My last ride of the decade?

We have a few dry days, with some sunshine coming, according to the weather forecast. We shouldn’t expect any rain until at least the 2nd of January and, frankly, I think all of us who like our outdoor pursuits deserve this short break. It was always going to be muddy for today’s ride so climbing some hills seemed like a good idea. The area around the village of Rivington, with Winter Hill behind it rising to 1,498 feet is only a 20 minute ride away. I’m often tempted to ride off road closer to home because not only do I need to ride the road section but when I get there the first off road section inevitably will involve a good climb.  I rode for 55 minutes, today, before the first exciting downhill.

After the road section, broken only by crossing a park, I arrived at Rivington Barn and could see that the area was crowded with walkers. Looking up the first steep climb I almost changed my plan to avoid dozens of people collected near the top. Looking further into the wooded section it looked a little clearer so I started to climb. The whole route has recently been cleaned and loose stones removed or reset, which has made it less challenging. It seemed easy so I took a little detour to improve my access to the final climb to George’s Lane. This stoney road runs almost level for a few miles across the flank of Winter Hill. Due to the inevitable crowds I decided not to ride to the top of Rivington Pike but to take in my former favourite downhill, Wilderswood. Last time I rode it I thought that the rain ruts were so severe that I’d have to wait until spring to see if things had improved. I could always have gone slowly if things hadn’t improved but I didn’t! I slowed a little to use the deep ruts on the first 2 corners as berms, steering me round. The bike writhed underneath me on the fast, twisting trail. Just how I like it. My time of 2 minutes 21 seconds was the 32nd fastest of 565 riders and only 5 seconds slower than my best time. Having said that I’m finally mature enough to not go all out at this segment. I caused a certain amount of, shall we call it, “inconvenience” to at least 2 people around 1998, which I won’t talk about for legal reasons. The statutes of limitations may not yet have elapsed on such acts of stupidity and selfishness.

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The start of the Wilderswood descent looks innocuous enough.

I then took an interesting route to the bottom of a long climb. The gradient is remarkably consistent and the surface rocky. I took a picture at the bottom and before I set off again a runner had started to climb. He was out of sight before I set off and when I saw him later he was even further ahead. I imagine I’d get up and back down quicker than a runner but on the climb alone, I had no chance. This hill had a brief moment of fame. I took my son Dylan (then aged 1) to watch the mountain bike event in the Commonwealth Games of 2002. He was in a baby seat on the back of a bike on the way there and since I knew the area I took us to the best set of downhill switch backs to spectate. After the bends the trail rose steeply to the top of the climb, which was used as a downhill. Due to the sharp, rocky surface it had been christened “Snake Bite Alley”. The rocks must have caused a few snake bite punctures in practice for the races, where the inner tube is pinched in 2 places against the wheel rim. This obviously predates the use of tubeless tyres. On the first lap of the women’s race, the favourite, Britain’s Caroline Alexander came past us, well ahead. On lap 2 she was even further ahead and Dylan had learnt to applaud. He saw others bashing their hands together so thought he’d have a bit of that as well. We didn’t see Caroline again. Down Snake Bite Alley for the second time she had destroyed not only the inner tube but also the wheel. It’s always been a rule in MTB racing that you have to be self supporting so no replacement wheel could be used.

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The beginning of the relentless climb.

The top of the climb leads directly to the downhill with some very sharp turns, where we had spectated in 2002. The best method to tackle the corners seems to be to lock the rear wheel as you enter the corner and slide the back of the bike round. It worked well on the first right hander but on the approach to the following left hander there is a stretch of sandstone flags. I touched the back brake and didn’t slow at all. It was like braking on ice. I almost missed the corner but just about made it. The corners get a little easier after that but in the slippery conditions it’s quite a challenge.

After a flatter trail back to Rivington Barn and a short road section I chose a tarmac road along the western side of the Anglezarke reservoir. The reservoirs were built between 1850 and 1857 to supply water to Liverpool. Several farms in the valley were flooded. The source of Chorley’s river, the Yarrow, was also cut off. Water had originally flowed from the delightfully named Horden Stoops into the Yarrow. The reservoir cut off this early section of the river but today, after so much recent rain, the overflow from the reservoir was running into the often dry bed.

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The overflow, which is rarely needed.

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Healey Nab in the distance, from the same spot.

The road was amazingly popular with walkers today. At the end are several choices to access Healey Nab for a final flourish but I decided to go straight home by road, since I’d been out for a while already.

As evidence of my improving fitness, which is taking me by surprise if I’m to be honest, I set 9 personal fast times on Strava. 3 fastest ever, 4 seconds and 2 thirds. It’s especially pleasing that I’m showing improvements despite the wet conditions. I hope the improvement will continue until my big challenge in April but I’ll certainly have to make sure that my stamina is as good as it can be by then. Today I covered 14.08 miles with 1,545 feet of ascent.

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