Updated: Sep 8, 2020
It's pretty clear to me now that the reason Komoot has the Pennine Cycle Way as the toughest in the UK is because of the unrelenting nature of the hills in this country. Over the past seven days with a few exceptions, most days have been climb, descend, recover, climb. The overall total climbing may not match a visit to the Alps or Girona, but it is the fact that the hills are never ending that makes this so hard. We finally reached a point today where whichever one of us rounded an uphill corner first almost immediately shouted 'Oh for fucks sake' to warn the other that we were still going up and hadn't reached the top yet.
We already knew that getting out of Holmfirth this morning was going to hurt. Just like yesterday, we managed a whole 100m of flat road before hitting a short climb that reached 18%. This was just the start of another 4km of climbing up above the town. Or it should have been because after the steep part when we had settled in at just the 8%, we were stopped by resurfacing work. Rachel batted her eyelids and they agreed to let us through if we walked on the grass verge as the road was either being scraped, sprayed with hot tar, tarmaced or rolled for two kilometres up the hill. Sticking to the narrow verge was no fun (or easy feat frankly) but once we finally got past the work men we could see the need for the work. The untreated road was a patchwork quilt of potholes and repaired potholes. There can't have been any original road left.
We got to ride the final 500m before turning towards Winscar reservoir where luckily for me Rachel found yet another chatty local waiting to share her life story. [At this point if you are young enough feel free to insert your own Sponge Bob meme - 'two hours later']. Rachel's cheery companion told us it's not much of a climb then all downhill to Hadfield. Funnily enough this turned out to be bullshit as after the climb we were directed onto the moors for 45 minutes of bouncing over gravel, rocks, grass and marsh land all seemingly either uphill or scary downhill. On reflection I think we had transfered to the Transpennine Cycle Way, a mountain bike track, an easy mistake to make I think, he says covering his own arse. Eventually we came out near the Woodhead reservoir and enjoyed a bit of flat trail while the muscles in our forearms unknotted. The trail finished in Hadfield where we enjoyed yet another glamorous pavement cafe lunch.
Hadfield was followed by Glossop, New Mills and Whalley Bridge. All of which inexplicably had been built at the bottom of a valley but with interconnecting roads that only went over the tops of bloody big hills. By this stage Rachel was finding myriad reasons to stop and faff about or talk to locals. At one point she was invited for a guided tour of a garden by an old woman, which she took. Somehow these multiple stops have induced a pavlovian response in me and I have been pissing in bushes all over the north of England like an over excited golden retriever.
We had become very familiar with the NCN68 style by now of course; if you are going up a hill and almost at the top, but can see a small side road going up another hill, then that's where the NCN route will go. For no good reason other than sheer sadism. The one of of Whalley Bridge towards Buxton was particularly harsh and reached a dead end with only two options, both of which were bridleways. A local pulled up in minivan and advised us against option A - the official route. He said it was better to go back down and reroute than risk it. There was no way we were going back for any reason, so we went for option B, a waterlogged bridleway, followed by an illegal tramp through a farmers field before throwing our bikes over a barbed wire fence and then riding the main road to Buxton.
Buxton turned out to have more bad drivers than anywhere else we had been all week and was a horrible reminder of how shit it can be to ride on the roads in Britain. One guy turned left across the front of me a high speed and I was saved only by luck and disc brakes. A furious Rachel chased him down and got into a very sweary argument with the driver, who turned out to be yet another stoned idiot who shouldn't be on the road. Still I couldn't help thinking 'that's my girl'.
Buxton to Parsley Hay was turning into a slog and got worse when we turned onto a section of Derbyshire's strada bianchi. And then it wasn't. The final right turn off the cattle track put us onto the Dowlow Trial, a disused railway line that merges with the Tissington Trail. This final 23km today was glorious. Almost all downhill and probably the fastest hour we have ridden all week. The views were amazing in the evening sun and even the fact that Rachel had a puncture 1km from the end didn’t put a dampener on the day. It was tinged with a bit of regret though, for me at least, when I thought about the fact the adventure is nearly over. There's only 22km of the NCN68 left as finish in Etwall and we are not bothering to ride to Derby station, where the route officially starts and finishes. I am planning to complete the journey home to Warwick, but I'm not sure if Rachel fancies the extra 80 kilometres. She's already beaten her own records for distance covered, meters of climbing and number of consecutive days ridden. Obviously I could add to that the number of hedges commented upon, the number of cakes eaten in a week, the frequency and volume of swearing. And of course, the number of chamois cream tubs lost she has lost. But I'm over it.