MTB ride – Mary Towneley Loop

Today, I’d arranged to tackle the Mary Towneley Loop with 3 fellow members of the CycleChat forum – Martin (goodspeed), Jon (RedBike), and Shaun (shauncollier). I’ve met Martin several times before, but this would be my first ride with Jon and Shaun, both of whom intended to do the ride on singlespeed bikes. Rather them than me…

I don’t like to rush about first thing in the morning so I got up early and had my usual large bowl of porridge plus a banana, then played about on the internet for an hour or so to let my breakfast go down.

It was a cool start but the forecast for the morning was looking good. It was supposed to cloud over later with the possibility of showers.

I met Martin in the centre of Hebden Bridge at 07:40 and we set off along the Rochdale canal towpath to meet Jon and Shaun at Callis Bridge at 08:00. Jon was waiting for us and Shaun arrived shortly afterwards.

We set off to do the loop in a clockwise direction, that being Shaun’s preference. It is supposed to be more rideable that way round. To be honest, there are some steep pushes in both directions, and also some scary technical descents that are beyond my comfort zone.

In many places, the route is well signposted but we discovered later on that some signs had been removed by unknown morons (nothing new there, then). Martin was navigating by GPS but I quickly discovered that the route that he’d downloaded off Bikely didn’t stick religiously to the MTL route. His GPS was trying to take us along the top of Callis Wood to Horsehold but I pointed out the correct route and we followed that. The MTL is long and hard enough for me without adding extra bits on! 😉

It was rapidly getting warmer. Initially, there was a wispy mist washing over Stoodley Pike, but by the time we got to the end of the London Road, it had all dissipated.

It wasn’t all good news though – before long the problems started! Shaun’s bike was making some funny noises, which he initially ignored. Martin then came a cropper on a short stretch of large stone slabs between Mankinholes and Lumbutts. He lost control and landed awkwardly on his right knee, skinning it and, more worryingly, giving it a hard knock. It got ever stiffer and more painful as the ride progressed.

We did the little road section up the hill from Lumbutts and had just started on the climb round the hillside below Gaddings Dam to Rake Head when Shaun suddenly pulled up. He dismounted and started fiddling with his bike, so I stopped to see what was up. It turned out that 2 of his 4 chainring bolts were missing and the other 2 were not holding. Since he only had one chainring on the bike, it was Game Over! Shaun wasn’t a happy bunny… I suggested that he tried to get some replacement bolts from Blazing Saddles back in Hebden Bridge and if he did, he could drive round and meet up with us further on somewhere. Turns out they are not the usual hex-type bolts, but are Torx-style and neither Blazing Saddles nor two other bike shops had any in stock. It seems like a change too far for me – why not stick to the conventional chainring bolt arrangement?

Another thing – where did all that mud come from? It hasn’t rained here for over a week and I was looking forward to dry conditions. It was not to be – we encountered a few really gloopy patches as we continued the ride.

Jon and his singlespeed MTB, below Rake Head
Jon and his singlespeed MTB, below Rake Head

We continued without Shaun, and soon descended to Bottomley where we crossed the busy A6033. That led us into the first section of the MTL that was unfamiliar to me. It turned out to be a steep push to get over to the Calderbrook road (which I do know). I think a strong rider could just about ride up that climb, but I knew that it would kill my legs more than walking so I didn’t even attempt it.

Steep push from Bottomley
Steep push from Bottomley (Martin ahead of Jon)

I really liked the next section of the loop, from Summit round to Broadley on the fringes of Rochdale. I’ll definitely try and work that into some shorter MTB rides (or even walks) in the future. Some trouble with missing signs round by Lobden golf club, however!

Soon we had crossed the A671 and were on the long ascent of Rooley Moor Road a.k.a. the Cotton Famine Road – there’s some interesting local history for you! 😉

Jon made it look oh so easy on his singlespeed. Martin was lagging behind me slightly, but he had the excuse of a painful knee. I need to carry on losing weight and do more riding. That was too much like hard work!

The nice weather was fizzling out. In fact, by the time we got to Top of Leach conditions were starting to look distinctly iffy. It was getting cooler and cloudier and a breeze was picking up. It wouldn’t be long before the rain arrived.

