Okay, the title. Long winded, I know. Please, keep reading and allow me to explain! Impressed as I was with the largest climb I’d done in one ride, I got it in my head that 4,140 feet of climbing might not be far off a mile and that I could call the next blog post ‘The Mile High Club’. Well it’s not a mile. It’s 0.784091 of a mile.
The monthly ride we run usually commences and concludes in Prestwich but the ride on Saturday 18th was a (very enjoyable) detour from the norm. For 33 years, the 17th April has marked the anniversary of the birth of the wonderful Mr Richard Knox. The last two of those celebrations have now concluded with a brutal ride on the following day. It’s nice to create our own little rituals.
On 18th April last year we set out to do complete the challenge of ‘The Way of The Roses’ (TWOTR). A 170 mile route devised by Sustrans that spans between Morecambe and Bridlington in the North of our magnificent Isle. While this years challenge wasn’t over the course of three days, I’d be willing to make a fairly strong argument that this route was harder than that first day of TWOTR one year ago.
I was surprised, and extremely happy, with the response to this mini road trip to Glossop. Further fulfilling my hope that I’d get a stable base of ‘regulars’ interspersed with more sporadic attendees, we had Rob, Steve and Kieran all confirming their attendance in advance. Another posting on the GoSkyRide site also gained a few more people, the weather forecast was looking good and I knew the route I’d planned was a total doozy.
The start point was Glossop train station. So after getting juiced up on coffee, Rich and I rode the couple of short miles from his house down to the meeting point. When we arrived we already had a decent compliment of attendees. Kieran, Steve and a couple of new faces: Owen, David and Louise. Learning from last month’s lesson where I missed Gav, we waited around a few minutes and I check my phone. Rob was on his way and asked us to just hang fire for him. 5 minutes later he was here and we’d managed to convince Louise that she wouldn’t slow us down and that she should definitely come join us. At this point Louise hadn’t mentioned to me that she’d ran a marathon the weekend before. I think you’ll be fine!
We set out on the route that Rich and I had done a number of times. Heading out over Woodhead Road, the B6105 bit, that gently eases it’s way into the Peak District. I really love riding around here. It very quickly goes from a residential area in the hills to amazing scenery with reservoirs, lovely hills and trees a-plenty. While I’ve never been, there’s something almost Canadian about the road as you get more remote, everything just feels more ‘grand’ and you quickly appreciate the epic-ness of what surrounds you. Depending how you look at it, the more demoralising aspect is that you can see the hilliness of what you awaits you in around 10-15 minutes time. Personally I was looking forward to it (see ‘cyclo-sadist’ from my earlier blog post).
Just as we were about to head onto the busier Woodhead Pass, A628, we all took a little breather, had a little snack and rehydrated. You’re only on it a little while before your branch off to scale Holme Moss, but it really isn’t a very pleasant rode to cycle on so we just ensured we were all aware to fully concentrate before the turn off. It wasn’t long until we were on the road to Holme Moss and with a “see you on the other side”, we set about the climb. Scaling the best part of a thousand feet in just a few miles, this is a test for even the fittest cyclist. We all started out chatting and joking, especially with Steve being in his big chainring, and we stayed together for a little part of the real steep bottom part of the climb but as we ascended further we started to spread out a little. The trick with hills on your bike is: go at your own pace. If you try to go at someone else’s, either too fast or too slow, it’s a sure fire way to either burn out too easy or to ruin your rhythm. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, I think this way over Holme Moss (Woodhead > Holme) is harder than the opposite way (the way the Tour de France route came). It’s the more undulating nature and the false flats. Just when you think you’re out of the woods (almost literally, as the heavy tree lining fades as you ascend) it kicks your arse again at the top.
I scaled the top first, closely followed by Steve. And then everyone filtered in quite soon after. I was chuffed that everyone battled their way to the top and it was time for a quick chat, refuel and the ceremonial photos of yourself in front of the Holme Moss sign.
From here it was the fun a bit: a very fast descent down the other side of The Moss down in Holme. I’ve descended here a few times, so I’m now more aware of the sharp hairpins and where I should start braking, after nearly overcooking a corner the first time I came down here. I’ve also learned to not crash into drystone walls at the bottom. Fool me once…
From here on out the route, except the section betwene Meltham and Greenfield, was new to me. We turned left down in the village onto Fieldhead Lane in order to skirt past Digley Reservoir. Louise had remembered that there was a pretty horrible hill just after the reservoir. Having not cycled this part of the route before I really didn’t know what to expect.
She wasn’t joking. The Green Gate Road climb is short(ish) but is an absolute soul crusher of a hill. It’s just the third of a mile steep section of gradients in the double digits that are the problem. You probably can’t discount the toll that Holme Moss has just taken on the legs either. On this section of road I just got out of the saddle and churned my legs the best I could. It was real grind but we all made it.
