Saturday, 18 February 2012

Second ride in a week; I'll get spoilt!

When the rain this morning cleared I decided to jump on my bike. As the other day there was a steady wind, but it was a little less strong. I climbed up Loxley Valley to High Bradfield, already feeling I was in the countryside with the fields and reservoir in the valley to my left and the hills climbing to my right. I swear that at one point I saw three donkeys in a field chasing a rabbit. At Bradfield I decided to turn right, up the hill toward Bolsterstone, but found I was somehow still going directly into the wind. Apparently it's a local phenomenon; it's said that every cycle journey in Sheffield is uphill in both directions and into the wind. Still, a lovely climb, the wind bracing but not too cold and the moorland beginning to open up on my left. It's a huge area with no roads across it (huge for England, anyway!) nothing but some footpaths and bridleways cutting across the bleakly beautiful moorland - Hobson Moss and Howland Dean, Pike Low and Candlerush Edge, Nether Hey and Alport Dale and Bleaklow Stones - dropping down to the triple reservoirs of Howden and Derwent and Ladybower (where the Dambuster squadron practiced their flights) before climbing again, over the thousand tiny valleys, called cloughs, that drain water from the rocky loam, until you get to the small town Glossop.

You can ride many of the paths, although it's tough going and, as most are narrow, I prefer to not do it on a saturday afternoon when there are likely to be plenty of walkers, and once committed it is a long tough ride with few chances to turn off and turning back even harder. So I carried on up the road until I found a bridleway cutting sharply down on my right, a chance to let loose on a bit of off road downhill. Mostly farm track, so fairly solid, the trail dropped and wound for perhaps a kilometre before depositing me on one of the beautiful narrow, winding roads that wind along the valley side, mostly through light woodland, occasionally clearing to give a view across the valley.

I followed it around the top end of Broomhead reservoir (we have lots of them around here, gathering the rainfall that forms those many brooks and cloughs into lakes to water towns and cities for many miles), then the steep climb up the road to the tiny, beautiful village of Bolsterstone, famous for its Male Voice Choir. The last time I came up that hill my rear mech snapped off (less painful than it sounds) so I mentally crossed my fingers, but made it without any problems. Then a rolling stretch between dormant fields before dropping down to cross the first major road since I started. After waiting out the traffic from both directions I took the sharp climb, aided a little by the wind behind me, although at this point the sun had vanished and the wind carried sleet. Toward the top I could see curtains of it driven by the wind along the valleys behind me, the hills receding into grey distance.

This road lead me to the market town of Penistone (the derivation of which means “hill farm”, apparently – although there is a sculpture off the High Street that does look remarkably like a stone... anyway). I considered carrying on toward Holmfirth to see if, now that Last of the Summer Wine has finished, its streets are still thronged with busloads of visiting pensioners. Instead I joined the Trans Pennine Trail, part of the national cycle network that crosses the Pennine Hills, which would take me back, first along the bed of a former railway line (including a tunnel), then through my regular stamping ground of Wharncliffe Woods. For the first time on my ride I saw some other cyclists – young lads pushing their full-suspension monsters up the hills in Wharncliffe to hurtle down the steep, muddy, rock- and root strewn trails with the kind of disregard for danger you only get at that age. I didn't switch from a road bike to a mountain bike until my twenties, so missed out on developing the necessary lack of fear you need to do this. Note that they were pushing their bikes up the hill, though, while this forty year old was riding his.

At the end of Wharncliffe where the cinder roads end, I usually cross the road and nip through Beeley woods, to sweep down some nice slopes amid the trees which brings me to within a couple of kilometres of home. But those paths are rough and the melt and the morning's rain would have left them slick and muddy. While I probably couldn't get much dirtier I decided to drop down the hill to Oughtibridge to take the easier route along the main road, toward the lure of a shower and coffee.

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