Yorkshire Rider [pt 1 of 2]

Some of you may know the area surrounding Huddersfield, Meltham and Holmfirth.  It’s the bit between Sheffield, Manchester and Huddersfield in the north of the triangle, and many years ago was the domain of myself and fellow Thorn rider Mark when we rode 80’s mountain bikes.  Now, some twenty years later, we had decided to return to the town and area for a weekend of riding, the logic being that we needed to really test out our Thorn Raven Sport Tours and see what this Rohloff business is really capable of.  There was, before you ask, absolutely no consideration given to the fact that a great deal of beer could also be consumed in the hours between rides.

We had decided to book a friday off our respective jobs, and so we arrived at around 10am on the friday with the sky looking cloudy but benign.  As you may know, however, the weather can change pretty quickly when you’re out in’t hills, so we had brought lavish amounts of foul weather gear with us.

We set off almost immediately, heading north-west up New Hey Road toward the M62 roundabout and then onto the A640 Rochdale road.  The plan was to start here, then cut south and into the valley around Slaithwaite, then up and into the ‘proper’ hills around Meltham.  Turning off the main road, we were faced almost immediately with a hill the likes of which my normal riding in East Anglia had done little to prepare me for.  The road kicked up Scapegoat Hill (you see it if driving Manchester-bound on the M62, with two tall masts on the top).  Now since I bought the RST I had probably gone no lower than 9th gear, and frankly I was beginning to wonder what the point was of all those low ratios.  Errrr, within 200 yards, I was gratefully kicking down into 3rd gear!

After the initial hill, we were looking down into the valley and heading toward Slaithwaite.  This road is steep; the payback for all the riding up becomes real here.  But as we descended and got closer to the bottom, the gradient became almost laugh-out-loud steep – parts of the road really made us feel like we were going to go over the handlebars!  Little did I know, this was to become a common theme over the two days.  A brief dart over the A62 Manchester Road took us to Valley Road, which begins another vast haul up towards Meltham and then out onto the ‘proper’ moors.  Now this was our first real climb; roughly a mile of severe hill.  The chat stopped; we both sank into our quiet worlds of concentration and pedalled.  We later discussed the fact that we would both class ourselves as ‘APD’ cyclists [aggressive pursuit of destination – in other words we always ride as fast as we can!].  The top of the climb ended in a ‘road closed’ situation whereby workmen were rebuilding a collapsed stone wall.  A quick plea saw them move their barrows so we could scoot through, thus avoiding a long detour.  And so, legs burning gently, we then faced the massive, two miles long descent into Meltham with blasting Pennine air in our faces.

Smiles now restored, we turned west in the village centre and began the ascent of what we recalled from our MTB days as Wessenden Head Road.  Now this name had stayed in my memory – I dimly recalled a never-ending climb, vast, steep and exposed to the full brunt of whatever the moors could throw at you.  And so it was.  It is, according to the signs, two miles to the point where it meets the A635 Greenhead Road, and the point where relief is offered.  Legs already tiring from the climbs we had so far managed, this proved hellish.  The wind blew, sprays of rain appeared and disappeared, but the bleak beauty of the moors makes it all worthwhile in the end.  At the top, by now wearing the slightly distressed faces that you see on marathon runners at the finish, we stopped for a drink break and then set off on another massive descent – the road into Holmfirth.

The hills offer you a strange kind of balance – what they give with one hand, they take away with another.  The climbs would always be followed by a descent, but that inevitably meant….another up!

Before reaching Holmfirth, we decided to veer off the main road and found a lane that led down to Digley reservoir.  This was a short cut towards Holmebridge, where we had decided we would commence the ascent of the mighty Col de Moss.  But before we could do so, this was another of those downhills where you found yourself leaning back as far as possible, MTB-style, due to the crazily steep road.  After depositing a thin layer of red Koolstop powder all over the hill, we stopped briefly at the dam to gather our breath.

And then, after a short uphill, we happened upon the just opened for the day Fleece Inn, where it seemed only polite to go and enjoy a bar snack and a pint of their finest.  We were on a huge high by now, having ridden terrain that we hadn’t experienced for years.  But the lure of the open road was calling, and so after gathering up my rain jacket, we headed out and onto the foothills of Holme Moss, the mightiest of all the hills around this area.  We had a vague plan to go some way up the hill, then branch off eastwards and onto pastures new.  But as we hit the first hairpin bend, the incline kicking up in a most alarming fashion, I began to realise my map reading skills had deserted me; the turn-off was miles back down the hill, before even the pub we had stopped at.  There was only one thing to do – keep on going.

