This ride was one of those surprise gems, a ride we just didn’t expect to get in at this time of year, which is what made it so enjoyable. Living near to Stoke-on-Trent gives us access to some excellent rural riding. We can head into the lanes of Staffordshire, Cheshire, Shropshire, Staffordshire Moorlands and the Peak District. Between the months of March and November we like to get out and ride the hills as much as we can, including days out when we pack our bikes into the car and head to beautiful locations as far afield as the Lake District. These rides are not only super scenic but they are great training for our cycling holiday in the mountains, every summer.
However, during the winter months, the rides out to the Lakes and Peak District tend to dip back and we ride locally, keeping up the endurance rides and enjoying more local rolling hills. Due to their slightly higher elevation, these areas are generally hit a little harder when bad weather kicks in, so a ride there in January is not usually on the cards.
When we prised ourselves out of bed, we cursed not setting an alarm as the weather proved to be better than expected. After a very busy week at work, combined with the start of our training plans, a lie-in had been much needed! The morning sunshine was hazy and it was quite breezy but more importantly….no frost. After a bit of pondering we decided to head out on one of our favourite hilly rides, which just touchs the edge of the Peak District, at the village of Thorncliffe. It had been around four months since we had ventured up onto “The Cliffe” as we affectionately call it.
It was approaching 11.00am by the time we headed out, so we fitted our lights as we would likely be returning in the dark. It was a cool morning but combined with the sunshine, it was just the sort of winter day that really makes you want to be outdoors. We dressed in warm gear, knowing that we’d lose any solar warmth by the end of our ride.
I love the cool, dry winter days, as I can wear my favourite white Giordana jacket, along with the superb Rapha high-viz pink overshoes. You can never be too bright on the bike in my opinion! There’s nothing like a sunny day combined with your favourite kit to boost your spirits!
The route is approximately 70 miles and we rode through the only “townie” part of the ride, near to the Trentham Gardens shopping area, quite early on in our ride. Within a few miles we were on much friendlier roads, riding past the llamas near to Barlaston Downs and onto our first climb of the day. It’s not long, but it kicks at the top, giving you an inkling of how your climbing legs are going to perform! I enjoy seeing the local wildlife; the black ducks at the lake in Moddershall always catch my eye. One of life’s simple pleasures for me is seeing young wildlife; the baby coots at this lake were just adorable last Spring.
Lots of small hills ensued as we passed through various Staffordshire Moorlands villages. None are that long, but the number of them certainly tires the legs. Once we reached the lovely market town of Leek, we were very close to the start of the ascent to Thorncliffe. After scooting through the town as quickly as possible, with just a short time on the Leek to Buxton road, we took a right turn to reach the start of the climb.
I always think the road up to Thorncliffe is in three parts. It starts gradually then the gradient kicks for a short time, where I always used to drop into my easiest gear. Nowadays, it’s pleasing to know I can manage in one gear further down the cassette…..improvement after many years of hills! Then you see the old fashioned red telephone box, just near the bend and this is probably the steepest part of the climb. This road has been used in the Tour of Britain, but with the peloton riding down the climb, at break neck speed I imagine! When I descend Thorncliffe in that direction, I always marvel at how fast they must take the “phone box bend”. The gradient touches 20% for a short time, definitely a “last gear” section! I usually find myself saying hello to the sheep at the side of the road, a distraction from how hard the climb feels! You get a few moments respite as the road shallows for a short time, before the third part, a long drag to the top. A headwind on this piece of road is not a welcome thing!
The road swings left and flattens out and Grant was waiting for me at the viewing point…..the view across to the Roaches is stunning and I felt blessed to have this beautiful landscape so close to home. We didn’t hang around for too long, just time for a few photos, as the breeze was very strong across the top. Still days are a rare occurrence on top of “the Cliffe”. A few years ago I was blown straight across the other side of the road, I was very lucky as no cars were about. I couldn’t even unclip and went tumbling onto the grass verge……in front of a group of young army cadets. This provided much laughter and not one of the little devils asked if I was okay……..not one of my finest moments on two wheels!
The skyline was fantastic, behind us it looked hazy and dramatic but the road ahead welcomed us with a stark blue sky. We passed the locally well known landmark called The Mermaid, formerly a pub but now self-catering apartments. Eventually we popped out by The Winking Man pub, which takes its name from one of The Roaches’ rocky features. There is an outcrop that juts out and it has a small hole in it, and when you pass by, it gives the appearance of winking at you! When growing up, I used to love looking out for this from the back seat of the car.
We headed round the back of The Roaches then descended to the village of Meerbrook. From there, we plodded our way back through the lanes, retracing our route back towards home. More short, sharp climbs were waiting for us, notably “The Dip of Doom”, “The Never Depleting Switchback” and “Death by Denford”. These are some of the daft names we’ve coined over the years, when the legs have been feeling a little shredded!
The final torment on this wonderful ride is the smell of home cooked food at The Black Lake Restaurant in Hilderstone. As much as the various energy products we’d eaten on the ride had been enjoyable, we were ready for some warm home cooked fodder of our own! We whizzed past the picturesque lake at Wedgwood, but by this point darkness was setting in and we couldn’t tell if any winter fishermen were braving an evening by the pool. We’ve done a few rides lately where we’ve ridden into dark and this has often given us the best part of the day. Changing light levels can provide some beautiful skylines.
As always, we were cursed by the railway level crossing! Whenever we ride this road, the lights are guaranteed to flash and the familiar buzz will sound, no matter what time of day it is! I’m usually getting hungry by this point but we’d decided to share a Bounce Ball a short time before, so thankfully I didn’t get too cranky whilst waiting for the train to pass through!
The last part of the ride involved the stretch near Trentham Gardens again but thankfully it was much quieter by this time, the shopping masses must have all gone home for tea! With just one short climb to be tackled before we reached home, we clocked just over 70 miles. We may have had tired legs but we also had happy faces and the stresses of the week were long gone.
It was pleasing to have this ride in the bag so early in the year. We’ve been spending our summer holidays cycling the mountain roads of France and Italy since 2004, and it’s hard to replicate anything like that in the UK. So we’ve found that using local hills and also venturing to places like the Peak District helps massively with the training. We’ve recently started our own cycling blog/website and we’ve written a few pieces about our Dolomites cycling trip from last year. So if anybody is interested in learning more about this area, in particular the route of the epic sportive the Maratona del Dolomites, please check out www.stillbiking.com.
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