On Wednesday night, I was thinking of a nice route for the next day’s bike ride and had a yearning for the open moors of the South Pennines. Having hurtled along the M62 between Manchester and Leeds at least a thousand times I am often drawn to the moors between. For the vigilant driver, it is a cruel voyage across such a heavenly tract; for like Orpheus the traveller is forbidden to look at the beauty which is desired due to risk of death. I long for the freedom to hurtle through the moody skies and rolling moors yet this time on my bike. I hap upon the Mary Towneley Loop and set my sights on that.
I find the website of idonohoe.com and read a little, I find the map and start highlighting my old and tatty OS Outdoor Leisure Map 21, South Pennines, marking the route. The highlighter isn’t working very well and I have had a glass of wine or two, so there is a realistic acceptance I am likely to get lost the next day. I like the sound of Lady Towneley. Idonohoe says: “The Mary Towneley Loop is dedicated to the memory of Mary, Lady Towneley, who rode from Derbyshire to Northumberland to highlight the state of the country's bridleways and campaigned for The Pennine Bridleway for many years.”
Now, the next day, as I am pushing my bike up very steep hills, and getting a real work out, I think: is there anything I would like to campaign and protest about? A trait I do not like, I am a bit of a political inactivitist. Social injustice does get me angry, the poverty in which people live all around us, is shocking but no one seems to see it, or even know about it. Oh, the treatment of prisoners too. So, if I wanted to campaign about something, now I know what to do about it! Go on a long distance bike ride! The phones are ringing in Whitehall, the minister for social equality and child poverty is on holiday, they can’t decide whether to interrupt her break or let her know the news. The email is prepared and the button is pushed: “she’s on a bike ride now”.
Still, in fairness to Lady Towneley, I am sure there was a lot more to her efforts than going on a bike ride. And I will find out more about what she did because the MTL is a route to the ancient packhorse trails, which I like.
The Pennine Bridleway National Trail leaflet says of the MTL: “an ideal short break destination for horse riders, mountain bikers and walkers. Take a journey through the South Pennines – you will encounter open moorland and hidden reservoirs, ancient packhorse tracks sweeping into valleys with gritstone walls, mill chimneys and canals offering a glimpse of past histories”.
Now there is the clue! Horse riders, mountain bikers and walkers. What about me?! I am none of them! Not when I am on my Ridgeback Velocity hybrid bike. I found out fairly quickly that some of the route is not suitable for a hybrid. Lucky for me, I was happy to push my bike.
Idonohoe continues: “You need to be fit! With the Loop a healthy 47 miles,the ability to ride at least 30 cross country miles is a must. The loop is a 7 hour ride at a respectable pace and you will need to build up a good bomb proof base...”
Thinking of myself as a strong cyclist, that did not register with me the night before! I was thinking of the heavenly Great Yorkshire bike ride from Wetherby to Filey the previous Saturday, how easy that had been, around 70 miles literally crossing the country, but not cross country, I now appreciate!
Pushing my bike up another steep hill, I think that the Mary Towneley Loop reminds me of The Garden of Jane Delawney. I sing alot, “Froggie went a courting and he did ride aha, aha, Froggie went a courting and he did ride a ha, a ha, Froggie went a courting and he did ride, sword and a pistol by his side aha!” and proceed to improvise on that splendid ditty. I create a rap in the style of Biggie Smalls about the perils of cycling wearing only black, generally I pass the time pleasantly and when I can actually ride, it is glorious! I sing terribly out of tune, and shriek “oooeee” like Jones in the Confederacy.
I started from the car park at Hebden Bridge, cycled along the canal to Charlestown where I joined the MTL. I stopped at the Red Lion in Whitworth about 4 hours later for a pint, and was advised by the landlord to abandon my plan to complete the loop in one day. He seemed a reasonable man, he didn’t take any money off me for my pint of lager – well I only had my card on me – and taking stock, I realised it was foolish to continue as I had no tent on me and would have been cycling into a night on the moors with no equipment – I had totally underestimated the time this 47 mile loop would take. The landlord and his gang were very friendly but they wondered if I got bored on my own. No I don’t. They suggested I invest in GPS however getting lost is part of the adventure for me.
So, I cycled back to the MTL (having left it accidentally) and then down through Broadley and Syke, heading for Littleborough, where I planned to hit the towpath and cycle to Hebden Bridge, it’s rushhour on the A58 and treacherous. I am genuinely scared. Another cyclist agreed with me that the road was very dangerous, and following his nod, I leave the A58 immediately and head for the tow path well before Littleborough.
The Rossendale and Pendle Mountain Rescue Team website: “The Mary Towneley Loop is a 47 mile circular section of the Pennine Bridleway. The entire route is way marked and easy to follow, the riding surfaces mainly good on tracks, newly created paths and trails or minor roads, and involves approximately 6300 feet of ascent. The loop takes in some of the best scenery and off road biking the South Pennines have to offer, traversing the hillsides and crossing the valleys between Rossendale, Burnley, Hebden Bridge, Todmorden and Rochdale. It crosses high exposed moorland and is a strenuous, demanding day out. A good time would be 7 hours but it has been done in just over 4 hours.”
Well it took me about 4 hours to do a quarter! I will have to do it in sections, because the landscape, the scenery and the views in the quarter of the MTL I did yesterday were what I dream of, and I can’t wait to see the other three quarters. I have absolutely no intention however of getting a mountain bike so am happy to take my time to immerse myself in that Pennine air.