Richard has only recently taken up mountain biking, having volunteered to do the tough ‘gold’ course on the Cairngorm Challenge in September. It was a pleasure to join him today, on a perfect Peak District morning, for a ride that he found in his book of rides and I found on this excellent website run by Pete Gamble.
We may both have been a bit fuzzy from the previous night’s separate red wine incidents, but we managed to rendezvous and depart from the car park at Castleton by soon after 9.30. Incidentally, there are numerous free parking opportunities along the route for those who object to shelling out a fiver for the convenience of the car park.
The ride starts with its most boring section, along the tarmac, past the turn to Winnats Pass, which rises steeply past Speedwell Cavern up the valley shown below.
You could choose Winnats as a challenging variation, but it really is much steeper, with more traffic, than the ‘classic’ route we chose to follow, up towards Mam Farm before doubling back above the Blue John Cavern and regaining the road that is open to traffic and heads up to the top of the pass leading to Edale.
It’s good to get this major ascent over with, and the whole route is a delight from hereon in, starting with the lovely path to Hollins Cross, just by way of a warm up for the ‘rough stuff’.
Although we shouldn’t have ventured onto the footpath, we cycled up the paving to the summit of Mam Tor, where a bystander kindly took the header photo. Nobody seemed to mind, and we hardly damaged the cobbles as we descended courteously back to the bridleway.
There were lots of mountain bikers about, and Richard’s new bike was a subject of envy. Mine was also admired, but without envy; at 21 years old it’s maybe the bicycle equivalent of an original Fiat Panda 4WD.
Anyway, from Hollins Cross care was needed for perhaps the most technical section of the entire ride, with one or two bouldery steps to negotiate on our way down to Edale.
Here’s Richard, setting off from Hollins Cross.
The road section from Edale to the turn off to Clough Farm was fast and easy, with little traffic, unlike the narrow nettle lined bridleway up to the farm, down which a succession of mountain bikers roared.
It turned out that the latest Polaris Challenge mountain bike event was being held in the Peak District this weekend, and many riders had chosen to come down this bridleway just as we went up it. We managed to find a gap in the traffic to slither unimpeded up the narrow muddy sunken lane that comes out at Clough Farm. Beyond the farm a wide track leads gently upwards before descending steeply to this ford across Jaggers Clough.
We met more Polaris challengers, about half way into today’s allotted 5 hours of mountain bike orienteering, having already done 7 hours yesterday, as we rose steeply up towards Hope Cross.
Instead of going right to the cross, we turned left up a gentle but slightly technical slope, before descending joyfully over rough ground to Woodlands Valley. I was pleased to be just about able to keep up with Richard on the descents (‘pride before a fall’!), despite my lack of suspension, though he was much quicker on the ascents.
Anyway, we were soon across the A57 and rising steadily past Rowlee Farm to the ridge that separates the two long fingers of Ladybower Reservoir.
Once on the ridge a welcome breather in the sunshine on this beautiful day preceded a much less technical ride along the pleasurable ridge, through buttercup meadows.
Grassy tracks led towards Crook Hill, and we failed to locate the boggy ground mentioned in Richard’s guide book.
Pride comes before a fall. I proudly shot past Richard on the 30mph descent from Crookhill Farm. I can’t actually recall having had a ‘proper crash’ on this bike in all its years of ownership, whereas Richard assured me that “I fall off at least once on every outing – you have to challenge the limits”.
You can guess what’s coming. Richard stayed sedately and securely on his hi-tech stallion all day, and watched as I attempted to brake from 30mph for a right angle bend just above the road beside the reservoir. It was gravelly. I did avoid crashing down onto the road, but judging by the expression of the car driver below me it may have been a close thing. At first I thought I’d just a few nettle stings, but when I noticed blood spurting out of a gash in my knee I decided against just jumping back onto the bike as if nothing had happened.
Anyway, Richard’s first aid kit proved useful. The hole in the knee was patched up and no lasting damage has been done.
I later discovered that I’d been ‘fingered’ by a local witch who at that very moment was with Sue, saying to her “wouldn’t it be funny if Martin had a crash and couldn’t go on the next trip – I could come with you instead”. Luckily it was my bionic knee that took the impact, so the witchery failed. Good try though!
After this incident the rest of the route was uneventful, mainly along minor roads and gentle tracks, passing through the village of Hope, where the annual well dressing was on proud display.
A narrow lane led out of Hope, up the final hill, on which noisy quad bikes tried to scare us. The views continued to be superb, with Mam Tor, Lose Hill (pictured below) and Win Hill strewn across the skyline to our right.
We got back to Castleton in plenty of time for ice cream in just over 4 hours for the 33-34km ride, with around 800-1100 metres ascent, depending on which gadget you use for measurement. Garmin says 34km, 820m ascent, whereas Anquet claims 33km and 1120m ascent.
The route plotted on Anquet is shown below.
Here’s the Garmin version:
Thanks, Richard, for an excellent and entertaining (I hope my crash entertained you as much as it did me!) ride, and for the choice of a very good route on which no pushing is required - to me that, together with a high off-road percentage, is a feature of a good route.
There’s a very small slide show with just a few more pictures here.