The Trough of Bowland - June 2005 [Road]

Buddy Bill is moving to Spain in the autumn and has built himself a lovely new racing bike to take with him. He got all the parts through the shop at trade price, but it still cost him about 1,000 (excluding his Ksyrium wheels which he'd bought earlier for 300+). It's a very lightweight carbon-fibre beauty. He was itching for an opportunity to do a decent ride on it in the sunshine, and Saturday was IT, accompanied by yours truly - here comes another lengthy ride report.

We decided to 'do the Trough' - basically the ride we tackled a few weeks ago through Padiham and Whalley, but instead of turning back before Dunsop Bridge, we would go round through Longridge, turn north and skirt the big hills to the east, to eventually head back down the gorgeous Trough of Bowland (the 'easy way' to do it). At least, that was the theory, but I should add at this point that we neglected to take any maps with us. Every time I've done that ride before I've climbed over Longridge Fell, and gone on through Chipping, and can find my way round without a map. "No, no" said Bill, "we can avoid climbing the Fell by riding through Longridge and turning right after that". Okay, fair enough. SO, we rode to Longridge and carried on. Some time later I was beginning to wonder where our right turn was. Funnily enough, it turned out, so was Bill... We then had a short conversation where I explained that if I'd been navigating, it would have been over the Fell, through Chipping and so on, however since we were doing HIS route, it was up to HIM to spot the turn! Anyway, the sun was shining and we had many hours of daylight left so I wasn't worried. If we didn't get back on track by the time I was halfway through my food and drink we could always turn round and head for home, disappointing though that would have been.

On we went. In the end, it got a bit comical, because we could see the big hills in the distance and we knew which side of them we were on and which direction we wanted to be going in, only the country roads seemed to have other plans! They meandered this way and that and we ended up going in a big loop and almost back to Longridge. However, I could see the very distinctive Beacon Fell about a mile away and knew that there was a route via that, although it involved some of the extra climbing that we'd been trying to avoid. Nothing TOO bad though, so that's where we headed. There were glorious views from up there, including a glimpse of Blackpool Tower in the heat haze to our left. We plunged off the other side and down into a very steep little river valley which I'd somehow forgotten all about, with a very stiff climb up the other side (I checked the map when I got home and it sported a double chevron - i.e. gradient of 20%+ - nice!). I'm definitely getting fitter because at no point did I feel like I was going to have to get off and walk, and in fact the benefit of the cool shade of the valley seemed to outweigh the drawback of the savage gradient.

Soon, we spotted a sign for Oakenclough and I knew the way from there. It was a 2 mile climb to get to it, but at least we were back on the original route. After Oakenclough, the scenery gets seriously pretty.

We now had a 'Close Encounter of the Sheepy Kind'. Before you start to worry - not the kind that you can be arrested for! Bill was riding about 50 yards ahead of me along a slightly downhill length of road, which was cut into a steeply sloping hillside. We were probably doing about 30 mph. I saw a sheep standing in the middle of the road ahead. New readers may be unaware of some of my earlier sheep encounters. Let's just say I am now very wary of the daft creatures; they always seem to do what you least expect them to... Bill didn't seem to have quite the same intuitive grasp of sheep behaviour though, as he was proceeding at full speed. The sheep was staring straight towards us, but because of the incredibly underpowered nature of its brain, it didn't actually seem to register Bill's presence until he had actually swept by. I knew that something was about to happen though so I was already braking in anticipation... PANIC!!!!!! The sheep started trying to run off the road, but at first, its hooves skidded on the road surface so it was running on the spot as if it was on a treadmill in a gym! Then it gained traction and dived off the road on the downward slope, changed its mind, turned through 180 degrees, ran back onto the road, crossed it in front of me, started running up the hillside, found it too steep, turned 180 degrees again, recrossed in front of me, ran off the road onto the downward slope again, lost its footing, tripped and rolled downhill like a big woolly snowball. It finally came to rest against a big rock, leapt to its feet, spotted some extremely delicious-looking grass, and started munching away as if it didn't have a care in the world. Bill had turned and witnessed this with me. We were howling with laughter and had to spend a few minutes composing ourselves before we felt able to continue...

Boy was it hot! Being overweight is bad enough from a fitness perspective, but it also has a serious impact on the body's ability to deal with heat. I get hotter from the extra effort of carting the lard about, but I am also insulated by the fat so it is harder to shed that heat - an unfortunate double-whammy in the summer, although admittedly quite handy in the winter (I suffered from the cold a lot in the winter of 2001/2 when I weighed less than 12 stone). I have to drink a lot in hot weather when I am overweight. My intake was more than 4 litres on that ride but I still arrived home more than a kilogram lighter than when I'd set off.

By the way - yes, I do know that I keep mixing my units. In the UK we are taught the metric system in schools, and shops now have to sell things measured in kilos and metres but we tend to weigh ourselves in strange old units of 'stones' and 'pounds' and still use miles, yards, feet and inches to measure distances. It will probably take another couple of generations to do away with the old 'imperial' units altogether - good riddance say I.

