Getting high.

I’ll admit that I’m seriously addicted to mountain biking. The physical exertion, slight sense of danger and my love of mechanical things make it the perfect sport for me. I spend some time thinking about mountain biking even when I’m not riding and today, whilst walking my dog, Freddie, I had the chance to plan my ride, later in the morning. The ground is wetter than it’s been for a long time. Last winter was comparatively dry so we didn’t have nearly as much mud as we have now. Curiously, the river locally seems to be at a rather low level, which doesn’t make sense. I thought it would be good to do a trail ride to higher ground to prove or disprove my theory that higher ground should be drier. Well it’s only a hypothesis actually but through experimental proof it could become a theory. Well, it’s obvious that water can’t run up hill so why shouldn’t higher places be dry?

My plan for getting high was to ride to Brinscall Woods, up Edge Gate Lane to the moors and after a short way on the gravel road, turn down a fabulous downhill section. I took a hopefully drier alternative to normal, to reach the woods and started the fairly long climb. In such damp conditions the climb is hard and energy sapping. I know it well but remember that when you see the top of the first steep section you’re being deceived. It isn’t the top at all. There’s more climbing to come. In all I climbed around 700 feet to my highest point but there are a few down turns along the way.

Brinscall Woods was not always woodland. It was an area of small farms and at least 2 mansions. The land was bought by a Liverpool water company to collect water for the city in some local reservoirs. The land was leased to the occupants rather than owned by them and from the beginning of the 20th century, whenever a lease came to an end, it was not renewed. This was to remove animals and humans from the area so that sewage didn’t pollute the water. All that remains now are the foundations of the buildings, including some wells. It must have been around 25 years ago when a local newspaper had talked to people who’d lived in the area as children. As far as I recall the last farms were abandoned in 1927.

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A pile of rubble which was once the life of a farming family.

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The shapes and layout of the buildings is very clear, here.

The single track downhill was exciting even in today’s conditions. I could then have ridden the very hard section which follows to the bottom of the woods but it would have been a nightmare just to stay upright. What I’d planned instead was to ride a slightly rising, narrow trail which joins the Great hill to White Coppice downhill. I recently read on Facebook that this is “one of the best downhills in England”, according to the respondent. It’s certainly one I loved to ride in the late 90s but today was likely to be treacherous. The trail across the moor was hard work. Moorland always looks smooth from a distance but up close it’s bumpy with tufts of grass and heather constantly resisting your efforts. The saving grace is that the soil is thin. This means that even where there’s standing water it’s rarely a bog to sink into. Just under the surface the ground is stoney and firm so I managed to keep going, with some determination. Another tyre track was, I assumed, left earlier but must have been laid down in the opposite direction. I’ll ride it that way in better weather when the slight descent will make it more fun.

It took me 14 minutes of effort to reach the steeper drop to White Coppice. I’d seen on Google Earth that there is a vague trail to the right of the very rocky main run so to avoid dangerous slipping on the boulders I followed it. Now that’s going to be a useful addition to my trail knowledge later in the year. With a bit of familiarity it will be a riot! A narrow single track clings to the edge of a steep drop, which will add some spice to proceedings at speed. I joined the main trail for the final, steep, bumpy drop. When I tried to change gear I found that the gear mech wasn’t moving. The cable had come out of the clamp but after a couple of minutes of fiddling I had it back where it should be.

It was only whilst riding to the back of Healey Nab that I realised that the exit at the north end would be blocked. On my last ride I’d found that this area has been dug up to begin the clearing of the diseased larch trees, which fill about a third of the hilltop woodland. I’ve since heard some relatively good news about this. When I saw that not only had trees been felled but the stumps dug up, I’d feared that this would be the same all over the hill. I’ve since found that this first part is only to give access to the tree felling machinery. The rest will just be cut at the base with the stumps left in place. Presumably the fungus in question doesn’t affect the roots. This will reduce the disruption and hopefully not destroy the trails. With all this in mind I took a road route back home. It was a worthwhile trail ride with over 1,200 feet of climbing to aid my fitness.

So are higher places drier? I’m not sure but it was dry enough to enjoy!

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