A long winter with nowhere to go (Girona or Gran Canaria wasnt an option really), I was craving for some much needed adventure on bikes. We decided to take a 2 week van trip up north in May in the hopes of getting in at least a bit of nice riding and the north has blessed us with some of the best weather possible. If the north was to live up to its cold and dark expectation, it was quite the opposite. Turns out the north is nothing but ace.
Packed up with our bikes (Sam took his new Factor O2 and I brought my Cervelo S Series equipped with Stayer Road Disc wheels and Panaracer tyres), snacks and other gear, we headed up north. The plan was to stay a couple of days in each of the destinations and check out some of the best climbs and roads around those areas.
Our first leg of the trip started in the Peak District as there were a couple of climbs we wanted to do including the famous Mam Tor and Winnats Pass. Both pretty punchy and are either in Top 100 official or another 100 climbs lists. Luckily for this trip I put on the 32t cassette to allow for easier climbing as I’ve been struggling with breathing at higher intensity lately. This allowed me to keep me heart rate a bit lower and actually to be able to go all the way up. On the first day, we ended up doing Mam Tor a couple of times – it’s a beautiful climb with pretty switch backs and a fairly consistent gradient. The views up top are super pretty and you can climb this one on foot too, which takes you even higher. Unfortunately, we ended up going down Winnats Pass rather than up, or maybe this was the better choice anyway!
Next up, we headed to Lincoln to visit our teammate Caz, who showed us around the area and of course we had to have a go at the famous Michaelgate. It’s a pretty short, but punchy cobbled climb which is usually a part of the annual Lincoln Grand Prix course. Sam managed to bag the KOM for one of the segments and upset some local cycling crews for losing the crown. No doubt they will be attempting to steal it back soon.
Once we left Lincoln, our place for the next few days was Yorkshire Dales. Having ridden through the dales before, I was really excited to come back for more. More of up that is. The dales are really quiet, peaceful and so beautiful – a real cycling paradise for anyone wanting to escape. On the first day we did a loop that included Lamps Moss, Buttertubs, Fleet Moss and Kidstones. Out of these 4 climbs (3 of them are in the 100 Climbs too), I must say I very much enjoyed Lamps Moss – you’re just surrounded by all the nature, valleys and it’s got a fun descent too if you are climbing from Nateby. Punchy for the last 100m, but otherwise a steady one. The sun was blazing all day and we made the most out of it with a cafe stop in Hawes before the second part of the ride. This was one of the best days out in the saddle I’ve had in a long time!
The second day we decided to go up Coal Road, which I have done before in not so great weather conditions, so I was looking forward to cycling up it in the bright morning sun. The climb although steep from the start, looked completely different and surprisingly pleasant (not talking about the gradient here). The descent is fast with a couple of tight switch backs at the end of it where it flattens out and goes through a small village. Just before we started climbing again, we found a waterfall and dipped our feet in the cold running water to cool off.
The best part of this ride (if not the best of all) was going through Barbondale, which is just the most stunning place ever. It’s surrounded by majestic river valleys and hills beside them. It’s certainly got a special place in my top cycling spots to visit, again, and again. You really have to see and ride it yourself to experience Barbondale. And if you are planning a cafe or a lunch stop, the Churchmouse at Barbon are excellent for it. They even fed 2 hungry vegans.
After the serene Dales, we drove to the Pennines as we wanted to check out the Great Dun Fell climb, which is renowned as one of the best in England. With 4.5 miles and an average of 9% gradient, it is one of the longer and harder ones out there. Nice road surface and top half being closed to traffic makes it for a fantastic climb. Did I mention it’s got a dead end too? The climb finishes at the top with a big white ball (radar and communications station), which you can see from a good distance when at the base of it. Although the climb starts gradually, it kicks up in places to 15% and eventually even up to 20% max gradient.
The morning when we climbed it was pretty hot, making it quite difficult to keep the heart rate low and I had to stop once to catch my breath before another steeper section. The stop was ridiculously good with views over the hill and surrounding areas. Asides from a few random sheep along the road and not much else in sight, there are also distance markers with 300 metres to go mostly just reminding you how slow you are going. Once you get to the top, you certainly feel like you’re on top of the world (no wonder when Great Dun Fell is in fact the highest paved road in England!). I highly recommend you check out GDF as it’s one of my new favourites and one for the list of places to come back to.
After our quick stint in the Pennines, we drove to the Lake District for a few days to soak up the last of the sun (and our holiday). We did a few smaller rides around the lakes, but eventually ran out of time to do some of the bigger climbs, so perhaps we will come back to explore more of this area sometime soon.
If I had to pick my top 3 places from this cycling trip, I would say the below are worth packing your bags and bikes for:
- Great Dun Fell, Pennines. 4.5 miles long, 8% average gradient. Proper long and epic dead end climb.
- Lamps Moss and Buttertubs, Yorkshire Dales. Both equally beautiful, why not conquer both at the same time.
- Coal Road and Barbondale, Yorkshire Dales. One is a punchy climb, other one is some Narnia kind of land.
Huge thanks to Toby from Cold Dark North for an exclusive route planning service. If you’re thinking of visiting Yorkshire, both himself and CDN are amazing sources for climbs, routes and local cafe knowledge.
For our trip we used Komoot for routes, Wahoo Roam for navigation, Hiplok Z Lok Combo for cafe stops and Laka bike insurance for peace of mind.