In my continued quest to ride the 100 climbs as found in the book by Simon Warren – 100 Greatest Cycling Climbs: A Road Cyclist’s Guide to Britain’s Hills – I found myself travelling up to Calderdale this week. There are some climbs that get recognition because of their elevation gain, some because of their steepness and some due to the beautiful national park surroundings. The first two climbs of my day in Calderdale get recognition due to a combination of their steepness and their jarring cobbled surface. If you’re wanting to test yourself on cobbled climbs without needing to go over to Belgium or Northern France then Halifax is a fine place to start, as I soon found out.
Like I’ve said so many times before, this isn’t an area of the country that I’d have naturally thought about going to for a day out cycling. On the map, the sprawl of small towns and major roads doesn’t make the area look particularly inviting. And to be fair I did find it a bit difficult to map out a route that included all the climbs that I wanted to ride and avoided the worst of the major roads. That said, there were some true gems and some really good bits of scenery throughout my ride.
As I often do, I used OS maps to find myself a car park out in the countryside, so that I could leave my car for the day. On this occasion it was the small one opposite The Moorcock Inn near Ladstone Rock. Nothing wrong with this decision per se, but it did mean a big climb back up to the car at the end. The land always looks flatter on the map! It also meant that my first few kms were spent descending steeply down towards Luddenden Foot and not getting any kind of warmth into the legs before pointing the handlebars back up to the sky for the first of the day’s significant climbs, Halifax Lane.
The climb of Halifax Lane actually spans three different roads as it winds it’s way up 189 m at an average gradient of 11%. The only turn you need to keep an eye out for is the left hander off Halifax Lane into Birch Lane, all the rest just flows up to the top. I say ‘flows’ but maybe on the 20% sections, ‘grinds’ might have been more appropriate! Climbing up this climb you’ll notice the cobbles that line the left and right gutters at times and you’ll be grateful for the smooth strip of tar that runs up the middle and makes this a much easier hill to climb than it would have been many years back.
With the first climb under my belt I headed off into Halifax to make my way to the bottom of Shibden Wall, climb number #40. Unfortunately getting there from Halifax town and avoiding the A58, dual carriageways and flyovers proved somewhat difficult. In the end I settled for a route that took me past some industrial and retail outlets, then up a steep cobbled lane/footpath called ‘Old Bank’ and then through Shibden Park and finally along the last part of the A58 to reach Stump Cross and the base of Shibden Wall.
So on to Shibden Wall. Out of all of the climbs that I did on this day, Shibden Wall is definitely the toughest. It doesn’t start cobbled but it’s not long before the cobbles appear and they continue for the majority of the climb’s distance. I didn’t get any photos that do the surface justice, mainly because it took all of my focus to keep the bike going, wheels turning and avoid the gaps in between the cobbles that could easily swallow a road bike tyre whole. I wish I’d taken my gopro with me for this ride but alas I forgot. It is one of those climbs though that feels like a real achievement when you do eventually reach the top and for me I was extra pleased to hear a local couple say ‘you must be fit‘ although I’m half convinced what they really meant was ‘you must be mad‘.
Once I’d got Shibden Wall out of the way, I set off across the moors towards Burnley with my sights on climb #74 Nick of Pendle. Unfortunately for me this was where the weather changed from bright and sunny morning to dull and dreary afternoon. And the wind came out to play too, making my route across the moors a bit more of a grind than I’d hoped for. By the time I stopped in Colne for a coffee and some lunch I was really quite cold and wishing I’d brought/worn a different jersey or baselayer. I did take a waterproof jacket with me but it has a breathability index of zero and so wearing it meant that any sort of hill caused large amounts of condensation on the insides of the sleeves. I’d taken it more as an emergency layer to keep me warm on the roadside in the event of a mechanical issue.
If your a fan of reservoirs though, this is the route to take as I passed many on my way.
From Colne I headed out into an area known as Pendle to find my final climb of the day, Nick of Pendle. My original plan was to go up and over Nick of Pendle and then onwards from there to one additional climb further south, ‘The Rake’ but due to time constraints i.e. needing to get home, and the fact that riding around these parts was proving to be a slower affair than I’d expected, I decided to scrap that idea. So from the village of Sabden I headed off up Nick of Pendle to complete the climb and then come straight back down. A nice climb with a real countryside, national park type feel to it (including the compulsory cattle grid) and awesome views from the top that make the climb all the more worthwhile. The descent down the other side looked tempting too but after taking some photos I resisted the urge and headed back.
With my climbs for the day complete and time running steadily away from me I descended from Nick of Pendle back into Sabden and started considering my route options to return to the car as fast as possible. Eventually I decided that the A646 would have to be the one, hoping that it wouldn’t be a big and busy route with too many lorries and buses. Fortunately this was one of the nice surprises of the day. As it turns out the A646 is a really nice route, down the Calder valley with hills climbing away on both sides and not too much traffic to content with. It is even a mostly downhill run from there back to Halifax. This road down through Cornholme, Todmorden and Hebden Bridge is definitely one that I’d add to any route I did in this area of the country again, even though it hadn’t been in my route plan for this ride originally.
Of course I hadn’t parked the car back at Halifax. Or even Luddenden Foot. Oh no, I’d parked the car on top of a big hill up at Ladstone Rock, so I left the A646 at Mytholmroyd and headed off up Scout Road to Sowerby and then crossed the River Ryburn using Stansfield Mill Lane in order to head in a more direct route. I think this was probably the slower option in the end as I took in more hills and also had to connect up a couple of the roads with the use of a very steep footpath/track (cobbled of course) which I had to push my bike up. I’m glad I was wearing my mountain biking shoes with the SPD cleats and not my road shoes with Look Keos. In exposed road cleats pushing the bike up the muddy, wet, steep, cobbled path would have been impossible. One up side of taking this route was that Scout Road was very pretty as it climbed up through woodland and knowing that I was now pretty much back at the car I was able to relax a bit and enjoy it.
So a slow average of just 19 km/h for a day’s riding. Almost 6 hours to cover 112 km. But understandable in some ways when you consider that I managed 2,500 m of elevation gain. That’s 2.5 km of upward travel in total. It may not be a national park or contain any mountains but Calderdale certainly knows a thing or two about steep hills.