A few weeks ago Andy and I were chatting during Wythenshawe’s parkrun. It transpired that we had both cycled the Mary Towneley Loop before and we fancied doing that again. But only in fair weather.
The allotted day duly arrived. Robert, always up for a day out on his bike, joined us at 7.30 am at Waterfoot in perfect weather – overcast, not too hot.
Having previously ridden in a clockwise direction, today we chose to go anti-clockwise, starting with a long push to the top of Cowpe Moss. The reward was a fast, long descent down Rooley Moor to bring us back up to ten hour pace, which we maintained for the first half of the ride.
Beyond Broadley the path rises to a golf course, then jinks past Brown Wardle Hill and heads pleasantly down to Watergrove Reservoir. Here we were distracted by people in bright yellow jackets and we missed the Pennine Bridleway turn that the Mary Towneley Loop assiduously follows. We’d been distracted by a group of parkrunners, seemingly in the middle of nowhere. It was Watergrove parkrun’s second anniversary. We lingered whilst lots of awards were made.
After that it was a lovely sweeping descent, followed by some minor undulations, to reach Lock 33 at Bottomley, on the Rochdale Canal, just in time for elevenses.
Even though we were refreshed, the steep cobbles above Walsden drew some sharp intakes of breath and a little pushing.
Back on a more level track, we had lovely views on the now sunny day, over buttercup meadows to Todmorden.
Just around the corner, the familiar sight of Stoodley Pike Monument came into view. Thankfully we wouldn’t need to go up to it today, and this path took us smoothly round to Lumbutts.
It was a little early for a pub stop at Lumbutts so we continued on beyond Mankinholes, rising slowly to Erringden Moor. The descent to the Rochdale Canal at Charlestown should have been straightforward, but we missed a turn, spotted another turn, and walked up a hill, at the top of which my rear tyre punctured.
Whilst replacing the inner tube we encountered a small group we’d met near the start. They were riding the MTL in a clockwise direction. We also met a couple who were doing it in two days in the same direction as us. They went down the hill we’d just walked up, and the ‘clockwise’ group headed off towards Stoodley Pike. Somehow we had contrived to reverse our direction, so we headed back down the hill, eventually reaching the Rochdale Canal.
We had plenty of provisions, and the towpath was closed, so we decided not to venture off route to the fleshpots of Hebden Bridge, instead climbing steeply out of the valley towards Blackshaw Head. We met a ‘clockwise’ Australian, enjoying a long day out on his bike. As it turned out, we went a bit too close to Blackshaw Head, as we missed the bridleway to Jack Bridge. This time we were soon back on track, but the attractions of the New Delight made us succumb to another minor diversion. We enjoyed refreshments and a spot of lunch with the couple who were riding the route over two days.
We then headed on towards the Gorple Reservoirs. The route undulates here, with a steep bit of tarmac reminding me of the fastest section of the clockwise route. We caught the two day couple just as I got my second puncture. The couple had seen a Little Owl beside the path, as well as other interesting wildlife.
There is merit in spending two days over this route.
Andy kindly repaired the punctured tube (which was brand new when installed earlier) whilst I wrestled with my second spare inner tube. Luckily, that lasted for the rest of the day – but I think I need a new rear tyre.
Meanwhile, at the Lower Gorple Reservoir an eight strong group from the Manchester Mountain Bikers Club, of which I’m a member, came storming through just as Robert’s bike suffered a puncture. So we had a quick chat and off the others went. They had started an hour later than us, and they finished half an hour before us, so I’m glad I didn’t enrol in their group as my fitness isn’t up to their required standard for this ride. They did really well.
It was another long, hot pull (push) up to the Gorple Gate track, before a splendid descent to Hurstwood and Cant Clough Reservoirs, and on to cross a stream at Shedden Heys. A family of sunbathers had positioned themselves perfectly to enjoy to antics of mountain bikers with wet feet. The water was quite deep. Robert and Andy walked over the stepping stones. Wimps.
It’s another hefty pull with the occasional ‘dab’ (or in our cases ‘push’) up to The Long Causeway, where we gave up the MTL on our first clockwise attempt in 2012. From the Causeway and its wind farm it’s a great descent into Holme Chapel, beyond which the route climbs steeply past Cow Side to reach the memorial to Mary Towneley, whose sterling efforts were largely responsible for the superb ‘Pennine Bridleway’ network of tracks.
That grassy ascent past Cow Side was the last of the steep grinds, and the final hour and a quarter of the ride was spent pleasantly making our way back to Waterfoot on good tracks with a few entertaining downhill adventures.
It was 7.20 by the time we got back to the cars, so the trip took 11 hours 40 minutes, about 50 minutes longer than last time. Three punctures, a pub stop, and a few extra kilometres due to navigational mishaps are probably the reason for the slower time. As last time, I wasn’t bike fit and I held up the others from time to time, but never mind, it was a great day out.
Here’s the route – on this occasion we did about 76 km, with around 2300 metres of ascent according to Anquet (some trackers may show a bit more distance and a bit less ascent, but hey – it doesn’t matter, it’s a great day out).
There’s a link to a slideshow including some of Robert’s images, which can be seen in full . Andy also has some photos and I’ll insert a link if he gives me one.