When Alaina invited me to join the inaugural 48 Hour Pure Peak Grit event, I initially declined. I am Dutch. I am a flatlander. I am scared of painful hills and have done my best to avoid them. I’d choose a headwind any day over a climb, taking my chances battling an invisible enemy rather than attacking a seemingly never ending wall of pain head on. Yet, after a few years of playing to my strengths and achieving some success in long distance time trialling, 2019 was to be the year of new challenges and working on my weaknesses instead.
I had a couple of great challenges lined up for July: the 500 km Ride the Trafalgar Way at the beginning of July (riding from Falmouth back to London within 24 hours) and a DIY Tour du Mont Blanc (330 km with 8,000m of climbing! in a day) at the end of July. Frankly those two rides were daunting enough. Nonchalantly squeezing in a monster 600+km with a whopping 12,000m+ of climbing, all within 48 hours would be daft, surely? Plus, quite a lot of the Peak District climbs are steep, not the long gradual gentle slopes a timetriallist might prefer. Proper mountain goat terrain. That’s not me… I had all my excuses ready.
Then, as time went by, I was hit with a serious bout of FOMO. What a shame it would be to miss out on such a beautiful ride; on the opportunity to participate in an inaugural event; on meeting 10 long-distance kick-arse women I admired? So, I changed my mind and told Alaina I would join the fun after all. It turned out to be one of the best decisions I made this year.
What is 48 hour Pure Peak Grit? Pure Peak Grit is a single ride which links together every known categorised climb in the Peak Distric and many ‘Top 100’ climbs surrounding it. The route is 380 miles long, and takes in over 13,000m of ascent. It includes at least 42 fearsome hills with gradients of between 10-25%. In this first edition of the event, 10 female riders attempted to complete the ride within 48 hours. Their self-inflicted pain brought great personal joy but also raised funds to protect the small communities, nature and wildlife of this beautiful place.
Getting to the start
On hindsight, as is so often the case, getting to the start line was the hardest part. Going into an event already sleep deprived is never a good thing, but hey ho, life happens, and you can’t always control everything. My head hit the pillow at 2am on Friday morning, after a busy week and having stayed up late working on an important presentation for a client meeting the next morning. The alarm rang at 6am on Friday morning. After breakfast and filling the car with just about any cycling clothes I might need, I drove to Bexley for a 9am meeting. By 11 am, having nailed the meeting (sigh of relief), the long car journey up to Buxton from Bexley had to be fuelled by a fair few coffee stops.
Arriving in Buxton, all the stress fell away. One by one we dripped into Rachel and Jim‘s house in the centre of Buxton. Their hospitality went over and beyond. Not only was their house open for all of us as an HQ all weekend, they also cooked us a tasty pre-ride dinner; offered beds for those who needed a place to crash; and cheered us on the finishing stretch, all amidst preparing the final bits and pieces for their mammoth Transcontinental Race.
Aside from Peta McSharry, who sadly couldn’t make it in the end, and Angela Walker, who I had ridden with once before, I hadn’t met any of the others in real life, or at least not spoken to for any length of time. Sitting around the dinner table in Rachel and Jim’s living room with the other riders – Ede Harrison, Lulu Drinkwater, Alaina Beacall, Alice Thomson, Nicky Shaw, Angela Walker, Sian Lambert, Lucy Roebuck and Debs Goddard – it was inspiring how many mile munching races and adventures we jointly had in our legs. Add to that the highs and lows of ultra races captured by photographer Rich Marshall and side kick and driver Stephen, I could have just sat around that table all night listening to everyone’s stories, dreaming to follow in some of their tracks.
But it wasn’t to be, not on this occasion at least. The clock hit 19:45 and we were due to make our way to the ride start at Buxton Central station. Jersey pockets were filled with a few more Rawvelo energy bars and gels; Garmins and Wahoos were switched on; and poor Rachel and Jim were left with the dirty dinner plates.
A group photo at Buxton Station with all riders and the people from Friends of the Peak District, the charity for which we were raising funds, a demo of how to use the Timestamp app, and a quick hug with friends who had come to see us at the start, we were off on the inaugural Pure Peak Grit event, hopefully to be back again within 48 hours.
! Warning: this is a very long blog post ! If you are interested in Pure Peak Grit as an event or as a route, it is definitely worth reading it all. Otherwise, I would recommend skipping through to the ‘Relive Flythrough’ and ‘Reflections’ at the end.
Hill 1: Lesser Lane
I had the pleasure of riding the first 70-odd km with my friend Karen, who is lucky to have the Peak District on her doorstep and the hills as her natural playground. I swear we had climbed a fair bit already before we hit the first proper climb, Lesser Lane, a mere 10km into the ride. Lesser Lane is ‘only’ 1.7km long with an average gradient of 9%, but a max of 17% and a 750m continuous stretch with a gradient of 10% or more. Nothing much, compared to the proper beasts of climbs Alaina had plotted later into the route, but nonetheless a BIG shock to the system, especially as I hit the climb way too hard in my enthusiasm. As I crested the climb I was quietly wondering how the hell I was going to conquer 42 hills, many much steeper and longer than this one, if my legs were already screaming at me on the first one?
From thereon I backed off on the climbs. This wasn’t a hill climb competition, FFS, it wasn’t even a race…. “Chill out stupid girl”!
