When Allez Prestwich first started, we only did one ride a month. So, we had less rides to plan (and every ride was already new!), we had no kit orders to organise, and I, personally, had far more spare time than I do of late. Back in late 2014-early 2015 when the club started, I was still seeking to fill the creative writing void that ensued after taking a break from writing music and lyrics for a band I was (am?) in, and writing a blog for each of these excursions was a good way to flex the creative muscles. In the infancy of the club it also helped to document where we’d come from and showed the steady growth of the club; from a couple of mates that could just about pretend we were a club, to 17 people careering down Cragg Vale. The posts were ‘something to look back on’, which is what I did rather recently.
Hence writing this. It made me realise how much I enjoyed writing the little ride reports and, just maybe, some of you enjoy reading them. So, without further ado, here’s a blog post about a recent ride we did to the iconic, fearsome and beautiful Winnats Pass. It deserves every ounce of the reverence and fear. Read on.
Rob Symons had finally done it. He’d managed to sandwich Winnats Pass into a route. It’s something we had discussed for over a year. We’d devised various routes, clocking in at ridiculous mileages and crazy ascents. Either that, or the roads were just way too busy. Somehow, that had all changed when Rob dropped a perfectly balanced route into my inbox. I really had no excuse not to make it into a big ride. It was with a giddiness, and slight trepidation, that I uploaded July’s big ride. Thankfully, our club has an unbridled enthusiasm for these things and they’d probably wind up disappointed that we’d not be doing hill repeats up it.
On the day of the ride, y day got off to a dodgy start, as I was behind on time, my Garmin was flat, I didn’t have the route and my new bike was missing a much-needed bottle cage. I was pleased that when I finally arrived – well, a couple hundred yards short of them – at the gates, we had a total of 9 people willing to put themselves through the wringer ready to have a nice day out on a bicycle for a full day.
As with any route like this, or out of a suburban town like Prestwich, if you want the rainbow, you’ve got to put up with the rain. No, it wasn’t the usual grey, precipitous nonsense we are so accustomed to round these parts, but the main, busy, arterial roads that one must ride to get out to the good stuff. We headed south, along my familiar commute into work, chatting and getting the legs warmed up for the day ahead.
Just before the velodrome it became apparent that my Garmin GPS device was probably not going to last the whole route. So, I took the decision to pull over and start Strava (remember, if it isn’t on Strava then it didn’t happen) on my, thankfully, fully charged phone. This left me some way behind the pack, so I had to put in a Froome-esque solo effort to claw my way back onto the group. Or, back in the real world, I sort of pedalled a bit faster and slowly caught them up over the course of a mile or two. I was chatting to Brendan when a cyclist approached from behind, a fine fellow out on a Sunday jaunt. It was Mark Leigh! Thinking he’d decided to come on the ride and forego his prior duties, I was happy until it emerged he was just out for a solo blast but apparently, I’d done the disservice of being the only AP member to not wave at him as I he passed on the opposite side of Alan Turing Way. He could have got in front and pulled me back to the group! Although he was only with us for a few miles, it’s always nice to have the company of ’The Commissioner’.
After we passed through Hyde, the road started to ramp up a little and things started to look a little quieter. Deja vu started to sink in as the road rose up and I remembered that we’d done this hill before and that we were heading towards Werneth Low Country Park. It’s with huge relief that I can report we were descending the infamous Werneth Low hill climb that some of our brave riders had so gallantly tackled on the recent, and most excellent, Tour de Manc charity ride. The road eventually brings you out at the delightful Marple Bridge. A really love little spot, all stone buildings and nice scenery as the Rover Goyt cuts through the village. The road that we take that links Marple Bridge to Mellor, is a long drag of a climb that holds ‘cat 3’ status on the much beloved Strava and goes by the charming gallic name of ‘Col du Mellor’. It goes on for a good 2 miles and, at 18 miles in, it feels as though here’s where the ride really starts.
Everything begins to look a little more ‘countrysidey’ and a little more scenic. And so will begin a theme of the day. The areas around Thornsett and Birch Vale are really pleasant and there are some delightful stone houses as we come into Hayfield. We mooch about a bit as we decide which of the roads in this little village spaghetti junction we should take, and naturally it’s the super thin, steep one. This is a testing climb and I don’t think the route profile really does it justice. We get stopped by a huge herd cows further up the road that the farmers are herding from one field to another. Secretly, I think everyone as thankful for the rest. It also gave a proper chance to look up and deliver the now customary ‘get in my eyes’ statement that I say every time we are on a ride and view amazing scenery. It really is breath taking.
