Seduced by the Dark Side

The plan had been brewing all week: a testing route across the Dark Peak, taking in some hefty climbs and breaking the 100km barrier.

To most, this would barely give cause for a raised eyebrow… but it represented a stiff challenge for me, considering I hadn’t really put any miles in the legs since returning from my coast-to-coast.

So, despite waking a little Shirazzled on Saturday morning, I got the bike ready and set off.

The route was fairly straightforward and satisfied an important prerequisite: to visit at least two decent cafés en route. Thus:

Millbrook – Greenfield – Holmfirth – Langsett (Bank View Cafe) – Strines – Ladybower/Derwent Valley – Edale (The Penny Pot Café) – Chapel en le Frith – New Mills – Marple – Mottram/Stalybridge – Millbrook. 122km or 75 miles in old money.

Saturday started grey, with a heavy could hanging on the tops over Dovestones reservoir. I puffed and pedalled into the murk with the rear light flashing to alert motorists with sleep still in their eyes.

The climb up the Holmfirth pass appears more manageable the more I do it. I’m not sure I get any faster, but I tackle it in a higher gear these days and my mental approach is more attuned to the labour.

Reaching the summit I plunged down into Holmfirth at over 50km/h and ground up the opposite side of the valley (far slower!). My target was Langsett on the B6106, a twisting climb through quiet villages and the odd, incongruous reservoir.

I took my life into my hands for a short while pedalling on the A616 before turning off at the Bank View for coffee and a livener (brownie).

Leaving the main road restored, and fingertips tingling with the sugar hit, I skirted Langsett and hit the challenging lanes Southwest of Stockbridge. Mercifully free of traffic but with plenty of stinging gradients, the tarmac followed the sharp contours of river valleys. The views were grand, though, now the hill fog had lifted.

Pedalling across the moor into a nasty crosswind I soon began to recognise the meringue of ridgelines and summits surrounding the Derwent valley. I passed the Ladybower Inn and turned left crossing the reservoir heading towards Hope.

I’d joked with some mountain bikers in the Bank View that I’d cycle to Edale to provide an escape route of the train if the legs packed up. To be honest, I wasn’t so sure how much of a joke this was. However, despite a nasty headwind whistling up the Vale of Edale, I felt strong and stopped at the Penny Pot for tea and scone, readying myself for the climb up the back of Mam Tor out of the valley.

I’ve surveyed this gradient on foot many times walking in this popular vale. The overriding memory was that it was steep.

I engaged the lowest gear as I passed the antiquated 1-in-6 road sign and ground up. Predictably, it was testing, but not as bad as anticipated. I was riding my Audax with a triple and a wide-range rear mech. Proper roadies would sniff at the set up, but it works for a big lad like me!

Head down, I powered into Chapel en le Frith and then on to Whaley Bridge. More misery on the A6 was a small sacrifice in order to access the quieter roads north of New Mills.

From the truly dreadful tarmac of Marple, it was a familiar slog and the ‘home straight’ via Romiley and Woodley and onto the Mottram Road. One last climb into the ‘Bridge and I arrived home, legs sore but satisfied.

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