PCW No 4: the first was a private trip in 2004, when I realised what a fantastic route this is. Three CTC tours up the route followed, in 2007, 2011 and the latest, completed a week ago in 2013.
It’s a truly tough ride, and most definitely Sustran’s most challenging route: forget the Lon Las Cymru – kid’s stuff! C2C – hard but short in comparison. It’s got huge variety and there’s beautiful scenery of all kinds, whatever your taste.
It takes a few goes at a route before you really get under its skin, and after four goes, I’m beginning to really feel I know this route. Familiarity certainly doesn’t breed contempt however. You just gain more confidence in knowing where the big climbs come.
The route hasn’t changed except for the odd little Sustrans addition (so you can be sure it’s yet another off-road section). Do we like the off-road sections? Well, not really, it has to be said. We endure them, knowing that the route wouldn’t really be the Pennine Cycleway without them. This year we were pretty good and didn’t avoid much.
Day 1 (a half day) starts in Derby and follows lanes to Ashbourne (tea stop), where you join the Tissington Trail, a lovely old railway track route. Thankfully the trail was dry-ish so the bikes didn’t get too covered in surface mud, which turns to concrete if it’s not washed off. More climbing once Parsley Hay is reached as one takes to the road again for a few miles to Youlgrave.
Day 2 started with a diversion. The Monsal Trail is now fully open and so we decided to use it to get to Buxton. A good decision! It’s well surfaced and goes through some great tunnels. Pity it rained all the time.
Buxton provides coffee and the traditional photo in front of the Opera house.
A big climb out of the town is followed by the roughest section of trail on the whole route. Fortunately it’s short.
We avoided a few gratuitous lumps by sticking to the main road for a section between Whaley Bridge and New Mills, where we enjoyed a good lunch at the Llamedos Café. A massive climb follows lunch – I’d forgotten about that one! – and then suburban roads all the way to Glossop and the Longdendale Trail. It’s an integral part of the route, being relatively long, but today it was damp and mucky. More bike cleaning this evening, I think. Thank goodness for the ice cream van half way along.
It’s a tough day, this, and not over quite yet. We still had a section of ascending main road to ride (avoiding some off-road trail through moorland). This was the A628 Manchester to Barnsley road. The weather hadn’t been good today, so traffic was quite light and the left turn soon comes. Then its a few fun miles before the mega-descent down to Holmfirth and our most comfy night of the tour.
There’s no doubting that the toughest section comes on the morning of day 3. After a huge climb out of Holmfirth, straight after a good hotel breakfast, it’s downhill to Meltham, up again and down again to Slaithwaite where the steepest climb of the whole route awaits. It’s long too. A descent brings the first off road section of the day, past Scammondon Water, a reservoir high in the hills immediately adjacent to the M62. The noise adds to the atmosphere but you quickly long for peace and quiet again. There’s no choice but to push your steed up a nasty 100 yard climb up to the road which, after a few miles will take you vertically down to…. coffee at Sowerby Bridge. Yes, that’s just the first section of the day. Next comes a pleasant ride along the Rochdale Canal to Hebden Bridge, which has become an arty-farty mecca, but not unpleasant for all that.
Getting out of Hebden Bridge involves an awsome grovel up a quarter mile of cobbled steps. How lucky were we that they weren’t damp today, which makes them a nightmare with a loaded bike. Once at the top and back on the road, there is relentless ascent up to Heptonstall village (more cobbles) and through it to, at long last, a flat summit.
A descent quickly follows on to our first proper bit of wild country cycling – Widdop Moor. It’s a classic bit of northern moorland, full of atmosphere and a couple of nasty steep sections, but mainly a gentle grind up to the top and so down into the Colne Valley. At last, the hard work is over for the day and all we have to do is ride along the Liverpool / Leeds Canal to Salterforth and then do a final few miles to Earby, our hostel for the night.
Phew, the worst is over. Yes, honest! Today (day 4) is a fabulous day taking in the Yorkshire Dales, with stops in Gargrave, Settle and Clapham, all with excellent tea rooms! You can O.D. on tea & cakes today!
Day 5 is good too, from Ingleton to Dufton. The day does start with a big climb, but it’s typical Cumbrian fell country and you get a great sense of satisfaction when you summit Kingdale and swoop down to Dent along some beautiful lanes. More good stuff follows to Sedburgh, which is a good place for coffee.
A climb follows but the lane we follow north, high above the M6 and the West Coast Mainline, is a stunner.
Tebay, followed by Orton arrive, with a choice of lunch stops; it’s either a good pub or a café which is part of a chocolate maker – it really doesn’t get much better. A stunning ride through moorland follows before we arrive in the Vale of Eden and make our way to tea in Appleby-in-Westmoreland. It’s a short ride (mostly uphill!) to Dufton and our night stop.
Day 6 starts with a lovely ride along lanes to coffee at Melmerby, at which point you can cut off a little corner and get on the main road here to climb to Hartside. This section puts fear into some people but it’s well surfaced, a gentle gradient and not heavily traficked. The descent down to Alston on the other side makes it worthwhile anyway.
The atmosphere changes here, for some inexplicable reason, as we head north, following the river South Tyne. It’s invariably wet on this section which is a shame, because it’s lovely. First the challenging lane with some very steep sections, and then the joy of a delightful cycle path all the way to Haltwhistle – almost: there’s one nasty climb needed to avoid the stunning Lambley viaduct, which can’t be accessed owing to the route passing through a private garden.
Haltwhistle offers great tea shops at budget prices. Everyone’s in a good mood here because we’re getting there! One more big day and it’s cracked. We can start relaxing. The downside is that it’s usually raining around here and the midges were out in force as we climbed steeply out of Haltwhistle heading north to follow Hadrian’s Wall eastwards. A short flog took us to Once Brewed for the night.
Day 7 starts with more ascent up through the Wall and after six or seven miles we reach the Wark Forest and the longest section of off-road trail. The fact that it was raining didn’t help and there were definity some in the group who would happily have avoided Wark, but it wasn’t discussed.
It’s soon over and tarmac returns, and some very attractive, remote Northumberland scenery helps the miles go by. Bellingham brings coffee and Elsdon lunch. More lanes and an improvement in the weather and we eventually reached Powburn for a much needed cuppa and quick slice of cake. Once again we opted for the easy main road option (8 miles) instead of the hard man’s option of lots of very minor lanes and tracks. And so finally to Wooler and our celebration dinner.
It would be lovely to have some photos of this section but sadly… the weather was rubbish and the camera was already damp enough!
Day 8 is short as we head east for the coast at Berwick. It’s not without its interest, this section, but it’s always an edgy sort of day as people worry about getting to their trains. There’s a very attractive off road section which runs alonside the river Till – attractive that is until you have to push your bike up the hill at the end of the track!
There’s refreshments available at Norham at the Butcher’s shop, after which it’s a relatively short run into Berwick, although Sustrans takes you round the houses and over the Union Bridge into Scotland for a brief while. All in all, it’s great to get to our final destination and a feeling of contentment at having completed such a great route. When will the 5th trip be, and might we mix things up by doing a N to S run? Sounds good to me!
Click on this link to view a full set of photos of the trip: