Usually the roadies put mileage at the top of these ride reports, but to do so here wouldn’t do this adventure justice. Travelling cross-country from the Arden Arms to Hollinsclough (between Buxton and Leek, via the highest point in Staffordshire) took us through tarmac, swamps, rocks, roots, forests, moorland, cobbles, a pub and lots of mud; so the 40-ish mile outward trip actually took the best part of a day.
Assembled at the usual spot at 9am on the Saturday were eight riders with varying quality of hardware. Dave was taking no chances and turned up on his stealthy Orange 5 ready for anything the Peaks could throw at him, but Phil was gutted because his borrowed Specialized FSR weighed about twice as much as the carbon Scott he usually rides (which was at the menders). Then there was me (Oliver) on my S-Works M5 hardtail, which I’m informed is too old to be any good, but not retro enough to be cool. Mark was on his chainsuck-afflicted On One, which he was determined to destroy so he can get a new one, while Maggie turned up on a hardtail of similar vintage but considerably better looked after. Tatjana’s elderly Marin was, like mine, so old that it pre-dates disc brakes, but I suspect hers has seen more high-performance action than mine in its life. Emmy’s jaw-dropping LaPierre, on the other hand, was immaculate - about a week old and still crispy white. Seemed a shame to get it dirty. Finally there was Peachy, who defied belief by being first up every climb despite his hardcore Norco Six weighing more than a family car. He was first down every descent too, but that’s less of a surprise.
The route out went along our usual trails towards Roman Lakes Country Park, after which a bit of mucking about and rough downhilling got us to Strines. The subsequent canal section to Whaley Bridge was the point at which I realised that either my old saddle was going to cripple me or I was going to have to ride standing up all day. The resultant mix of the two is my excuse for my grumbling (that and my lack of fitness). Thankfully for the others, the killer climb from the reservoirs in the Goyt Valley up to Shining Tor and the Cat and Fiddle was enough to silence any grumbling, as even those of us who walked some of it wouldn’t have had the spare energy.
At the top it was Mark’s turn to grumble, as the cake shop he’d been dreaming about was closed, so we had to make do with a sandwich lunch round the fire at the Cat and Fiddle, while the skies darkened outside and an evil wind whipped up a misty rain and lashed the windows. Despite it being freezing when we remounted after lunch, the fog and saturated ground added an extra dimension of craziness to the grassy drop down into the next valley - but after the long soggy climb up to Flash, some of us were dreaming of hot showers, tea and biscuits. Mark promised ultra-technical downhilling, and a small band of heroes went off to try it out, but a smaller and more sensible group went for the brew option. By the time we were clean, warm and dry they arrived at the bunkhouse having found the “technical downhills” unrideable, hence my grumbling gave way to smugness.
An evening at the Travellers Rest boozer gave us the excuse for a hilly 5km hike to stretch the legs, so the following morning we were ready for action, even if some of our riding gear was still a little damp…
The previous day’s fog had lifted and we were given the first glimpse of the stunning surroundings of where we’d stayed. The high altitude warm-up spin in the bright morning sunshine foretold a far easier day’s riding than the previous, and sure enough the first big off-road section down to Three Shire Heads was an energetic blast. Sadly this was minus Emmy, who’d had to get the train home for childcare duties, and missed the best weather! Still in glorious sunshine, our next checkpoint was Tegg’s Nose via Macc Forest, on a route Mark had cleverly devised on his GPS to avoid losing too much altitude while still enjoying some ups and downs. Just enough climbing to justify a 99 from the world’s grumpiest ice cream man at the top.
A bit more epic cross-country work and some high moorland fun above Bollington and Pott Shrigley, and then we were down on the Middlewood Way and heading for the home stretch. By the time we reached the gates of Woodbank Park, although we were coated in the mud of three different counties, it felt almost like a late summer.
With thanks to Moorside Farm bunkhouse (www.moorsidefarm.com) - £25 a head, including cooked meal, full breakfast and packed lunch. Since the Savoy and the Burj al Arab are rubbish for mountain biking, this is the best accommodation you could possibly wish for!