We start our descent and have our first brush with the edge of the Peak District as we pass through Chinley Head. Here the ride breaks up a little as Brian goes ahead and misses a turn but a few of the guys head after him and we agree that we’ll naturally meet up in around a couple of miles. Unfortunately for the group that I’m in, we’ve been well and truly stitched up. Our route goes savagely uphill into double digit gradients for what seems like ages. Winnats can’t be much harder than this can it? Can it? We eventually meet up with the others on Sheffield road, after passing some quite wonderful valley views on our left-hand side, and, after a little spike of the road, our ramshackle peloton finally has somehow reached Mam Tor. The views from here are absolutely insane. It’s scenery like this that form a big part of the sheer joy I get out of covering miles on a road bike. The descent down Mam Nick is something else. Fast and slightly terrifying, just like all good descents should be. I feel sorry for the poor bastards coming the other way but they needn’t fear, gradient karma is coming our way very shortly.
We go down into Edale, fill up our bottles, and continue down Edale Road towards Hope, which is engulfed in a panorama of beautiful green hillsides. As we finally reach and then leave the lovely town of Castleton, I spy a shop that is, as we’ve just passed Hope, quite cleverly called ‘Beyond Hope’. You’ve no idea! We travel on Buxton Road and, as the hills loom right in front of us, Rob and I talk about how we are, unusually, slightly nervous about the climb, and as we break off towards Arthur’s Way, there it is. Winnats Pass. I’ve honestly never seen a climb that looks quite so imposing but all kinds of majestic. It really does look amazing. Astride a bike, it’s a pretty intimidating ‘bump in the road’. Bad news for me is that my legs are gonners! We’ve already done 3,000ft of climbing and we are about to tackle one of the hardest hills we’ve ever done. We pass the cavern at the bottom of the hill and then here we go. The road is so narrow and there are so many cars, that it just adds a sense of craziness and an edge to the whole climb. If that’s not bad enough, it really is steep and we’re not even at the 20% bit yet. When it comes, it hurts like hell and it seems to go on forever. I wouldn’t be surprised if they could hear our collective heart rates soaring back at ‘Beyond Hope’. The road is relentless and you really can smell the burning of the clutches (I thought it was hyperbole!) as cars fight their way up, trying to let one another go as the road is too narrow for bi-directional traffic. The 20% gradient is STILL going and I see some club mates dismount. For a split second, I consider it. I could stop, couldn’t I? There’s no shame. It’s a hard hill. But, how will I clip and start again? If I stop now, I’ll never start again. All this races through mind at a split second and I bring myself back by saying “If Bren keeps pedalling, I keep pedalling”. We solider on. I can see the corner, surely that’s where it ends? But what if it is a trick and it’s a ‘heartbreaker hill’ (see previous blog posts)? My ENTIRE body is hurting and I’ve never experienced that before on a hill climb, we reach the corner and mercifully the gradient of the road drops a tad – but if it’s less than 20% gradient, it feels like you are going downhill – and I trundle my way to the top in the slowest spin I’ve ever done. Some of my club mates await, cheering me on and we all congratulate one another as each person arrives. What a savage of a climb. Only Mytholm Steeps comes close and I am too knackered to even consider which one hurts most. We look over our shoulders and Mam Tor is our back drop. Get in my eyes.
When you set out on rides like this, you usually have an icon. A hardest point. This was most definitely it and it palpably removes the tension of hard day in the saddle by knowing the worst is over. However, none of us are going to get anywhere if we don’t eat. So, it’s onto a pub stop to refuel with lunch and beverages of choice. The amazing scenery doesn’t let up and I let Rob know as much. Never have I been on a ride that has been so constantly beautiful.
Every little kick up in the road hurts like hell now and my tummy is rumbling for some sustenance. We’re not helped by the fact that none of the pubs we are finding do food. Eventually Brian makes the grand suggestion of a trip to the delightfully monikered ‘Fickle Mermaid’. I order an equally bizarrely named ‘Tiger Tops’ (nice stuff on sweet and regular potatoes), some onion rings and well-earned beer. I can feel the energy coursing back into my weary body.
Suitably rested – well sort of – and fed to the brim, it’s time to set off and the realisation dawns that we’ve still got the best part of 30 miles left to go. I think we briefly try to cajole one another that it’s “all downhill from here” but we all know that isn’t true but that it’s going to be nowhere near what we’ve done thus far.
Once we pick up the route again, we do get a nice rhythm going and we all riding in single file but in a nice, tight group and we are ticking off miles relatively easily. We battle up the odd incline, and crack on when it flattens out and before you know it 30 miles becomes 20, 20 becomes 10 and as we rejoin Ashton Old road – we’d passed here at mile 7 – we’re at mile 66 and we know the we are on the home straight.
We peel off one by one as we get nearer to our home. There’s no post ride drinks today, just all home to bask in the wonderful weariness that comes with a long day in the saddle. I crack open a beer and raise it to my friend Rob for one of the finest days I have had on a bicycle so far. Cheers.
Miles: 75 miles