What goes up, must come down. This ride packs in some great flowing descents as well as some trickier ones including segments such as ‘crazy steep gravelly descent’ just before you go up the Lesser Lane climb or this segment out of Whaley Bridge aptly named “not suitable for motorvehicles” on Strava. Zooming down the gravelly lane and even some cobbles, I was happy to ride with Karen who is an ace at CX and MTB. As long as I could follow her line I felt in control, even if having my more stable JLaverack with its disc brakes would have been preferable here over my twitchy Scott Foil.
Hill 2: Windgather
The next climb, Windgather, was longer (3km) but shallower (6% average) and topped out at ‘only’ 11%. The more mellow gradients, combined with the scenic views of the fascinating rock formations in the evening sun made this climb a very rewarding one, almost pleasant. Someone even loved it so much that he did an Everest attempt on it !
Once my mind was in the right frame, the rhythm started to flow, and the hills became surprisingly manageable. There were a few very steep hills where keeping momentum and torque was absolutely key. But generally, steady spinning did the trick.
Hill 3: Deadman’s / Ewrin Road Climb
1.23km long | 96m ascent | Average 8% | Cat 4. I don’t have much recollection of this climb .. anyway, it didn’t leave me for dead, so it can’t have been too bad.
Hill 4: Blaze Hill
1.96km long | 136m ascent | Average 6.9% | Cat 4. If you took these stats at face value, this climb looks fairly innocent. Check out the actual profile of the climb in the Veloviewer image below and the nasty ramp near the bottom will tell you otherwise..
Hill 5: Cat & Fiddle
Aside from a silly little sprint with Karen near the top of Cat & Fiddle – just because it felt like fun at the time – steady spinning was my motto for the ride and climb after climb was ticked off.
Cat & Fiddle was the first longer climb: 11.52km long with 391m ascent, max gradient of 10.2%, but with an average gradient of just 3.3% a ‘nice’ climb for someone like me who is more of a rouleur than a grimpeur.
The fact that it took 3 hours to cover the first 60 kilometres to the base of Cat & Fiddle, shows how lumpy this ride is immediately from the get go. Besides the 42 listed hills, there are quite a few sneaky little lumps which slow you down and sting often no less than those actual hills! Some of these lumps have hilarious names such as ‘the cow jumped over the moon’ …
Checkpoint 1: 79km – 24h Esso, South Buxton, 12 July, 23:48
The first checkpoint, a 24-hour Esso service station at the outskirts of Buxton, threw all of us Pure Peak Gritters a bit as there was an Essar service station just before it (which did actually tally with the 77.5km distance…). I even took my Timestamped picture there. It was only when I looked at the location printed on the photo that I realised I wasn’t in the right place. Duh!
A quick hug with Karen and I rolled down the road in search of ‘ the other Esso’. There was a brief pang of jealousy. Oh, the joy of a full night sleep in a comfy bed.. But there was no time for such luxuries for me … not yet, not this early into the ride. As sudden as the tantalising thought of a warm bed had come, as quickly it was replaced by the excitement of the prospect of riding through the Peaks at night.
I know many cyclists who refrain from riding at night, but for me that is the best time. Nighttime is my time! Riding at night is a bit like night diving. It is exciting and peaceful at the same time. You discover things you are not aware of during the day, such as the smell of jasmine on a summer’s night or the stink of rutting deer in autumn. You see animals that hide during the day such as badgers and owls. Sounds appear to be carried over much greater distances, no longer drowned out by the urban hustle and bustle. At night, I can pee whenever and wherever I want without worrying about causing offence to anyone. I can sing out loud, no matter how false. And I can ride up hill without worrying about the top, because all I can see is the next bend. I guess it is the simplicity of the night that I like most.
An unexpected QOM
Now on my own, I pushed onwards into the night, with my jersey pockets and Apidura bike bags filled with enough food to get me through several nights if need be.
Before the ride the other girls and I had been talking about the climbs and some had checked out the QOM times, just as a reference point. I remember me chipping in with something along the lines of, “I doubt we will be taking any QOMs and anyone who does isn’t pacing it well for this 600km hilly monster ride”. Hmmm… Guess what happened? I got an uphill QOM … Where is that monkey emoji that covers its face with its hands?
The Ditch to PBW isn’t a proper hill (just 2% average), but still nearly 3 kilometres in length. Only 34 women appear to have ridden it (of those that are on Strava that is), which is a lot less than the 982 women who have climbed the Cat & Fiddle. I hope someone takes that QOM of mine soon to make me look less stupid…
Hill 6: Axe Edge
The next proper climb, Axe Edge was 3.8km long with 176m of ascent, a max gradient of 12% and average of 4.4%. Hill climb ace Tejvan Pettinger did a nice write-up of this climb in his excellent blog ‘Cycling Uphill’ . Apparently you can get a really nice view over the Peak District from the top. Unfortunately I missed it, as it was after midnight and pretty dark by now.
Hill 7: Gun Hill
Even if I would try my hardest on fresh legs, I would never ever get a QOM on Gun Hill. It isn’t so much the profile of the climb (which is 2.27km long with 151m ascent, max gradient of 13% and average of 6.7%), but the super strong women who have ridden up Gun Hill. The QOM is held by Elisa Longho Borgini, set during the Ovo Women’s Tour in 2017 with Ellen van Dijk and Dani Row hot on her heels. The actual QOM that was up for grabs during that race wasn’t even won by Elisa Longho Borgini. With a time nearly twice as fast as my slow slug up Gun Hill, there were still 4 other professional cyclists who beat her to the top of the climb, with Lucinda Brands taking the full 10 points…. Such a different world …
Apparently Gun Hill is notorious for once having made Mark Cavendish cry on a training ride. He must have been having a really bad day. Eventhough I was a hell of a lot slower than the pro women, it really isn’t such a tough climb.
