Back to nature.

My last ride, 6 days ago, was 34.5 miles in length and the focus was the 21 miles of purpose built trail at Dalby forest. I enjoyed the ride but felt that the exciting sections were few and far between. Today I thought I needed another longer ride after 6 days. We’re also going away to visit our son the day after tomorrow and I’m not certain to be able to borrow a bike and get a ride in.

Last night we had more heavy rain which flooded parts of the garden but I knew that my chosen destination, Darwen Hill, is rideable at almost any time of year. It’s a sandstone hill and is therefore well drained. It rises to 1,220 feet and has an 85 foot tower on top, which was built to commemorate the golden jubilee of Queen Victoria in 1887. I took a mixture of road and off road to Brinscall then Roddlesworth woods with it’s long but gradual dirt road climb. It was good exercise so far but with little excitement. The road was resurfaced a few years ago and is easy to ride without a foot down even when it’s wet. The following, steeper climb onto the moorland of Darwen Hill has also been resurfaced. I was proud to have ridden it many times without ever failing to get up cleanly but now it’s easy, so long as you’re reasonably fit. The moorland track undulates and turns rockier before the top and is a good ride. The tension was building, though, because I knew what thrills would follow. First I took in the view for a few minutes.

The picture on the left was taken on my last ride up the hill and looks out towards Pendle Hill. In 1612 9 women and 2 men from the Pendle area were tried for the murder of 10 people by witchcraft. one was found not guilty but 10 were hanged. The convictions were largely brought about by the evidence presented by one small child. I recently visited the Hark to Bounty pub in Slaidburn. Upstairs is a courtroom maintained exactly as it was in the 17th century. The witches were tried here before being transferred to Lancaster Castle for their final condemnation.

The ride down to Sunnyhurt woods starts with a gradual downhill with plenty of rocks to hop over and jump from. A sharp, rocky hairpin bend takes you onto a fast, rutted downhill trail which has been battered by the weather for many years. I was swinging from side to side, looking for a smoother passage but many times just had to lift the front wheel and allow the bike to drop from the ledges which have formed. It’s exhilarating stuff but I did stop to take a photo.IMG_20190813_113128

This rockiness goes on for a long distance before smoothing a little so you can allow the speed to build up, if you dare. Was it a match for the sculptured, man made trails of Dalby? Hell, yes! It’s totally intoxicating and continues to pay you back for the long climbs you’ve done to reach it. Twisting through some corners you drop to a road and pass the Sunnyhurst Inn. I had no time to stop. I entered the parkland area of Sunnyhurst Woods, still heading down. A short shower caught me out but I knew I could shelter at the bottom.

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The bandstand was given as a philanthropic gift in 1912. The parkland had been purchased by Darwen Corporation to commemorate the coronation of King Edward the seventh in 1902. The climb afterwards was steep and slippery and leads to a small reservoir. After this the trail rises steeply. The surface has changed over the years from hard packed, to loose gravel which exhausted me. I reached the steep, cobbled path and stopped to regain my breath. It was easier 20 years ago and I remembered riding the whole way to the top on my first attempt in around 1994. This time I set off with the knowledge that I was only halfway round my route and that exhausting myself at this point was probably not a good idea. This made me give up, not due to a wheel spin but just because of the difficulty. I’m disappointed that I did this, especially as I got home with plenty left in the tank. I may just be more cautious than I was all those years ago or maybe I just don’t have  the power in my legs. My modern bike is fractionally harder to ride up the steepest stuff than my Raleigh M Trax Ti2000 from ’94 but my 1994 self would, I’m sure, have got to the top in one go. I walked up the steepest part and got back on to ride back down Roddlesworth Woods. I was struggling to remember the route and took a right turn which I knew was wrong but I decided to follow it anyway and found a part of the woods I don’t think I’ve seen before. A couple of months ago I explored this area and found some new riding. I need to visit again to get my head around all the possibilities. I went down to Brinscall via a slightly risky segment. The rocks towards the end were very slippery but highlighted how much more capable modern bikes are than those from 25 years ago. Disc brakes actually work and the suspension soaks up the undulations. I got down with no drama. I rode along the goit to White Coppice but kept to the easier side because I knew the technical side would be horribly muddy. I rode back over Healey Nab and should, perhaps, have ridden the natural trail. Instead I took the man made, red graded trail. It’s a nice roller coaster and we’re privileged to have it but I’m sure after the last 2 rides that natural trails offer more than man made trail ever can.

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