Riding Great Hill on a winter’s day.

Today, like yesterday, was glorious. Cold but with blue skies and sunshine it was a lovely day to be outdoors. I walked up Great Hill with my dog, Freddie, just 24 hours before and thought that the ground looked dry enough to ride by mountain bike. It’s actually difficult to assess the state of play until you get wheels on the ground but I was hoping that a sharp frost in the morning would leave the muddy patches crunchy enough to cross without sinking. Before midday I was underway.

I used a familiar route via a string of small lodges or reservoirs to the north of town, taking me to the hamlet of White Coppice. From here I used the easy side of the river and won’t be riding the more difficult and technical side until we’ve had a good period of dry weather. I was daydreaming as I rode along and had passed one option to climb Brinscall Woods before I’d thought about which way I’d go. I rode a steeper but shorter climb which I used in a 10 lap ride last year. The damp ground made the ascent harder than it had been on that occasion but at least I only had to climb it once. I then chose a short stretch of tarmac to avoid a muddy looking woodland section and arrived at the bottom of an open moorland route, starting on gravel before becoming rockier with around 600 feet still to climb. I enjoy a good climb. Listening to my breathing and feeling the strain in my legs. There’s quite some science involved in finding the balance between pedalling speed and the pressure applied to the pedals. On a mountain bike the changing gradient means you have to frequently decide whether to change gear or change your pedalling speed. On the gravel the gradient is more constant but further up the hill the surface changes from one bike length to the next. I reached the summit and tried to mimic a photograph which I’d taken on yesterday’s visit.

I’m not fanatical about photography and this may be a blessing since the camera on my “mountain biking only” phone has low resolution. At £20 I could break the phone whilst riding with no worries. The saving grace is that the pictures often look like paintings. Yesterday, by taking a picture facing into the sun I’d got a monochrome effect, with only a patch of blue sky.

Today I included the bike.

Clearly it was slightly later in the day since the sun had moved westwards and I picked up far more colour. I now had a long descent taking nearly 17 minutes. It’s action packed from the start and at 1,250 feet I could feel the cold and the ground was hard frozen. The gritty trail was bone dry in many places with the frost and sunshine having sublimined the water away. Later I was cautious over sheets of stone speckled ice. I then had around 4 minutes of gentle but fast descent on gravel before more action on a superb, lacerated moorland downhill to the top of the woods. Along the top edge of the woodland the muddy ground was crispy, grabbing my front wheel and trying to dictate my direction and I still had my favourite downhill to come.

The next few minutes were good. OK, not as thrilling or as fast as in summer conditions but still well worth the effort. My 4 minutes and 7 seconds ride was one and a half minutes slower than my best time and needed some care on slippery surfaces. I then had a flatter ride for a couple of miles before climbing up and over Healey Nab to try the purpose built trails, which were in fine form. It was a good ride and I could feel the effort coming over the Nab. I hope the sunny weather persists. I’d climbed 1,363 feet over 15.78 miles.

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