Hill 8: FourWays Climb
According to Alaina’s crib sheet the next ‘proper’ climb wouldn’t be until Fourways Climb (1.18km long, with 85m ascent, max gradient of 15% and average gradient of 7.1%). In reality the climb is nearly twice as long and starts a little earlier as it climbs through Wincle. Be warned. Oh and one segment that forms part of the climb is called ‘Steep. Effing Steep’.
Hill 9: Flash
My memories of this climb are a bit blurry, but the climb statistics are not too scary: 3.14km long | 186m ascent | Max 9.3% | Average 5.9%. With Flash being the highest village in Britain, I am sure the views from the top are amazing. I may need to come back during daylight and stop for a coffee and a cake at the local shop/café near the top !
Hill 10: Hollinsclough Rake Climb
1.19km long | 90m ascent | Average 7.6% | Cat 4. Ouch, this one can really put you in the pain cave if you don’t pace yourself. It isn’t that long but has a really steep mid-section of 390 meters with a gradient of 27%. It is no coincidence that it forms part of the Buxton Mountain Time Trial.
Hill 11: Crowdecote
0.88km long | 82m ascent | average 9.3% | max 20% | Cat 4. This hill snaking out of Crowdecote is not particularly long, but fairly harsh. Snailing up this climb at 03:30am, I had the benefit of not seeing very well how steep the steepest section actually was. Ignorance is bliss …
Hill 12: TOB Morridge
1.89km long | 106m ascent | average 5.5% | max 11.2% | Cat 4. As the name suggests, this climb has featured in the Tour of Britain. On paper it was to be the final climb before checkpoint 2. In reality, there were ‘just’ a few more inclines right before and after this climb. Despite its length and gradient, B5054 Leek Road Climb (3.92km at an average of 4%) apparently isn’t a real climb; yet the real climb (TOB Morridge) starts immediately after this ‘gentle’ slope. Other inclines such as School Lane Climb (0.72km at 6% average) and Douse Lane (1.02 km at 12% average), don’t make the cut either …
Checkpoint 2: 177.5km, Jervis Arms Pub, Onecote, 04:29, 13 July
Whilst I had still bumped into some of the other girls during the first night, by the morning it had been several hours of nothing but blissful loneliness. I do like company, but also enjoy being by myself, especially at night. I arrived at checkpoint 2 just after dawn had broken.
My water bottles were totally empty after a night route that didn’t pass many opportunities to refill bottles. Luckily I randomly hit gold, finding a water tap at the back of a wedding barn (Damgate Farm), just a few miles up the road from the Jervis Arms Pub which sadly did not have an outdoor tap.
It is funny how quickly your mood can change on a ride like this. Now that I had ample of water again, I didn’t have anything to worry about anymore. The sun was coming up. I was surrounding by amazing countryside. Life was good.
Hill 13: Parsons Lane Climb
1.36km long | 80m ascent | average 5.9% | max 11.4 % | Cat 4. Onwards and upwards. Hills for breakfast. Parsons Lane Climb is pretty tame compared to most of the other climbs on this ride. A nice easy one to get back into the climbing rhythm with again.
Hill 14: Larkstone Lane
1.9km long | 126m ascent | average 7% | max 25% | Cat 4. Like some of the other hills on this ride, Larkstone Lane is listed in Simon Warren’s book of 100 greatest cycling climbs in the UK. It gets a 6/10 difficulty rating.
Climbing out of the gorge created by the River Manifold, the base of the climb has a gentle slope, but as you hit the hairpin the gradient gets pretty steep (25%), followed by a 20% stretch and another nasty steep corner. However, the gradient (which mellows out a bit after this) is only part of the story of this climb. What makes it even more challenging is the road surface, which is fairly deteriorated and interspersed with some cattle grids. Larkstone Lane is also pretty narrow, but at silly o’clock in the morning, I luckily didn’t meet a single car on it. The views are pretty good though and, as it is such a quiet lane, it isn’t a bad place for a pee stop either.
Hill 15: Ilam Moor Lane Climb
1.27km | 91m ascent | average 7.2% | Cat 4. This climb starts from the centre of the village of Ilam. You come into it with plenty of speed from the fast descent into Ilam. I believe riding this climb the other way around would be much harder and possibly how the route was intended ?
Hill 16: The Rake
Shortly after Ilam, the route brought us to Ashbourne. From there it is another 35 kilometre before the next ‘listed’ climb, but as you can see from the route profile, there was plenty of undulation in between…
The Rake, which climbs out of Monyash, is 1.66km in length, with 86m of ascent, an average gradient of 5.2%, max gradient of 8.4%, and listed as Cat4. It is a pretty easy climb and not to be confused with the much harder Rake near Ramsbottom, which is a steep ‘classic’ British hill with an average gradient of 12% and max of gradient 23%.
