ON THE ROAD

Cycling Plus - - CONTENTS - WORDS SI­MON WAR­REN PHO­TOG­RA­PHY HENRY IDDON

Once fa­mous for its steel in­dus­try, Sh­effield is re­brand­ing it­self as the Out­door City. Great­est Cy­cling Climbs au­thor, Si­mon War­ren, has re­cently re­lo­cated to the city so sets out to dis­cover some of the as­cents he can ex­pe­ri­ence on his new doorstep.

Af­ter over two decades liv­ing in Lon­don, my fam­ily and I had been look­ing for some­where to lay down new roots. We wanted all the things that Eng­land’s cap­i­tal of­fered – great bars, restau­rants, art and cul­ture – but with all-im­por­tant swift ac­cess to fan­tas­tic scenery and a land­scape to in­dulge our love of out­door pur­suits, some­thing even Lon­don, largely, falls short of.

We needn’t have looked far be­yond the South York­shire city of Sh­effield. The ‘Out­door City’, as it’s been billed by the city’s PR folk, has more trees per per­son than any other city in Europe, is filled with pub­lic parks and a third of it lies within the bound­aries of the Peak District. As such, more of its res­i­dents take part in out­door ac­tiv­i­ties than any­where else in Bri­tain. So whether you’re on the road, in the dirt, pound­ing the pave­ments, walk­ing, ca­noe­ing, you name it, Sh­effield might be the place for you.

With the nec­es­sary evils of the big move over and the bikes mak­ing the jour­ney in one piece, it was time to ex­plore. Af­ter a few days of get­ting out and about, in­clud­ing Win­nats Pass, reach­able within an hour from my new home, it was time to plot the ul­ti­mate Big Ride of the area for Cy­cling Plus, with a lit­tle help from my mate and rid­ing com­pan­ion, Ben Lowe.

Ben was fresh back from a cou­ple of days hang­ing out be­hind the scenes at the Giro d’Italia and full of sto­ries to tell, but first he wanted to know why I’d added 30km onto the pre­vi­ously agreed 100km route. And why had I tagged Rowsley Bar to fin­ish off? “You have to be mad to fin­ish a ride with it,” was Ben’s feel­ings on the mat­ter. I as­sured him that a man of his class would have no bother with the ex­tra dis­tance, and Rowsley Bar re­ally isn’t that bad...

Border­ing the Peak District, Sh­effield – the Steel City – is un­der­go­ing a re­brand as The Out­door City. Havin just moved there, hill climber Si­mon War­ren looks to see if it lives up to its billing…

From the heart

We be­gan in the heart of the city at the train sta­tion, but within 20 min­utes we were free. Even at this point, your legs will be sore and you’ll be well aware that Sh­effield, with its abun­dance of hills, is a tough place to ride a bike. Fa­mously built on seven hills, like Rome, there isn’t an inch of flat any­where and there’s a moun­tain to climb around just about every cor­ner.

Five kilo­me­tres in, and al­ready less built up, we made our way north, skirt­ing the edge of the city tak­ing in a few lit­tle climbs, but this time de­scend­ing the big beasts such as Lodge Lane and Spout Lane on our way up to Oughtib­ridge. This vil­lage lies at the base of the fa­mous Jaw­bone climb that was used on stage two of the Tour de France when it came to York­shire in 2014. We’re not here to ride that, be­cause there’s a far bet­ter op­tion in Cold­well Hill. A lo­cal rider de­scribed it as their Alpe d’Huez, it’s a lot shorter, but a lot steeper.

This nar­row, silky smooth path starts with a slight dip and then kicks up, and boy does it kick up. Right away you are fight­ing a 20 per cent gra­di­ent as it flips right, left, right through a se­ries of tight hair­pins be­tween the man­i­cured gar­dens of ex­clu­sive prop­er­ties. It is pure plea­sure and pain rolled into one, and one of my new favourite roads. Be warned that the start isn’t easy to find as you have to cross a low­ered pave­ment. It looks like a drive­way or path but trust me, it’s nei­ther, so keep your eyes peeled.

