A good friend of mine, Phil Gayes lives on the edge of the Derbyshire Peak District. Phil G has cycled for years, and is a mine of information when it comes to the roads and trails of this very hilly area.
Phil has been kind enough to introduce Emma and I to a number of great routes within the Peak District. As a result of this, a couple of hilly loops have become firm favourites. These have been labelled G1 an G2. Okay, not particularly glamorous titles, but that’s just a bland disguise for some of the intricate lanes and fabulous views of the Peak Park.
These routes weave their way though two areas of the Peak District. One being known as White Peak, the other Dark Peak. Each has its own distinctive landscape. White Peak holds many, relatively small steep sided valleys, carved by beautiful rivers and streams. Dark Peak, more open and rugged, with climbs that elevate and offer views across expanses of hilly landscape.
These areas neighbour each other, and a cyclist with a reasonable capacity for climbing can create routes that visit both areas on the same day. This saves the the dilemma of having to try and choose a favourite area.
Our cycling has gradually taken a leaning to longer days on the bike. This gives the opportunity to be a little more imaginative with routes. This has created some great days, but also a few that have been a little longer than expected! Thankfully Emma has a sense of humour and always carries extra food!
G1 and G2 are both about fifty miles long, and have incredibly jagged profiles (Phil G tends to be really good at squeezing maximum height gain into Peak District miles). Joining the two routes had crossed my mind a few years ago, but other than talking about the potential, I had managed to throw the idea back into a dark corner, away from other more sensible ideas!
Emma and I had been fortunate to have experienced a fabulous bike trip to Italy in July, and returned full of enthusiasm to carry on riding up hills for as long as the legs would allow, and the weather made it pleasant to do so. With this being the situation, it seemed the right time to head out to the Peaks and try out the G1, G2 combination.
For some reason we were heading out slightly later than normal, but if the first half of the ride went to plan, there would be time for the second half too. (It was possible to start at a point where the two routes touch. This gave the option to add the second half and top up on food and water).
The day had a forecast of dry weather, with increasing levels of sunshine, but as I drove the remaining mile or so, to where we were to start, fine rain was showing on the windscreen and and a couple of incredibly black clouds sat ominously over the hills that we were about to set off into. This did put a slight doubt in my mind about this being the day for combining both routes.
An additional challenge to the distance and height gain, was that we had not ridden G1 for well over twelve months. I hoped that at least one of us would remember each of the more subtle landmarks, that were gold dust when it came to making the right choice of direction at a junction or choosing a certain lane to follow.
The plan was to ride G1, then if all looked good for G2, we would use the start point as a pit stop for food and water, and hope “the Force” was strong enough to ensure we carried on!
By the time the bikes were set up and we were ready to set off, the sky was a blend of black cloud and sunshine. Our initial direction was below a sunny part of the skyline, this created a positive vibe as we warmed up on the first incline of the day, climbing gradually out of the valley and towards the hills.
The legs seemed fine with the pedalling motion, and we both clicked into the ride, quite relaxed about what could be quite a long day.
On the drive out, we had discussed the route and were both keen that all of the challenges remained in. This prompted us to turn away from the hills for a short time, skirt the small Market Town of Leek, then head back into the countryside.
A sharp change in direction placed us directly at the base of the climb up to the village of Bradnop. It’s the first severe climb in the route, and I stopped to take a quick photo of Emma heading past the sign indicating a 16% gradient.
The gradient is consistently steep until a dome shaped summit starts to take form. I think this profile of summit is my least favourite, as the return to a level surface seems to take longer than ever to reach.
Respecting that the Bradnop climb was the first real challenge of the day, the legs and breathing felt okay. This was pleasing, as when I am either interval training or taking on a climb, I tend to find “the first one is the worst one”, and seem to ride into the longer days on the bike.
Bradnop had gone well for Emma too, and we continued on, doing our utmost to retrace the route. Our first navigation mistake followed shortly after! We missed a turn, thankfully getting back on track did not take to much time, as I was able to recognise a coppice of trees on the brow of the next hill, that our route went behind. This bit of good fortune got us back on track and confidence in the full ride being achievable quickly returned.
As the ride heads deeper into the heart of White Peak, roads seem to get more narrow and rutted. This was very evident as the route headed close to a place known as Grindon. At this point, the road drops into a steep sided valley. The tarmac surface is pitted, rough and has a broken strip of grass, dirt and grit running along its middle. If the descent does not work out, there are lots of spiky shrubs along the edge of the road, which would make a painful landing mat!
This is a classic Peak District lane, quiet and tucked away in farmland. It’s fabulous, but I always breathe a little sigh of relief when I get through this sketchy descent in one piece, before heading up and out of the steep sided valley.
The climb out of the valley has the many characteristics that stick in the mind of a cyclist. A steep switch back, grit covered steep pitches, and a cattle grid for good measure! When riding roads like this, I am frequently grateful for my years of mountain biking. I dig in, and try use a smooth pedalling motion to sustain traction to take me to the top of the climb.