Checkpoint 3: 249km, All Saints Church, Bakewell, 08:17, 13 July
Arriving in Bakewell was nice. This was one of the few places on the Pure Peak Grit route I had visited before when doing some end of season riding with Chris Melia a few years ago. It is one of those places you could easily spend a bit more time in, enjoying a cup of tea and some cake, but not on this occasion. After a bit of a delay and a search for how to get up to the church to make the Timestamped selfie as proof of passage, I only called in for a pretty uninspired Jet petrol station stop. I can’t even remember what I bought. Such a pity. Note to self: ‘must return to Bakewell for a proper stop’. Then again, Bakewell is one of those places that is likely to be rammed on a Saturday afternoon.
Hill 17: Rowsley Bar
Fellow Pure Peak Gritter, Angela Walker, had made a great overview of potential food stops, including vegetarian options. One of the places on her list was Caudwell’s Mill Vegetarian cafe, in Rowsley, some 253 km into the route. Unfortunately I got there too early (it doesn’t open until 10am) and with Rowsley Bar, a 1.07km long climb, with 135m of ascent, average gradient of 13% and max gradient of 25%, coming up immediately after the village as you right up Chesterfield Lane, it probably wouldn’t have been the best place to stop either way.
This climb felt tough. Having been awake since 6am on Friday now and having slept only 4 hours during the night from Thursday on Friday, I could start to feel the fatigue and it was hard to get my heart rate back up after the cold night. Consequently, I couldn’t raise my power much either, which made the climb a bit of a slog.
The climb is steep straight away; the road surface is rough, with some lovely drainage grilles in the gutter and splattered with a bit of mud from the farms lining the road. Add a couple of vicious (25%) hairpins and you got a proper challenge. The top section is far from flat either; a proper sting in the tail. My average speed up this climb was barely more than walking pace. I may be a bit faster on fresh legs and with some more sleep, but I doubt it would make much of a difference.
Here is an interesting, if slightly sick-making, video of the climb. Apart from the hairpins, the video doesn’t quite give away how steep the climb is. You kind of get the idea though from the swaying (out of saddle climbing style) and if you watch the rider’s power.
Hill 18: Oldfield Lane
0.76km | 121m ascent | average 15.9% | max 29.7% | Cat 4. Short and bloody steep. The steepest part is near the church. Like most people, I took a break at the church. A chance to admire the surroundings, remove a few layers, catch my breath and gather some strength for the next uphill push. I was going to write final uphill push, but on this route you know there is always another incline waiting around the next bend…
Hill 19: Lees Road Climb
1.32km | 97m ascent | average 7.2% | Cat 4. This climb starts pretty much immediately after Oldfield Lane. This is where all riders had to make a little deviation on the day. Alaina had plotted the route taking a left turn in Stanton Lees and arriving in Stanton in Peak via Lees Road climb and Birchover Road. A landslide on the section meant the road was closed and we had to take a little deviation turning right up Lees Road instead.
Hill 20: Stanton in Peak
1.13km | 98m ascent | average 8.6% | Cat 4. The deviation meant we (or I did at least) missed out on this climb, approaching Stanton in Peak from the other direction which still packed in a 10% average gradient over 750 meters.
Hill 21: Hell Bank / Beeley
After a good 2 kilometers of a fun and super fast descent, I was suddenly faced with a steep incline after a sharp right hand turn. The combined Cat 3 climbs of Hell Bank (the name says it all) and The Beeley Breaker are 2.59km long with 182 vertical meters, an average gradient of 7.0% and max gradient of 14.4%. It is steeper near the bottom but then become a steady climb and eases off towards the top. It climbs up to the Moor and can be quite exposed to the wind, but luckily not so much when I rode up it.
Hill 22: Curbar Edge
After another long descent and some welcome flattish kilometers, it was time for another climb that is listed in Simon Warren’s 100 Climbs: Curbar Edge: 1.8km | 182 m ascent | average 10% | max 16% | Cat 4. It has been used for the annual British University Cycling (BUCS) hill climb championships.
The steepest section of the climb is near the bottom, but after a steep right-hand bend it eases off and become a bit more gentle, albeit long climb. It was getting hot now, but the scenery (very green and dramatic rocks) combined with the knowledge that the next checkpoint was at the top of this climb, kept me motivated.
Checkpoint 4: 300km, Curbar Gap car park, 11:14am, 13 July
Finally over the false flat near the top, I treated myself to a slightly longer ice cream stop at Jolly’s mobile cafe at the checkpoint which was busy with walkers, cyclists and even horse riders. The surrounding landscape here is pretty amazing. One day, I need to come back for a long walk or off-road ride to take it in properly.
Hill 23: Climbing Up!
0.93km | 94m ascent | average 9.5% | Cat 4. What a stupid name for a climb. What other way can you climb on a bike ? The most interesting and fun part of this climb was the descent.
Hill 24: Longstone Edge
2.19km | 154m ascent | average 6.9% | max 14% |Cat 4. This one starts steep and then eases off. The road (Moor Road) is a bit narrow, and feels more like a lane, with some cattle grids for good measure. Although only officially 2.2km in length, the climb is preceded by almost 6 kilometers of ‘undulation’, so when by the time I got to the top it felt like I had been climbing forever!
I wish I had a video camera running throughout this part of the ride to capture the views. The absolute best view is to the right as you contour along the edge.
This pretty climb forms part of the 17 mile long Circuit of Longstone Edge Hilly Time Trial. I always said I would never do any hilly TTs or hill climbs, but I may make an exception for this one.
