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Into the Land of the Poets

Updated: Mar 27, 2023

Clayton Hirst approached us about featuring three challenging rides over the uncompromising hills and moorlands of West Yorkshire and the Peak District.

Although that's a bit outside our usual remit, we thought our readers might like to see the routes and photographs anyway. What's not to love about a beautiful national park and it's stunning scenery?

Moors are a stage for the performance of heaven. Any audience is incidental – Ted Hughes, 1979.

The wind pours by like destiny, bending everything in one direction. I can feel it trying to funnel my heat away – Sylvia Plath, 1961.

The hard-bitten West Yorkshire landscape has stirred some of the best writers and poets for generations, in awe at its elemental beauty. For the cyclist it offers some of the most challenging riding in the UK, and an opportunity to discover why it has inspired so many.

Read on for three routes – travelling south, west and east from Holmfirth at the foot of the Pennine hills – that take the rider deep into the Land of the Poets.

Three classic climbs – with a sting in the tail

57 miles, with 5,800 ft of climbing.

Let’s start with the classic - a greatest hits of some of the best countryside in this area. The route heads south from Holmfirth over Holme Moss, a weather-beaten climb that in the summer of 2014 was lined 10-deep with giddy Yorkshire Folk when it was part of the Tour de France Grand Départ. Ride it today and you’ll see the fading words of ‘Cav’ and ‘Froome’ painted on Le Col de Moss as you slowly ascend.

On the other side of the Moss (pictured above), the route heads to Glossop and over Snake Pass, a long climb into the High Peak which was originally a toll road designed by Thomas Telford. At the top you’re in for a treat, with an almost continuous 9-mile descent to Ladybower Reservoir. There you have a choice. Turn right and head to Hathersage with a stop at the café attached to the David Mellor cutlery factory. If you are feeling particularly brave (or foolhardy), then there’s an option to detour off route and visit Bamford Clough which some say is the world’s steepest paved road, a vicious half-mile climb that tops out at 36.5%.

For a short cut, skip Hathersage and continue on Mortimer Road past the Strines Inn. Go easy on the beers, as the Strines beckon. Once hailed as Britain’s toughest road by Cycling Weekly, the Strines are three successive climbs that will eventually take you up to Langsett Reservoir and to the junction with the A616. If you need a final refresher before heading back to Holmfirth then look out for the Bank View Café opposite. It’s hard to miss – painted white with red King of the Mountains polka dots.


Over Saddleworth Moor

Option 1: 39 miles, 4,370 ft of climbing

Option 2: 29 miles, 3,330 ft of climbing

You’ve probably heard of Saddleworth Moor. In 2018 wild fires raged across 7 square miles of this peat moorland that burned for three weeks. It was the scene of the Moors Murders in the 1960s. And in 1949 a Douglas DC-3 crashed into the moor killing 24 passengers and crew. But its notoriety belies the beauty of this moorland, in the area known as the Dark Peak.

There are two westerly routes to choose from: The longer route heads north towards Scammonden Water, while the shorter route cuts through Marsden, birthplace of poet laureate Simon Armitage – more on him later. The routes follow several A-roads, but they are not too busy. There’s a café stop at the Handmade Bakery Café in the mill town of Slaithwaite.

Note On the longer route there there is a short and steep cobbled descent at 24m miles down Steele Lane, where the road surface is sketchy. Take care, especially in the wet.

Insider information:

Locals pay attention to how visitors pronounce Slaithwaite.

If you’re born & bred, it’s: sla-wit

If you’re a local, it’s: slath-wait

Posh southerners say: slayth-wait

Be warned.


Two masts tour

38 miles, 4,830 ft of climbing

Another challenging ride and another moor. This time the route heads north east from Holmfirth towards Emley Moor Mast, a Grade II-listed TV transmitter and the tallest free-standing structure in the UK. After a café stop at the cycle-friendly Thorncliffe Farm Shop in the shadow on the tower, the route heads south towards Dunford Bridge before weaving to the foot of Holme Moss. Make sure you’ve got some go left in your legs because the lesser-climbed route from the south is a long steady affair. Click into your lowest gear and spin up to Holme Moss radio transmitter that marks the summit like a giant spear, before descending through villages of Holme, Holme Bridge and back to Holmfirth (pictured).

The sky has delivered its blank missive. The moor in coma. Snow, like water asleep, a coded muteness to baffle all noise, to stall movement, still time – Simon Armitage, 2013.

Like Hughes before him, poet Simon Armitage was born and raised surrounded by the West Yorkshire moors. He reminds us, in his Stanza Stones series of poems inspired by the Pennines, that the along with the hills, the weather can add an extra challenge in these parts. May the wind be on your back.

Thanks Clayton for this contribution - let us know if you ride the routes and what you think! You can find more of Clayton's photos on Instagram here.

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