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#ColdDarkRides - Alastair McPhail

The second in our new series "Cold Dark Rides" takes us to some more corners of the Cold Dark North, but doesn't even need the iconic Lake District National Park to find 5 beautiful places to ride.

The brief for some of our favourite local riders, brands and photographers was basic: give us 5 photos and descriptions of the places you love to ride and a bit of blurb on yourself. Over the coming months we'll be sharing their secret climbs, epic rides and favourite spots here in the Road Gauge and on Instagram.

The next #ColdDarkRides comes from Alastair McPhail - another recently settling resident of the Cold Dark North with a great eye for a photo and one of the 100 Climbs on his commute!

Alastair started cycling in 2012 after moving from London to Lancaster. Alastair was influenced by Britain’s (Wiggins) various cycling successes, bought a road bike and spent much of his free time exploring the hills of Lancashire.

Alastair has completed the infamous Fred Whitton twice (that’s plenty!) on the two years it didn’t rain, has hopes of completing the 100 (200 or is it now 545?!) Greatest Climbs and is keen on the idea of riding up a mountain in France. Due to a number of other commitments (read: children) Alastair tends to spend most of his time on two wheels at the moment commuting or unforgivably parked on a on a turbo in his kitchen.

When asked to produce a guest photo blog about my favourite places to ride in the Cold Dark North my thoughts inevitably went straight to the hills. Yeah sure, you can ride out to the coast on the flat for miles, but why do that? Boring! In my humble opinion the hills are the reason for cycling in general, and here in the North we are blessed with some of the best and most difficult climbs in the country, mix it up with some spectacular scenery and you have a brilliant day out.

So in no particular order, here are my top 5 places to ride in the Cold Dark North (which doesn’t even include Cumbria, what was I thinking?!)

Jubilee Tower || 4.1km, 5.7% average

Maybe it’s because it’s so near to my house, but every ride out seems to feature this climb in one way or another. It has become the benchmark on which other climbs are compared, and I have spent countless hours ascending and descending it trying to improve Strava times or finish climbing challenges.

It has 3 approaches, all different in their make up. The main climb from Quernmore is steep, twisting through hairpins, the other side is gentler in its gradient, but exposed and the third route up is a rough farm road that goes on and on, until it reaches the upper half of the second route.

Jubilee Tower isn’t just one of my favorite climbs, it is one of my favorite areas for cycling, with lots of options to go on to longer routes in the Forest of Bowland or local loops up and down its various lanes.

Oh and the view from the top is pretty spectacular too!

The Skaithe - Cross o Greet - Lythe Fell Road || 2.9km, 6.3% average

This narrow and sinuous lane between Slaidburn and Bentham, deep in the Forest of Bowland, is 12 miles of undulating and rough road. It is very quiet out here and your bike best be in good condition or repair skills up to date, as it is remote and a long walk in cleats. The Skaithe section out of Slaidburn is up and down, with a number of testing climbs for several miles until you reach the main event; The Cross o Greet climb.

The climb itself isn’t too hard, the gradient fluctuates and is steep approaching the summit, but if the wind is against you it can be an awful slog into a headwind. Once at the top you have views behind you into Lancashire, Cumbria and Yorkshire in front.

The descent down Lythe Fell Road is a bumpy roller coaster ride all the way up and down to Bentham. (Ed: And actually features in the first in the series by Ele Suggett going the opposite way - so clearly it's some climb.)

Birdy Brow - Longridge Fell - Jeffery Hill || 2km, 9.1% average

Both climbs either side of Longridge Fell are savage, but for some perverse reason I actually quite enjoy the slog up Birdy Brow, and have an urge to make the journey there regularly. I first encountered this area on a sportive, approaching from the Jeffrey Hill side, but personally I prefer to climb Birdy Brow, as I think it’s more interesting to climb. But also because it’s a far scarier descent due to its rough surface and because it is tree lined, making it difficult to pick out a line in dappled light

It is consistently steep for its duration of almost a mile, but when you finally reach the top and get up onto Longridge Fell you are treated views of the southern half of the Ribble Valley and an undulating stretch of road.

Turn right at the pub at the end of the road, climb up past a tree farm until you are at the top of Jeffery Hill and have the northern half of the Ribble Valley laid out for you. I hope your brakes are in good condition as the descent is steep and fast!

Back near home again, and both sides of this rough farm lane are a test, but particularly the side that approaches from the scout camp. It’s unrelentingly steep as you pass through a wooded section, the road is rough and traction can be hard to find, especially when wet. The look of this whole area changes dramatically through the seasons, but you can smell the wild garlic and see the bluebells growing on the side of the road when coming through in the spring.

The top section is out of the trees and exposed, it snakes up the hillside past uninterested sheep. Here is where I had two formative experiences of my cycling career; firstly I ran out of gears on an early attempt and had to lay down on the grass, and secondly it is the place I reached my first century mileage, towards the end of the now defunct Le Terrier sportive.

At the top, as ever, views views views and steep, fast descent. This area has a number of quiet, rough lanes to explore, with steep pitches and amazing views down the Lune Valley and out to Morecambe Bay. Also, keep an ear and eye out for the peacock that randomly appears at the side of the road!

Ingleton to Hawes Road B6255 || 25.5km, 0.5% average

In a break from my previous suggestions I now venture out of Lancashire and into Yorkshire. The 16 miles between Ingleton and Hawes in the Yorkshire Dales in my opinion is one of the finest places to ride your bike.

Not only is the scenery along this road beautiful, from the fells to Ribblehead Viaduct, but it is also the gateway to several brilliant climbs in the area including: Buttertubs (49), Fleet Moss (50) and Garsdale Head (73) (not forgetting Barbondale, what no number?!) to name but a few of the savage brutes that await.

The road itself is definitely what I would call undulating, but it also has a significant climb called Newby Head, which isn’t all that exciting, but the descent from which is one of the best I have ever had the pleasure to ride. It is long, with gentle curves that speed can be carried through and feels like it goes on and on almost all the way into Hawes.

Here on this road is where I have had possibly two of my best cycling experiences; the first in 2014 when riding to Buttertubs to watch Le Tour. We rode in a big group and there were hundreds of other cyclists on the road. The second was earlier this year when taking part in an event organised by Cold Dark North, The Coal Road Challenge. A tail wind took us all the way from Ingleton and averaged 20 MPH all the way to Hawes. The less said about the return leg the better!

You can find Alastair on Instagram and out in the Forest on his bike. He'll know where to put the effort in on Jubilee though, so be careful at the bottom!

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