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  • timcoates4

Hathersage Gravel trip May 2023

Background

Earlier this year I was chatting with Stuart about options for bikepacking. I’d never done any, and while Camino de Santiago sounds great I fancied doing something smaller as a starter. I looked to https://cycle.travel/map for inspiration, and it suggested an approx 150 mile gravel ride on a loop south, skirting Sheffield, on to Hathersage then to the west and back up between Glossop and Stockport. Having had a few family holidays in Hathersage, and knowing there’s a YHA there sealed the deal.

There was a fair bit of doubt about accommodation, would it be warm enough to bivvy, should we pre-book accommodation, should we try to find campsites etc. In the end we decided (well I booked and others followed suit) night one in the YHA, followed by night two in a Premier Inn (who are surprisingly bike friendly).

The initial route looked good, but I felt it missed off a few bits of off road I could easily add in, and it seemed to take a few footpaths which I really didn’t want to do - so several hours of poring over RideWithGPS sorted out the final route: https://ridewithgps.com/routes/42435561

The event

I put the ride up on Spond, to see whether there was much interest, and after a while we had a group of four planning to go:

  • Stuart McDonald

  • David Wardle

  • Steve Martin

  • Myself

Kit

I have a CX bike which I bought second hand for the Liverpool Leeds canal ride last year, plus a PodSacs frame bag and seat pack from a mixture of my Ultra attempt, and general “That looks handy” purchases - so all sorted for me.

Stuart has a GT Grade gravel bike and bags, so he’s all good.

David has a nice Ribble gravel bike, and Restrap seat pack, we’re on a roll…

Steve had a road bike and a mountain bike… Oh!


After asking in the club members’ facebook group, Steve got a really generous loan of a clone of David’s bike complete with Restrap bags, so we were all set.

Day one - Wednesday

We met at Cafe Yoga for a nice pre-ride coffee and chat, and were treated to a really generous free lump of flapjack each from Louisa the owner, with a plea that we mention her café to other cyclists - done. Oh and I have to say, I have never tasted flapjack like it.

We headed South with some suburbs and bike paths, a surprise super steep climb ( https://www.strava.com/segments/1056055 where the KOM challenge started and quickly ended), a fair bit of off road, a missed turn, being overtaken by a huge bloke on an electric fat-bike (we got him back as he seemed to be running out of power) and then reached the Calder and Hebble navigation canal bank, where the horror of the lost flapjacks unfolded - Steve had just ‘tucked them away’ on top of his seat pack, and lost them - I have still never tasted flapjack like it.

After the canal and a drag over to the Sculpture Park, we had our lunch stop - with only 24 of a planned 64 miles completed.

From there it was very mixed, but once we got onto the Upper Don Trail from Penistone, we were making great time down towards Sheffield, which included the 924 feet long Thurgoland tunnel, fortunately well lit. An afternoon stop for coffee and cake at Wadsley Bridge was immediately followed by a wrong turn and getting lost for ten minutes.

Then what seemed like (but according to Strava wasn’t) a huge town centre climb, followed by what really was a pretty relentless climb from lovely park paths at the start, walked up a well named Strava segment; The Bastard ( https://www.strava.com/segments/921749 ) and the climbing continued over some really rocky barely rideable terrain.

With the pub beckoning, we decided to cancel the last climb (a gratuitous trip up to Stanage Edge), and swooped straight down to the YHA.



Oh yeah YHA have towels” turned out a bit too optimistic, I had a travel towel, but David and Steve rented the last two towels (which were for sale souvenir ones) and Stuart improvised.

A quick shower and turn around and we were in the Little John for Steak Night and a belly full of beer - sadly the kitchen closed before we got to order desserts.









Day two - Thursday

We’d booked breakfast at 9, but were all up and hungry way before so headed in early. They’d cooked some (4) fried eggs in advance, so there was one each, until Steve decided he’d like two - not a popular decision.

Bags all packed and we were soon off - this was the short and easy day, with just under 30 miles planned. It started with a beast of an off road climb, followed by a frankly terrifying descent, with us squeezed into a narrow line between loose gravel on the left of a ‘road’ and foot deep craters on the right where the surface had completely washed away.

A sneaky route through the cement works and we stopped for coffee and an A4 sized vanilla slice in Castleton - only about 5 miles by road and 8 on our route, but it had taken almost 2 hours to get there.

