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UK ride: The Peak District

Matthew Page
20 Apr 2017

Relive the high point of the 2014 Tour's visit to the UK

Where: Fairholmes Visitor Centre, Peak District.
Total Distance: 85km
Total Elevation: 1,850m
Difficulty Rating: 7/10

Has it really been not far off three years since the Tour de France started in Yorkshire? It must surely go down as one of the greatest cycling moments ever seen in Britain with crowds that swamped mountains and towns alike.

The Tour de France has left its mark on the region, being the springboard for the Tour de Yorkshire, which aspires to be a world-class event and one that showcases some of the very best cycling that Britain has to offer.

It not only takes in the Yorkshire Dales and North York Moors National Parks, but also heads a bit further south to the Peak District, which is where we’re riding this issue.

The towering uplands of the Peak District lie between the cities of Manchester and Sheffield. It was the first area to be designated a National Park in Britain, which is quite something when you think about some of the other incredible areas throughout the country that have subsequently earned that title.

The route we’ve planned today explores the Dark Peak area and includes the mighty Holme Moss, the biggest single climb that has featured in the Tour de France on British soil.

Our starting point is the Fairholmes Visitor Centre on the shores of Ladybower Reservoir, just below the Derwent Reservoir and dam.

Joining us as guide for the day is Rachel Sokal, a local rider best known for her excellent mountain biking skills – although we’re hoping to use her local knowledge to keep us firmly on the tarmac!

As soon as we turn out of the visitor centre, along the quiet connecting road along the edge of the reservoir, we’re treated to stunning views across the water and the hills all around.

A few kilometres on bigger A-roads are easily bearable before we soon take a left and are once again onto the quieter, smaller roads.

Known as The Strines, this section of tarmac is a fantastic ride through picturesque scenery with fun and twisting descents and a few stinging climbs, including one in particular that feels like a wall!

We’re soon passing through the village of Langsett, which would barely have registered on our radar prior to 2014, but the locals took the Tour’s visit to heart – the race passed through the village before finishing the stage in Sheffield – and a massive polka-dot painted house remains as a lasting reminder.

We keep heading north, avoiding the very busy A616 and skirting around on much quieter roads that take us up to Holmfirth.

This is the lowest point of our route but it’s also where the biggest climb of the day starts. Holme Moss might not be as monstrous as anything in the Alps or Pyrenees, but Tour organisers felt it was challenging enough to award it Category 2 status – making it officially the Tour’s most difficult climb on British soil.

Leaving Holmfirth, the road starts to climb very gradually, giving plenty of time to get into the zone before it starts to kick up a little steeper as the urban areas come to an end.

The full ascent measures 7km but it is only the final 3km that really test the legs. Typically, as we climb higher, the weather – which has been cold but dry thus far – turns on us and the rain and wind start to blow in, depriving us of the famous views we were looking forward to.

What is clear for us to see is the painted roads, with pro riders’ names still visible on the tarmac, giving us some sense of what it must have been like during the Tour.

The crowds lining the route are somewhat thinner today – just the occasional sheep! The top is typical of many mountain roads, with no fanfare or majestic monument, but instead a gradually easing gradient that flattens and then heads downhill.

With the wind and rain battering us, it isn’t a downhill to enjoy today, but one to endure with eyes half open trying to prevent the rain from stinging our eyes.

The bottom is marked by a junction onto the A628 and a section of unavoidable and rather unpleasant riding due to heavy traffic, but it is at least very brief, less than 1km long.

Back onto quieter roads and back to what has turned out to be a turbulent weather day as clouds lift, winds drops and the sun appears.

As we head towards Glossop, we begin to realise that the Peak District really seems to be an area of two distinct road types.

The A-roads are major supply arteries between Manchester and Sheffield, and tend to be frantically busy. Then there are the more minor roads, which seem blissfully quiet with fantastic views all around.

There is at least one exception to this rule, however, and we see it first hand as we head out of Glossop and up towards Snake Pass.

It is an A-road, but not one that seems to be a major trunk road. Snake Pass is not perhaps the most famous climb within the Peak District, but it is relatively straightfoward and very enjoyable with gradients that feel so consistent at 6%.

Luckily, the weather has improved to the point that it’s almost the complete opposite to our climb of Holme Moss, giving us the opportunity to take in the stunning views over valleys and gorges as we ascend.

The summit is difficult to pinpoint with the road gradually levelling out as it heads over the highest point at 510 metres, but the descent is one to enjoy and in particular the top section with a road that feels like it disappears through a gorge with twisting bends.

While almost all of the remaining ride is downhill, i’s the first 4km that are the most fun. Following the path of River Ashop it leads us to the edge of Ladybower Reservoir, before we turn off the main roads back towards the visitor centre.

We make sure we stop one last time before we reach it to take in the spectacular view across the viaduct and beyond. It is a fine reward for our efforts.

The route

To view this route on Strava, click here.

1 Head South from the Fairholmes Visitor Centre to the A57, turning left towards Sheffield. Follow for 4km, then turn left onto Mortimer Road. Follow for 13km, then taking a left, past Langsett Reservoir and then onto Langsett itself.

2 A long staggered crossroads takes you over the A616 and onto a minor road, and then the A628 to Millhouse Green and on to the B6106.

Continue to Holmfirth. Join the A6024 and continue over Holme Moss until it joins the A628. A brief, 500m stretch on the busy road is unavoidable but over quickly, joining the B6105 and continuing to Glossop.

3 From Glossop town centre take the A57 over Snake Pass and the descent towards Ladybower Reservoir. Just before the viaduct over the reservoir, turn left back towards the Fairholmes visitor centre. and continue for a few kilometres to the finish.

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