You will know if you have ridden the Moss, that there is a crash barrier the whole way up, and there are more or less evenly spaced chevron signs starting about half way.  There is also, Tour-de-France style, a system of distance markings on the tarmac, starting at 1 1/4 miles from the summit, then going in 1/4 mile increments to given encouragement.  My legs by this time were so blasted that I weas seriously considering trying 1st gear.  And then, all of a sudden, I was there, the enormous TV mast towering above, the summit signs in view.  I had conquered the Moss……not on a skimpy lightweight road bike like everybody else we had passed, but on a solid RST.

It’s cold and windy up on the Moss, even when sunny and warm down below.  With this in mind, and our sweat soaked clothes, we hurried back down at somewhat higher speed than on the ascent.  You’ll notice some wild variations in the cloud on the pictures above; it really was fast-moving and changeable.  Note, however that the very sunny one of the mast is ‘borrowed’ from an earlier date – hence the very blue sky!!!

You can pretty much zoom all the way into Holmfirth (some 4 or 5 miles) from the hill with minimal pedalling, thank goodness.  And from there, realising that we had just done the biggest hill in the area directly after finishing our lunch, we decided on a quick climb out to New Mill and then down into Honley, before wobbling back to our accommodation.

But, as we began to reach civilisation, I hailed Mark and bade him pull over to the side of the road.  I had a bad feeling which I couldn’t pin down.  I stroked the pockets of my jacket; phone, camera, car keys? Bugger…..no car keys!  Due to having arrived too early that morning to check in, all our kit for the weekend was locked in my car.  Plus the fact that I was some 200 miles from home.  Suddenly, things looked very bleak.  It was reasonably early, about 2.30 pm.  Had I dropped them somewhere on the road?  We had cycled miles.  There would be no way I would find them.  In a panic, and thinking of a last-ditch solution, I googled the pub’s phone number and rang, expecting the worst. I was immediately asked ‘What kind of car do you drive’ – yes, they had my keys.  They had fallen on when I had taken my jacket off.  The surge of relief was somewhat tempered by the realisation that the pub was some five miles distant, a few hundred feet of elevation higher that where we now stood.

I won’t elaborate on the next ten or so miles of the ride, except to say that we rode very quickly, and the hill up to Holmbridge was very, very long and steep.  I walked into the pub bar, took the good humoured ribbing from all present as well as I could, apologised to Mark for dragging him all the way back, and I thought that suggesting another quick attempt on Holme Moss ‘as we were here’ might be a step too far for our friendship to bear.  So down, down, down it was again, this time slogging into Huddersfield, and up a short but vicious hill known as Gledholt Bank before arriving back at the hotel.

Much reflection was carried out that evening, and in the spirit of research we ended up in a previously favourite drinking establishment, the Rat and Ratchet in Huddersfield.

This is a really great old-fasioned pub, now owned by the Ossett Brewery which has kept the place intact and offers a terrific range of beers brewed by themselves and others.  We settled on their very fine Veltins pilsner, a German brew of some note, and slaked our thirsts before seeking out what must be the longest-established curry house [in a town where there are very many fine curry houses, as distinct from Indian Restaurants!].  But, and on a more serious and less beer-influenced note for a moment, let me try and piece together the bits I remember:

1] The RST is an incredibly comfortable bike for long rides.  Crudson has already posted on this, and he has now racked up about 7000 miles on a daily commute.  The bike is strong but perfectly compliant for all day rides and lots of out-of-the-saddle jamming.

2] The Rohloff speedhub – what praise can one lavish that hasn’t already been blogged, written or spoken?  As I said earlier on, in flat East Anglia I very rarely go as low as gear 9.  But I am now proud to say I have wobbled up a laughably steep hill in Calderdale in gear 1, and it seemed perfectly natural.  A week before, in Suffolk, I had slapped the bike into gear 1 out of curiosity, and I laughed out loud at the sheer pedal spinning intensity of this ratio.  But suddenly, this weekend, the low gears made perfect sense at once.  Thank goodness for them!!

3] Everybody we passed was riding a road bike, and they were to a man clad in garish team kits.  Now this is all very well, and of course one has to remember that we are all one family whatever our more lycra-centric proclivities may dictate, but I did remark to Crudson on feeling a small frisson of superiority, wondering how many of them could pilot a robust, steel-framed and wider tyred machine such as ours over such terrain!

Ride details, if you’re interested:

Total climb: 4642ft Total descent: 4649ft

Total dist (inc going back for keys!…..) – 43.6 miles

route map: http://www.bikely.com/maps/bike-path/Day-1-Huddersfield


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