From there we headed west into The Strines, a small tri­an­gle of land bor­dered by the A57 in the south, the High Peak bor­ough to the west and the A616/A6102 to the north east. With the vil­lages of High and Low Brad­field at its heart it is about the most per­fect place to ride a bike you could find. Myr­iad roads cross its col­lec­tion of pun­ish­ing hills and al­most all have been re­cently resur­faced to a stan­dard only usu­ally found on the con­ti­nent. Rolling up and down con­stant hills on pitch black as­phalt through quiet lanes is pretty much all a cy­clist could wish for. You could notch up 100km of rid­ing in The Strines and never use the same road twice such is the pro­lif­er­a­tion of in­ter­twin­ing lanes, and although I avoided some of the stand­out climbs like De­liv­er­ance or the Beast of Brad­field – it’s far too early in the ride for them – I did squeeze in a cou­ple of lit­tle as­cents.

When we set off first thing it was un­der grey skies and the tem­per­a­ture was in sin­gle fig­ures, but by now the sun was burn­ing the cloud away so it was time to strip off some lay­ers and dump them in pho­tog­ra­pher Henry’s car. Leav­ing The Strines we had to jump on the A57 for a short while to the dam over Lady­bower reser­voir. I would nor­mally avoid this road like the

Rolling up and down hills on pitch black as­phalt through quiet lanes is pretty much all a cy­clist could wish for

plague, but you have lit­tle choice should you want to link The Strines with the Peak District.

Clas­sic climbs

First on our agenda, and the first of a hand­ful of the true clas­sic climbs to­day, was Mam Nick. As we rode into Hope and through Edale we were men­tally pre­par­ing for its fear­some slopes. There were to be no heroics to­day, even though the wind was in our favour. To­day was just for tap­ping out a steady pace. The trou­ble is Mam Nick is tough enough in places to hurt the legs, re­gard­less of pace, but on the flip side any pain is washed away by the pure beauty that sur­rounds you. In the shadow of Man Tor on the hori­zon, the road snakes through grassy hillocks to re­veal stun­ning views out to your left through Edale. The Peak District at its finest.

Over the top and it was time to de­scend Win­nats Pass. Win­nats is with­out doubt the na­tional park’s star at­trac­tion. Out­side of anti-so­cial hours it is a busy road and as dra­matic and beau­ti­ful as it is, it soon gets over-run with ve­hi­cles, which can ruin your climb­ing ex­pe­ri­ence. You still get to en­joy its splen­dour on the way down, just with­out the suf­fer­ing, just re­mem­ber to keep your fingers near the brakes as you soon reach peak ve­loc­ity on its 25 per cent slopes.

Rid­ing into and through Castle­ton it was time to tackle one of the new climbs on my radar, Pin­dale Road. Not quite as tough as Win­nats, but still a brute, it ramps up out of the vil­lage, ap­proach­ing 20 per cent through the woods be­fore break­ing free to re­veal more stun­ning views, this time look­ing east over the in­fa­mous ce­ment works. This dis­tinc­tive build­ing is a blot on the land­scape, but has some­how be­come part of it, its bru­tal con­crete con­struc­tion in sharp con­trast to the rolling hills that sur­round it.

From Pin­dale we rolled along the tops for a while, our bel­lies rum­bling from the kilo­me­tres al­ready in the bag. I rarely stop on rides, my wife would kill me if she found out I was ‘wast­ing’ time hang­ing out in cafés, so no mat­ter the dis­tance a stop is never on my agenda. To­day it seemed ap­pro­pri­ate, though. We were work­ing, af­ter all, and de­cided there would be no bet­ter place than the café at the top of Mon­sal Head.

We worked our way through the vil­lages of Tideswell, Lit­ton and Cress­brook, weav­ing be­tween the neat stone walls and dropped down into Mon­sal Dale. Usu­ally I’m in Mon­sal Dale in Oc­to­ber be­fore the an­nual hill climb, con­sumed by nerves and sick with anx­i­ety, so it made a re­fresh­ing change to be just rolling along and pot­ter­ing up in­stead of eye­balls out, tast­ing blood. Ben still holds the course record for a vet­eran on the hill with

a 1:31, which he of­ten re­minds me of. Look­ing at his face, and how the hills were tak­ing a toll on his hairy legs, he was not go­ing to get any­where close to that to­day.