Emma and I catch up at the top, share the moment of successfully negotiating one of the ride’s more tricky sections, take on some food, then head on towards Millers Dale. This area is a known beauty spot and draws people to visit, walk and picnic along the river’s edge in the the warmer months.
The river Wye forms a focal point of the valley at Millers Dale. Riding alongside the Wye is one of the many things that make this route that little bit special. At this point the river has a smooth, mirror like surface, and on sunny days it glistens. Our time in the valley quickly ends, and we turn our back on the river, climb, and then head in the direction of Bakewell.
As well as being passionate about cycling, I love to spend time fishing. When time is short, months can pass between my angling sessions. The next best thing to fishing is trying spot fish in the various rivers and pools we pass when cycling.
The first part of this route passes by many beautiful rivers, streams and pools. The next highlight in the ride for me is taking glances into some gin clear pools just on the edge of Bakewell. I frequently spot a trout or two whilst clicking through the gears as the gradient begins to change.
The village of Youlgreave is our next stop. It’s a lovely place, with stone built houses and a beautiful church. In the summer months, people frequently sit enjoying the sun and a pub lunch as we pass by on our bikes. It’s a place where we tend to top up on water, and today this was more critical than ever if we were going to make it through the challenge we had set ourselves.
A big influence to how our bodies perform is hydration and nutrition. Getting this right on a big day is so important and also makes the whole experience that much more enjoyable-we love to eat!
There are so many sport nutrition products available to buy, we are virtually spoilt for choice. After trying many different energy drinks I have settled on Torq’s Natural Vanilla Pod as a personal favourite. To add a little variety I do like to use their Blackcurrant version too. On the longer rides I tend to carry one or two of their sachets of the energy drink. These sachets are perfect for putting in a jersey pocket until bottles are ready for topping up.
With bottles filled to the brim and another bar consumed, we head off into the rolling countryside. The distance between the next village is greater by this point in our ride. The scenes become open farmland with the occasional coppice of trees dotted across the landscape.
Limestone walls edge the lanes and roads we ride along, and I look out for the rocky outcrops that add interesting shapes to the moorland that surrounds us. The mountain biker within me prompts thoughts of what would be the most exciting line, or point to drop off a limestone ledge. I think years of BMX and MTB have made this stick.
Small villages are still present in the open moorland, and the next one we pass through is Monyash. Stone built houses, a small village green and pond are just some of what make this place such a pretty part of the Peak District.
Cycling is a popular activity in this area, and disused railway lines have been made suitable for bicycles. These are fabulous for cyclists of all abilities, whether simply enjoying the area with family and friends, or linking together areas of the Peak District when creating a big route.
Today our ride passed close to the High Peak trail, which is formed by using one of the former railway lines. It’s late afternoon, so the usual line of cyclists heading along the trail does not greet us today.
Taking on enough food forms part of a ritual during this bike ride. Emma and I carried a selection of energy bars from Torq, Clif, EnerVit and Pedal Bites. There were instances when I had two different bars open at a time. This just created a mix of tastes and textures, to help sustain the enthusiasm to keep taking on energy during hours of cycling.
The general condition of the roads is quite good in this part of the ride, but the descent of Crowdecote bank provides a little wake up call. The tarmac surface was fine on the day, but a blend of steep gradient, tight turns, a switch back and some off camber form the character of this descent. The drop forms a chute into a small, steep sided valley, and the gradient quickly changes to the steep uphill variety!
The profile of the ride is very jagged, and by this time the number of climbs can start to tell on the legs. Today, we were doing okay, the pace was quick enough to achieve the full route, but a little was being held in reserve as at this point, there was at least the same distance to go.
The village of Longnor comes next. It’s cobbled square always catches my eye, and it’s a popular place with walkers and cyclists as a cafe stop. We press on, as our supplies are waiting for us on the other side of a significant group of hills.
The next climb is probably the longest so far, and it also holds a couple of steep ramps, but for me, it’s a favourite. I enjoy the longer climbs as they prompt fond memories of cycling in the high mountains of France and Italy.
Part way up the climb, the views change to rolling hills stretching into the distance, I love the elevation and open space. On reaching the top, I take time to absorb the scenery, take photos and enjoy being in such a fabulous place. It can be so easy to miss these opportunities.
Emma arrives at the top shortly after me, and we chat about the climb, soak up the views, and take on some food before continuing on. The next stretch of road is superb. It heads across the top of this rolling hillside and on clear days, panoramas of the Peak District can be seen in all directions. One highlight is the view across to the Roaches, which is a rock formation of jagged sandstone and steep cliff sides. It’s a great place to walk and is a popular with climbers, who can be frequently spotted on the numerous rock faces that form part of the rugged landscape.
It’s late afternoon when we reach the edge of the hillside, descend Thorncliffe, then head back to the car. We have already enjoyed a fabulous, but challenging bike ride. Will we choose to take on more? Can our legs keep turning those pedals?