I was accepted by the Royal Navy to train as an officer in 1985. I would have gone on to fly helicopters but unfortunately my medical history intervened. I’d had a brief illness in my teens and it was decided that I was too much of a risk to invest a massive amount of money in me during my training. I’ve nonetheless always held the military in high regard as do many of my acquaintances. In the scooter riding community we always do an act of remembrance for the fallen but this year Covid has caused a problem. Whilst it’s fairly unlikely that any of us are infected it just doesn’t seem wise to mix with others unnecessarily, especially as my wife, Ali, is a school teacher. If she caught the infection from me she could spread it to any or all of the 300 staff and children in school. I thought, instead of going on the scooter tonight, I could do a solitary act of remembrance by visiting a local war memorial by mountain bike.

On the 12th of November 1943 a Wellington bomber crashed in Lead Mines Valley with the loss of all crew and a memorial marks the spot in commemoration. I often ride through the valley but don’t think I’ve ever previously climbed the steep slope to the memorial. After a very wet period it seemed prudent to ride there mainly by road, only riding off road to the side of the valley where I’d drop down and climb to my objective. I could then ride down the valley on a gravel trail to complete my ride on the road. Yesterday I received a parcel from EBay for my Whyte PRST4. I’d fitted a new gear mech earlier in the year but the new mech was running too close to the biggest cog. I have a wide range cassette with a big 42 tooth lowest gear. What I bought was a drop link to extend the gear hanger, dropping the mech to a suitably low position. I fitted it this morning and thought that since I was riding mainly road I could use the Whyte, which is my lightest bike and possibly best suited to road use. I surely wouldn’t get it too muddy? I’m rather precious about my older bikes. They don’t have the weather protection of more modern bikes and replacement parts are becoming scarce.

The app. Strava revealed to me that I haven’t ridden the PRST4 even once this year so the decision was made. I went round the back of our local hill, Healey Nab, by road and climbed the steep ascent from the end of the reservoir. I put a lot of effort in and kept the work up the whole way to the top. I climbed the 0.8 miles and 306 feet of ascent in 7 minutes 40 seconds, which is over a minute quicker than I’ve ever climbed the hill before. Admittedly I’ve never worked so hard previously. Concentration is an important part of such efforts. If your mind drifts onto random thoughts you’ll relax and slow down. You need to keep thinking about pace. At the top I carried on by a gravel road which reaches a gate where I stopped to take a photo.

The Whyte PRST4 with it’s radical suspension.
Time for a gravel bike? The steep descent is slippery on a mountain bike. On a gravel bike you’d need to be very cautious.

At the bottom of the gravel slope the trail turns to narrower dirt and is definitely mountain bike terrain. Climbing gently at first the gradient turns up steeply and zigzags to the memorial. It’s possibly rideable in dry conditions so it’s one to repeat in the spring. The PRST was proving to be the right bike. It’s light and with the unique suspension is an excellent climber. I soon reached my objective to pay my respects.

6 airmen lost their lives. The pilot was a non commissioned officer which meant he couldn’t socialise in the same mess as most other pilots.
The poppy wreathes are presumably left over from last year.
Winter Hill stretches across the horizon.

A trail continued from the memorial so I followed it expecting to reach a bridge across the brook which I’d seen from the other side of the valley on previous visits. It was a gentle but wet climb and reached a wooden bridge above a familiar waterfall. The trail on the other side was very obscure so I returned by my outbound route. I enjoyed the steep descent later and rode down the valley to the tarmac. By this time my plan to barely dirty the bike had failed so I decided to ride more off road sections on my way back home. I’d put some work in on the steeper climbs today and could feel the effort in my legs. I discovered some trails I’ve definitely never ridden before and I’ll return in drier weather to explore. First, though, I’ll study the area using the excellent resource of Google Earth.

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