The Dark Peak

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Dark Peak Medium Route – pdf
Distance: 47.7km
Time: 5hrs+
Total Ascent: 1254m
Spin Northwards out of the city to Wharncliffe woods, stomping ground of Steve Peat, and blessed with miles of technical wooded singletrack. Currently undergoing a bit of work to make some of the trails a bit more weather resistant and create a classic 16km loop under the watchful eye of Mr Peat.

Dark Peak Big Route – pdf
Distance: 60.6km
Time: 6hrs+
Total Ascent: 1786m
A classic Peak District ride with enjoyable routes in and out of the city. A lengthy day out in its entirety and not for the faint of heart. An option is to drive (boo) and park at Ladybower.

Sheffield itself is not a beautiful place, picturesque Victorian industry is giving way to brash new high-rise flats that
no-one lives in, but that dominate the skyline. However it occupies an enviable position nestled into the armpit of the Peak District, the northern and western sides of the city give way abruptly to moorland and forestry. A normal ride involves a short hop through rows of terraced back to back houses to the sanctity of the local woods for a couple
of hours, finishing with a cruise down the canal back into the industrial heartland. It’s gritty, urban riding at its very best.

issue31pic2The Peaks often call to me though. I’m lucky enough to ride there a few times a week, although always on the road bike and therefore reduced to passing enticing trailheads with miserable frequency and storing them for later. Surely there must be a way to link the very best trails of the Peaks directly with my front door? A summer off the bike through illness has meant I’d had plenty of time to link up trails on the map with a finger smudged line, snatches of dirt linking up back roads to crest the first ridge. Having finally received the all clear to go ride, I set about my loop with the help of Chipps and Craigy, both of whom were in final preparations for the Three Peaks Cross race and so I was forced to lure them on false pretences. To Chipps I nonchalantly estimated that it, ahem, ‘normally’ took a couple of hours to do this route. This was being quite liberal with the truth. Sorry about that. And to Craigy, there was no mention of time, just a ‘steady ride’ after a weekend of racing, although on arrival he sagely pointed out that it looked quite long. Again, sorry.

issue31pic3One of Sheffield’s greatest assets as a mountain biker is the ability to ride off road from almost the very heart of the city. And so it is today, meandering up through Endcliffe Park, a long, narrow patch of woodland intersected by roads of ever decreasing magnitude until eventually you cross nothing but a dirt road for the final steep pull into the Peak District National Park itself. This last section is a rude awakening despite 30 minutes of gentle climbing already under our belts, but on emerging from the treeline we are rewarded with a panoramic view of the now distant Sheffield skyline. For me this sums up the joys of riding from the city, as the combination of 1100ft of climbing onto empty moorland gives a cathartic release from the drudgery of the day to day urban grind. This kind of feeling can never truly be replicated in a car.

issue31pic4As we finally crest onto Stanage Edge, eyes are firmly fixed forwards as row upon row of hills open up before us. It’s not a place to linger though today as a massive headwind and threatening clouds lend a sense of urgency to the first section of descent, now as much of a slog as the preceding climb. We quickly leave the exposed plateau though with the trail abruptly turning from century old cart track to rockfall disguised as path and an added pressure now that Chipps has the camera out. After a few hundred metres, normal cart track service is resumed and the speeds increase, rocks spitting as the best lines are sought.

The final plunge into the valley beyond is a straight-line chute down into the village of Bamford. Normally this kind of descent leaves me ruing the waste of precious metres of height gain but this one makes up for it. In an effort to once make this track a useable farm road, some optimistic soul added sections of concrete about five foot wide at intervals throughout its length. The intermittent dirt has now been eroded leaving a series of whoops and drop offs the whole way down. It’s a game of high-speed pinball to try to scrub off speed on the hardpack before launching off and down onto the next section. It’s an adrenaline soaked re-group at the bottom, which is just as well because there’s one more section of road to clock up before the route starts proper. I try to subtly check my watch. Crap, 1.5hrs just to get to the
start of the ride proper.

Bumbling banter in Bamford

issue31pic5Cruising along quiet lanes has never been a chore though when there’s a bit of banter to pass the time, and it seems only a moment before we’re sweating up the climb of Win Hill. Like all Peak riding, the sheer number of users on each trail at busy times means that they rarely qualify as singletrack in the true sense of the word – is there a collective noun for lots of bits of singletrack going the same direction? But it’s nothing if not sociable to have several parallel bits of trail. Climbs are ridden side by side and downhills become dual decenders, hopping ruts shoulder to shoulder to find the sweetest line, only to find it can abruptly stop and any advantage gained is lost in a squeal of brakes.

