Tuesday, 7 May 2013

Day Trip to Yorkshire

OK, maybe the term day trip isn’t quite right. A day trip suggests taking in the sights and relaxing. My idea of a day trip at the moment is driving long distances and then virtually flaying myself alive trying to ride up steep bits of road. As my base for the week in the Peak District was close to Yorkshire and I was running out of nearby hills to tackle I decided that a hop across the border from Derbyshire into Yorkshire would be a good idea. The plan was to take on three climbs in one day and then return back to the holiday let for the, by now standard, beer, wine and ready meals (I don’t do sports nutrition).

The drive to the first climb of the day; Pea Royd Lane in Stocksbridge, took me up Rowsley Bar. I was last on the climb during my last trip to the Midlands and I’m pleased to say that the awful hairpins at the top have been resurfaced. I remember all too well locking up my back wheel on the way down to the start of Rowsley Bar and being grateful that my Surly Cross Check handles so sweetly as it could well have ended in tears.

Sadly Rowsley Bar was the only decent bit of tarmac I encountered on the journey up North. I knew the North of England had experienced a far worse winter than the South West but the state of the roads was astonishing. Even in a jacked up 4X4 I’d have struggled to make fast and comfortable progress. My little Fiat Qubo was bounced all over the road and I’m convinced my fuel economy was so good only because I spent most of the drive to Stocksbridge airborne. Yorkshire also looked liked it was still locked deep in the grip of winter as there were no leaves on the trees and not natural colours apart from brown. The odd snow drift lingered in the deepest lanes as well.

Pea Royd Lane

You get to the climb at Pea Royd Lane from the centre of Stocksbridge. The climb actually starts on Huntshelf Road near the big works before turning right onto what feels like a vertical (actually about 20% ) gradient that leads to a bridge over the A616. To give you an indication of just how steep things are going to get I was treated to the sight of a Mercedes Sprinter spinning its wheels as the driver approached Pea Royd Lane in the wrong gear and had to change down in order to prevent himself rolling backwards. It didn’t bode well but as this was my first climb of the day I didn’t actually feel too bad on the first really steep bit of the climb. After crossing the A616 the gradient eased slightly and I was able to get my breath back before the next big push up to and around a nasty left hand hairpin bend. I’d love to say I stormed up this climb but in truth I did my normal trick of finding a nice low gear and trying to just hang on until the end. Pea Royd Lane didn’t however prove to be the really tough climb I expected it to be. Sure, it was steep, but the really steep section wasn’t that long. The one thing that did affect me however was the wind. The further up I climbed the more exposed I became and that was something that would sadly become a theme for the day.

Jackson Bridge

I arrived at the Jackson Bridge climb feeling fairly confident. Whilst I hadn’t exactly romped up Pea Royd Lane I hadn’t suffered as much as I expected to so felt like I still had plenty left in the tank. I also arrived at the climb slightly flustered as it is a difficult one to find. Well, that’s my excuse.

The first part of the climb ramped up very quickly to 20% which thankfully didn’t last long and I was soon able to soft pedal along a flatter section before the second kick up in gradient. The wind that had been a feature on Pea Royd Lane’s upper slopes seemed more pronounced but because of the shelter afforded by the terrain it wasn’t too much of an issue until I got to the final part of the climb.

Quite a view and this wasn't even from the top

I struggled a bit on the second steep part of the climb. I think I dug a bit too deep on the initial steep section and was found wanting when another big gradient loomed into view. It is my own fault as I knew it was there after driving up the hill to find somewhere to park. Thankfully after getting past the second steep section there was a brief dip before the final slope up the farm that marks the top of the climb. By the time I reached the top the wind had obviously picked up a fair bit which blunted my speed a bit. That said I must have been feeling OK as I took the dog for a short walk over the top of the hill once I had descended to the lay by halfway up the climb where I had parked the car. The next climb on the agenda was Holme Moss and with the wind picking up in strength I was a bit worried as to what I would find.

Holme Moss

I was actually looking forward to Holme Moss. On paper it is my sort of climb in terms of length and gradient. With Simon Warren giving it only a 5/10 rating I’m confident I could power my way up it fairly easily on a good day. Only thing is, I didn’t have a good day. I’m not sure just what the wind speed was at the top of Holme Moss but I found it difficult to get my gear out of the back of the car without some of the lighter items blowing away. Some of the gusts must have been at least 40mph which didn’t exactly fill me with confidence. If I hadn’t already postponed the Cat and Fiddle because of strong gusting winds I would have been tempted to pass on Holme Moss and ride it another time. However, missing out climb after climb would have made a mockery of travelling all the way to the Peak District so I decided the only decent thing to do was to man up and go for it.

The sight of this thing taunted me all the way up Holme Moss. I had to hide from the wind behind a car to take this picture
The descent down to the start was, with hindsight, a pretty reckless thing to do. I had a real fight on my hands to control the bike in the strong gusts and I carried a bit too much speed into a couple of the corners. Thankfully the road was relatively quiet and the new tyres proved to be pretty grippy. Once at the bottom I attached my helmet camera (it tends to catch the wind so I took it off for the ride down) and went for it.

Well, I say went for it. I was able to move at a half decent pace for about a ¼ of a mile before I started feeling the effects of the wind. The higher up I climbed the more exposed to the wind I became and the harder it was to make any progress. At times it felt like a giant invisible hand was trying to push me back downhill. For a lot of the climb I was flat out in bottom gear and making very little progress. It was totally dispiriting and exhausting. Riding out of the saddle was a non starter because it was too unstable in the strong gusts of wind so I just had to stay in the saddle and grind my way slowly up the hill. I have no idea how long it took me to reach the top. The ride became a war of attrition and it was one I couldn’t lose as my damn car was parked at the top. As I neared the summit I had to lean into the wind and some of the gusts threatened to wash out the front wheel of my bike. It was miserable.

View from the top of Holme Moss. Out of camera shot is the large rock I had to hold onto.

After reaching the summit I returned to my car and decided the only way to get my gear into the back without it all blowing away was to turn the car around so that it faced into the wind. It turned out to be a smart move as a guy driving a delivery van pulled in, I guess to have his lunch, and wrecked his door as a gust caught it. The crunch of a van door hinge being pushed past its limit was clearly audible across the car park. Loading the car up took longer that it usually does as I felt so drained from riding into the wind. The incessant noise of the wind drove us to a lower car park in an attempt to get away from it before eating lunch and returning to the holiday cottage. It would be the following day when riding Mow Cop that I learnt just how much fighting against the wind had taken out of me…

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