignored gates clearly fixed open deliberately, or gateways with missing gates, and multiple-opening gates were only counted as one, so gate-counts from other sources may be different. We began our clockwise circuit from Bottomley in Calderdale, because it’s near to where one of us lives, although it turned out to be a good place to start for other reasons too. Clockwise is generally accepted as the best way to do the loop, as it keeps the hills relatively steady and shallow, and allows for more fun on the corresponding descents. Looking at various elevation profiles beforehand seemed to bear this theory out, although I would be interested to go back and re-ride the thing counter-clockwise one day to see how it compares – I think it would still make an interesting day out in the ‘wrong’ direction.
Adding the very first gate of the day to our running tally within a few hundred yards of our start point, the route immediately introduced us to the other main distinctive feature of the loop: a ruddy massive hill. Whilst the landscape hereabouts does in fact have large swathes of flat, smooth terrain all over the place, unfortunately being as they are elevated expanses of featureless peat bog on top of the hills, the actual paths and tracks that traverse the scenery are forced to hug the edges of the valleys, snake along the bottoms, or, frequently, lurch crazily up and down the steep sides like a demented slow-motion roller-coaster. The MTL follows a wide selection of the most-demented, most roller-coastery ones, presumably in order to give one’s equine steed a good solid workout whilst one sits on top of it admiring the pylons and whatnot, thereby providing those of us unfortunate enough to have to rely on our own metabolism for propulsion with a good chunky challenge to get our teeth into. As the first few miles of our day were undulating but not unduly so, and provided a decent warm up without breaking anyone, I would recommend Calderdale as a good starting point for anyone contemplating riding the loop.Another benefit of a Calderdale start is that there aren’t that many gates between Bottomley and Waterfoot, and you can make pretty good progress here provided you don’t get lost in Healey Dell, like we did (someone has nicked the signs, so bear right and don’t go down the old railway line, that’s the wrong way). Above Healey Dell we encountered Rooley Moor Road, the longest slog of the day, an arrow straight road-width track interspersed with long stretches of cobbles allegedly placed by locals during the “cotton famine” caused by the American Civil War. Mill workers, unable to find employment in factories starved of raw material, were paid to lay setts on this remote moorland, converting a small footpath to a full blown road to nowhere. Apparently paying people for completing a pointless task was more acceptable to the Victorian mind than just giving people money so they didn’t starve or freeze to death. With this bizarre monument to make-work employment dispatched we rolled down the entertaining, rocky descent into Rossendale, before negotiating a maze of back-streets out of Waterfoot and out towards Burnley.Lulled into a false sense of security by the relative lack of gates, we were soon to be disabused of our misconceptions; the MTL asserts its true nature in full force as it crosses the Forest of Rossendale. There are curiously few trees in the Forest of Rossendale – apparently they were all cut down and made into gates. Our tally leapt here from single digits well up into the thirties in a matter of a few miles. It also started to rain, and Rik noticed a slow-puncture on his back wheel. After donning waterproofs and a swift tube change, we relayed along the tracks from gate to gate, meandering towards Holme Chapel and then on to Hurstwood, where we took a brief detour to play on a fun bit of built bike trail instead of rolling down some boring double-track (I’m assured we didn’t miss any gates, though). We met a couple of walkers enjoying a cuppa on gate forty-something as the sun came out again. They gamely volunteered that they’d tried riding bicycles in the area once but found things a bit too steep and rocky – did we try to ride our bikes over everything? They boggled again when we told them that the steep, rocky bits were the best bits.The climb up from Hurstwood to Gorple is the second biggest of the day, and even with a fair tailwind helping us along we were starting to feel the miles in our legs. The views did much to compensate for the effort, and the descent to Widdop rewarded with a surprisingly rocky series of hairpins down to the reservoir. After a few stretches of quiet tarmac the route reverted to type, throwing three more sharp hills at us (and some gates) before we dropped back down into Calderdale once again. The ascent out through Callis Wood is quiet and steady and we ground slowly back up from the valley floor on to the final section of high ground for the day. Scattering a herd of sheep, we rolled onto London Road beneath the shadow of Stoodley Pike, with the last climb in sight ahead of us. A concerted grind up and over the shoulder of the hill led us to the fun drop back into Bottomley, and through the last few gates of the route.Our Mary Towneley Loop statistics for the day were as follows.
Distance: 76.28 km (a couple of kms were added on the ride in and out).
