Tour of Penrith

This year’s big event for me was theTour of Penrith. This is the second self-organised three-day cycling tour myself and a group of great friends from B&DCC have put together and ridden. In terms of Hills, this was by far the most epic, despite having tackled The Tour of the Highlands and our self-organised Tour of Shropshire, both of which included some big name climbs.

This year was my turn to organise, as I’d ridden in the lakes, the National Cycle Network C2C route and had a bit of local knowledge from that. I used the C2C Guide website to find somewhere to stay and stumbled on The Strickland Arms near Penrith for a base. This looked pretty good. A cycling focused pub with good group accommodation and an amazing sounding menu, plenty of space to park, on quiet roads, within reach of a lot of epic cycling. Seemed a bit of a no brainer, so we booked in.

I was a bit nervous before we got there as to whether or not it’d work out. They’d been really helpful via email as we’d sorted out all the names and who owed what etc. As we set off, Google Maps informed us that the pub didn’t open till 5, which could have been a problem with some people arriving mid-morning to get a ride in.

It wasn’t. They were there and we got sorted out and it was perfect. They have a “shrine” to when Team Sky visited on the 2012 Tour of Britain, complete with Wiggo signed yellow jersey. They’re really enthusiastic about cycling too. Cracking place to stay, friendly and we settled in. Since not all of us had booked the day off work, it seemed a good time to start sending pictures of us enjoying a pint in the pub to the rest…

We had a good first evening in the pub, preparing well for a tough day ahead cycling by drinking and eating. Possibly a bit too much drinking given we had 102 miles ahead the next day. But these trips are as much about the social aspect as the riding bit!

Saturday’s ride was into the North Penines Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. It was a little cool and grey at the start of the day, but we soon warmed up and the weather was pretty spot on. Sunny spells, cloudy spells. Kept the temperature just about right for a hilly ride.

The route snaked us through the Eden Valley to get a warm up before tackling Hartside, which is a nice long steady climb up to the now burned out remains of the previously highest cafe in England. Amazing views from up there, out across the valley to the Lake District. But a massive headwind slowed us up the climb. The last snake of the road was in the lea of the hill and I was dropping down gears and picking up speed, showing how much affect the head wind had.

At the top we stopped for some photos, but the wind was cold so we headed off on the descent, which normally is super fast and rewarding, but as we were full into the wind was tough going and steady!

From this point on we followed the NCN C2C route to Stanhope. Which meant repeated climbs, but on good, quiet roads with decent tarmac. Beautiful part of the world to cycle in. Cafe stop at Allenheads was well timed as we were all ready for something by then.

More undulations got us to Stanhope, where we were due to climb Crawleyside, another long climb but with some tougher sections that Hartside. Again, up into the head-wind making it tougher than usual. Views at the top a bit less epic, but the descent was supported by a tail wind and we flew down for a quick stop at a shop for ice creams, more water and fuel.

Now riding with a tail wind, and leaving the NCN C2C route, we had to climb and drop again repeatedly to get back to the Eden Valley. Some outstanding long stead climbs, some vicious kickers too. Some great descents to match the climbs, through quiet roads with good surfaces. The final stretch of climb was a series of long gradual climbs taking us out of the hilly areas before an amazing descent back to Brough where a final shop stop fuelled us up for the last 20 miles of gentle undulations back to the pub.

The ride was 102 miles, and we took it steady, plenty of time to re-group on every climb. Plenty of chat and banter. Hard work eating and drinking so much that evening…

Day 2 we had decided to ride the Lake District, we’d planned to move the cars to Greystoke, this meant we could hit three major Lake District climbs and some really beautiful places.

We parked in a good car park at Greystoke itself where it turned out there was a quite serious looking TT kicking off, and rode to the start of the route. The roads were small, pretty good surfaces and very light on traffic. The weather was incredible. Warm and sunny with a tailwind!

We cruised round some stunning places, looping round to the north of Bassenthwaite, it was just amazing out on the bike in those conditions.

At Bassenthwaite there’s really only one road though. The A66. We got our heads down and with two strong riders driving the pace on the front with very little traffic indeed we made short work of the small section of dual carriageway on the route before striking out up Whinlatter. Whinlatter is a beautiful climb, twisting up through the woods past a visitors centre. There was some confusion over where the Strava segment ended, which is a little way into the descent, before we doubled back to the cafe.