The descent from Hollins Cross starts innocuously enough, but when it enters the trees it takes on another character altogether. I’m sent off first and make the schoolboy error of attacking the rocky gully like it’s a fire track only to be confronted with pram sized boulders. An emergency wheelie gets me out of the rocks and into the softer dirt at the edge of the gully. Cue sheepish face as I look back to see Craigy and Chipps grinning, still standing only 8ft away. With a little more reserve the rest of the decent pans into a phenomenal piece of Peak riding. The trail is about 6ft wide
but wall to wall boulders, a safe line has you switching from side to side, using the perimeter banks to launch and bounce across the trail on the next pass. Momentum is definitely a good thing, falling is not an option.

issue31pic6I’ve ridden this trail a few times and Nick has well over a decade of experience on it but we’re both informed at the bottom by a grinning Chipps that we have just ridden the Beast, “the worst descent in Derbyshire”. Sounds about right.

Time is now pressing on and thoughts are already turning to the promised café stop nestled over the next ridge with detour-worthy flapjacks. But it’s a brutal few minutes to get there as the climb up past Hagg Bank farm proves to be a complete bastard. A steep, switchbacking shattered cart track pulls straight onto the top. Climb this in one go and you
deserve extra portions of tea and cake. The café proves to be an all consuming focus as a super fast rocky descent is barely noticed in the hunt for food. Lunchtime came and went ages ago with only a Go Bar to mark its passing, and with one rapidly softening rear tyre, the hammer went down to get there. The Ladybower visitors’ centre, apart from its famous flaps, could never be classed as a top café stop destination, but the cup of tea hits every spot going. And once the flock of marauding ducks had found people actually willing to feed them, it’s a perfectly pleasant place to deal with pools of liquid latex and already bust spare innertubes. And if one particularly persistent Mallard is suffering the
after effects of his Stan’s No Tubes meal, then it serves the blighter right, hissing and pecking a chap when all he wants is a cup of tea.

Mumbling in the ranks

issue31pic7The first mutterings of discontent can be heard about now too. We’ve been out for a long time, and there’s still a lot of finger smudged line to rack up before we’re due to turn for home. Craigy’s sage words are ringing true, and so the Big Girls Blouse option is called into action, a mere five hours will have to be enough for today. Half the final loop will be lost (for today at least), and a mile long death march up the A57 will have to be endured, but it’s definitely the right call for us.

The last off road of the day is every bit as sweet as the rest, a narrow bit of undulating singletrack, heading for home via ‘Cutthroat Bridge’. It’s with regret that we turn away from the loop and stand beside the commuter hell, waiting for a lull in traffic. Crossing this road earlier in the ride provided an opportunity to pour scorn on any fool riding this god forsaken road. According to Nick, your average rep charges up like a Tour de France rider, only the tipple of choice is Red Bull this time, although I suspect there maybe some testosterone flying around too. Either way, the company cars nail this little road like Colin McRae. Tensions are high, Craigy needs to get down to racing weight and disappears off for a start-line piss, returning with an empty discarded can of Red Bull to neatly illustrate his point.

issue31pic8The early headwind is now very much in our favour as we’re blown back towards Sheffield without losing any of our number under Ford Mondeos and a blessed side road appears. Despite the fact that it’s firmly tarmaced with not a hint of dirt, this proves to be something of a treat. It crests a gently sloping ridgeline, plunging straight back into the heart of the city, views of a magnitude to rival any Peak if you’re that way inclined. The sun is firmly out and the wind is blowing at the same speed as us, creating a noiseless riding bubble so we spread into formation across the road, chatting over the day’s events, pedalling effortlessly, the drudgery of the city now strangely appealing after five hours of suffering.

So why would anyone do this entire ride when it’s essentially a great Peak District route sandwiched between an hour or so playing in the lanes at either end? By all means drive to Ladybower and finish your ride surrounded by ducks and eating flapjack. In the middle of winter I’ll probably join you, but in my opinion the trails will be that bit less sweet and the views less impressive, for having jumped in the car to get there.issue31pic10

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East Midlands