Sunday, 17 June 2012

Peak District Adventure - Part One

On the 11th June I loaded my bike, my dad and the dog into the car and headed up to the Peak District for a couple of days of hill climbing action. My intention was to tick off seven climbs in two days. I only managed to tackle six in the end (more of which later) but all in all I’m quite pleased with how things went. Despite being June the weather was dry and my legs and bike managed to keep going long enough to get the job done.

The little black book of pain has quite a few climbs in Derbyshire and it made sense to base myself just outside Matlock in a Travelodge over a couple of days and take on as many of the climbs as I could. On the first day just over 80 miles of driving got me to the base of 4 separate climbs. If you want to minimise fatigue cutting down on the driving involved between climbs is a great way to do it.

                        When mutilple climbs fit onto the same map you know you're onto a winner

After driving up on the 11th and getting no sleep (sharing a room with a homesick Cocker Spaniel will do that) my first climb was Monsal Head on the 12th June.

Climbing HQ for the next couple of days with an apparently very interesting bin. The beer is purely for medicinal purposes...

Monsal Head is only a short climb and proved a good warm up for the day ahead. It isn’t too hard a climb being rated only a 3/10 and is over very quickly. After spending some time putting my bike together on a car park (some swearing and cursing was involved) I coasted down the hill and got stuck in after a brief warm up.

                                                      Pedalling slowly uphill since 2012

I think it is fair to say that Malcolm Elliott’s time of 1m 14.2 is safe but I span my way up fairly easily and found I had an audience of bikers (of the motorised kind) and hikers as I crested the top of the climb. Not sure what they made of the panting cyclist gurning his way up the hill at 2 mph but I had achieved what I needed to, slung the bike back in the car and set the sat nav for Castleton and Winnats Pass.

My crap nav has a very idiosyncratic way of finding a suitable route, especially in rural areas, and the journey to Castleton took in some very steep and narrow roads (including a few that Simon Warren may want to consider if he ever writes a third 100 Climbs book). At one point it tried to direct me into a quarry but despite creeping down some very steep single track roads we eventually got to the foot of the climb. Castleton itself is a busy tourist hub for the Peak District and Winnats Pass proved easy to find once there. It rises up impressively over the town and from a distance looks quite daunting. I drove up the pass to scope it out before parking up and it is as impressive as it’s name suggests. It is also a busy tourist route which is a bit of a nuisance as you constantly have to deal with confused tourists weaving past you as they try to find a pub/ shop/ public toilet.

                                                  Starting the climb up Winnats Pass

The gradient stays fairly constant at about 14% all of the way up but the fantastic surroundings help take your mind off the challenge ahead. Having had the chance to drive up and down the pass before parking up I knew exactly what to expect and how many sweeping corners there were to negotiate before reaching the top. I won’t say it was an easy climb because it wasn’t (in fact it is deserving of it’s 8/10 rating) but it took me far less time than I thought it would (about 15 minutes) and I felt quite positive about the two climbs I had to take on in the afternoon.

                            I can now take this bike apart and put it back together with my eyes closed

After a quick breather at the top the descent back to the car was great fun but I came very close to overcooking it on one of the bends which shook off any complacency.

After having lunch in Castleton (a place full of pubs, tea rooms and gift shops and seemingly nothing else) it was onto the climb at Curbar Edge. I have learnt that a 6/10 rating for a climb is one to be treated with caution and as I drove up to the top of Curbar Edge it became clear that this would be a tough little climb. The gradient starts off relatively steep and doesn’t really back off all of the way up. To finish off the climb has a few sharpish turns at the top where the road steepens before easing off at the summit. Getting to the foot of the climb from the top was fun but getting back up took a fair bit longer that I expected it too. Curbar Edge is a very popular place with ramblers and at one point I had visions of pensioners with walking poles and red socks striding past me as I wheezed up in bottom gear. Thankfully it didn’t quite come to that but I felt the effort of getting to the top far more than I had done at Winnats Pass. As there was an ice cream van at the top I felt I should celebrate with a 99 flake. The dog also needed a walk and a stroll along the ‘edge’ proved a good way of warming down after another gurnfest. The edge is actually a very prominent rock formation along the top of a valley and is well worth a look.

My final climb of the day was the one up to Rowsley Bar. This is another 6/10 and seemed worse than the climb up to Curbar Edge. The gradient is steep from the off and gets steeper with a series of nasty hairpin bends to tackle at the very top. The road is also very busy with a pretty poor road surface. After a bit of a struggle to find somewhere suitable to park at the top I rode down to the foot of the climb. It proved to be a pretty sketchy descent as the road surface at the hairpins is even worse on a bike than it appears in a car. Combine a bad road surface and a lot of water running down the road and the result was a locked up back wheel on more than one occasion. The locals seem to treat the road like a rally special stage and weren’t taking any prisoners through the hairpins and as I result I wasn‘t looking forward to the top of the climb on my way back up.

Previously I’ve only managed three climbs in one day and Rowsley Bar was almost a climb to far for me. It had afterall been a long day in the car with some uphill bike riding thrown in for good measure. As soon as I got going on the lower slopes I knew I was going to have a hard time. The climb just seems relentless and I struggled to get comfortable on the bike. The video footage probably doesn’t show it too well but it seemed like every few seconds there was an impatient motorist trying to squeeze past. I actually found Rowsley Bar quite an unpleasant experience because of the traffic and the attitude of some of the motorists. The hairpins at the top were the particularly sour icing on the hill shaped cake. I managed the first two albeit very slowly but as I tried to find my rhythm and a decent surface to cycle on I ran out of steam tackling the third. This was bad, very bad. There seemed to be a never ending flow of traffic to deal with and a blind uphill corner with water streaming over it’s surface. I did eventually get going again but it was a stressful and difficult process and trying to find traction was a struggle. I was incredibly glad to reach the upper part of the slope, knock the bike up a gear or two. Still, with Rowsley Bar done I had finished climb 15 and could look forward to (if look forward is the right phrase) a Little Chef dinner and another night in an over heated Travelodge room before day two.

To be continued...


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