Which was too busy to stop at, so just a quick bottle re-fill and off. We seemed to have lost Neil though. Turns out he misheard the details of where the segment ended, did the full Whinlatter descent and rode back up just as we were descending to find him… ooops…

From here you ride into Buttermere valley, we stopped at a cafe where they were a bit chaotic and overwhelmed with us. I wouldn’t stop there again to be honest. A bit pricey and rubbish service. But the food was good. Even if we did sit and cook in the suntrap for a bit.

Buttermere is stunning. No other words. But that also explains why so many cars make their way down the twisty single track road to the main village. We stopped for a few shots on the way in, it’s that pretty to look at. At Buttermere though, the route turned left to climb Newlands Hause. Into the headwind.

Newlands is a tough climb, longish with some really steep sections, especially at the finish. At the top everyone felt great for doing it though. Loads of happy faces, photos of bikes held aloft. Then we went back down it the way we came to head for Honister.

Honister is tough. There’s a really long 7% lead in before you hit the wall of the climb. 25% up to the slate mine and cafe. With traffic. Including a bus. A bus which clipped Neil knocking him off. The chaos of this resulted in a few of us walking the last section of the climb. When you stop on that there’s no chance of clipping back in.

A refuel and bike repair at the top before a descent and chase along the valley to Keswick for Ice Cream before the final climb back along the NCN route up to Greystoke and the best pint ever. It had been a baking hot day, despite the wind, and I’d cooked. I needed that beer. Wiped out.

After that we were back to the pub for more food, more beer and as it turned out a bit of a party!

Day three was all about Great Dun Fell. The plan was mixed, there was a full 100km route, however, some of us needed to get back/to other places so planned to just ride the route as far as GDF then loop back to the pub for an early depart.

The route gently climbed and twisted through the Eden Valley with Great Dun Fell always visible high on the hills in front. We turned off onto the dead end road and immediately started to climb. The road is amazing. Single track, really good surface and as it’s a dead end and closed to traffic from part way up no traffic on it either.

You can’t quite see where the road goes, suddenly you’ll go round a bend and a new section is revealed, or unless you’re Ian and way up front, you could see where the road was (if you believed it…) by seeing the faster riders up front riding up ahead.

Unfortunately, we were again into a headwind, which was really tough in parts. And the road is tough on it’s own. 7.5km long, with multiple ramps of 25% and “easy” sections down to a mere 10-12% it just climbs and climbs. One gate required a dismount to get round before the final turns to the Radar Station at the summit.

About 5km into the climb you start to get the most amazing views. GDF is really high up, but on the edge of a flat area. The views are hard to beat on a clear day. You felt like you were on the top of the world!

Back down to the bottom, where the group split, some riders opting for the full 100km, others off to home/holidays.

It was a brilliant weekend, there are some amazing places to ride up there. The pub made a perfect base for a cycling weekend. But the best bit was the strong group of friends riding. Great group of people to ride with. It’s never perfect, mechanical issues happen, people have flat spots and struggle. Hard to keep a large group working well together over 200+ miles. But we make it work and it’s great.

Everyone is still buzzing, main topic of conversation – where are we going next year?

2017 Goals

2016 was an epic cycling year for me. The main aim of the year was the completion of the inaugural running of the Tour of the Highlands Sportive, which is an awesome three day, 300+ mile event with a ton of climbing. I also aimed to hit my highest ever annual mileage cycling. I planned to commute on the bike 3-4 days a week, depending on weather to get 15 miles each commute day, plus a 100km+ ride every Sunday with the club. Unless the weather prevented it. At least 100 miles a week on average through the year.

I was doing great, right up until I did a ride to the coast with B&DCC. That ride was too flat. Not enough hills. I got bored of cycling. 120 miles in I’d had enough with another 20 to go. I had plenty of power left to ride. I was just fed up of actually riding. That led me to deciding to cut back the cycling for a week or two, then start training to do some hill climbs when the season started.

