bikebritain News April 10, 2014

Derbyshire Dales (100 Greatest Climbs)

After a break of a year, with good reason, it was time to restart my attempts on Simon Warren's 200 listed hills to climb. The target was north Derbyshire and it was a Thursday. The reason for this timing? I have recently been made redundant, and as a consequence, between spending more time with my son, Brendan, and cycling in general, I have more time on my hands than normal. However, there was never any doubt I would not make full use of this opportunity. 

Apart from riding over some specific hills in Matlock, I had not 'cycled for pleasure' over the Derbyshire Dales. I figured it would be hilly, especially given the concentration of 'Greatest Climbs' in each edition. I wanted to ride a route so to speak and spent a while trying to determine what looked achievable. When it comes to planning I am usually too optimistic, and this instance was no different. I figured I could fit 5, maybe even 6 climbs in. It might have been possible, but not this time. I am not as fit as I needed to be and due to the weather this Winter I have only just begun amassing some decent mileage on the bike. Still, we work with what we have....

A loop 'of options' seemed to be the best bet. I would start in Curbar, just outside of Chesterfield. From here I'd ride north to Hathersage, then west to either/both Mam Tor and Winnants Pass, continue west to Peaslow (near Chapel-le-Frith), then return, back south east on the A623 to Stoney Middleton via Monsal Bank. Even without local knowledge, it resembled a challenging route. With my homework complete, on Thursday 3rd April I loaded the van and headed north from Dunchurch, Warwickshire, where I had stayed the previous night. I calculated it would take around 2 hours to reach Curbar and give or take, it was about right. It was chilly (I'd only brought shorts of course, since it's now spring 'down south'), and a little misty but it wasn't raining. Bonus.

Bike readied, rider readied, after a short piece to camera I was off. The first climb was Curbar Edge, graded 6/10, and it started about 50 meters from where I parked the van. Ouch! I told my legs at least I was fresh. The gradient wasn't too savage but it was sufficient to make me quickly out of breathe. As I climbed, the mist became increasingly dense. By the time I reached the summit, there was nothing to see. I gathered the view would have been good judging from the car parks and vista points beside the road, but on this occasion I was obliged to use my imagination. The first two climbs were loops, separated by 8 or 9 miles. I am sure the locals would describe the terrain as undulating - and it was, just not 'South Downs' undulating. The Dales would be making me work harder than I was used to. I predicted some route amendments were likely.......

Another 6/10 climb awaited just outside Hathersage, a hill called Burbage Moor. Of similar distance, once again I found myself riding in dense mist. I wasn't cold, the climb was sorting that out for me. However my choice of clothing (black jacket) and lights (auxiliary only, Cateye) were proof that I had not thought the weather conditions through properly. I would describe Burbage Moor as attritional

. It's not steep per se, but the legs got another seeing to. No need to stretch out of the saddle, but I was beginning to wonder how tough Winnats Pass would be, graded as 8/10. I passed over a cattle grid, and at the fork in the road turned left on Ringinglow Road and towards Lady Cannings plantation. Visibility had further reduced and at best it was only 15 meters. Fortunately the roads were empty. After a short descent I turned right and started to head towards Castleton, my next point of interest. I would definitely be warmed up for Winnats Pass. 

With the way time was passing and being mindful of the weather I decided Winnants Pass would be it in terms of my climbing endeavour for the day. I would return and take on the other climbs another time. I might even get to see some of the surrounding countryside! I was 20 km from Castleton so I cruised down the hills and took it steady on the ascent. I needed to conserve my energy. I reached a small town called Hope where the turn off for Mam Tor was and rode onto Castleton. The rain continued to hold off. After a brief piece to video, I began cycling again. 

I was momentarily confused by the road ahead. The road that continued ahead was a dead end but the road (junction) that turned left went up a hill and just disappeared. Then I got it. This was 'The Pass'. My bike for this challenge was the Holdsworth. I had only recently purchased it and it was really growing on me. Whilst 11 speed, it does not have the span of ratios that the Specialized has. To this point, I was quickly gearing down and right now I had one 'click' left before reaching 'granny' status. This would be tricky. I passed the entrance to the caves on my left, slowly, and saw a National Trust sign that confirmed this was indeed Winnats Pass. At least I was in the right place. 

The climb looked deceptive. I could see it wind its way and go off to the right and it didn't look that bad. However, legs and ground speed said otherwise. 

I'm in the largest ring now. 

I'm out of the saddle now.

There's no chance whatsoever of taking any video. I need to focus on this hill - right now.

This is 8/10 alright. 

Ok. Show-time. I recalled this feeling from other climbs. I sat back down in the saddle and started grinding every single pedal stroke out. My tongue was out. Beads of sweat were pouring down the side of my face. My breathing was heavy, yet I still had some forward momentum. 

I did my usual 'marker' trick. Get to that point, then get to the next point. There was a bend ahead, a left hander. I could see the top of the hills surrounding me. Was it a false summit? It wasn't convenient to check the book right now....... If this hill was going to continue, I would be stopping. I turned the corner and saw a cattle grid. I was almost there! A few cars overtook me and I raced (not technically correct, especially if you watch the video) to the top and the Chapel-le-Frith/Sparrowpit junction.

I had successfully ascended Winnants Pass as part of a more general ride over the Derbyshire Dales. All I had to do now was to get home. I figured it probably wasn't all going to be downhill. Sure enough I quickly got re-introduced to the undulating countryside. As I descended, the mist cleared, as did my lungs. My legs were tired now, but that was nothing unexpected. I reached the junction of the A623 and headed back east towards Chesterfield. It took about 45 minutes to cycle back to Curbar. There was one serious climb of note to tackle, but other than that it was steady and the descent into Stoney Middleton was fun. What I had not counted on was the volume of HGVs that were on the same road. 

My first proper foray into the Derbyshire Dales had been a success I reflected as I loaded the bike back into the van. 3 specific hills climbed, a 72 km ride thrown and it had not rained. There was plenty of scope for a return visit I thought as I joined the traffic and drove south on the M1. I would return. 

'100 Greatest Cycling Climbs' and 'Another 100 Greatest Cycling Climbs' are both written by Simon Warren and available from book shops and Amazon. 

A short film of the ride is available via this link :

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