I think that the heat was getting to me because I found myself chuckling at how fine the scenery was. It was almost as if The Almighty (peace and blessings be upon him!) had decided to enter a 'Create most beautiful countryside' competition for artistic deities. Suddenly, however, my quiet enjoyment was shattered by some all too familiar sounds - "VROOOM" (engine revving/throaty exhaust), "CRUUUUUNCH" (clumsy gear downshift), "BOOM CHITTY BOOM CHITTY BOOM CHITTY..." (dance track blasting out of a car boot loudspeaker system) and "CRRSSSSHHH!" (the sound of gravel spraying back at me). A hot hatchback full of young guys shot past, followed by another one, (also doing about 60 mph) at the not-entirely-safe distance of about 50 cm! A friendly greeting emanated from the open window of the second vehicle - "AAAAAAAARRR, YA FERKIN TOSSSSSERRRRRRRR!!!!" Hmmm, another fine advertisement for compulsory contraception... I looked ahead to check that they passed Bill safely (he was about 200 metres ahead of me). He turned his head towards them as they went by and in a flash something shot out of the second car and hit him in the face - bloody hell! I sprinted up to see if he was hurt and saw to my relief that he was okay, but looking 'somewhat peeved'! We looked down in bewilderment at a pair of dirty red and black rugby socks lying in the road - huh???

Apart from that little incident, all was lovely. Another short sharp double-chevron climb and soon we had worked our way round to the top of 'The Trough'. I was taking a quick breather there when Bill shouted at me to follow him on the descent. I looked round and saw a mini-convoy of slow moving tourist traffic coming towards us. Yeah, right, I didn't want to get stuck behind that little lot so I set off in pursuit of Bill. He was going downhill in his customary Kamikaze fashion. I know from previous near-death experiences that it is not a good idea to try and keep up with him so I held back a little, only hitting about 45 mph max! This was fortunate because I'd forgotten that there is a blind spot about halfway down the Trough - a dip in the road out of which a car and a motorbike unexpectedly emerged. I managed to squeeze by but there was a rather scary drop off to my left so I was certainly glad that I wasn't going any quicker! I'd also forgotten that the road rears steeply back up a couple of times, a fact that had almost reduced me to tears when I first did that route in earlier, less-fit days.

We made a stop at Dunsop Bridge where I once again cursed the British need for hot water in public toilets. Is it really too harsh to have to wash your hands in cold water? At least have a cold tap too, or a drinking water fountain. Once more, I had to refill my bottle with hot water - on a blazing hot day - ugh! Bill laughed at my complaints and just waded out into the nearby river and filled his bottle there. He doesn't seem to believe in the concept of water-borne parasites...

Off we set again. I was beginning to feel slightly frazzled by now, and was looking forward to getting home to a lukewarm bath then some nice food and drink. Unfortunately, that was still over 2 hours away! We rode on through Whitewell, and towards Great Mitton. All of a sudden Bill asked me if I planned to stop anywhere else on the way back. Actually, I had just worked out that I was probably going to run out of drink about 15 miles from home so it DID seem like a good idea. It turned out that Bill for once was starting to feel a bit hot and bothered himself. I noticed that his freshly shaved head was caked in a thin layer of salt. We decided to stop at Whalley and bought 2 huge bottles of Coca Cola, thinking that the combination of sugar and caffeine was just what we needed to help us on our weary way home. After a lot of guzzling (and burping!), we mounted up once more and set off up the dragging climb to Whalley picnic centre. Bill was slightly ahead of me but he still seemed to be suffering on his bike. I, however, had got a bit of an energy jolt from the Coke and decided to amuse myself by overtaking him at speed, so I dropped back, changed up a couple of gears, stood on the pedals and accelerated past him singing "It's the real thing, Coke is...". He looked astonished as I sprinted up the road round the bend to the lights at the top of the hill, but a wry smile appeared on his face when he caught up and found me stationary, gasping for breath, with my head slumped on the handlebars. "You'll pay for that later you know!" All good clean fun...

As usual, it was a bit tedious riding in the traffic through Padiham and on to the fringes of Burnley where I used to work. Rossendale Road rises gently at first and then rears up before levelling off at the Manchester Road traffic lights. I always used to hate that hill when I rode back from work because I hit it after only 5 minutes and was never warmed up properly. Not a problem that day of course... Bill normally gains about 200 metres on me on the climb but I was able to stay within about 25 metres on Saturday. He was surprised to see me there when he turned to see what damage he'd done at the top. It's mainly downhill or flat from there to Todmorden and thence to Hebden Bridge. We did that last section fairly quickly, me 'wheelsucking' Bill the whole way - age before beauty and all that...

A fine day out - 7 1/4 hours of riding with 1 1/4 hours of stops on top of that. Bill seemed to be pretty happy with his new bike. and my Cannondale had been great to ride, as usual. When I got to home to Hebden Bridge I'd done 99.50 miles so I went once round the block to complete my imperial century - hurrah!