Over coffee the decision to tackle Winnats pass, or the “Mam Tor Broken Road”, leaving Castleton we were straight into the decision point, with Steve and Stuart taking Winnats and David and I the broken road - they’re not kidding, whole sections of the road have slid down the hill, leaving 8 feet cliffs between the solid and slipped bits.

From the top of there we had a nice fast road section followed by some huge unrideable stretches, just shocking surfaces. A crazy downhill loose gravel section where Stuart left everyone for dust followed by an even faster road descent into Hayfield saw 36mph and a much needed (but seriously grumpy) cafe stop. Just under four hours, and less than 17.5 miles covered, this wasn’t going to be a short day!

Refuelled we rode the Sett Valley trail, gorgeous riding, but so obviously heading in the wrong direction - this looked like a nice little addition to bump up the silly short mileage of day 2.

From there we had what seemed like a long series of climbs, with some great views of black clouds over Manchester with Snowdonia, and some really horrible surfaced tracks.




Finally some grim main roads into Premier Inn to end the day after 6hr 15 to cover 29.64 miles - definitely harder overall than day one.

An even quicker turnaround (this time with the luxury of towels) saw us in the adjoining Wacky Warehouse pub for dinner, including Steve eating his body weight in ice cream.


Day three - Friday

We’d agreed on an earlier start so met for the all you can eat buffet at eight, with a plan to leave at nine. In my head I’d got this down as a lot of canal towpaths, so should be a faster pace, and a lot easier.

It wasn’t long until we were on the Huddersfield narrow canal towpath, and not long after we came to Scout Tunnel, 615 feet long unlit and with a bumpy towpath. After a few yards, we realised that removing sunglasses helped a bit, but it was still pretty nerve wracking.


A bit of climbing and we were onto the abandoned Delph Donkey railway line via the appropriately named Wall Hill Road though we wandered off it a couple of times. The (road) climb out of Delph was massive, and really took its toll on me. Towards the top, the road ended and we were confronted with more horrible rocky and broken surface, with narrow ruts too deep and narrow to get your pedals into.

We were only about 12 miles in here, after over two hours of riding, there was lots of hike-a-bike in this part of the day! We crossed the A640 here, and began a horrible rocky climb, more walking, which prompted a shortcut attempt, over the hill rather than around it. After a breather while some very inquisitive young cows moved aside we rode a bit further and stopped at a pub for more sustenance - a breeze block size cherry bakewell flavoured cake, while here the Battle of Britain memorial flight went overhead.

Regrouped we set off down a rocky and barely rideable trail, only to find it’s steeper cousin back up the other side, yet more walking, passing many signs for Piethorne reservoir, which never seemed to get much closer, but when it did heralded more of the same - a rough steep walking surface. We eventually crossed the M62, and eventually came to where I’d briefly considered as second night accommodation on the A58 - thank goodness I didn’t stick to that, the 21 miles had taken over four hours, and I think we were all starting to flag a bit.

Stuart took a (wise) diversion from here straight down to join the Rochdale canal at Littleborough , with Steve, David and I following the Pennine Bridleway over to meet him just north of the catchily named Summit.

The canal was a pleasure after all the rocks, and we zoomed along, to Todmorden (26 miles and five and a half hours) where we’d decided we needed to pause and eat. It was very clear we weren’t going to be back early, but pushed on along the canal to Hebden Bridge where another choice awaited, do we take the well known road over to Oxenhope, or the unknown off road route? Stuart went with the road, while David, Steve and I stuck to the route - we started with a long steady descent on road, but when the climb came, my word, what a climb. After a bit the surface deteriorated (as we’d got used to it doing) so it was a real slog, and as we dropped in towards Haworth, there was a section that was scary to even clamber down.

We regrouped in Haworth, and decided to head straight to Keighley and join the Leeds Liverpool canal there, rather than climbing over to Bingley. From Keighley it was a straight blast along the towpath back to Horsforth and a welcome can for each of us of Alba Rosa beer, followed by a couple more pints for good measure.


Summary

Well, the surfaces weren’t what we'd hoped for, but for me at least, the views, the laughs, and the whole adventure was well worth it. For the following two days I was tired, but I would (and do) definitely hope to do it again, maybe I’ll get someone else to plan a route, at least then I get to complain rather than pretend it’s all fine. Oh and finally I think the ride was summed up by this sign we passed:








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