Three out of five ain’t bad…

The Peak Audax Wednesday Marple grimpeur series features five rides around thePeak District. At 100km each, these sit on the shorter side of all things audax. Don’t let that fool you though. Each ride carries at least two AAA points, signifying a minimum of 2000m climbing. This year I hoped to ride the full series, but that didn’t quite go to plan!

Dark Peak

Each of the rides begins by collecting your brevet card from the back of a car at the memorial car park and finishes up at the Ring O’Bells pub. The Dark Peak starts the series, and sends you off towards the first control on the far side of Holme Moss.

Weather-wise, this was a ride of two halves. As the sun blazed for the first few climbs, thoughts went to forgotten sunscreen and there was talk of iced coffee. That all changed on the climb out of Holme valley! As the clouds came in, bringing drizzle, my plan to stop at Bank View cafe in Langsett could not have been better timed. I ducked in as the rain started, immediately ordering beans on toast and a large pot of tea.

As my food arrived, so did a couple of Northern Roll riders I’d met earlier. It was a day of firsts for them. Both on their first audax and, for one, their first fish finger butty! The rain really set in as we tucked into lunch and chatted away about northern delicacies (pie barm anyone?) and the route that lay ahead.

It was hard to leave the cafe, but we finally set off for a soggy slog to the next control in Edale. The route takes in Mortimer Road with it’s switchbacks and stabby climbs. Despite being a bit greasy, we made it over to Strines and down Snake Pass to Ladybower without too much trouble. Along the way we leapfrogged a large bunch of riders on a charity ride to London. This made for good conversation and cheers of encouragement from their support crew.

We’d caught the occasional glimpse of Mam Tor, the last big climb, as we rode through Strines. By the time we hit the backroads to Hope, the shivering hill had all but disappeared as the heavens opened further up the valley. There were cracks of lightning, rumbles of thunder and wave after wave of heavy rain, but still we trundled on. 

I normally end up riding this sort of event alone but having some company made things a lot easier. We dawdled at the controls, stopped to talk to other riders and took pictures where we could. There was much deliberation about whether to put jackets on or not, plenty of snacking, jokes and sharing tips to avoid the drying-stench of our now-sodden shoes. 

All the other riders were long gone by the time we got to the pub. Instead we were welcomed with a brief hailstorm. Pints were skipped in favour of one last push back to Manchester. All in all, a good day out on the bike.

West Peak

I missed the second and third events in the series. Forgetting to enter one, and a bit of a funny tummy for the next. So let’s skip ahead to the fourth in the series: the West Peak grimpeur. 

I haven’t ridden the West Peak before but know the roads from growing up in the area. To keep things interesting, I decided to put my own little spin on the route. While some audax events have a mandatory route, many are simply a selection of control points with a suggestion of how to get between them. This allows the odd detour for a bit of sightseeing, or maybe an extra cafe stop, as long as you keep within the time limits. On this occasion I wanted to include a handful of bridleways and get a round of biketag in. 

The ride sets off towards Pott Shrigley and then onto Macclesfield Forest. There were 30-odd riders out and a very mixed group. On these rides you’ll find a range of bikes kitted out in everything from weathered Carradice bags to lightweight bikepacking luggage. Riders are equally varied, from threadbare jumpers to the latest performance fabrics. I even spotted a set of SPD sandals! 

My first main detour came at Macc Forest. Rather than heading straight up the road, I opted for the forest bridleway under Shutlingsloe. These detours are always a trade off. In this case, extra climbing to avoid a handful of cars. As I looked back, the clouds settled on the top of the surrounding hills and would stay there for the rest of the day.

The next leg, from Wildboarclough to Gun Hill, seemed to take forever. I bailed early into my lowest gear and crawled along. The organiser was waiting at the top and I caught a group of well-seasoned randonneurs. We chatted briefly, then it was time to go. A speedy descent was followed by another long climb out of Thorncliffe. I hung onto the group for a while, but lost them before the top. That said, it soon wouldn’t have mattered if they were 10 metres away or 10,000 as visibility was so poor. It’s a beautiful time of year to be in the peaks, the heather’s out, the grass is green… at least that’s what I’ve been told.

I was lucky to catch a tiny gap in the clouds on the descent to Warslow. This ~5km stretch had me grinning ear to ear. It’s a cracking bit of road, almost entirely straight, wide and quiet. 10/10, would ride again. From there there were some ups, downs and a pesky headwind. A quick lunch of double-stuffed Oreos and a coke kept me going for a while. 

Finally I reached the control at Flash, searching for the price of a 20kg bag of coal as proof of passage. From here I took another detour. This one served two purposes: first a quick snap above Chrome Hill for biketag, then some fresh gravel on the White Peak Loop into Harpur Hill.

From there it was onto Buxton, down into the Goyt valley and up The Street. Again, visibility dropped. There was a lot of grinding, grunting and groaning knees as I hauled myself up to Pym Chair. 

The final detour came after passing Lyme Park. Despite a few nettles and wooden waterbars early on, Green Lane was a nice way into Disley. Despite being gravel, it was in much better state than Buxton Old Road with it’s pothole-riddled speed bumps. There was a final push up onto Marple Ridge, before coasting to the pub finish. A hard day out, but definitely worth it.

Staffs Peak

Last but not least, the Staffs Peak Super Grimpeur. Despite having the most climbing of the lot, this ride has always been one of my favourites. This year, a couple of major road closures meant a variation in the route. We wiggled around Kerridge to avoid the waterboard works. The climb out of the Goyt Valley traded for a trundle up Long Hill to avoid tree felling. Throughout the day, we encountered several unplanned diversions, as roadworks popped up here and there. The good weather seemed to have turned the council’s tarmac-laying up to 11. For the most part we were waved through and did get some long, if slightly sticky, car-free stretches.

I only made one intentional detour (from a detour!) this time. Taking the Old Road to Buxton, rather than Long Hill. I’d give this one 5/10. It’s a quieter climb, but a fairly mediocre bridleway at the top. 

The Staffs Peak might not have the steepest climbs or the sharpest descents in the series, but it’s still a tough ride. Despite some cracking scenery, I didn’t stop for photos. I knew my best bet was to just keep plugging away, slow and steady, through the day. 

I cocked up navigation at the end. Attempting to take the alternate route through Pott Shrigley I ignored the computer and went off my mental map of the lanes. Turns out this is a little rusty. I soon found myself back in Bollington, at the bottom of a climb I’d just done. Legs were unimpressed. 

I finally got myself back on track and crawled into the pub for a well deserved pint (or two…).

A big thanks to all the organisers and volunteers involved in putting on this series. Overall I had a great time and would highly recommend these routes. If you can’t make the midweek runs, they’re available as permanents too, along with a handful of other hilly routes in that area. Check out Peak Audax for more information. With a bit of luck, I’ll be back next year for the full set…

Words and pictures – Andrew Kirsfelds

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