Hill 25: Monsal Head
Another Top 100 climb: 0.46km | 58m ascent | average 13.5% | max 16%. This was one of the climbs I had been dreading, if only for the fact that Alaina’s crib sheet had it down at a max gradient of 31%! I had fully anticipated to be walking up this one, but luckily it was a lot less steep in reality and I managed to drag my tired body up it without putting a foot down. Long live a lightweight carbon road bike with a compact chainset and an 11-36 cassette!
As you can see in the Veloviewer image below, this short climb starts gentle, but then kicks up so it is important not to push too hard on the pedals nearer the start. Sheffrec CC organises a popular and long running hill climb event on Monsal Head.
Hill 26: Beast of Bradwell
1.4km | 151m ascent | average 10.8% | max 14.1% | Cat 4.
The dreaded BEAST …. lived up to its name. The tough thing about this climb that is lined with pretty drystone walls, is that is never drops much below 11%. One of the female cyclists I follow on twitter got in touch before the ride saying she lives half-way up this climb and may come out to cheer if timings worked out. Pretty as the views may be, I am not sure I would want to ride up that climb regularly!
Once on top, I was glad the route stayed up high for a while. It was mid-afternoon by now, with plenty of sunshine and clear skies. I felt proud for having conquered the Beast. This part definitely was one of the high points of my ride.
Hill 27: Winnats Pass
The long descent into Castleton was beautiful and smooth, too smooth. I nearly felt my eyes close on the bike and decided to stop for a quick power nap in the grass in the sun by the side of the road in Castleton before continuing towards the next climb: Winnats Pass.
15-20mins of sleep/rest and a bit of a Rawvelo gel did the trick; I was still slow, but at least able to keep my eyes open.
Winnats Pass is 1.71km long with an average gradient of 12% and a max gradient of 20%. It is by far the most dramatic climb on the route. Nothing quite matches this majestic landscape. Unfortunately, the pass is very popular with people visiting by car too. The climb itself isn’t that difficult. The winding road and the views keep your mind off the pain, but constantly being narrowly overtaken by car drivers and even being stuck behind a slow moving queue of cars snaking their way up, distracts a little from the fun. I would love to return here early in the morning for a different experience from the afternoon rush. Photographer Rich Marshall did a great job though and somehow managed to get a picture of me coming up the climb without any cars in view !
Hill 28: Peaslows
1.6km | 248m ascent | average 11% | maximum 12% | Cat 4. This climb formed part of a nasty little triangular around Bagshaw. I say nasty, because we didn’t just cycle along a triangle on the map, the road itself also felt like a Toblerone. The descent down Sheffield Road into Blackbrook, just outside Chapel-en-le-Frith (where I got a little lost), is steep. The gradients up Peaslows were neither steep or shallow, but the horseflies attacking me as soon as I cycled a little too close to the hedges that lined the climb made it challenging. Luckily the climb was bordered with stone walls nearer the top. The drop back down into Wash was a bit gravelly. Sleep-deprived and with a belly rumbling increasingly louder that it was time for dinner soon, I found it hard to concentrate.
Checkpoint 5: 386km, The Royal Oak Inn, Glossop, 17:46, 13 July
When I finally arrived at the checkpoint in Glossop I was disappointed to find that the pub itself wasn’t serving any food that day because of a private booking. The staff pointed me in the direction of the nearest pub which … guess what … also had a private booking! When I had checked accommodation options in Glossop before the ride (as roughly 400km into the route it seemed like a nice place for a sleep stop), I couldn’t find a single suitable/affordable place that still had availability.
There was definitely something going on in Glossop that weekend, perhaps a walking festival as I had passed lots of walkers strewn over various roads. Most of these walkers greeted me back with a cheery hello as I shouted out loud hellos from my bike, partly to actually say hello, partly to warn them that there was a cyclist approaching with no space left on the road to cycle. One grumpy walker shouted out to me that I should use my bell. Did he really think he would actually have heard my bell in the wind and above the sound of their group chatter ? What is more, did he really want me to pointlessly ring my bell on fast descents or would it be safer for all if I just firmly kept my hands near the brakes? Why can’t people just share the road without getting arsey?
With the nice pubs closed for private events, my alternative for dinner was the chippy come Chinese. I ordered chicken fried rice with vegetables and regretted it the moment I took the first bite: the chicken was dry, the rice wasn’t seasoned much, the ‘vegetables’ were restricted to a few bits of green onion, and it totally did not give me the boost I so desperately needed at that point. It felt like I sat on the floor in front of the chippy forever, just staring at my uninspiring, but huge portion of rice. Luckily you can always count on Fanta orange to do the trick.
Hill 29: Snake Pass
6.1km | 351m | average 5.7% | max 14% | Cat 2. This climb is surrounded by spectacular scenery. Sadly it isn’t just cyclists who enjoy going up and down Snake Pass; it is also a popular route with car and motor bike drivers. It is listed in Simon Warren’s 100 climbs, but also included in several motorist guides as one of the great British drives.
As I wound my way up out of Glossop on some silky smooth tarmac (for UK standards) through the beautiful moorland towards the highest point near the Ladybower Reservoir(512 meters above sea level), I noticed quite a lot of skid marks but luckily wasn’t cut up by any speeding idiots. Although the road name matches its winding route, the name is apparently derived from the emblem of the Snake Inn, one of the few buildings on the road.