Af­ter an ex­em­plary toasted sand­wich at Hobb’s Café, where Ben had ex­tra beans for added power, we set off for the tough­est climb of the day – and a lit­tle ex­tra sur­prise be­fore we got there. My legs feel like lumps of lead af­ter café stops and when­ever I hit a hill I al­ways feel like I’m go­ing to throw up. So with heavy legs and full stom­achs we rolled down into Ash­ford in the Wa­ter, then into Bakewell, suf­fered the A6 for a short while on our way to the next hid­den gem.

Stel­lar as­cents

Look­ing at this route you will see the star climbs right away, the fa­mous ones, just like when you look into the night sky and see

This fi­nal stage of the loop is as spec­tac­u­lar as any of the oth­ers, dis­tinct in char­ac­ter and re­ally hard work

The Plough or Orion, the pop­u­lar stars stand out, but it’s of­ten away from the bright lights, in the dark­ness that the real trea­sures are found. Very like the climb of Stan­ton­hall Lane. A beauty at 1km long, with three vi­cious hair­pin bends, it’s tight, twist­ing and just a joy to ride. Look­ing at the map this de­vi­a­tion from the A6 seems to­tally point­less, as a kilo­me­tre later we were back on the same road, but our lives were far richer and our legs far weaker for the di­ver­sion.

Up next was the mighty Rowsley Bar, an un­for­giv­ing road that be­gins to beat your body up the mo­ment you hit its lower slopes, as it heads di­rectly up the bank to­wards the woods ahead. Ben was moan­ing big time now, he knows what lies ahead, Rowsley is a beast. Bend­ing right at the end of the first drag the gra­di­ent backs off slightly be­fore ramp­ing up once more to hit two ex­cru­ci­at­ingly steep turns on the rough­est of sur­faces un­der the thick canopy of trees. The road un­der your wheels is scared, as if torn by the claws of some gi­ant pre­his­toric crea­ture, its bumps and ridges fur­ther hin­der­ing your progress through its sav­age twin bends.

The slope con­tin­ues re­morse­lessly as you search for an elu­sive sum­mit, which ap­pears to lie around an­other 20 per cent cor­ner, but pre­pare to be dis­ap­pointed. You may reach a

brow, you may have con­quered the worst of the gra­di­ent but you are far from the top. At this point I knew Ben was empty as he cursed un­der his breath, but I as­sured him the tough climb­ing was be­hind us. By com­par­i­son the rest of the ride ap­pears flat but trust me, it never is. By now though I had suc­cess­fully di­gested my ham and cheese toastie and was full of rid­ing and plough­ing into the wind on the open planes across the moors I rel­ished the op­por­tu­nity to pro­vide a wheel for Ben to fol­low.

Although lack­ing stand­out climbs this fi­nal stage of the loop is just as spec­tac­u­lar as any of the oth­ers, dis­tinct in char­ac­ter and re­ally hard work when the wind is blow­ing across the fea­ture­less land­scape. Via the Owler Bar round­about we made our way to Fox­holes and then fin­ished on what all rides tend to fin­ish with in Sh­effield, 10km of bliss­ful down­hill.

All the moan­ing that it takes 30 min­utes to climb out into the Peak District are long for­got­ten as you speed back into to town at 50kph, cash­ing in all those miles of al­ti­tude your banked ear­lier in the day.

Once back from the out­doors it’s time to in­dulge in the ameni­ties of the city be­fore catch­ing your train home. From ex­cep­tional Ital­ian at Nonna’s on Ec­cle­sall Road to cof­fee and cake at Bragazzis on Ab­by­dale Road and ev­ery­thing in be­tween, there is no short­age of qual­ity places to re­fuel af­ter a tough ride. So has the Out­door City lived up to its billing? Has it ever! Amaz­ing roads, stun­ning scenery and the pizza is every bit as good as is it in Naples. I’m just sorry we didn’t move here ear­lier.

Top Thrilling de­scents are re­ward for all your leg work

Above This ride had less of a com­pet­i­tive edge com­pared to Si­mon’s usual for­ays into the hills around Sh­effield

Above Stand­out climbs prove a tough chal­lenge, even for our sea­soned rid­ers

Above The Out­door City lives up to its name

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