The first day began under a thick blanket of fog with the sun visible as a glowing white disc hanging low in the sky. I cycled along a main road for a mile or two, turned onto a back road and was met with a muddy footpath which I struggled along for about 30 minutes; at the end of which, the mud on the inside of my mudguards was so thick that I had to remove the wheels and scrape it all off. It wasn't exactly a great start.
With the mud being flung off the sides of my tyres I cycled at speed into Macclesfield. Threading my way through the town centre, I found the main road which marked the beginning of the long climb to the Cat and Fiddle (No. 70 in the book "100 Greatest Cycling Climbs"), one of the longest climbs in the Peak District. The average gradient is a rather shallow 3.3% but over 11.2km it was a thoroughly enjoyable route to ascend with magnificent views of the open, swooping terrain. Hopping over to the A53 I glided down into Buxton and stopped off at the Pavilion Gardens for coffee and cake. I chatted briefly to a man who ran his own organised cycle tours company; he nodded knowingly when I told him which climbs I had planned for the next few days.
Much of the roads between Buxton and Sutton were a roller-coaster ride of short sharp gradients and steep drops. Most of it took place on the Cheshire Cycleway which is a fantastic route which took me from the exposed hill tops down into forested valleys and then back out again onto the relatively flat terrain all the way back to Holmes Chapel. The bright sunshine, relative warmth and the rhythmic cadence of ascending and descending for several hours created quite a zen-like feeling.
The second day had even more climbing in store for me and I opted with getting the train to Stockport and then cycling from there. When I initially arrived at Goostrey station the solar eclipse had just begun and I was able to view it only with a pair of sunglasses since the clouds, again, were thin enough to view the sun as a glowing disc.
Arriving at the station, the conductor on the train cheerfully announced that the solar eclipse was easily visible. He began with,
"Now ladies and gentlemen, you may have noticed it feels a bit colder and darker than it did twenty minutes ago..."
One sleepy commuter seemed visibly confused by this message but I was reassured by someone next to me that it's quite a common feeling when arriving into Stockport.
Determined to make good progress, I took a straight route out of Stockport and as the terraced houses, garages, supermarkets and roadworks gave way to the looming hills, I rode through Glossop and up Snake Pass, another long climb, ascending 350 metres over half an hour. The descent was long and chilly but it was too fun to think about my fingers feeling like they were about to drop off. I threaded my way along a trail beside Ladybower Reservoir and again up another climb called "New Road". From Hathersage to Hope the headwind was strong and I reached the foot of Winnats Pass (100Climbs No. 33) after a comparatively uninteresting cycle on the main road. This was a truly challenging climb and I had to stop and walk briefly as the gradient, wind and weight of my panniers proved to be just too much. It did however give me an opportunity to take a full 360 degree view of the climb which looked incredible. Next on the list was Peaslows (100Climbs No. 37) which had a slightly more forgiving and consistent gradient of about 10%. For the last few hours I found myself on muddy footpaths (again), back roads and main roads with heavy traffic, punctuated with the odd climb and food stop. What better way to spend a day?
Day Three was to be a shorter ride to Mow Cop (100Climbs No. 36) which I learned was often referred to as "The Killer Mile" - I went without panniers. Mow Cop has several different gradients throughout, with a steep section to get the blood flowing, a brief shallower section to recuperate which gradually steepens, an eye-wateringly steep section past a pub called The Cheshire View in which a few dog walkers gave me a few words of encouragement - "Go on son! You can do it!" - and then ending with a shallower ramp up to the end of the road. It was so nice I did it twice!
My last day began again in Stockport and involved winding through Reddish Vale Country Park, Denton and Stalybridge to get Greenfield. The first climb of the day was Holmfirth Road, similar in distance and gradient to Snake Pass. There had been light rain for most of the morning and this brought a blanket of cloud over the peaks. 10 minutes into this relentless climb I looked around to take in the surrounding and saw nothing but the colour white. Visibility was no more than about 30 metres and when I looked behind me, I saw that the road tailed off into nothingness. If there were no lorries or cars occasionally passing me it would have felt like being in an endless isolating fog which had the curious effect of muting all sounds except for the squawks of a bird. It was quite a strange feeling, like being cut off from everything, similar to how I imagined Chief Bromden's fog in the novel "One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest". I couldn't even visualise the gradient in front of me as the clouds in front of me prevented me from seeing the horizon.
I gradually found myself gaining speed and pedalling less hard through this strange world, the gradient was easing. I was spat out from the clouds with the water dripping off my clothes and sped all the way down to Holmfirth on the other side of the peaks. The contrast of climbing into cold, wet clouds to rolling into a relatively warm small town felt quite bizarre, the two felt completely different.
After a brief stop, I began the penultimate climb of my trip, "Holme Moss" (100Climbs No. 43). From Holmfirth, you can see the the radio transmitting tower where the end of the climb is located. Starting out with a short sharp climb out of Holmbridge, I noticed someones electricity meter cover on the side of their house had red polka dots on. I saw several more cycling knick-knacks in peoples' gardens and it dawned on me this must be one of the climbs in last year's Tour De France! My suspicions were confirmed when I began reading messages such as "Va Va Froome" and "Cav 4 PM" on the road. At the beginning of the climb most of the road is easily visible and looks like a shoelace being draped on a green quilt. I crawled up the climb quite fatigued from all the climbing over the last few days but I enjoyed the feeling of conquering yet another big climb on a heavy touring bike. Stopping to take a picture, I glided down from Holme Moss with one climb left.
I took it easy for a while along the Torside Reservoir, the views around the reservoir are simply amazing. My last climb was Werneth Low Road on the route back to Stockport. I stopped briefly to drink some water. I began pedalling again down a tree-lined road, turned a corner, and was then faced with what must have been a 22-23% climb. This absolutely destroyed me and I walked about half of it. Still though, the view at the top was incredible, I could see the entirety of Manchester, and a power station probably several miles further than that. The furthest landmark I could see was the very top of Liverpool Cathedral! When I arrived into Stockport for one last time, I ate some food at the McDonalds near the station for some much needed fuel. I managed to endure the 5 hour train journey back home. I did cycle between London Euston and Victoria stations though, and that's always fun.
According to Strava, the entire trip, including rides to and from stations, was 437.9km in distance with 5.6 kilometres of climbing. I'm planning on cycling in the Lake District and around France, Belgium and the Netherlands in the coming months so this hopefully will be the first trip of many. Hope you enjoyed reading!