Great Hill in the sunshine.

England can experience all four seasons in one day. Today, though, it’s been summer. Warm, dry and sunny. We haven’t had a period of good weather since June in Lancashire and I’ve started to hope that it lasts long enough to dry the trails so I can have a go at a sub 11 minute lap of Healey Nab. I set the target in January and have come close at 11 minutes 8 seconds but close isn’t good enough. I know it’s a trivial and random target but why not?

The woodland was still likely to be wet after only 2 dry days, so high ground seemed a better bet since the sun can dry the ground directly. Great Hill is a big climb, good for fitness, with a fabulous downhill section followed by Healey Nab on the way home. I took my often used mixed route to White Coppice and found that the technical way to Brinscall Woods was dry enough to nail without a foot down. At the hardest part I knew I’d dropped a gear too low so I just hammered it at the obstacle and allowed momentum to do it’s work, getting me over the rocky hump.

I climbed the gravel through the woods and applied the same technique to get round a closed gate. The broken ground just needs you to keep the power flowing to get over the obstacles. After a short, steep piece of tarmac it’s a gravel road which becomes rougher and more challenging later before a stile and final assault on the summit. I noticed that I’d been out for 55 minutes at the top of the tarmac. The picture at the top of the page shows the view of Darwen Hill from the stone cross shelter of Great Hill. With the naked eye I could see the next line of hills beyond and wondered if I could reach them in a day ride and if the riding there would be worth the effort. Today was not the day for such a long ride. I did a day’s gardening yesterday and had started to feel the effort later in the climb. Still I was on top of our little local world. What could possibly go wrong?

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Winter Hill from the top of Great Hill. It’s around 240 feet higher and also has some great riding.

The first part of the drop to the stile is a sinuous ribbon of dirt and rock which snakes it’s way on a shallow gradient. There are plenty of opportunities to pop into the air and it’s thrilling. Over the stile the action continues. I avoided a muddy sump which once threw me over the handlebars in front of a small crowd of concerned onlookers, so today I followed a fast, twisting single track to the right onto the section of sharp rocks which always make you feel like you’re floating. I probably mention every time I ride it that the rocks can pop your tyre or take out you wheel rim and today I felt something happening. It was a classic snake bite puncture of the rear tyre. The inner tube had been trapped hard between the tyre and rim leaving 2 slits like it had been bitten by one of the adders which are occasionally seen on the hill. My son, Dylan saw one a few years ago and though I didn’t see it myself I have complete confidence that it was there. Drinkwater’s farm, an old and deserted ruin where I ground to a halt, is as good a place as any to repair a puncture. I just replaced the tube with my spare but could have fixed the original in an emergency.

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The wooded hill in the middle distance is Healey Nab. It looks tiny from this perspective.

When I set off again I’d lost my flow and struggled down a very tricky section. The ground writhes around, never level and never straight. You really need to work to keep any momentum up and in the mud I was fighting all the way. The trail smooths somewhat but is about as action packed as anything I know. The final steep section makes trail centre black (expert) graded trails look like pavements. One rock caught me and had me throwing myself backwards to avoid going over the front. I’d been concentrating on giving some walkers a wide berth at the time. Back over Healey Nab I was getting that feeling of running on fat or hitting the wall. It came on gradually but takes everything from you. Fortunately the final downhill saved me. The exhaustion and exhilaration made this my best ride in ages. I covered 13.34 miles with 1,447 feet of climbing.

 

 

 

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