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This evening I’m having a quiet night in with a glass of wine and the central heating  thawing my bones after another cycling training run in temperatures that were more suitable for a ride across Norway than India!

As you’ll see from my yesterday’s blog, there was no way I couldn’t go out today as the weather was stunning. The only challenge was deciding to cycle a longer distance and also taking the Rochdale Road from Sowerby Bridge to take me up past the Blackstone Edge reservoir and down into Lancashire to the town of Littleborough.

It seemed like a good idea at the time. I dressed accordingly, wearing three pairs of socks to ward off frostbite whilst layering up across the rest of my body just in case. It was a wise move. This handy little chart from Google maps explains why.

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Yep, you climb a thousand feet, in February, when there’s snow on the ground and the outside temperature’s registering minus 2 before you even start!

To be honest, I really enjoyed it. My stamina is improving so the climb wasn’t as arduous as the first time I did it. For the first time I even passed another cyclist on the way! OK, admittedly he was somewhat chunkier than me – and he was riding a mountain bike whilst I’m on a hybrid with slimmer tyres – but I probably had a good 15 years in age on him, so I’m allowing myself to feel smug! What was a problem was the temperature. I needed to wear a scarf over my mouth just to prevent myself from gulping down mouthfuls of freezing cold air which kill when they get to your lungs.

I couldn’t resist a selfie on the dam at Baitings reservoir en-route. Last time I was here the wind was so bad I nearly got blown off the thing. Today was a different story and the landscape looked gorgeous under clear blue skies and with a dusting of snow.

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Looking back towards Ripponden from atop the dam at Baitings reservoir

The journey from here to Blackstone Edge reservoir is the killer as the incline gets steeper to gain another 427 feet in 2 miles. Of course the local cyclists breeze it – but I’m a newbie at this!  On the way up I stopped to catch my breath & enjoy the beauty of the landscape behind me.

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Looking East. Sadly, it’s not possible to see them in this picture, but with the human eye, you can see the steam from the Aire valley power stations on the horizon from this location.

At the summit by Blackstone the dusting of snow became far thicker, the wind-chill kicked in and the drop in temperature was obvious – the reservoir was actually frozen over!

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Bleak, isn’t it? You wouldn’t want to get caught in a blizzard out here – although there is a pub (The Whitehouse) just a few hundred metres away next to the Pennine Way.

It’s a bleak but beautiful spot, you really do feel on top of the world and it’s worth the effort to get here. This time, instead of skirting the far side of  the reservoir you see behind me and dropping down into Cragg Vale I headed on to cross the border into Lancashire. The views looking West are superb on such a clear day as you can see all the way across Manchester to the coast.

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That there Lancashire…

Although not as exhilarating as the long drop through Cragg Vale to Mytholmroyd, the 904 ft descent to Littleborough is worthwhile for the views. Because of the weather conditions and the danger of ice on the road I took it easy as the last thing I need at this stage is a tumble! Other cyclists were less cautious, a couple went whizzing past me, making the most of the empty road. By the time I arrived in Littleborough I was ready to thaw out for a while and sought shelter. It’s not the most exciting town and the options are limited so I took refuge in the Falcon Inn on the Main St. It’s a barn-like place but it had the advantage of a roaring fire in one of the rooms, which I made a bee-line for. Like all the other pubs in the town, it didn’t do food – it’s a traditional boozer so I treated myself to a pint. The clientele were overwhelmingly retired and the handful of them in were either watching the racing or the world war 2 documentaries playing on two of the pubs several TVs. It was a friendly enough place but it did feel like being caught in a time-warp. It reminded me of Lancashire pubs I knew back in the 1970s, albeit the prices had changed a bit!

Once I could feel my toes again I moved on. The Rochdale canal runs through the town so I cycled the towpath as for a mile or so until I arrived at Summit where I regained the Todmorden Rd. Summit is famous for the 1 mile 1125yd long railway tunnel that begins here and runs under the Pennines to Walsden in West Yorkshire. The tunnel made the news headlines back in 1984 when a train of 13 tanker wagons containing over 1,000,000 litres of petrol derailed and caught fire inside the tunnel. The conflagration burned for days, turning the vent shafts into fiery torches that could be seen for miles. You can see some of the amazing pictures in this article from the Manchester Evening News

The tunnel may be straighter and flatter than the Todmorden road, but it was an easy cycle into Walsden where I decided it was time for some hot food. It was the ideal excuse to call into a local institution and somewhere I’d always meant to visit – Grandma Pollards fish and chip shop. For me this was a rare treat, I visit a chippie about once every Preston Guild! Despite the tempting range of pies on offer – including a local delicacy, the Bilberry pie, I limited myself to a bag of chips, munching them sat on a convenient bench the chippy’s provided in the car park opposite.

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A review from a local paper that explains the origins of the Bilberry pie. Next time I have to try one…

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Enjoying a rare treat for me and eating chips from Grandma Pollards opposite.

I must admit the chips hit the spot! Suitably fortified I continued along the road to the busy little market town of Todmorden. I’m never quite sure what to make of the place. It’s attractive enough, with some lovely old buildings (including the monolithic Town Hall) and an outdoor market in the shadow of the huge railway viaduct which crosses the town, but it also has a bit of a reputation across West Yorkshire as a place that has a few social problems. The far-right have always had a presence around here and it was a big Brexit supporting area. The two are often synonymous. As the saying goes, not everyone who voted for Brexit was racist, but you know that every racist voted Brexit…

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Todmorden town centre seen in December 2009 with the Town Hall and railway viaduct dominating the centre.

I didn’t stop but continued onwards to Hebden Bridge which has a completely different reputation and feel. The former mill town has become the artistic and cultural centre of the Calder Valley due to an influx of ‘hippies’, artists and alternative types back in the 1970s-80s. Attracted by the low property prices they’ve transformed the economy of the town and made it a popular tourist destination. The bohemian feel is reflected in the craft shops, organic cafes and other local businesses.

The roads through the town are often congested so I cut off onto the canal again here, passing dozens of narrowboats, many in permanent moorings with little gardens and fancy sheds that help add to the atmosphere of the town.

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Narrowboats moored on the Rochdale canal East of the town centre.

Initially, the towpath was in good condition but it soon turns into a curate’s egg – it’s good in parts! The rest was a frozen quagmire with rutted tracks or deep puddles covered with a layer of ice. Before long the bike and I were both covered in mud. There seemed little point in getting back on the road at this point so I continued all the way along the towpath for the last 5 miles through Mytholmroyd and Luddenden Foot to Sowerby Bridge. At least it was good practice for the state of some Indian roads! What wasn’t good practice was the temperatures I faced and that’s my only concern. In a few weeks time I’ll be exchanging cycling in sub-zero temperatures for 30 degree heat! That’s going to be some contrast and quite a challenge!

So, please, if you’d like to help me face that challenge – help me to help the Railway Children by donating via my fundraising page here. Many, many thanks!

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