bikebritain News January 4, 2015

Greatest Cycling Climbs #126 - Mam Tor

I am always looking for opportunities to 'fit in' a @100climbs 100 Greatest Cycling Climb (or indeed, Climbs). In July last year, the day before the Tour de France began, one such moment arrived. Driving up to Grassington, Upper Wharfedale, (on route to watching Stage 1), we decided to go via Mam Tor, a peak overlooking Castleton and Hope Valley.  

I had already gathered some cycling experience of the area, having ridden over Winnats Pass in April (see a previous bikebritain article http://www.bikebritain.org/article.php?id=207). Mam Tor was located on the backside of that hill. Originally it had been on my list to scale the same day, but fatigue and timings got the better of me. I would return - and here I was – and this time accompanied by Emma. We parked up in the public park and both promptly 'Westmoorland-ed', changing from civvies to lycra. It looked like it might rain at any moment which I learned is just how it is in the Derbyshire Dales. The plan was to do a loop from Hope via the Edale Road, up and over Mam Tor and return via Winnats Pass. I guessed it would take about an hour. Em was anxious about attempting a 'proper hill' but I reassured her that it would be fine. Once successfully ascended, we would continue our drive 'up North' and look forward to stage one the following day. First though we had our own challenge to concentrate on.

Riding out of the car park we headed towards the small village of Edale. I had no idea of what the relief was, but assumed it would be undulating at the very least. We rode along the Edale Road along the side of the valley. The rain was staying away and visibility fair.  Traffic was limited to the odd car or two and the occasional tractor. We also had good view of the railway line that ran roughly parallel to the road. For the first 25 minutes or so we gained and lost height as we made our way towards Edale. It was not long after we’d ridden through the village (of Edale) that the road straightened out and started to climb. This felt about right. This was probably it. Then I saw the biggest giveaway - a signpost indicating an ascent was imminent. Work was about to commence.  

We had trundled along at a fairly pedestrian rate. I had edged away every so often only to free wheel and let Em catch up with me. She was riding her new Bianchi road bike and still getting used to it. I was on the (originally geared, 12:27) Holdsworth. With the introduction of some proper gradient, gravity dictated we attempt Mam Tor at our own respective pace. I checked round every so often to make sure she was ok, but this was a test we would face as individuals. I looked up. The road bent away to the left and then who knows? The hill was making me work, but the effort was not excessive and as I steadily climbed I appreciated the improving view of the surrounding countryside. It was a dull day but the land was very green. I rounded the bend, took my last glance at Em over my shoulder and carried on. Now the road got steeper.

We were riding up the crest of the hill. Apart from a couple of very keen walkers, most of the onlookers were sheep who were being treated to some fairly heavy breathing from me. Ahead, the road carried on up and to the right towards what I thought might be the summit. Sat on the bike it was, however, inconclusive. I rode on, urging the pedals round and up the 18% gradient. 

Actually, this was the top! Another one conquered I thought to myself! Riding over the Tor summit, I quickly took a few one-handed photos of the view. Rather than wait here though I coasted down to where the road met the A6187 (Sheffield Road) heading west to Chapel-en-le-Frith and east to Castleton. Since Emma would follow the same route and I tried to find some shelter from the wind. There was none. Instead I sat at the side of the road and waited for her to appear. After a few minutes she did just that. With rosy cheeks she proudly proclaimed she'd done it too - great! Our reward? A dash down Winnats Pass! 

After a short, sharp incline we turned left whereupon the road started to immediately descend. I wanted to get a few photos to try and convey how steep the pass was. Climbing it earlier in the year, I had been more focussed on reaching the top than admiring the gradient. However, release the brakes for just one moment and the bike picked up speed at an alarming rate. You could hear even the cars were labouring to climb this hill (with an incline of at least 20% in places). I could see where the road had been resurfaced and I recalled how I felt going the other way - trying to reach the end of the next piece of tarmac, inching my way painfully up the hill. Photos taken, there was no such problem this time around; in fact, quite the opposite! Continuously applying the brakes I descended and quickly caught up with Emma. We free-wheeled past the sign for the caves on the right. In a few miles time we would be back at the van.

Although nowhere near as tough as Winnats Pass, it had still been well worth going out of our way to climb Mam Tor. It again proved that the hills in Derbyshire should be respected and that I needed to spend more time in the area enjoying what challenges the countryside had to offer. I will ride up Winnats Pass again sometime... I think Em 'enjoyed' her first serious foray with the @100climbs climbing challenge.....but she's yet to suggest a return visit.

Words and Thumbnail by bikebritain

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