Monthly Archives: January 2014

Seaside Night-ride

IMG_20140125_042602Ever since I did the Dunwich Dynamo last summer I’ve been contemplating possibilities for similar rides starting nearer to home. Of the various ideas I came up with, a ride out to Scarborough seemed the most promising, with several factors in its favour: any realistic route there heads in a predominantly north-easterly direction, putting the prevailing wind and weather at your back; there are no massive hills in the way; there are numerous quiet back lanes for much of the distance; and Scarborough has a main-line rail station with direct, fast connections back to my home town. When a friend mentioned that he wanted to try to ride a century this seemed to be an obvious candidate. Doing the ride at night in January would add a little bit more challenge and novelty without making the undertaking too difficult. We set a date, finalised the route, and booked some train tickets back home.

The rain was coming down fairly heavily when we set off at 8.30PM, but the roads were already growing quieter and it was quite mild. We dispatched the only two hills of any note quickly and rolled down towards the flatlands that stretch out from the foot of the Pennines towards the sea. As we made our way towards the far edge of West Yorkshire past Huddersfield and Mirfield the traffic thinned out steadily. Cutting the corner between the M1 and the M62 we saw only a handful of cars, and by the time  we’d crossed Castleford it seemed that nearly everyone had gone to bed. We stopped to eat some of our food on a bench in a posh dormitory village, and with a little mental arithmetic determined that we were actually going too fast and would arrive at least a couple of hours before the first train home at 6.30AM. We reduced our pace a little in spite of miles of smooth, brand-new tarmac inciting us to race onwards. The rain had stopped by now, but we could see the weather front rolling ahead of us, depositing large amounts of water on the roads, which remained wet for the whole night.

After slipping through Sherburn-in-Elmet we were engulfed in the stench of burning tyres from a massive recycling plant fire, but this only persisted for a few minutes. Once past this final industrial area the traffic effectively vanished.  We saw only one or two vehicles an hour from now on, apart from on the odd short sections of A-road which had to be crossed, and even these were quiet. The back lanes were often rough and standing water hid potholes and debris, but with no-one else on the roads it hardly mattered, and we rode two-up most of the time, chatting occasionally. Passing through Wheldrake and Elvington I recognised landmarks from my days at university when I used to ride my mountain bike (and only bike) along featureless, flat bridleway tracks in search of anything worth exploring. I never did find anything fun off-road hereabouts. I would have been much better off with a road bike in those days, this area has to be much more engaging when covered at the higher speeds possible on skinny tyres.

We stopped again at Stamford Bridge to take on more food, and noted that in spite of our efforts to take it easy we were still on schedule for a very early arrival. Going much slower would have resulted in us getting cold, so we decided to just carry on and trust to finding somewhere to shelter at the end. The riding itself was positively enjoyable, the roads undulating but not tough, and in the forty minutes or so between Stamford Bridge and Malton we saw only one car. Beyond Malton our route deteriorated to very rough single-track lanes with deep puddles, thick layers of mud and farm debris all over, but still completely deserted and otherwise very easy going. I was a little apprehensive about the 7km stretch of the A170 that we had to cover, but at 4AM even this was totally silent. We saw one van just outside Scarborough, and other than that we had the entire world to ourselves.  The contrast with the normal experience of using the roads in this country could not have been more marked. It struck me just how sad it is that road cycling is so frequently ruined by the impatience, inattention or plain, straight-up hatred of motorists. Riding these silent roads, flying along under our own power without constantly having to be on guard for murderous or ignorant drivers was a revelation.  It’s pretty tragic that the only way to experience this in the UK is to do something like taking to the back lanes of North Yorkshire at 3AM in January.

Turning off for the final stretch down Forge Valley we plunged into misty woodlands, chilly and eerie, and a much more interesting approach to the town than the obvious drag along the main road. We took a couple of wrong turns in Scarborough itself, but eventually found our way down to the seafront having clocked up just over 100 miles in seven and a half hours or so of riding. There was not a soul around as we made our way out to the sea, which was inconsiderately lurking an extra quarter of a mile out from the promenade. I polished off the last of my flask of coffee and took a few snaps, trying (and failing) to capture the outline of The Grand Hotel against the clouds, before we hauled ourselves back up to the centre of town and the station.

Unfortunately the station was closed and we huddled outside the door, wearing every extra layer we had with us, for a good hour and a half before the authorities decided to open up (typically, twenty minutes late and with thirty of forty grumbling people milling about waiting to be let in). We ensconced ourselves near our bikes in the single designated bike-storage section, and within about five minutes I had passed out. I awoke briefly at Leeds, and then again as we drew into Huddersfield. A few more miles on the stopper, a roll down the hill, and I was back before 9 o’clock, exhausted but very satisfied with the first century ride of the year.


A Metric Century of Idiots

IMG_20140118_092517-ACTIONA 6AM start for our first 100km of this year. It rained from the off, but we pressed on down past town and out on Leeds road, where we encountered the first moron of the day: the driver of a massive crane couldn’t possibly slow down for a couple of seconds and squeezed a good forty or fifty tons of heavy industrial machinery between us and a traffic island with inches to spare. He turned off a mere 500m later into the Syngenta site, where I’m sure they desperately needed a crane at 6.30AM on a Saturday morning, so clearly his haste was entirely justified.