Time: 9:04:48 (but we stopped quite a lot to chat and eat and faff with gates, moving time was 6:41:30).
Elevation gain: 2,213 m (but it felt like more).
Total gates: 88 (and here we are at the final gate, quite glad to be done opening and closing the damn things).I think we can conclusively state that there are rather more than fifty gates on the MTL, and the current tally of 88 as of late-April 2017 is as close to a definitive figure as you’re likely to get, because I’m not going back out there to double check, and I’m not sure anyone else is daft enough to bother counting.
In contrast to last weekend’s rain-lashed PMBA enduro at Gisburn, the venue for Hit The North 5 on Saturday basked in calm sunshine. I did have to scrape ice off the van when I left the house at seven, but by the time I’d signed on things were warming up nicely for the loveliest day of the year so far. The excellent course was mostly dry and fast when I rode a reconnaissance lap, although there was still a bit of mud about the place from the past few weeks of rain to keep things interesting. Having checked out the course and met up with various friends, everyone rolled out to the start straight, and I took up my position well out of the way of the fast boys, near the back.
With a couple of hundred riders bashing their way around, things dried out further over the two hours, and apart from at a couple of stubborn swampy bits the going was pretty good. The worst of the bogs was at the bottom of an entertainingly rutted and slippy downhill, resulting in numerous comedy dismounts and over-bar ejections, happily all filmed and photographed by one diligent spectator. Please note that whilst I am not featured in this marvellous montage of ineptitude, I did manage to hit the deck elsewhere on the course, and I didn’t even get a nice soft muddy landing, choosing instead to bin it on a load of rocks, as usual. My left side is once again nicely bruised, and I won’t be leaning on my elbow for a week or two.
Given that I didn’t stand a chance of placing anywhere remotely respectable, I decided that the best bike for this race would be my Surly Krampus single speed, a rigid steel 29+ barge with full mudguards and dynamo lights. Having ridden much of this course previously on a number of different bikes I have to say that the Krampus does actually make these trails entertaining, and it turned out to be a better choice than might have been expected. Whilst not particularly fast on hills and flat-out pedally bits, I was pleasantly surprised by it in a few spots. Most remarkably, on the muddy field that the route crossed twice each lap I regularly shot past struggling skinny-tyred CX bikes and more normal MTBs, the Surly’s massive 3″ tractor-tread rubber flywheeling me over the tussocks and puddles with ease, gaining me several places every time. Similarly, in rutted, muddy woodland the bike battered its way past struggling XC whippets, and the huge tyres obviously stick like the proverbial on corners, making the many singletrack sections very enjoyable . As soon as the course headed uphill the tables were turned, though; with one gear and inadequate training I struggled with the hefty 15kg bike, off and pushing and losing position, and on smooth, flat tracks I span out quickly. But competitive advantage wasn’t really the point, and I had an absolute blast riding this slightly daft contraption in a proper race.
The bike wasn’t the only bit of daftness – as you can just about see in the above photo, I rode with a small plastic aeroplane zip-tied to my helmet, complete with a spinning propeller that caused an interesting buzzing sensation at speed, rather like having a head full of bees. Throughout the race people yelled encouragement at “Aeroplane man!” which was greatly heartening, and I even started making “Neeeeeoooooowwwww” sound effects to myself round corners. When I discovered that one of my cranks was disintegrating and the pedal was about to part company with the rest of the bike, I thought about throwing in the towel, but the idea of letting down my legions of cheering fans was enough to keep me going, and I ground manfully on to the finish. Sadly, somewhere around the final descent, the plane’s propeller was lost after clipping a bit of vegetation, so it won’t be flying again. I shall have to come up with something else to drum up crowd support next time.
It turns out that I came 84th out of 143 finishers (and 173 starters), two laps down on the winners. Given that I started pretty much at the back of the field, rode a thoroughly unsuitable bike which started falling apart, ran out of water, and stopped for a chat at a couple of points, I’m pretty pleased with that. I had forgotten how fun it is to just pedal like stink and try to catch the rider in front of you, who knows, maybe I’ll do some more XC racing at some point.
The organisation by Jason Miles and team was excellent, the course was smashing, the marshals were all lovely and friendly and encouraging, and the atmosphere was absolutely splendid. The only real negative is that Hit The North doesn’t happen more often – although I hear rumblings that the gap to the next one might be rather less than the four years or so since HTN4, which can only be a good thing.
