Being of the disposition to be constantly scouring over maps, mostly of my local area, in the constant hunt for new roads, lanes, tracks and bridleways to ride, inevitably one finds that the original boundaries one holds become more and more relaxed in relation to what can be defined as rideable.
Having ridden pretty much every nook and cranny in the local area that conforms to one such definition, and never tiring of looking at the map in fear of having missed some gem of a bridleway or farm track that is hiding in-between lanes that have been ridden a thousand times before, eventually, one’s eyes settle on some part that would never have passed for ride worthy while the surrounding lanes laid untouched by my tyres. Having put it to my good friend Mark that Crowden Clough, near Edale, would be worth a crack, then really there was nothing left to do or consider but to go do it and see whether it really was a good idea. Why not? Might as well…
Wednesday, mid-week, was the chosen day for our excursion, to avoid the now standard mass hoards that pile into the Peak District every weekend with their cars and pristine down jackets, especially in the Hope Valley and surrounding area. It was the day after the Autumn Equinox and the sky, clouds and light had taken a distinct turn towards the grey, brown, misty-moody tones of the Autumn slope into Winter. It was however still remarkably warm and I was able to quite comfortably ride out from Sheffield in a t-shirt despite the rain. The route taken was the shortest line along the roads. Roads which we have both ridden an infinite amount of times before and this familiarity gave the ride a funny feeling when coupled with the knowledge that the day would take a distinctly different flavour come the far point. Having walked and scrambled up Crowden Clough some years ago, I had an inkling of what we were in for, we decided to pack some belay rope on Mark’s front rack, just in case. But this walk was some years ago now and the memory somewhat softened and, in truth, walking alongside a bike is a totally different undertaking than simply just walking.
As we approached Barber Booth and then Upper Booth from the north side of Mam Tor the road began to rise and it was at this point we knew the climb up to the top of Kinder Scout was on.
Reaching a farmhouse where several paths that interact with Kinder meet, including Jacobs Ladder of the Pennine Way, we dismounted for the first time to take the footpath directly northward towards the clough. The tree-covered path, situated in a small crevice with a stream at the bottom, was narrow and required some creative pushing and stepping in order to thread oneself and bike between the edge of the path and the bushes. We rose from the crevice, were able to ride a short distance before lifting ourselves over a stile. Remounting for a few hundred metres over some grass gave me the illusion that perhaps we might be able to ride more of this than I had originally thought. Back under tree cover we had the stream to step over and here I put my foot deep into soft, wet mud on the other side. Better to be liberated from aspirations of keeping clean early, I say, avoids tentativeness later on.
Traversing the next stile, and quickly the next, after being seen off by some curious or perhaps protective cows, the real nature of the clough came into sharp focus, despite the growing mist.
For the next half-mile or so the gradient ramped up and so did the rocks and boulders. The climb to the top was essentially a series of small walks and bike lifts over or onto the next boulder. We stopped every now and again to rest, as the strain in our shoulders and arms built up and up like the slopes of the clough. Although long views were not on offer today, the clough nevertheless looked spectacular in it’s misty brown tones. I must say I much prefer the moodiness of the hills on days like these, they appear more brooding and stoic than when in full sun.
Eventually, after several stream hops and a bracken filled excursion, we had slowly chipped our way up to the steepest slopes near the top. Here, we were forced off and away from the ‘main path’, to avoid the more sheer section that would require us to employ the rope we both knew we didn’t want to use. Our arms felt like we’d dragged half the boulders up there with us. The rise now resembled a staircase. Each step, sloping sharply upwards, was at least above knee height from the last, requiring great lifts and rest for each metre or so of ground covered. Each lift seemed to take what would surely be the last remaining ounce of strength and was now vocalised with grunts and exasperated moans, but we pressed on.
It was at this point we heard voices following us, making quick progress up the Clough. Easily rounding and mounting each boulder as it came, they seemed to be gliding up as we, hunched over and resting once more, observed them. “Where are their bikes?” Mark asked.
Their voices were crystal clear travelling up the Clough, could they hear or see us? What would they make of us two, heaving our heavy touring bikes up over this blatantly non-cycling friendly terrain.
We pressed on, eventually reaching a levelling off at Crowden Tower with a smooth rock ledge to pause and survey our feat from, before returning to the main scramble path of water smoothed gritstone platforms. We reached the plateau top, looked back again at the stunning and moody scene and then set about making a bit of lunch. A nice spot was found on a shallow grassy hollow, walled in by heather and peat. Stoves out for sausage sandwiches and coffee, devoured atop an old yellow rain cape Mark had brought along. The lack of wind and air thick with moisture meant it was near to silent up there and when holding oneself still, only the trickle of the stream could be heard.
Packing up, we left the tranquil rest spot and after a bit of rooting around in the heather and peat found the main path to Golden Clough which we had decided to use to get back down to Edale and onto tarmac once more.
Over the tops we were able to remount intermittently over the sandy paths, jumping off to lift over the more rugged sections. It was a relief to remount up there, not just because it granted our strained bodies some light relief to all the twisted pushing and lifting that had come before, but also to justify actually bringing our bikes up there at all, as oppose to leaving them at the bottom and coming back for them later on. This was a bike ride after all, it’s just that this section of it probably only contained about five hundred metres or so of riding.
Upon reaching the top of Golden Clough, which rises from the village of Edale and is one of the main routes up to Kinder Scout, we realised that this was not going to be the best way down. This Clough was even more rocky and jagged than Crowden and we feared that while the strain on our bodies would be no greater than when climbing, our bikes might not survive the bashing and clattering they would inevitably take as we descended down.
Instead, we diverted ever so slightly up to Grindslow Knoll before another section of intermittent riding. Sheep ushered themselves off left and right before us and then the gradient sharply turned downward towards Grindsbrook Booth and Edale. If the challenge of getting up to the top of Crowden was just keeping moving, then getting down was one of not gaining too much momentum and letting the bike get away without you. Most of the descent was spent alongside the bike, hands on the drops, with fingers firmly on the brakes. If one ever got tempted to try and manage the bike down without the aid of the brakes, you soon had a runaway train carriage to contend with as it clattered down the rocky path. Patience was the name of the game here. Indeed, so much was the reliance on the brakes that I went straight to my local bike shop, before even going home, to purchase new blocks, such was the toll it took on my existing ones.
Reaching two final gates, the rocks were gone, and we were able to remount and glide past flocks of sheep over a grassy field. A smooth track followed before hitting that black stuff they call tarmac once again. Happily, a campsite café right at the bottom of the clough meant we could nip straight in for a coffee and cake top up before starting the journey home. As we sat there with muddy and slightly bloody knees on a picnic bench, several walkers passed by offering nods and ‘hellos’. It was now lightly raining again and one walker opined that it “wasn’t a very nice day for riding a bike”, “but it was for walking in the hills” Mark countered.
Finishing up, we got back on our bikes and rode home, the same way we came. After what we had just done the tarmac felt impossibly easy and we seemed to just glide up to Surprise View above Hathersage and then Fox House before the long and gentle descent to Sheffield. “Good that” we agreed before splitting up to go to our respective homes. I suppose my definition of what is rideable hasn’t changed too much even after that, but there certainly is a lot more that is do-able on the map now, that’s for sure.
Words – Ben Brown
Pictures – Ben Brown & Mark Hudson