Sunday, 28 August 2011

A (Pennine Bridleway) Ride In The North

Not my pic, but you get the idea: PBW, it's remote-ish and there are lot of big hills. Perfect!
For the last year or so I've had my eye on the Pennine Bridleway Double as a ride that I want to complete, and one that I want to complete fast. Last year I had a go but a broken rear hub freewheel put paid to my efforts after only 20miles. Injury and a busy work/race schedule this year left me with one opportunity to have a got this year and so when the August bank holiday weekend came around I set off from Brighton, ignoring the weather forecast, determined to have a go at this ride and it was an excited rider that trundled up the M6 on Friday night, looking forward to a big day out.
The current record is held by Steve Heading and talking to him about his ride I was sure of two things:

1) I was going to have to ride well to beat his time which he is, rightly, chuffed with
2) I was going to need half decent weather conditions for this to be a pleasant experience, let alone possible!

Steve has previously warned me that an attempt at this time of year could suffer horribly due to the weather and reading an account of another rider's attempt, he offered one piece of advice to other riders: Choose your weather as this will dominate your ride.

Gleefully ignoring the weather, I assembled my bike from the back of the car and headed out to see whether my shoulder was up to the job and to see if my interpretation of the map was good enough to provide me with appropriate stream crossings to enable me to refill my water bottles! When learning the route, I went for a ride with Jenn Hopkins and although it rained all day (and we made woefully slow progress, nattering all day) I had a ball, so I wasn't too put out by the prospect of a bit of drizzle. As I cheerily said to Jenn at the time, during one of our many stops to look at yet another amazing view "All I need to do is sit on the General Lee all day and eat pies"

Learning the route and having fun, dreaming of eating pies and riding miles with all this to myself
Pic: Jenn Hopkins
I started brightly, heading out into the early afternoon with a fantastic ride in front of me and the thought of lots of steady climbing to keep a lid on ant thoughts of stamping hard on the pedals too early. My joy was, literally dampened, after an hour or so with a light 30min shower. No matter I was loving having the rain-emptied trails all to myself.
Look out for the PBW signs, easy to spot as they're generally in the direction of the biggest hill on the horizon!
Roych Clough

I started at Summit and headed South, meaning I had a steady start over reesrvoir country, up and down steep sided valleys that seemed never ending. Eventually, and two rain showers later, I'd ridden far enough South to get into my favourite part of the ride, the Dark Peak, and had the great pleasure of riding past Kinder Scout as the sun was setting and was treated to an array of colour both in the sky and reflected off the heather hillside. Stunning. I was having a blast and felt like a truly lucky individual. A quick refill of my bottles at Roych Clough and I was off again.

At this point it was now truly dark so my lights were turned on. I was over the worst of the hills so my pace stayed pretty constant. Another shower saw the altready sticky trails trails start to get significantly wetter and stickier. Great, they'd stay like this until morning and sunrise. Just stay upright and push on in the morning I thought to myself. 

The way out on my ride, a "brutal but beautiful" first 40miles I think you'll agree
The next miles rolled by without incident, the steep reservoir valleys that had given way to the rocky gritstone of the dark peak, now became a mellower (and muddier) limestone and I gently slithered through the darkness to the monotony of the High Peak trail, a disused railway line. I filled a bottle and drew a big drink at Parsley hay, where I was delighted to quickly locate a working tap, and push on to Middleton Top and the turning point. The clock said 7hrs 20mins so, at just over 73miles and with a tailwind home, I was looking good. The trails had notably slowed though so I just hoped the weather was going to be kind to me.

This was not to be however. Not long after I passed Parsley Hay, it suddenly all went a bit wrong however. The rain came down again, but hard, then the wind picked up and really started blowing a gale. The trails turned from sticky to quagmire and I was hauling at the bars to keep the wheel turning. Hunkering down into the wind and increasingly sideways rain was killing my shoulder and the occasional "moment" on the limestone made the shoulder smart. By the time I reached the rocks of the Dark Peak my originally "just a bit tired" forearms were shot.

I watched my pace slow increasingly as conditions worsened and, but the time I got to 100miles, it was clear that my pace had slowed sufficiently due to the conditions that I'd miss the record by some margin. I had a big ride and a holiday planned in 10 days time and, without the carrot of a record to keep me going, I decided to ease back and enjoy the rest of the ride, and to make sure I could enjoy my holiday and my grand holiday plans, as I could see the sunrise ever so gently starting to peer on the horizon I would come back another day. It seems Steve was right, I would need at least a half decent weather window to have a good tilt at his record.

Another 15miles and I had to turn off the trail and instead I got my map out and followed the minor roads parallel to the PBW to get back to the car. My arms, and my shoulder, had had enough of the little moments that soaking wet trails bring.

As I got near the car the skies cleared and I was faced with a big final climb before I dropped back towards the car. To prove to myself I still had the legs I looked down to check I still had the "big ring" selected, locked out the suspension, dropped down the cassette and pushed hard all the way to the top. the legs were still there and I enjoyed the final moments of a great sunrise across the hillsides. I stood out the saddle, in my largest gear, a grin from ear to ear, in the last mile to the car.

One big night out in the hills
Can't wait to get out next year and finish off this ride
Final score for my ride was:

Distance: 143miles
Climbing: 4700m

So I didn't break the record, but I did have a really great ride. I also found all my water points and they all worked well, so I now feel full prepared for this ride. This time I made two silly little navigation errors and spent a little too long looking at the map, but this too is good learning for next time. I will come back to this when the weather's right and I can't wait for that weather window to appear and to be compatible with planned races and not forgetting work too. My water plan is now organised, and the couple of fiddly bits of navigation bare committed to memory. Bring on 2012!


  1. Did you really fill your bottles from Roych Clough? Anyway, they're messing with the route above Glossop - and about time too - so you may want to check the latest situation before your next attempt. Shout when you're up and I'll come and wave pies at you as you rocket by :-)

  2. I did indeed, the toilet in the Hayfield car park was closed (not sure I was too excited from filling from there anyway!). I had some chlorine pills with me to sterilise the water that I picked up and appear to have survived. I needed water at that point and didn't detour at Hayfield campsite or clamber down the river bank at that point either. Not sure where the next water before Parsley Hey is after Roych Clough.

    Was a bit of a splash'n'dash visit, will allow more time for socialising next time.

    Cheers for the Glossop bit info, I hadn't picked that up on their website. I'll be up before too long in the winter as I'm curious to try the new-ish northern bit that heads into the Dales.

  3. Nice write up Rob. Did you rely completely on paper maps for your trip? If so hats off! Planing to have a stab in the spring, though I'll be taking the bivvy bag :) good luck for your next attempt.

  4. Cheers Frank. Yes, definitely paper maps all the way for me. I prefer being able to pick out distant hills & landmarks if I need to navigate. I also had a small, super light compass. Due to battery life a GPS would have to remain off normally for a ride like this then the wait to locate satellites makes a paper map quicker, lighter and more reliable. or maybe I'm just old fashioned!

    As you can see from the final pic, I did have GPS with me, but just as a logger to record my route and stats, I only use GPS as a training tool, not for navigation. I did know chunks of the route from recce trips to check out water points, which made it easier.

    Can't wait to nail this next year, but I've learnt my lesson, the hard way, and will pick a half decent weather window next time!