Sleep stop, Thorndene B&B, Hope
After finding out that accommodation in Glossop was all booked out, I decided to book a B&B in Hope instead as the route passed through or very close to Hope on 3 occasions during the event. Once after about 355 km, once after 413 km and once more after 430 km. When I passed my B&B for the second time, I had the choice to either pick up the key from the B&B owner before check-in closed at 10pm and call in for a sleep stop when I would pass for the 3rd time, or just to call it a day now. The prospect of a bed there and then was too tempting. I had plenty of time in hand to finish the event within the 48 hours. It wasn’t a race. Why not enjoy a nice sleep?!
I know several of the other girls were bivying, but I don’t yet have that sort of equipment and I quite like the comforts of a nice B&B. Alice Thomson, one of the other Pure Peak Gritters, I bumped into whilst checking my phone to find the B&B on Google Maps, seemed to think the same and called into some friends who lived nearby for a nice long sleep.
I checked in around 9:30pm and left around 4:20am: a lovely 7 hour break during which I enjoyed a much needed shower, a deep sleep in a very large and comfortable bed and a tasty breakfast the B&B owner had left out for my in the breakfast room. It was also an opportunity to recharge a few electronic gadgets and let my family know that all was well.
Hill 30: Hope to Mam Nick
While Mam Nick itself is ‘just’ a 2 km long Cat 3 climb with 207m ascent, an average gradient of 9.7% and a max gradient of 18%, the full distance from Hope to the summit of Mam Nick is a Cat 2 climb and sees you climbing for 10.96km, at an average gradient of 2.7%. Mam Nick is another gem of a Peak District climb. It is long and tough, but not as tough as Winnats Pass.
If you enjoy pushing yourself into the red, Mam Nick is also the scene of a top hill climb event run by Sheffield’s Rutland CC every October.
The biggest challenge for me up this hill was the start. It was still dark. I felt cold and struggled with acute and very painful cramps shooting through my right hand, making it hard to shift gear or even steer my bike in a straight line. When I finally realised it may be because I had not drank enough the previous afternoon/night and may be a bit dehydrated, I stopped to take on some Precision Hydration salt capsules and waited for the cramps to subside. By the time I reached the top of Mam Nick, morning had truly broken. Unlike the previous morning, it was all rather grey and bleak.
Hill 31: Sir William Hill
The next checkpoint was in Hathersage, but the route was teasing us. Just as you ride into Hathersage, it makes you turn right again taking in two more climbs before the actual checkpoint. The first of the two climbs was Sir William Hill: 2km | 196m ascent | average 9.7% | max 16.4% | Cat 3. It is a narrow lane with a few nasty stretches of steeper gradients early on. The second part of the climb is much easier.
Hill 32: Froggat
The second climb before returning to Hathersage again was a little longer, but shallower: 4.9km | 225m ascent | average 4.6% | max 7.7% | Cat 3. Froggat is a good long and steady climb, the sort of climb you can really settle into a rhythm on and nothing hurts too much. Unfortunately the morning weather was still pretty dull and there wasn’t much a view to enjoy at the top.
Checkpoint 6: 465km, The Scotsman’s Pack Inn, Hathersage, 06:12am, 14 July
By now my bottles were empty again. The pub wasn’t open yet, but did have a handy outdoor water tap. It looked like a really nice pub; the sort of place that does a very good Sunday lunch.
Hill 33: The Dale
3.43km | 271m ascent | average 7.9% | max 12.9% | Cat 3. The climb up the Dale started pretty much immediately after the checkpoint. It was another long and steady one. The first section, as you pass the last houses in Hathersage, is the steepest. There should be some good views over Stanage Edge on the climb, but it was murky and even misty at this point in my ride. I even stopped to put my raincoat on for a bit. As I passed Ringinglow I resisted the temptation to swing off into Sheffield to visit my friend and boss who lives there. “Nearly 500km done”, I told myself. “Push on, you’re nearly there now”.
Hill 34: Woodfall Lane
0.7km | 84m ascent | 11.9% | max 18%. Woodfall Lane (the lane that runs from Low Bradfield to High Bradfield) sounds totally inconspicuous. In reality, it zaps a lot of energy out of your legs before you reach the actual dreaded climb immediately afterwards: Bradfield Beast (at least that one sounds as evil as it feels). The Strava segment at the top of Woodfall Lane is called ‘What have you got left?’….
Hill 35: Bradfield Beast
1.5km | 163m ascent | average 10.8% | max 26.8% | Cat 4. It is the initial kick up this climb that hurts the most. Having bumped into Alice again just before, I had to apologise to her for swooping past her on this narrow and brutually steep climb as I needed every momentum possible to get up this beast.
Looking at the climb in detail, it appears Alaina routed us around the shallower side of the climb, taking the right fork out of Back Lane into Holdsworth along Stoney Lane, rather than the left fork along Moor Lane which has the nice little 27% kicker. As such the actual Bradfield Beast doesn’t show up on my Strava ride, but at 10% average the deviation was far from flat.
Hill 36: Blindside Lane Climb
This was the start of one of my favourite sections of the route and Blindside Lane, although less impressive than some of the famous hills to follow, was perhaps my favourite climb of the whole route. The full climb is only 2.5km long with an average gradient of 5.5% and a max gradient of 12.8%. The gradients are gentle and it isn’t a particularly difficult climb. What made it so memorable is the scenery. As the narrow lane winds its way through the trees, you slowly start to get glimpses of the water on the right, before emerging onto open moorland with beautiful views across Dale Dyke and Strines Reservoirs . I think this is definitely one of the Peak District’s hidden gems.
