The Wall of Shibden and other such delights

It was great to be in Yorkshire, notwithstanding the awful weather and threat of sudden localised lockdowns. We were staying north of Bradford, not far from Haworth where it is all rolling hills and grippy tarmac and cobbles and dilapidated mills. I love it there and visit regularly because it is where Mum lives and if I don’t visit then I’ll lose a third of my readership.

I planned my second ride to take into account alleged better weather. The wind dropped, but it was still pretty wet and miserable. I wanted to have a look at Shibden Wall, a famous cobbled climb which crests up above Halifax before throwing you down a cobbled descent into the town. Simon Warren rates it highly, it might even be in his first book of climbs. To get to it you need to drop down into a very steep sided valley, then up a glorious bit of smooth tarmac called Lee Lane. Halfway up there is a brutal transition into classic Yorkshire cobbles, right at the steepest bit.

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Dropping down into the valley towards Lee Lane
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The big left-hander on Shibden Wall

It’s worth saying that people love a good UK cobbled climb, but a lot of them a pretty much a waste of time, namely the cobbled element is the only thing they have going for them. Shibden Wall isn’t one of those. It is steep – not overwhelmingly so – and long. It has two hairpins and it gets steeper all the way; classic hill climb fare. It is probably about 13%, that’s a guess, and I can’t be bothered to google it, but this is made much worse because you can’t really get out of the saddle and it’s right on the ‘get out of the saddle’ threshold. Essentially, you’re churning over the gear, sat down, and trying to find a line. It was wet and greasy like an old chip supper when I did it, just to make matters worse. To summarise, it was hard, beautifully technical and unlike any other climb. It was quite a joyous experience. Although there were plenty of people on  t’internet who suddenly started banging on about Trooper’s Lane, also of Halifax. By my reckoning there at least 4 or so beastly cobbled climbs in and around Halifax – the other side of the Wall is Ploughman’s Lane. Put it this way, I descended on the pavement.

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Ploughman’s Lane

I climbed up out of Halifax to the desolate moorland on the road to Rochdale. I’ve been up here before at Christmas time, with needles of ice on the pylons and a solid sheen of watery glass on the reservoirs. This time I wanted to ride down Cragg Vale, just for a breather. It’s a 5 mile descent to Mytholmroyd, dropping back into the Calder valley on the way to Luddenen, so is a real blast. I wanted to have another go at Luddenden Foot, a climb I’d been near in 2012. One way out of the village was used in the National Hill Climb about 20 years ago, a huge angry beast of road clawing up the side of a mountain. However, there’s another one called Stocks Lane which is really horrid and rolls up towards Mixenden. It climbs about 650 feet in under 2 miles and is a whopper. With the benefit of a tailwind I survived the experience, but it was a close thing.

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A right handed pylon, shifting the cables 90 degrees

The moorland up above Bradford, places like Denholm Clough and Ogden, is beautiful and at times eerily empty. Everyone craves space and solitude, now more than ever, but these wild places are as quiet as anywhere I’ve been. In fact, there is a route across the highest point, called “Cold Edge Road”, and it is a transcendent place, literally lifting you up above the landscape, the sea of current anxiety, of people and places, work and furlough, fear and loathing, to a place where no-one else goes. And it is surreal, because right up at the highest point of Warley Moor you can join the Halifax Sailing club.

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Wilderness and Warley Moor
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Above Oxenhope
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Should buff out

It was a good few days.

 

The Yorkshire Cycling Federation

I went up North for the first time in a little while. I had a longstanding commitment to attend the annual YCF awards dinner as guest of honour. It’s worth mentioning that when these invites come along I’m very surprised and feel obliged to attend. I usually apologise when speaking for not being someone of greater worth or notoreity. Nevertheless, people are kind enough to ask so it suggests in its small way that something I’ve done, namely written a book, has had some impact on the lives of others, for which I’m genuinely grateful and touched. I still feel like an imposter though.

I took the bike and went out early on the Sunday morning on one of my favourite loops ever, anywhere. It’s a short but savage perambulation that runs as follows:

Allerton – Haworth – Stanbury – Wycoller – – Scar Top – Colne – Trawden – Widdop – Blade Dean – Slack Top – Heptonstall – Hebden Bridge – Peckett Well – Oxenhope – Denholm – Allerton

It translates as about 5,000 feet in 45 miles. I had three hours to spare. It was a quite tight. The climbs pitch up in brutal slices, none more so than a very narrow track up Slack Road towards Widdop, and then the most horrid death that is Wadsworth Lane and Height Road, a vile and unrelenting climb of unceasing pitch that had me reaching for gears that I didn’t have, nor will ever have. It wasn’t a case of missing the 27, I was missing a massive dinner plate on the back and an 11t on the front. I have been doing this circuit for many years. There are other rides, but it’s the one I go back to and know inside out. Some of my first longer rides after returning to cycling in my 20s were out on these roads, so it does have a certain feeling, a resonance if you like.

It’s a beautiful and utterly desolate landscape. The two things are symbiotic; the emptiness of the hills and the raw, unfettered moorland combine to transcend wherever it is you’ve pedalled from.

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The cobbled climb in Haworth which roped in the Tour
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The climb up Slack Road; it’s an absolute stinker, but it’s very beautiful. It would make a stonking hill climb. 
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Hardy hill types, about the only people I saw. 
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The view towards Widdop
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These are my favourite mileposts ever
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Moor Elephants at Oxenhope
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There was some life on the Moor, just not in human form. 

The trouble and the joy of riding in Yorkshire is the continual undulation. The Mendips, for example, are beautiful, but it’s a confined area of a certain number of square miles. Get up into West Yorkshire and it’s all like it, until you get to the Dales, then it’s even worse/better, until you get to the Lakes, at which point it’s more worser/betterer again.

I made it back with some chewing of stem, just inside the three hour window, and then hotfooted it across to Tadcaster for the shindig. There was the usual table laden with silverware and famous names.

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The Boot. 84″ fixed gear. BOSH. 
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Still discussed in reverent terms around the table by those who knew her. 
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More Beryl. 

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Mike Smith was the compere. He was very charming. I didn’t really put the name to the voice until l checked later, but he does quite a bit of Eurosport stuff and things at Manchester. They gave away a special award in honour of CA Rhodes. This year’s winners were Steve Bate and Adam Duggleby for their medals in Rio. These are incredible feats.

The Worlds are coming to Yorkshire soon. In my brief speech I mentioned how it’s easy to see it as a testament to the recent popularity of cycling. However, it’s a tribute to the success of Yorkshire Cycling over the years, the way the topography has become intertwined with the mythology of cycling within this country, a part of the national identity, a litany of names, places and things; Beryl Burton, Ben Swift, Blubberhouses, Holme Moss, the Circuit of Keighley, Dave Rayner, Malcolm Elliott, the Strines… and the beat goes on. It’s amateur sport that has led to this pinnacle of cycling. It was curious to meet people with living memory of Beryl Burton, discussing their memories of her. Up until this point she has been a mythic figure; images and anecdotes. It was vaguely reminiscent of the time I saw Karl Marx’s grave in Highgate. I realised he was was really real.

I think that this will probably be the last of the ACE related Endeavours. It’s done me well. I now have to turn my attention fully to the next project and pile on in. In the meantime, I’m going to get out on my touring bike this weekend. I’ll keep all three of you posted.

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