Finding Valhalla.

To a viking warrior heaven was Valhalla, a paradise of drinking, eating and fighting. In my personal Valhalla I’d drop the fighting and replace it with mountain biking! The north of England had a long history of Viking invasion, starting with raids as far back as 793 AD. Vikings were not just raiders and thieves but also settlers as witnessed by place names in our own area like Formby, where I worked for most of my working life, Kirkby and the incredibly Norwegian sounding Skelmersdale. Some of my genetic makeup will undoubtedly be Scandanavian but I’ve yet to invade local coastal communities. Viking activity continued until Harold Hardrada, king of Norway,  tried to claim the English throne in September of 1066. He was defeated at Stamford Bridge near York by Harold Godwinson, an Anglo Saxon who claimed the throne after the death of Edward the Confessor. Harold was then defeated at Hastings by William the Bastard of Normandy who’s progeny still rule.

Putting the potted history of England aside for a moment I was looking for a ride today worthy of it’s place in Valhalla. A long, sinuous downhill would be required. Challenging climbing, high speed thrills but with an eye to safety. No pressure, then. If you’ve read my recent blogs you’ll know that I’ve discovered some sensational trails in Brinscall Woods where I’ve ridden for almost 30 years but never fully explored. The bone dry conditions after over 6 weeks with virtually no rain have brought to light trails which in damper conditions may not be too inviting. I’m trying to get the best out of these trails whilst the ground stays dry so wanted to include the area in a long downhill section from the top of Great Hill (1,250 feet above sea level.)

I took the familiar mainly off road route to White Coppice and rode the harder side of the river, failing at the hardest part. I’ve succeeded a number of times recently and just didn’t put the commitment in which was required. I climbed the gravel road which dissects Brinscall Woods but after the first steep climb was tempted to take a right hand turn onto a much steeper, narrower trail. It cuts off quite a lot of extra riding but demands a massive increase in work. I didn’t expect that I’d be able to make it the whole way but in the current dry conditions would never have a better chance. I tried to relax the effort where the trail was a little easier, knowing I’d need maximum power on the steep, rocky, rooty parts. I kept grinding onwards and finally reached the undulating trail which crosses the top, eastern side of the woods. I stopped to take some photos and heard another bike coming up the same way I’d just come. My prayers were answered when I found that it was an E bike with a battery and electric motor. The rider turned left, not seeming to have noticed me.

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The stile is a a sort of crossroads with trails running in 4 directions.

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The trail I’d just climbed was extremely hard, though the last part looks easy enough.

Crossing the stile and there was no let up in the difficulty. A while ago I tried this climb in slightly damp conditions and couldn’t get up a steep slope early on. I commented to some rather disinterested walkers on that occasion that 20 years ago I could have made it. Well, I made it today and was overjoyed when I reached the gravel road at the top. It had almost gone wrong at one point but I just kept the pedals turning and regained balance. I continued to the top of Great Hill with a fairly stiff breeze against me later on. At the top I had a brief chat with a walker who told me he also mountain biked but had lost confidence after a crash on Darwen Hill, which was visible behind me.

 

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The summit with Darwen Hill in the distance, taken on a previous ride.

Now it was time for my descent and the wind was behind me. With the dry ground and a following wind I was setting a number of fastest ever segment times according to the app. Strava. The speed was exhilarating in these conditions but I was still being careful to stay safe. At the place where I recently went over the handlebars I took the easier if slower option to the right. The mud which caught me out previously has dried up but the ground is still very broken, needing 10,000 pairs of feet to flatten it out. I had to slow a few times for walkers and runners, especially those with dogs but with the wind I was soon whisked back up to speed. I turned off the gravel to take the superb moorland section into the top of the woods. This is one of the great little segments and it’s a shame that only 350 Strava users have ridden it, compared to thousands who’ve ridden more popular trails in the area. Over the stile into the woods is an undulating trail which takes a couple of minutes. I was over confident at the first hard part again and dabbed a foot down, having not changed down into a low enough gear. There are 3 fallen trees which can’t be ridden around or over and after the third I turned left onto my recently discovered fabulous single track. I was fully committed today and pushed the pace around the twists and turns, trying to keep it smooth and keep off the brakes. It’s uninterrupted, thrilling riding all the way to the final, flatter section and I stopped at the river crossing showing 15 minutes 27 seconds.

This could be a time I never beat because I may never again have the combination of bone dry trails and a tail wind, though I’m sure I’ll love riding this long downhill many more times. When a trail is as long as this one and you fully commit it takes you to another place. You’re so focused and become totally absorbed in the experience, this is the taste of Valhalla I’d been seeking!

On the dirt trail back towards Healey Nab I even earned a Strava trophy today for a 10th fastest ever attempt by any rider, out of 1300, on a segment entitled “Cricket pitch to Moor Road mud bath”. It was so dry today the wind whipped up a small dust devil as I rode along. I returned via Healey Nab where the newly cleared downhill is very dusty. I tried not to take any risks but it’s an exciting trail and really gets the blood pumping. It gets even faster on the open field afterwards with it’s two steeper drops over rougher surfaces but I genuinely did manage to keep it sensible! This was a great ride which I’m sure I’ll remember for a long time. I just hope the weather stays this good whilst we’re locked down by coronavirus. It’s a fantastic physical and psychological therapy to enjoy riding this good.

 

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