One moment I’m stood wondering if I should go left or straight on and a few minutes later I’m pushing hard sweating my way up one of the most wonderful cycling climbs in the UK. At this point I’m convinced that I got the loop the right way round and I am indeed riding up climb #30 from ‘the book‘.
Of course just because I’ve convinced myself, in the moment, doesn’t mean I’m right! And of course I was wrong. It seems that the Monsal Head climb, aka #30, is the shorter climb that gains you less altitude and has the lesser scenic element. Oh well, looks like I’ll have to revisit sometime later.
I always try to fit in a ride after work if I’m up in the Peak District for the day. It’s just too good an opportunity to miss. So last week a visit to a company in Ashbourne gave me the chance to take a ride in the afternoon/evening. Along with just going out to enjoy a ride, I also wanted to incorporate a few of the climbs from the 100 UK climbs book, so I set about on Strava designing a route to incorporate as many of them as possible into a ride of a reasonable length for an evening ride.
What I came up with was a route that would incorporate 5 of the climbs into a 70 km loop. The start point would be a free public car park in Rowsley and the route heads through Bakewell, up to Monsal Head, before coming south to Matlock and finally returning back up to Rowsley. I didn’t quite end up with as much time to spare as I’d hoped for, so I decided to start off on my loop and cut it short as necessary. So I got myself parked, bike out, kit together and headed off towards Bakewell.
Having managed to miss climb #30 without realising it I headed East and after a little detour due to a temporary loss of GPS, I made my way to climb #35, Curbar Edge. This is a big one, 1.7 km of 10% average with some steep bits thrown in for good measure. I came in to Curbar via the B6001 and then after a short sprint along the A623 there’s a left and immediate right that pitches you straight up into climbing mode. A handful of gears later I’m all set for the long slog to the top.
It climbs a long way through houses and takes a good while before you find yourself out in fields and moorland; but keep going and you soon do. Up at the top there’s a car park where you can take a footpath along the top of Curbar Edge and enjoy the rocky view. Riding alone and with limited time, I just kept going, taking time on the downhill section that followed to rest the legs.
By this point I’d realised that I’d definitely have to cut short the loop that I’d hoped to do and was effectively now on the road back to Rowsley. So after dodging the sheep on the road through the Chatsworth House Estate, I toyed on packing up and going home or continuing onward for a bit longer. I finally decided that I’d at least ride up Rowsley Bar (climb #34), even if just to come straight back down it again.
Rowsley Bar turned out to be a real killer of a climb. If you look at it on Google Maps, it’s the bit in the woods where the road goes through a series of switchback bends; that’s where I had to really dig deep as the gradient hits somewhere around 25%. With a good few kms in my legs already and some decent climbs included, it was tough going. Of course, cresting the hill I made up my mind that I wasn’t going to just turn around and go straight back down, no way, I had a few miles left in me yet.
So I checked on my map (well, as shown on Strava on my stem mounted smartphone anyway) and spotted a route back down to the main road via Flash Lane and Syndnope Hill knowing that I could just coast along the A6 back to Rowsley from Darley Dale.
I think I may have hit my fastest speed coming down to Darley Dale. Syndnope Hill doesn’t feature in the 100 UK climbs book but it sure is steep and long. This time for me, steep and long in the descending definition of those words.
So just a short roll along the A6 back home then. Or I could cross the A6 and take the quiet back road out past Stanton in Peak instead? So I did. It was part of my original loop anyway, so I though I ought to at least check it out. The Peak District is full of hills and even when you’re not climbing a famous or significant hill you still find steep challenges and so my climbing wasn’t finished quite yet. Fortunately I still had enough energy left to creep my way up what remained between me and my car at Rowsley.
In fact the only road that came close to catching me out at this point in the ride was the steep downhill just before arriving back in Rowsley. Peaktor Lane is narrow and steep and I was glad of my effective brakes when coming around a corner and finding a Fiesta filling the road ahead. No doubt in part due to my brakes and pads and probably also my relatively lightweight ‘self’, slowing sufficiently to pass on the left, without locking my wheels, was the happy result.
Apart from my Monsal Head mistake, this turned out to a thoroughly enjoyable ride. I would still like to return and ride my entire planned loop and hopefully one day I will do. Maybe with company too. But until then at least I’ve chalked off two more significant climbs. As for Monsal Head, I still think that my way around is more challenging and definitely more fun. Sometimes it’s the roads that aren’t written about or talked up, that turn out to be the real gems!