What’s so great about Great Hill?

Great Hill is the northernmost high point at 1,251 feet of the West Pennine Moors, a chain of hills stretching for around 12 miles north of Bolton and east of my hometown of Chorley. The Highest point is Winter Hill, a little higher at 1,498 feet. The mountain biking is good from top to bottom and links with other good riding on Darwen hill, further east. In my opinion the highlight is a downhill from the top of Great Hill and down through Brinscall Woods. It’s obscure, impossible to explain to other riders and little ridden. I’ve ridden in the area for around 30 years but it was only early last year that I constructed this exact route.

The main reason I’d never discovered all the parts of this trail is that there are excellent downhills at either end of the woods, rides so good that every time I visited the area I’d chose one of these options. This prevented me from fully exploring but last year I rode up a trail which looked very exciting. I turned to ride down and that was it. Perfection! Subsequently I’ve explored more widely but have confirmed that my accidental discovery is the very best option. I’ve extended the route with familiar trails from the summit and it’s the longest downhill I know anywhere nearby. It usually takes 15 minutes or more and my fastest descent last year was 13 minutes and 48 seconds, just 1 second faster than my previous best from a few weeks earlier. Today, after recent rain which has left some mud on the trails, I used the easier, less technical way to Brinscall Woods and up onto the moors. The gravel road becomes rough and rocky as you climb higher, finishing with a footpath with many rocks and steps which provide entertainment on the way down. It took me around an hour to reach the top.

Winter Hill from Great Hill. Around 250 feet higher with a 1,050 foot TV transmitter on top.
Darwen Hill to the east also has some excellent riding.

There were plenty of walkers on the trail to the summit so I knew I’d have to give way plenty of times on the way down. My pictures look as if I was alone but there was a small crowd behind the stone cross shelter. On the app. Strava the first segment is entitled “YeeHaa!” for good reason. It’s not steep but there’s speed aplenty through twists, turns and drops. The thrills continue after a gate with some savagely sharp rocks which are best avoided at speed. Next comes the gravel road which was resurfaced earlier this year. I had to slow several times for walkers. After this I knew I’d likely be alone until the bottom of the hill. An excellent piece of moorland single track leads to the top edge of the woods. I made it over the first, rocky hump and battled along the undulating trail.

I turned down the long drop and fell off! I’ve ridden over a fallen tree many times but this time I think I took it too slowly an the front wheel dropped, sending me gently over the front onto soft ground. Undeterred I climbed back on and powered away. You need to control your speed so many times on the way down for all kinds of features. Corners, berms, broken down stone walls, rideable logs, it’s got the lot. The surface was slithery, much more so than on my last ride here, but no less thrilling for that. I slipped on a muddy patch and the handlebar caught on a branch, stopping me dead. It really is the best thing I’ve ridden and I’m sure I’ll be back many times this year. I rode back over Healey Nab, reaching home after over 15 miles with around 1,500 feet of ascent.

I have a slight dilemma. Recently I found some vandalism of the woodland trail. I wrote about it on a local MTB Facebook page and was so pleased that by the next morning the obstruction had been cleared. In repayment for this rapid work by the mountain biking community I considered writing a guide to my favourite trail for others to follow. But do I really want to bring a lot of other riders to my own little playground? I can’t decide.

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