Hill 37: Strines: Ewden Bank/ Deliverance
From here the route continued across the moors until, taking in a nice fast descent to the Strines Inn before teasing my legs with a little more undulations and eventually hitting the wicked Ewden Bank (aka Deliverance as it is known locally).
Veloviewer stats show this climb as 1.0km | 139m ascent | average 10% | max 25% | Cat 4. Arguably many of the other climbs I had already tackled at this point in the ride were just as steep or even steeper, but what makes Ewden Bank/Deliverance so hard is the grippy road surface and the fact that you cannot carry any momentum into it. Starting at the Ewden Beck river, the road swings upwards right then left, with the brutually hairpin sapping any speed you may still have left out of your legs. The climb doesn’t give you any respite either. After the hairpin the steep gradient continues until you leave the cover of the trees and pass some farm buildings where the road temporarily backs off before dishing out a little more pain on the ramp up to the top.
Hill 38: Pea Royd Lane
1.1km | 145m ascent | average 12% | max 20%. I was aware of challenging climb that is Pea Royd Lane as it had been used for the National Hill Climb Championships in 2014 which was won by my friend Maryka Sennema.
To give myself a little extra boost before the climb, I decided to stop for a coffee and a bite to eat at a little cafe in Stocksbridge. Photographer Rich and driver Steve also pulled in for a coffee and the chat was a welcome distraction from my fear of the climb. Alice arrived and stopped at the same cafe just as I left. After a quick hello, good bye and good luck hug with Alice, it was time to see what this climb was all about …
Pea Royd Lane gets an 8 out of 10 in Simon Warren’s 100 climbs book. It is a classic hill climb: relatively short and steep with a few sharp corners and gradient that constantly varies so you cannot settle into any rhythm. The first section (up Hunshelf Road) is a littler shallower (8%), but after the sharp right hand turn onto Pea Royd Lane itself at the end of Hunshelf Road the gradients quickly picks up as you hit the first 20% sector. “Easy does it” was my motto here, trying to spin my legs rather than grind my way up the climb and trying to hold back a little for what was still to come. As you cross the bridge over the A616 you get a little breather, but then it kicks up savagely again as the road twists left into the final 400 yards to the finish. Looking at the Strava leaderboards, I definitely succeeded in taking it easy, taking a little over 10 minutes to get to the top, whereas Maryka bashed that climb out in less than 5 minutes during the National Hill Climb!
Hill 39: Jackson Bridge
1.5km | 161m ascent | average 10% | max 20% | Cat 4. Just what you need after a very steep climb: another scary steep climb. Admittedly there was some nice descending in between and the views from the top of Pea Royd Lane had been quite rewarding, but I was starting to feel the pain of all this relentless climbing. Hill 39. Phew at least I could count the remaining climbs on one hand now.
Jackson Bridge is another classic British hill climb course. It was the venue for the 2015 National Hill Climb Championships, once again won by Maryka Sennema. Click on this link for some great shots of the ‘pain faces’ during the event. After Pure Peak Grit Alice asked me if I didn’t feel like entering some hill climbs now that I have discovered hills aren’t actually that bad. No thanks. Easy does it for me. I don’t like that kind of pain. I much prefer the dull, always present pain of long distance cycling over the sharp, lung-busting, lactic acid explosion of hill climb TTs.
Jackson Bridge is challenging for a number of reason, one being its triple whammy of 20% bends near the start. In many ways it is similar to Pea Royd Lane. Perhaps a little longer and slightly less steep overall, but I don’t think there is much in it.
Checkpoint 7: 553km, Wooldale Methodist Free Church, Holmfirth, 11:54am, 14 July
Now that I had reached the final checkpoint before the finish and with just another 50km to go and the hardest climb behind me, I felt like I could finally start to believe that perhaps I wasn’t so shit at hills after all. More importantly, it was time to admit to myself that I actually had enjoyed all those hills a lot more than I thought I would.
It was a bright sunny day and I was getting properly overheated. Luckily the kind volunteers at the church let me hold my head under the tap in their bathroom for quite a while. Feeling a little more refreshed, I set off for the final ‘biggy’ with another 7 and a half hours left on the clock to cover the final 50 km in. I felt happy. There had indeed been ample time in my schedule for that nice long sleep stop the night before and, all being well, I was going to be at the finish in a couple of hours.
Hill 40: Holme Moss
4.68km | 341m ascent | average 7.5% | max 12% | Cat 2. Holme Moss is yet another iconic British hill climb. It has featured in the Tour of Britain as well as the 2014 Tour de France. There weren’t quite 60,000 spectators on the climb when I rode up it, but with Rich taking pictures near the top I probably crested it with a little more enthusiasm than I would have done otherwise.
Alaina’s route had us tackling Holme Moss from the north, from Holmfirth, which is the longer and better known climb than the other way around. The climb itself is just long and gradual, but it is also quite exposed, so I imagine it can be a lot harder on a windy day. Simon Warren’s original rating of Holme Moss in his 100 climbs book was 5/10, but he may have had a tailwind. Being a major route across the Pennines the road is wide, well surfaced and, nearer the top, covered with some very useful markers counting down the distance to the summit.
