The 6th Edition Your everyday, everything for Eroica Britannia Today 17th Sep. 2021
The Britannia Times
Wild Cycling: Exploring trails and lost lanes in Eroica Britannia CountryPublished on 19th. March 2018
Chris Sidwells explores our territory of The Peak District with an adventurous on and off-road cycle training ride to test endurance
Chris Sidwells is a freelance writer, editor and photographer seen in Cycling Weekly, Cycle Sport, Cycling Active, Cycling Plus, GQ Magazine, Men’s Fitness, Running Fitness, The Sunday Times, The Guardian and the BBC to name a few!
Chris has also been involved in Eroica Britannia in 2015, 2016 and 2017 as a judge for Best Bike in Best in Show and has been a contributor to the online Britannia Times for Eroica Britannia 2017 and again in 2018 with a series of shorts that tap into the heart of The Great British Adventure including his first instalment of Wild Cycling which we featured in 2017.
This is Chris' second instalment of 'Wild Cycling' which is an exploration of our territory, The Peak District with an adventurous on and off-road cycle training ride to test endurance and reward with some knockout landscape and unforgettable views of the land we love the most.
If you haven't signed up to The Ride 2018 this may well give you the motivation you need!
Inspiration - Motivation
Chris' book Wild Cycling is an illustrated guide to 50 great off the beaten track rides in Britain. They cover the country, from the Kent coast to Cape Wrath in north-west Scotland, and ride number 25 explores part of the Derbyshire Dales, a place dear to Eroica Britannia.
It’s a ride best suited to cyclo-cross or mountain bikes, but it is doable on an Eroica steel bike, so long as you don’t mind walking the last downhill section, which is quite tricky. However you choose to ride it - it is perfect training for Ride Day on the 17th June.
Chris' new writing and publishing project is cyclinglegends.co.uk and is a must read for those seeking inspiration and motivation for adventures by bike.
The ride starts at Monsal Head, a place with a long history in Peak District cycling. It’s the finish line of the Monsal Hill Climb, an uphill time trial first held in 1930. The winner then was C. Newell of the Sheffield Phoenix Cycling Club in a time of 2 minutes and 51 seconds for 650 metres of 16 percent average gradient, going from the River Eye in the bottom of the dale to the top.
The record fell every subsequent year until Laurence Dodds, also a Sheffield Phoenix rider, broke the 90-second barrier in 1941 with a time of 1 minute 29.6 seconds. Dodds reduced his own record to 1 minute 24.3 seconds in 1946. Then in 1957 Tom Simpson, the first and to date only non-Sheffielder to ever hold the record, set a new time of 1 minute 23.4 seconds in 1957.
"That stood until 1981, when Malcolm Elliott flew up the hill in an amazing 1 minute 14.2 seconds. Elliott is from Sheffield, so civic pride was restored, and his record still stands today despite 37 years of some of the country’s top bike racers trying to beat it."
Head downhill from Monsal Head and the road forks after 1.8 kilometres. Go right, and up a lovely little wooded valley to the hairpin, then descend, keeping right to head for Litton. Go left in Litton down Litton Dale, one of the shortest of the Derbyshire Dales, then turn left onto the B6049 and down the longer and lovely Tideswell Dale. Follow the B6049 until Miller’s Dale Station, where you turn right to join the Monsal Trail.
Monsal Trail was converted for cyclists and walkers from a section of the Manchester-Buxton-Matlock railway. It’s ideal for exploring this part of Derbyshire without having to tackle the area’s many hills, but I’ve included this particular section of it for three different reasons.
"The first is for the thrill of cycling through a long tunnel, which you do by following the trail west under Chee Tor and emerging into glorious Chee Dale."
That’s the second reason; Chee Dale. Cross the River Wye by the viaduct then follow the trail a further kilometre to enjoy Chee Dale. Then stop, turn around and ride back through the tunnel into Miller’s Dale, which is the third reason for using this bit of Monsal Trail.
Deep and Mysterious
Miller’s Dale is deep, heavily wooded and very mysterious. Ride two kilometres east along the Monsal Trail until you are opposite Litton Mill, an 18th century woollen mill whose owners exploited child labour to keep their costs down.
"The story of an orphan working in Litton Mill called Robert Blincoe is thought to have been Charles Dickens’s inspiration for Oliver Twist. Those children had bad lives in places like this, and legend goes that other mills around here are haunted."
Miller’s Dale is a glory today, but those children suffered appallingly, and such things leave their mark if only on the mind.
Head back from Litton Mill to Miller’s Dale Station, go left off the trail to the B6049. Turn right, and after 500 metres look for Long Lane on your left. This is a long straight and occasionally bumpy uphill grind to Hollow on the Moor, the highest point of this ride at 354 metres.
Turn left at the top of the hill onto Priestcliffe Road, which becomes a broken old road called Broadway Lane. This leads to a disused mine, take the sharp right called Bulltor Lane just before reaching the mine. Ride over Bull Tor then down the edge of High Dale to Brushfield.
"High Dale was formed by meltwater after the Ice Age, but is a dry valley today. The geology of this area is predominantly limestone, a porous rock, so where rivers flow in the deeper Dales, like Miller’s Dale, it’s because erosion revealed older impermeable rocks that create somewhere for rivers to flow."
Go left at a group of farm buildings and continue straight where the road goes sharp right. You should pick up a trail running along the edge of Monsal Dale, which is spectacular. Enjoy the views early, though, because the trail gets very involved further down. You need your wits about you.
Of course you could just dismount and walk down, that way you can enjoy the view and stay safe. If you are not riding a specific off-road bike then walking down this bit is the only safe option.
Eventually the gradient relents and you can remount to cross the River Wye, emerging on the road you used at the start of the ride, only now you are at the foot of the Monsal Hill Climb.
"Turn right, take a deep breath, check your watch and give it your best shot if you like. The finish line is just in front of the café on the bend at the top."
Get your breath back and enjoy a cuppa in the café, which does nice cakes. In summer there’s usually an ice cream van parked at the top too.
Where: Monsal Head is in the Peak District, 18 kilometres west of Chesterfield and two kilometres north of Bakewell.
Start/ Finish: Monsal Head, grid ref SK 1848 7156
Ride distance: 27 kilometres (16.8 miles)
Highest point: Hollow on the Moor 354 metres
Approximate ride time: 3-4 hours