By way of an unusual contrast the normally horrible run from Cooper Bridge to the motorway junction was surprisingly quiet, and our progress through Brighouse, Hebden Bridge and Todmorden was similarly unremarkable with little more than the usual close passes, impatience and standard issue driver dopeyness on display. It was only after we started to descend towards Rochdale and Oldham that the real rocket surgeons turned out, beeping us for riding two-up, buzzing past mere inches away, pulling in early, deliberately cutting us up and boxing us in. We singled out, bunched up, and treated every driver like they wanted us dead, by which actions I am happy to report that we made it through.

From Stalybridge we turned away from the headwind that had harassed us nearly as much as the traffic, and made our way up the quiet section of A635 towards Greenfield. The rain had moved on too, and both the cars and their drivers were significantly less dense than those encountered earlier. One final drag up the steady climb over Standedge, down the other side, and we were done: a loop of almost precisely 100km on the nose. It was a satisfying ride all things considered, but I don’t think I’ll be doing that specific route again, or venturing anywhere near the dump that is Oldham on two wheels either, for that matter. The motorists of Oldham really are selfish, ignorant, knuckle-dragging imbeciles and I hope they all, every last one of them, die unhappily early deaths from galloping haemorrhoids. And that crane driver, him too.


IMG_20140116_211321A damp but mild Thursday night saw us investigating a few promising lines on the map to see if there was anything fun that was yet to be uncovered over on the Saddleworth side of our hills. I had not been over that side of the watershed on the mountain bike for quite a long time, and I fancied a change. We set off up one of the usual drags out of the village, and dropped down Boat Lane, which is always fun and holds up quite well even in the worst weather, guaranteeing at least one enjoyable descent even if the rest of the night developed into a wash-out.  Climbing back  over into the next valley and descending via the aptly-named track past Waters, that one which usually resembles a small stream at the best of times, we ended up thoroughly soaked and caked in mud. Even though it wasn’t raining much at the time it had been wet for the previous few days, so there was standing and running water everywhere, a small but significant quantity of which was destined to come home with us in our socks.IMG_20140116_210141On the first properly new path of the night we found a mysterious shrine to “Wisdom”, four carved stone blocks circled around a spring,  hiding in the dark.  The stones looked very new with no real sign of the usual Pennine algal green on them, so either they’ve not been there for long, or someone cleans them regularly. We moved on swiftly, before any local pagans had chance to capture us for ritual sacrifice or a lengthy discursion on eco-friendly stone-carving. It’s that sort of neighbourhood. The path itself made for a pleasant, steady way of gaining the ridge above, a friendly alternative to the usual route which batters its way up a stony 1-in-4 lung-buster of a climb. 

We dropped down to Delph along a track I have been eyeballing on the map for a few months now, a route that turned out to be excellently rocky and entertaining, if very wet. Slippery green slabs of slick rock nearly caught us out a couple of times, and the lower section of path was basically a stream-bed due to the heavy rain of the previous days, but in summer this must be an excellent descent, and I can’t wait to revisit it in the sunshine.

A bad choice of climb back up onto Harrop Edge had us off and pushing, but the other side of the hill was another enjoyable blast of rocky downhill to the road, which, as it was getting late, we elected to follow straight back to the pub.  All things considered it was an excellent evening out, the soggy conditions under-wheel notwithstanding, and our explorations opened up a couple of new, useful routes to add in to our regular loops.

Windy Hill

IMG_20140104_080409Forty or so early-morning road miles during a lull in the stormy weather we’re having. Just over half-way round our loop, Windy Hill wasn’t all that windy for a change, but naturally we’re not going to tell anyone that. Besides, it’s a long drag with a couple of nasty kicks at the end by way of a sting in the tail, so even without a headwind you work to get up there. Booth Wood Reservoir was overflowing down the dam wall after the past few weeks’ rain, a spectacular sight as we wound our way up the opening ramp of the climb. The lights of the M62 diffusing through traffic-spray and reflecting in the water looked almost pretty as the dawn grew in the east.

From the reservoir onwards you can see the communications mast at the top of the hill, always seeming further away than you want it to be. I used to be scared by it as a young child for some unfathomable reason; I recall trying to hide from it in the car, and I must have driven my parents mad with my irrational fear every time we drove past this structure on the way to my grandparents’ house.  I have no idea what it’s for, but it always seems to interfere with my phone if I’m near it. Very suspicious.

At the level of the dam the road flattens out and undulates along, tempting you to push faster and faster, but you should save something for the final section, ramping up progressively harder until the two final steps up and under the motorway junction. Beyond Oxygrains Old Bridge you start to climb again, and either side of the motorway the gradient gets more severe before finally levelling out at the summit. I gave it my best on the last section, but I was glad to finally see the lights of Rochdale and Manchester below me. I stopped just over the brow to wait for my mates, caught my breath and tried to look nonchalant, and a few minutes later we rolled down through the rain into Saddleworth, with only a handful more miles and one more hill to go.