Last year’s PMBA Enduro at Gisburn was lovely and sunny. This year’s edition was not. It had rained pretty solidly for several days beforehand, and it continued to rain solidly for the duration of the day itself. We arrived nice and early to secure one of the first riding slots, perused the course map, and determined that we only needed to check out a couple of the stages as due to the conditions most of the route was confined to solid, established tracks and we already knew it well enough. We rode out to stage one, which turned out to be the first large climb on the main trail centre, run in reverse and horribly pedally, then investigated stage four, which was closed due to a rider having binned it off one of the drops. This stage was truncated progressively over the course of the day due to flooding and the apparent desire of some of the storm-battered trees to have a bit of a lie down, and ended up being about forty seconds long for the fast boys (rather more for me). After slopping up and down the track in the wind and rain we were thoroughly soaked, freezing cold, and pretty heartily sick of the whole exercise so we retreated to the van and cranked the heating up to full blast.
Having changed, defrosted and refuelled we dragged ourselves to the start line for our appointed roll-out time. The weather was still foul but we had the shelter of the trees for the first couple of stages and once warmed up things felt okay. Stage one was a slog, and having to repeat the first climb to get back up wasn’t the most pleasant way to recover, but stage two down the twisty trail centre run of Home Baked was pretty enjoyable in spite of the river flowing down it. My time wasn’t particularly great even by my own low standards, but I felt like I was starting to get the hang of the tight turns through the trees, and none of the slippery roots caught me out. The official photographer snapped me on this stage, on what feels like quite a technical little rock-garden, but as ever the camera flattens everything.
Stage three comprised most of the Whelpstone Crag and Hully Gully set pieces, joined with an unpleasant fire-road slog, and I messed up the start quite badly which cost me a chunk of time, in addition to the gigantic hub-deep puddles at several points. Stage four was down to about a third of its original size, and whilst I cleared the drops happily I fluffed the final rooty corner and ended up walking my bike sedately across the line, feeling pretty daft. I was glad to finish and we rolled back to the start as fast as we could, handing in our timing chips, packing up and setting off for home with a van full of mud and as much haste as we could manage. I was glad to have got the first race of the year out of the way without incident, and pleased to discover that my still-sore injured knee was able to hold up to a day of hard riding in challenging conditions. I did still enjoy myself, mostly, but I have to say that I’m definitely looking forward to summer and some sunshine and dusty trails now.
On a final note, I must salute the efforts of the race marshals and first-aiders who gave up their Sunday to stand around on muddy hillsides in abominable conditions, watching a bunch of lunatics throw themselves at rocks, trees and puddles. They did brilliant work keeping everyone safe whilst remaining cheerful and encouraging throughout – absolute stars every one of them.
I nearly rode straight over the little piece of craftsmanship pictured above, which was floating in an icy rut on a public bridleway, earlier today. It’s a big old chunk of wood with twelve 4″ nails bashed through it, clearly contrived as some sort of homebrew stinger device intended to puncture the tyres of any vehicle driving over it. Fortunately I was bimbling along slowly enough to be able to stop in time, and I fished the item out for a closer look.Lovely work, I’m sure you’ll agree. I carried the offending article out of the quarry, and then rolled down the hill to find a safe place to store it. On getting home I called 101 and the police took sufficient interest that they’re going to collect it and investigate further. Chances are it was intended to target illicit 4x4s or MXers in the quarries, but it’d be a pretty effective showstopper for a mountain bike too. More importantly, of course, it could seriously injure any any horse, dog, kid, or runner unfortunate enough to stomp on it. For anyone who rides in the Holmfirth area, it was found in the old quarries above Hade Edge. I suspect that there may be more lurking out there so watch out for yourself, and please inform the authorities if you find one.
I really don’t understand the mentality of the person or persons who set this trap. Indeed, I’m baffled as to how they figured out which end of the hammer to use, given that they must have the mental acuity of brain-damaged chickens to consider this a good idea. Idiots.
Putting aside the general dreadfulness of nearly everything for a moment, and concentrating instead on what’s really important – riding bikes – 2016 has been pretty good for me, on average. The first half of the year was brilliant, starting with an overnight jaunt up Cross Fell in the snow, and a ride with Rob Warner, then Snowdon (again), some lovely weather, some horrific weather, a trip to Scotland (again), and the highlight of the year: revisiting Torridon in glorious conditions.