Jon went on ahead to Cowpe Moss as I stopped to take a photograph down towards Waterfoot and the Rossendale valley.

Rossendale valley from Cowpe Moss
Rossendale valley from Cowpe Moss

I caught up with Jon and turned round to see where Martin was. He was busy having a second go at breaking his knee! I thought for a minute that he was going to start jumping up and down on his bike, but he remounted and rode up to us.

Now I’d been starting to realise that completing the MTL today was going to take an awful lot out of me, but I didn’t want to let Jon and Martin down so I was quite relieved when Martin said that his knee wouldn’t take it. I felt sorry about the injured knee of course, but having a good excuse to wimp out almost made up for it! 🙂 We decide that we would ride as far as the Long Causeway, but then head back on the road, missing out the last 25% or so of the loop.

I wasn’t willing to try and ride a lot of the descent to Waterfoot. It’s a bit too steep and technical for me and I think that trying such stuff when you aren’t competent and confident enough is asking for trouble so I walked down where I felt I needed to.

We refuelled in Waterfoot and then started the climb of the thousand gates up to Deerplay. Okay, there aren’t actually a thousand, but there are far more than you’d want there to be. At least with 3 riders you can take in turns to hold gates open for each other. A solo rider would find it a right pain up there!

As we got up to Deerplay, the rain started. It wasn’t heavy, but it was enough to persuade me that actually, I didn’t even want to ride up to the Long Causeway. Since we weren’t going to finish the MTL today, why not just bomb down the A646 to Todmorden and go back to Callis Bridge along the canal towpath?

Decision made, I proceeded to take a wrong turn as soon as we crossed the Bacup Road. Neither of my companions noticed that we had gone wrong, and so began a long, muddy push and ride up to Thieveley Pike. When we finally got up there, I realised what we had done but I couldn’t face backtracking all the way to the road. In the end, we decided to take a shortcut down a footpath to the A646.

I decided to demonstrate to Martin that my body was capable of withstanding large G-forces without any serious damage, so I found a nice rut to dig my front wheel into and grabbed a handful of front brake while he was checking his GPS to see just how lost we were! I performed a spectacular endo and backflip (without pike) and landed in a crumpled heap beside him, to the scary sound of bones crunching in my neck and back. Some frantic toe and finger wiggling later, I came to the conclusion that we wouldn’t have to call out the air ambulance, and I’d have to get off my arse and actually ride my bike home after all – curses!

We stopped for a sweets break and photo-shoot, and for your delectation I now present…

Thieveley Scout and Cliviger Gorge
Thieveley Scout and Cliviger Gorge

The rain had stopped by then, but you can see how murky conditions still were.

Finally, we got down to the road, coming out under the railway line on the Todmorden side of the Fish Ponds. It didn’t take long to get down to Todmorden and back to Callis Bridge from there. Martin and I said goodbye to Jon, and rode back to Hebden Bridge on the canal towpath.

I enjoyed the day, but it was a bit frustrating not to have completed the MTL. I won’t try again this year, but will have a more serious go at it next summer if/when we have a nice warm, dry spell. I’ll (hopefully) be a lot slimmer and fitter, and will also have done a lot more MTB riding in preparation. My arms and shoulders were really tired when I got home.

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4 Responses to “MTB ride – Mary Towneley Loop”

  1. Sounds like an epic adventure! Last time I did the MTL it was raining a lot of the way and I was glad I knew where I was going! It was more like survival than fun. Nice in the summer though!

  2. It certainly got to muscles that road cycling doesn’t touch! 😯

    I wouldn’t fancy doing the whole MTL in the rain. I do quite fancy doing the whole thing on a nice long summer day, especially if the boggy sections had dried up. I loved riding my MTB here in the drought of 1995 – all the mud had turned to dust.

  3. Great ride.

    We will have to second attempt next year some time. That long sunny day sounds ideal.

  4. Barring ill-health or accidents, I should be in much better shape by then. I’ll certainly be quicker on the climbs, but I won’t be much quicker on the technical stuff.

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