One big ride, four epic downhills.

Today’s ride was the biggest I’ve done since I attempted the Mary Towneley Loop last September. The weather was perfect, in the high teens Celcius, sunny with no appreciable wind. I knew I’d eaten enough last night to be well fuelled so I had some cereal and made sure I was well hydrated before setting off just before half past seven. My plan was to ride 4 of the best downhill sections I know in a single ride which turned out to be 25.08 miles with 2,684 feet of ascent. Almost all of the route is off road, the way I like it, and it’s all on terrain which I’ve ridden previously.

I pumped the tyres of a rather dirty Boardman mountain bike up to 25 psi front and 27 rear, filled my backpack with water and I was away, using a route which I developed with friends in 1996/7. For quite a few months we rode Darwen Hill every weekend and this was my first destination. I undulated to the village of Brinscall then began a longer climb. Early on I enjoyed a high speed gravel road descent followed by a gentle gradient to Roddlesworth Woods. I haven’t ridden this way often in the last few years and it’s constant climbing is taxing. At the top of the woods it’s up on to the moors with a steeper climb. I’ve ridden this way a lot in the past and absolutely never been defeated by the slope. Thankfully I preserved my record today but it seemed a little harder than I’d remembered even though the surface has been renewed with smoother gravel. The highest point here is not the position of the Jubilee Tower, which was built to commemorate the golden jubilee of Queen Victoria in1887. The high point comes before that and is followed by a very fast drop and then a rocky climb to the tower. I paused for my second photo stop.

My first stop at the bottom of the Roddesworth climb.

The moors around Darwen Hill. It’s the middle of nowhere but the mountain biking is superb in every direction.

I arrived at the Jubilee Tower and turned immediately for the first epic descent. It’s pure quality which didn’t relent for the next 8 minutes and 660 feet of downhill. After a rocky start a sharp hairpin right took me onto a long and fairly constant gradient which used to be smooth and straight. Over the last 25 years it has eroded to a point where you need to swerve from side to side and plummet from high speed drop offs. The trail becomes twistier and crosses a tarmac road by a pub, the Sunnyhurst. No time to stop with a third of the descent to complete and now it’s a wooded country park to a bandstand at the bottom.

The climb up starts gently enough but gets steeper before leaving the woods for a savage climb. I haven’t ridden it without stopping for years even though I’d conquered it on my first ever attempt in around 1994. I managed the first part and diverted from the rough cobbles to a smoother margin higher up. On the final and steepest part you can’t avoid the gnarly surface and mind blowing gradient but I was nearly there so dug in to a place I don’t often go these days, especially not during a longer ride. I gave it all I had and was rewarded with a satisfying glow as I crested the summit. I mentioned my success to a disinterested walker. A fast descent and road section took me to the top of Roddlesworth again for another epic.

It drops on woodland singletrack. Entertaining and fast but it was spoiled towards the end with some impassable bog. Not quite such an epic this time but looking at it later I found that the app. Strava still has me tenth fastest out of over 500 riders, but today I was way slower, and wetter. I was now feeling my efforts in my quadriceps after the steep ascent earlier but still had plenty of energy to keep going. Another couple of miles of gravel, including a steep climb, and I took a moorland way which I haven’t ridden in years. I don’t think I got the route perfect after a ruined farm called Solomon’s Temple and went across some damp and draining terrain, correcting my route later for a climb on the gravel towards Great Hill. I didn’t go anywhere near the top but instead took my current favourite and third epic downhill of today’s mission. It screams quality from top to bottom. From fast moorland singletrack, along the top of Brinscall woods, where I beat the first rocky hump, to a long and varied drop to the Goit, a straightened river. It was definitely the highlight of an excellent day but it wasn’t over yet.

I rode to the back of Healey Nab, my local hill for a single downhill from top to bottom dropping 375 feet. It’s so familiar but still counted as my fourth epic. It starts on manmade trails but continues on loam to a fast and furious open finale. I loved a longer ride of 3 hours 15 and was pleased that, although my muscles were tired from the hard climbing, I wasn’t to the point of “running on fat”. I still had some speed and did some stretching on the road home to aid my recovery. I’m making sure I keep my hydration up after the ride because this helps to reduce or prevent cramping, which often affects me. I’d like to get some more longer rides in before attempting one of my 2021 challenges which is climbing 4 peaks, including Darwen Hill and over 100 km with lots of off road.

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