Despite the amount of climbing already covered, the classic Holme Moss Hill Climb course only starts after you cross the bridge and head up the final 2.2km which has a slightly steeper average gradient (9.3%). The absolute best thing about Holme Moss though was the SUPERB descent down towards Woodhead Reservoir. The descent is super fast and fun. The road is super smooth. The corners are sweeping but gentle. The views are amazing and we were lucky that there wasn’t much crosswind. High on adrenaline of having made it up the last ‘big’ climb and with just 2 more climbs to go, I zoomed down Holme Moss in the afternoon sun with a big happy smile. Judging by Rich’s photos that descent had the same effect on all of us.
Hill 41: Col du Mellor
After Holme Moss the route became fairly chilled without much undulation until Col du Mellor: 3.61km | 190m ascent | average 5.2% | max 11%.1 | Cat 3. It is a longer climb that starts off a bit residential but then becomes more scenic as you leave the village and pass the golf course.
The name of the climb made me think of Amira Mellor, a Yorkshire rider who rode in the cyclocross world championships for team GB a few years ago, in the same way as Jackson Bridge made me think of yet another Yorkshire cycling ace, Andy Jackson. No surprise that an area with such amazing cycling produces very strong riders (Lizzie Deignan notably one of the most famous examples).
Hill 42: Long Hill
After the descent into Whaley Bridge, the route just bumbbled along on the flat for a little while before hitting the final hill. Long Hill is indeed long (7.52km), but with just 241m ascent, an average gradient of 3.2% and a max gradient of just 8.7% it really is more of a steady drag than a climb. It is fairly constant and the perfect terrain for a time triallist. The road is wide and has an excellent surface. I was lucky that there wasn’t much traffic on the road as I passed and even luckier to find that our host Rachel had ridden out to the top of the climb to cheer us on.
Finish: 612km, Buxton War Memorial, 15:24pm, 14 July
Just like getting to the start line can often be the hardest thing, I had some trouble finding the actual finish as there was a fair on in town, some roads were closed off and there were a lot of people about. After asking a few locals for directions it dawned on me that I had already passed the finish. “How can you miss such a bloody great memorial?” you might wonder. Well… after 43 and a half hours on the road, of which 31 hours spent in the saddle, even such obvious things can seem a little less obvious.
At the war memorial I was welcomed and cheered in by the friendly women from the Friends of the Peaks District, a couple of my fellow Pure Peak Gritters who had scratched for various reasons, and some of Rachel’s friends. After a bit of chat and a few pictures, one of Rachel’s friends helped me to get back to the house and I couldn’t jump in the shower soon enough.
For a ‘flythrough’ of my route and progress, see the video clip below. For a nice overview (with lots of great shots) of how we all got on at this inaugural edition of the event, see this link.
Sometimes the best things in life happen when you least expect them. For me Pure Peak Grit was such a pivotal moment. I went from fearing hills to loving hills. How can you not love hills when you have the beautiful Peak District as your playground? Anyone living near the Peak District should count themselves so lucky! Long may that beautiful protected national park continue to give joy to cyclists and other outdoor enthusiasts.
What I hadn’t appreciated before the ride, but what makes total sense, it that, as tough as this super hilly event is, it didn’t actually feel as tough as a 24-hour TT on the flat. What goes up must go down and all that. The descents are fun, fast, beautiful and often long. They gave my legs a rest, my soul a boost and made me shout the biggest WOOOOHOOOOs time and time again.
Each climb is an opportunity to test yourself. Not in the classic hill climb, bust a lung, go all out kind of way, but a test in pacing yourself, selecting the right gears, keeping the torque, momentum and rhythm flowing. Plus, if you overcook a few hills, your body gives you little choice but to pace yourself anyway…
I had brought out my light carbon road bike as my weapon of choice. It featured a massive 11-36 cassette, which, combined with compact chainrings at the front, *should* get up me up most hills. Still, I didn’t fully trust my own abilities, so had my cleat covers at close reach in my framebag (but on hindsight didn’t need them as I didn’t have to walk up any of the hills).
My bike set-up was fairly light. I carried spare food (such as my trusted vegan Rawvelo energy bars and gels and some piadinas), a spare front light, charging plug and cables, repair kit, arm and leg warmers, a rain coat and a down gilet as you never know. I didn’t think clip-on aerobars would be needed as the route was so lumpy, but on hindsight, with such a harsh carbon frame and the rough roads, I may have saved my hands a bit if I had added them.
I finished the 48 hour Pure Peak Grit challenge with a few hours to spare, despite a leisurely and luxurious 6-7 sleep stop in Hope at the 413km point and a good 6-7 hours of stops for food, water, faffing or route checks. Most importantly I finished the event with a big grin, with gratitude to have been part of such a beautiful event, with a new found love for hills and strong urge for more hilly challenges..
Fancy a go at Pure Peak Grit ?
If you want to check out the Pure Peak Grit for yourself, be that in one-go or over several days, then you can download the route here. For route use, please donate a suggested £5 to the Friends of the Peak District. Visit donate.giveasyoulive.com/fundraising/purepeakgrit to donate. You can send the gpx file of your attempt and any other relevant information for validation and inclusion in the PPG wall of fame to firstname.lastname@example.org . Completed the route? Incredible! And in 48 hours? Chapeau!