The second half of 2016 was less pleasing, with the summer holidays doing their usual hatchet-job on my mileage, followed by work and life getting in the way of other plans. There were bright spots in and amongst, but then a stupid crash at the start of October put me out of action for ages. I’m back on the bike now though and working back up to strength, with plans for next year already in hand. Overall the high-points of January to June were sufficiently good that even smashing my leg up badly enough to stop me pedalling for two months didn’t take the shine off things completely. On the bike, 2016 was pretty good.
So happy new year to everyone: may your 2017 bring you miles and miles of empty, flowing trails, not too much mud and rain, and as few punctures and headwinds as possible.
My leg is still sufficiently knackered that I’ve yet to get out on a bike, and the weather’s rubbish anyway (although I have been doing my exercises and everything). Having cleaned, serviced and repaired pretty much everything bike-shaped in the house, I decided to amuse myself by building a new set of wheels for the Rocket. They are Stan’s Arch Mk3 on Hope Pro4s with DT Comps, and I’m very pleased with how they’ve turned out. I do love wheel-building, it’s very therapeutic lacing and tightening up a nice new set of wheels, and immensely satisfying when you finally check everything one more time and it all runs true.
I haven’t had a big crash for years now, so I suppose it was coming. This time wasn’t as bad as my last, and I was able to walk off the hill and get home without a detour to A+E, so I suppose I should be grateful for small mercies. I have now been off the bike for over four weeks, though, and frankly I’m getting a bit bored. Much as I like vegetating with my feet up in front of the stove with a glass of wine, when you have to do it for a solid month because you can’t do much else it honestly starts to become a little frustrating.Most enduro stages have intermediate marshal points where the organisers station someone to keep an eye on the trickier parts of the course, and to sweep up crashed riders, broken bikes, body parts and whatnot. Stage two of the PMBA Grizedale Enduro had two marshal points, the first at an awkward rooty-rocky slippery corner section, which had caught me out in practice, but which I cleared pretty well in my race run. The second marshal point was at a rocky drop which I had barely even registered as I shot over it in practice. Under timed conditions, sadly, I took a different line, my front wheel washed out and I went down onto the rocks hard. My leg got twisted up under my bike and once I’d stopped sliding down the hill I knew my riding was done for some time. I couldn’t stand up, or bend my leg at all, and I tentatively pulled my pads off to survey the damage. Nothing appeared to be obviously snapped or sticking out, but I still couldn’t do anything much movement-wise, so the marshal called for the paramedics to assess things. A few minutes later, having prodded and poked me to ascertain that I wasn’t seriously broken, they hauled me to my feet and ordered me off the hill under my own steam (in the nicest possible way, I hasten to add, helping me with the tricky bits and making sure I didn’t pass out or anything). I limped slowly down to the bottom of the course, dodging flying riders, several of whom had the decency to bin it in the same spot as me, and made my way to the campsite, which I had fortuitously managed to crash about as close to as it was possible to get without leaving the race route. We packed up the van (well, Rik did, with me helping as best I was able) and once we’d got the farmer to tow us out of the field and driven the three hours or so home, that was the end of our weekend.Approximately a week after the crash I ended up in A+E for real with a suspected DVT related to the walloping my calf had taken from the rocks. This was really painful, like having six-inch nails hammered into my leg at times, but ultrasound revealed that any clot was far enough down my calf to not pose a serious risk, the doctors advised that I’d basically just strained everything about as far as possible without rupturing anything, and I was sent home with painkillers and told to take it easy. Since then I have managed to hobble slightly faster every day, and I can now turn the pedals on the turbo trainer on easy for maybe fifteen minutes or so, and I am walking almost like a normal mobile pedestrian again. I may even be able to ride a proper bike in the next few weeks, according to the physio I saw recently, provided I religiously practise all the prescribed exercises with which I’m now allowed to torture my lower leg. Fun fun fun.
Here’s the official video of the (otherwise completely smashing) PMBA Round 7. I’m in it, you can see me bumbling along at about 1m06 in a red top on a green Rocket. And then again at about 1m18, lying on the floor behind the marshal, looking monumentally pissed off. It looks like most other people had a much better day than I did, which is gratifying…
Cycle speedway is a rather improbable discipline of cycling, where you go as fast as you can round a tiny dirt track on a bike with no brakes. There’s a track in Tyldesley and a few of the Monday Night Pub Ride gang got together to have another go this last Monday, following an entertaining visit at the start of summer where almost everyone crashed out spectacularly. Amazingly, none of us crashed this time, possibly because it was dark, I dunno. Here’s a video of proceedings (warning: contains cussing, heckling, and some very poor bicycle handling on my part).