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Up Hill & Down Dale – An Evening Dovedale Ride

A Classic Derbyshire Dales Descent

When you decide to ride somewhere, far from home and with little local knowledge you just don’t know what you’re going to get. In someways it makes the ride more exciting and when you discover a gem there’s that moment of pure glee; when the ‘explorer’ comes to the surface and marvels at his discovery. I guess you could call it a ‘discovery ride’.

Of course, along with the amazing views, fun descents and just interesting moments; in a surprise route you will always get the occasional realisation that “this section would have been better ridden the other way around” or “I’ve got the wrong bike for this surface” but it’s all part of the package and just a good reason to go back and re-ride it differently another time.

On Friday last week after finishing work in Ashbourne I went out for a ride in Dovedale, Derbyshire. It was a route planned from online maps and printed off on A4 paper. A route on roads that I’d never been down before; a discovery ride. I had a planned car park on Narlow Lane in Thorpe which I found just fine, parked up and preceded to setup my bike. Having planned a road route, I had brought Podgy my road bike along on this occasion and I set off in the direction of Ilam.

Probably the best surface I'd ride on all day
Probably the best surface I’d ride on all day

Downhill into Thorpe and then down again to cross the river before arriving in Ilam made the first 3-4 km nice and easy; a bit of a warm up if you like. Here I headed south towards Blore and crossed the first of many cattlegrids and began the first climb. This is one of the sections that I feel would have been better as a descent rather than a climb, ‘mental note for next time’.

Probably better as a descent
Probably better as a descent

From Blore I went left past Blore hall, down Yerley Hill as far as Okeover bridge. All completely unintentionally; another danger of riding a route for the first time! Having then reached the bottom of the hill I turned around and climbed right back up again and continued to climb as I should have done the first time towards Hazelton Clump; second mental note ‘left at Blore not right’. At the end of this road you have to join the A52 for a very short while, it’s a busy road but then it really is a very short distance to the next right that takes you up to Calton. Enjoy the descent into Calton as it’s probably the fastest of this ride, if you’re a slow descender then turn right at the crossroads, if not then like me go shooting past and on up into Calton and double back on yourself to pick up the road back to Ilam.

I use the word ‘road’ loosely and it was here that I started to wonder if maybe I’d have been better off on my mountain bike. To be honest the best category of bike to be riding here is probably one of those disc brake kitted out cyclocross numbers. Wider, grippier tyres to find the traction that you want on the loose gravelly descents and to more confidently plow through the farmyard at Throwley Hall. Oh and don’t forget the cattlegrids!

After the farmyard, beside a cattlegrid
After the farmyard, beside a cattlegrid

The cattlegrids are of course in place for a good reason. So that the cattle and sheep, mostly sheep, can run loose without accidentally escaping up the road. Something to bear in mind if you have a large cow phobia. And yes, that applies to large phobias of cows and indeed phobias of large cows! There are cows en-route and although it’s unlikely that you’ll have a run in with one, they are quite imposing creatures and you will have to pass them quite closely at times. Also try to avoid riding directly through what they leave behind, it won’t aid your struggle for grip on the loose and steep descents.

Cows and sheep roaming free
Cows and sheep roaming free

However once you get back through Ilam and headed up towards Wetton and Grindon you’ll notice a sudden lack of cows on the landscape and the ride truly takes on the nature of my title. Gaining height up through Stanshope and Wetton and then dropping down to the river Manifold before quickly going back up the other side. After Butterton you’ll drop down in much the same way again to the same river again at Wetton Mill, which is one of those places to visit as a kid, or with your kids; the kind of place where you can paddle in the river, clamber over the rocks like stepping stones, toss sticks into the water and watch them glide beneath the bridge and if there’s not a rope swing tied up to a tree somewhere near there then I’d consider it a crying shame.

But first comes Butterton and a ford to remember. Riding through a ford successfully very much depends on the surface beneath the water and the tyres on your bike. Given my mountain bike at this point and I’d have been in my element bouncing through the wet cobbles like a duck through water but on my road bike it soon became apparent that I didn’t quite have the bike to take on this ford and the sign that I’d scoffed at on approach had the last laugh as I wheeled my bike around the walkway instead.

Butterton Ford
Butterton Ford

The next descent and climb is down to the River Dove at Milldale and back up by Shining Tor along The Pinch. The ride alongside the Dove comes as a tranquil respite from all the ups and downs and awkward surfaces and is both flat and relatively smooth; of course it’s brief respite and soon the climb out of Dovedale begins in earnest. Another very short stretch of main road follows in the form of the A515, before again turning right and heading up a short climb towards Thorpe Pasture. The name gives it away really but on the pasture you’ll find more of those four legged animals acting as proof that you’re nearly back to the start, this time fenced in with gates though so a quick stop at either end is needed to open & close the gates and ride on through.

My ride was 52 km and just over 1,100 m of elevation gain but that does include the ‘going wrong’ extension. There are minor roads aplenty around this part of the country, so this ride could be adjusted and extended in all sorts of directions. Warslow, Ecton and Hartington all call out from beyond Butterton, offering potential further ride options, but for now I’m finished and a couple of Oat and Raisin cookies beckon from my car to help refuel me on my drive home.

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