I love riding up hills. That’s my thing. I know that. A big long challenging flat ride is ok, but I’ve done the coast and back a few times so I knew I could do it. It wasn’t a new challenge. I’ve done a 200+ mile flat sportive. That was tough. But I’ve done 200 miles. I know I can just keep riding, if I fuel right. It’s boring. I need the hills!

So the idea was to hit the hill climbs. I know I’m not going to be competitive. I’m not interested in proper structured training, I just like to explore, enjoy and ride upwards. But I’ve done a couple of hill climbs before, they’re a bit of fun. It was something to aim for to get me excited about riding again.

Then I got knocked off my bike by a dog on my Commute the day before my family holiday. I broke my collar bone quite badly, requiring surgery. I did get back on the indoor trainer as soon as I could, to keep the fitness, but it was 4 months before I was fit to ride outside again. This kind of destroyed my cycling year, and got me banned from cycle commuting, as it’s the second time I’ve ended up in hospital as a result.

I need a goal for 2017, something to keep me motivated and excited to ride. I always ride year round, except in the dangerous weather. Rule #5 and Rule #9 are really important to me. So I generally keep going, but I just need something to look for to help that.

We’ve got another three day tour planned for the year, that’s going to be great, riding in Shropshire with most of the group I rode TOTH with and a couple of other good cycling friends. But that’s fairly early in the year (end of May) so I need something to keep me going all year.

I’ve been keen on Simon Warren’s book 100 Greatest Cycling Climbs, and the follow up Another 100 Greatest Cycling Climbs for some time. I’ve now ridden 18 of them over the years I’ve been riding. As I live near the Peak District, there’s a good cluster I’ve ridden many times.

So my aim this year is to ride as many of the 100 Greatest Climbs I can in the year. Not just looking to ride ones I’ve never done, but to get as many in as I can. So, I am to complete all the Midlands climbs. That’s easy, I can ride to them all from home. There’s a few Yorkshire ones I can get to from home yet to tick off also. The trip to Shropshire includes a couple. So now I’m looking around to see which other hills I can get to in a day trip with the car. Some of the Lake District hills to revisit, and hopefully the Yorkshire Dales and North York Moors could get a visit. I’m also looking at using the train to get from home to somewhere, then ride up some of the hills on the way back.

It’s got me dead excited!

Holme Moss

This has to be the most iconic climb I’ve done. It’s number 43 in the Hundred Greatest Climbs.

Now, there are harder climbs and longer climbs in the book. But I think this is so far the single greatest climb.

That said the book seems to just focus on the pure uphill bit of the climb. Which I think is wrong, I prefer the longer game.

Starting out of Holmefirth (last of the summer wine) and winding along the valley a little gradual up to warm the legs. Then it really stars with a vicious little up hill out of the saddle, just to make sure you’re hit hard to start with into Holme.

You’re rewarded with a short downhill before the real work begins and the book version of the climb starts.

As you’ve been approaching, you can see the road snaking up the hill. Usually with some poor sods struggling up on their bikes and the odd motorbike or car going past them.

The road surface is fantastic. The views, bends and gradient are cracking.

And best of all, there are distance markers on the road to show you how much more there is to go. The distance between the 3/4 of a mile marker and the 1/2 mile marker is the longest quarter mile I’ve ever ridden. But it’s great.

The Cat and Fiddle

Number 70 in the Hundred Greatest Climbs book, and this is a clear contender.

Starting in the middle of Macclesfield is not ideal, but, the road is a major route with a great surface. It’s never too steep. You never have to be out of the saddle on it. It even lets up with a couple of little downhill’s and a couple of “flattish” sections to let you recover and keep the push going.

It’s got bends. It’s got views.

It also has psychotic idiots on motorbikes (and I have gone over it on a motorbike, but not in a psychotic super-speed fit). This has eased since they “ruined” the road with the average speed cameras.

The biggest downside of the Cat, other than the start in Macc, is the fact it’s a 50 mile ride with some tough hills for me to get to the start 🙂

Gun Hill

Gun Hill is another climb in the 2nd book of climbs. Another 100 Greatest Climbs. It seems to be iconic with people we’ve passed on the road on that side of the Peak District. Not having the 2nd book, I’m not sure why.

I presume it’s used in the TOB a lot.

