The Britannia Times
Peak Stories: Simon WarrenPublished on 24th. April 2018
As a teen I'd head out on regular pilgrimages from my parents home in north Nottinghamshire in search of hills with ever steeper gradients and always return with tales of wonder.
We've teamed up with some inspirational folks from in and around the Peak District and asked them to share their memories and experiences of our great and generous Eroica Britannia landscapes which allow us so much freedom, adventure and great times with our friends and family.
These anecdotes and insights into our territory are wonderful ways to show the charm, potential, beauty, challenge and joy of these great lands we call home.
Simon Warren is the author of '100 Greatest Cycling Climbs' - from his cult series of cycling books. Tales of pain, suffering, joy and elation with amazing insight on the UK's greatest and most challenging climbs. Check out his full series of hill climb intel HERE.
THIS IS SIMON'S STORY, THE THIRD IN OUR SERIES OF PEAK STORIES
"The showcase climb of The Peak is of course, the mighty Winnats Pass. There may be longer and steeper climbs but nothing matches its sheer drama as you toil up the unrelenting 20% slopes beneath the towering limestone banks"
From the moment you turn off the main road out of Castleton the slope begins to nibble, then once you cross the cattle grid it starts to bite, then as you turn right it sinks its teeth in right to the bone. From here on you’ll need to be out of the saddle in your lowest gear just hoping you have the strength to take you to the top. The temptation to put a foot down may be overwhelming at times but resist, keep pushing on because there are real bragging rights to have scaled Winnats without stopping.
Just over the summit from Winnats and in the shadow of Mam Tor lies its slightly more mild mannered neighbour, Mam Nick, (which you will descend on this year’s long route). Mam Nick may not be quite as tough a prospect as Winnats to ride, nor be as dramatic, but it’s a close second.
"The meandering road that weaves between the grass covered hillocks towards the top is sublimely beautiful, as are the views out over Edale and Kinder Scout looking back from its summit"
These two climbs are the undisputed jewels in the Peak District but like I said before, there are a plethora of other great roads many of which feature on this years route, including the famous Monsal Head.
Home to the annual Monsal Head hill climb race, this compact little climb is dripping with cycling history and is a must ride for anyone in the area. As you approach on the valley floor choose a suitable low gear then take as much speed as you can onto it’s lower slopes. As the arc of tarmac heads up through the trees it gets steeper and steeper and will force a number of gear changes but try and keep the pressure on and keep the legs spinning.
"As the trees overhead receded you will catch sight of the pub at the summit, a beacon drawing you in and then over to your right the grand viaduct. There’s no more perfect venue for a hill climb race than Monsal head"
"Picking your way up between the stone walls and gnarled trees to the empty moor at the top is always a joy and never a chore, then as you exit the trees you see a 90 degree bend in front of you"
Here, the steeper gradients end but even though the slope may now seem almost flat this part can be equally as tough if the wind is blowing in the wrong direction. With no shelter the 2% gradient can be made to feel like 10% in the wrong conditions which will ensure you have to fight all the way to the top.
If the shallower slopes are not what you’re after and if it’s super steep, leg breaking gradient you desire, and while you’re in the area then head to Matlock, home to the dreaded Riber.
"I’ve had a love hate relationship with this road since I first discovered it back in the late 80’s. As a 9 stone teenager I relished its hideous gradient packed with tight bends, I embraced the challenge of fighting gravity on it’s insane parcours and had some of my best race results up its unforgiving slopes"
The older I’ve got though the more it seems to torture me and although I make an effort to return whenever I am close by, it’s with some trepidation that I start my ascent as I know how much pain lies in front of me. While in Matlock you must of course check out Bank Road, which is like Riber, almost as steep, but with all the corners taken out, then following this, travel a few kilometres north and give Rowsley Bar a blast. In my first book I rated this climb a 6/10 which is a grade I have been constantly taunted over and after returning last year during the Eroica festival I think I will have to concede and agree that it is harder than a 6/10, and is at least a ‘7’ maybe an 8 on a bad day.
So there are a few of my favourite climbs of the Peak District, but these are just the showpiece accents, any ride will take you up hill and down dale and often it’s great to just head out without a plan and see what surprises lie around the corner, because trust me there are plenty of them, all of which are rewarding, if you have low enough gears.
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