Onwards to Thick Hollins Road and we got another nice descent. We were really flying here. Unfortunately, I’d fallen behind the quicker descenders – Kieran, Rob and David – and as my Garmin beeped to warn of an impending turn, I desperately tried to yell to them that we needed to go “LEFFFFTTTTTT”. They all missed the turn, so like a cyclo-sheepdog, I herded the others into the turn. Luckily, the 3 man breakaway had realised that something was awry and had started making their way back up the hill. Poor buggers.
We picked up on our route again and headed down into the town of Meltham. It was around here that, inexplicably, we somehow lost Owen. David, who by this time had put in quite a shift, stood up to be counted again and road back to see if we could find our wayward team member. Unfortunately, we couldn’t see him and had to go on with the assumption that he’d turned back*.
The story here, like many cycling tales, continues to take a very familiar narrative. You go up a bit and then come down a bit. You go up a lot and come down a lot. Given that we’d just had a nice easy roll into Meltham, what do you think was coming next? You got it – a hill.
The full Wessenden Head Road climb that joins you back onto Greenfield/Holmfirth Road is around 2.5 miles in length and you climb around a 1,000ft with an average gradient of 8%. I’d graced this tarmac a couple of times before, however that was with the steady hand of gravity to whizz me down the hill. On these speedy downhill sections, I’d seen the odd person slowly turning their pedals over(and over and over), inching their way up the road tortoise like and I’d declare to myself “poor bastard”. Today, I was that poor bastard. Further tapping into the sadistic side of my personality – see ‘cyclo-sadists’ -I actually quite enjoyed this section. Not because of the hill, but because for a large portion of it I was riding with Steve, Rob and Rich and I enjoyed chatting to one another as the amazing scenery revealed itself to us. The sun was out, the setting was wonderful and we were on our bikes. Excellent.
When we got to the top, while awaiting the arrival of Kieran, Louise and David, I’d noticed that we’d done over 3,000ft (roughly 1KM) of ascent in just over 17 miles. This was not only impressive, but something of a relief in that we knew the hardest part of our ‘work’ was complete.
With cyclists assembled, we made our way onto Holmfirth Road and I had a nice chat with Louise as we talked about cycling, her marathon she’d ran the week before and about inclusiveness was important in cycling clubs/groups. It was nice that the club seemed to be offering something slightly different to other clubs and it gave further validation as to my reasons for forming the club.
I flew down the Isle of Skye road and loved every single second of it. With speeds of approaching 40mph, it really stirred the senses and I had a “wow, it’s great to be alive” moment as the wind whistled past my ears. With a beaming smile as I joined the others waiting for me at the bottom, I declared “I f*ckin love cycling”.
We headed south towards Stalybridge and I everyone got a chance to chat as we had slightly flatter roads for a while, with no notable ascents or descents for a few miles. I got a chance to speak a bit with David which was nice, as I’d not really had proper chance to up until now. We spoke about our love for cycling and what drew us to it. I’m always interested to hear what it is that drew and continues to draw people back to their bike.
The route itself had very little to report. That was until we approached the road that exits Stalybridge. The relatively short 1.5 miles up this 400ft hill felt like an absolute eternity. With my quads screaming, my back aching and my brow sweating, I contemplated a moment where hell might be cycling this road forever. Seeing the FC United fans heading to the Stalybridge ground did not help me, as I longed for the sweet comfort of football and a beer. Thankfully it was all to be over soon. Not before Rob had uttered the words “You want me to take the front Craig and soak up the wind for a bit?”. I could have kissed him.
After this hill, we knew all the big climbing was done and my thoughts turned to food! Rich and I were already a good 30 minutes late for the lunch that I told our girlfriend and wife to get back for. “Get back for 1” I said, “don’t be later than that”. Oops. Sorry, girls.
We ambled our way down the hill and we turned into the familiar surrounding streets of Glossop. The gentle bustle of the Glossop high street on a Saturday had never looked so welcoming. I knew the ride was over and food was coming.
We pulled up at Glossop station and all talked about how much we’d enjoyed the ride and then said our farewells until next time.
I’ll finish this post by saying that this was probably up there in one of my favourite rides I’d ever done. Yes, it was challenging in part, but that’s what I like about cycling. The thing that pleases me even more is the fact that you share this with like minded folk. The toil is something you share and something that actually breeds camaraderie. With tough hills also comes something else, the beautiful scenery that we have in our wonderful country. To quote David Brent quoting ‘famous philosopher’ Dolly Parton: “if you want the rainbow you’ve gotta put up with the rain”.
*Owen was fine, he took a wrong turn and made his own way back to Glossop.
Ride Length: 34.9 Miles
Elevation: 4,140 ft climbed.
Strava Link: https://www.strava.com/activities/288505019