It’s an OK ascent, the surface is reasonable, it’s got a nice slow build up, then a steeper bit, then it levels off a little before a few more kicks and a bend and a bit of a “haha you didn’t save anything for this bit I hid round the corner” sadism.

Just not inspiring me.

As a descent though, it’s fantastic. The bends are just right for going down. The surface is good. It’s wide enough that you won’t get into too much trouble (slow a bit for the houses though!)

Definitely, for me, more of a hill to enjoy going down than an iconic uphill battle. I’d much rather go down it, then go up Thorncliffe Bank, which is a properly brilliant climb.

Slack Hill

Slack Hill is #139 in the 2nd book of Greatest Climbs.

Slack Hill is a great descent, catch it at the right time on a Sunday morning and it’s empty of traffic. It’s wide, good surface, straight and steep. At the bottom it ramps up the other side to slow down safely.

It is a main road from Chesterfield to Matlock though, so catch it at the wrong time and it’s not great.

Descending, I’ve done over 50mph on the bike. Felt great.

We rode up it. And it’s a rubbish climb.

It’s long and straight and a main road. I can’t see anything to recommend it at all to be honest. I’d never bother again. Just a boring slog with traffic going by. I don’t have the 2nd book, so I don’t know why it’s in.


Next on my list was Riber, #32 in the 100 Greatest Climbs. I actually hit it right after doing Bank Road. And you’re still in Matlock, and it starts climbing up through a residential area, is less than ideal.

Until you turn off onto the Riber itself, when it’s still a bit residential but then it’s hairpins, steep and evil.

The surface isn’t great, but it’s not totally awful either.

It scores 9/10, making it one louder than Winnats Pass. However, I think it’s not actually as tough as Winnats. It seemed to be easier to me. Not a lot. Just a bit.

It also seemed short. Winnats seems to keep going. There’s always a bit more that I forgot about. It’s always a bit steeper than I thought. The Riber was tough, and a hill is always tougher the first time you go up it. And there was one moment I wasn’t sure I’d make it up, but then I saw the top and knew I would.

So I’d not give it 9/10, I’d swap the score with Winnats.

It was a good climb though, views, toughness, no traffic. Enjoyable. And brings you out in a good place to drop down to Cromford and head off up Via Gellia or on for a ride elsewhere.

So I’ll do this one again.

Bank Road

Bank Road is #31 in the 100 Greatest Climbs book. It’s in there because it’s the venue for a famous hill climb race. Like quite a lot of the climbs seem to be.

Being in the book for being an iconic hill climb might be great for people who’ve followed cycling for years, keeping up with HC championships.

But I’ve got the book because I’m looking for great climbs to push myself up.

Now, being in Matlock, the buildings that line the climb are quite nice to look at as you go. And being in Matlock and on a hill, the surface is excellent. But you’re in Matlock. There are cars parked on both sides, buildings all the way up both sides. Traffic. Pedestrians. No view.

The climb was quite nice. In and out of the saddle. A nice gradient, tough, but not killing me.

Just don’t think it’s one of the hundred most enjoyable climbs to ride in the country. It’s just in there for it’s heritage as an HC ride. So, I won’t be bothering again.

Rowsley Bank

The first time I hit Rowsley Bank, I’d been hunting around the climbs in the area for something that might be like the dreaded Hardknott Pass that was coming up on the C2C in a Day.

It’s not Hardknott.

But those hairpins are tough. The worst thing for me, is that after the nasty bit at the bottom it just keeps on going for ages after. However, seems the official 100 Greatest Climbs version ignores that part and concentrates on the steepest area.

It starts off not too bad. It’s a harder lead in than Winnats, but not as much as Curbar. Then it nips through a farm/cottage and hits the hair pins.

That’s the hard bit. They’re vicious and nasty. The inside of them is sheer and painful.

And I know this, because today the entire Mazda MX5 owners club decided to drive up it as I hit the hairpins. Forcing me to stay on the inside of the 1st and 3rd instead of taking the outside where the gradient is not so vicious. It was the third nasty hill today, and the driest, but the only one I lost traction on the rear wheel out of the saddle.

But I got up it both times I’ve tried, and I plan to get out again as the first hill in a ride (like it was the first time, not the third as it was today) and take the outside on all the hairpins and smash my PR.

Check out the 3D profile on veloviewer. vicious.