The weather has continued to be wet, which is not the best weather for trying a new trail. On a recent ride I’d noticed a track which, in over 30 years of going to the top of Great Hill, I’d never noticed before. On that occasion I followed it part way from it’s rather vague start but had turned back thinking I’d wait until the ground was drier. Curiosity got the better of me today so I set out with the intention of riding the whole length of the trail, knowing that it links back to the main downhill which runs from the summit to White Coppice. This descent has been described as one of the best downhills in England. I used to ride it a lot in the late 1990s with my mates and often tried to get down as fast as possible. It’s become more treacherous in recent years due too erosion of the surface and I no longer feel the need to beat everyone on the way down so I was only ever going to ride with caution today.
I started along my usual, mainly off road way to White Coppice , which confirmed that the rain has left the ground as wet as it is in winter. There were dozens of cars parked on the approach to the White Coppice cricket field though no game was being played today. Walking seems to have massively gained in popularity since the Coronavirus pandemic and I knew the path along the straightened river would be busy. I could have used the difficult route along the other side of the river but I think it would have been impossible with today’s mud so I just had to keep asking walkers to allow me to pass. I then climbed the gravel fire road up Brinscall Woods which was much quieter and continued up to the gravel which crosses the moor. I wanted to use the ride for some good training so made sure that I put some work in on the ascent. To get the best speed it’s important to use the correct gear. If the pedals are spinning too quickly I’ll still find myself breathing hard but I know from experience that I can go slightly faster by changing up a gear. In the past I’ve ridden with some very fit riders and found that I might struggle to stay with them even though I was breathing hard. If I changed up a gear and used more muscle my cadence (rate at which the pedals turn) would reduce but now I could keep up. What you need to find is a gear where you start to feel the effort in the legs but can still keep the pedals spinning. I’m glad I’ve had the experience of riding with others because riding alone you have no real way of knowing which gear gives you the most speed. Today I made sure that I felt that effort in my muscles to get me up the hill slightly quicker. I took a photo at the summit.
I started on the trail which at first had some small vertical drops. I pushed my weight back to prevent any chance of going over the handlebars. I started to believe that this was just a trail left by the sheep which inhabit the hill in summer, though last time I did see a bike track. It twisted through tussocks of vegetation and was very narrow but good fun. Later I approached a stile so obviously it is a track made by walkers. Over the stile are the ruins of a building, perhaps a shepherds hut, which I’ve often ridden past in a different direction. I could have dropped towards a stream and ridden the trail which follows it but this time I did a short climb to join the main descent. After a section with very sharp rocks where I’ve punctured a few tyres in the past is a smoother, gravel section. I could have carried on to Brinscall Woods the way I’d climbed earlier but instead dropped to the left towards White Coppice. The first section was very deep in mud but to the right was a slightly drier line where 2 riders seemed to be struggling. I passed and enjoyed the fast, rutted descent which turns steeper and very rocky on its lower stretch. I was a little surprised to be passed by the 2 riders I’d overtaken earlier. That’s what happens when you’re too cautious!
I rode back via Healey Nab with its man made trails. On the final drop through an open field I took the steepest part at full speed and found the muddy ruts grabbing my front wheel and trying to steer me where I didn’t want to go. I could see that I could afford to let fate have the upper hand and just went the way I was now pointing. I enjoyed my ride despite the wet. It was more like a winter ride where I can’t just go where I want but have to think about the condition of the ground. Would I ride the new trail from the top again? I’m sure I will. It’s not often you find such a tightly twisting piece of single track though it must be said that the main downhill starts on an exquisite but very different piece of trail, as well. It’s nice to be faced with a difficult choice where either option is so good.