Ride of the Week - Calderdale
Ever since Shibden Wall was featured in the 2017 Tour de Yorkshire route, I’d been itching to give it a go. I also managed to tick Cragg Vale off my cycling bucket list in the process on what proved to be a tough yet rewarding loop around Calderdale.
1) Cragg Vale was on my list as it is the longest continuous gradient in England, rising 970ft over 5½ miles – just as the sign tells you as you reach its base on the outskirts of Mytholmroyd. Perhaps because it came at the very start of my ride, it wasn’t as hard as I’d anticipated though, and I was able to get into a nice rhythm from the off. The steepest slopes came when I entered Cragg Vale itself, but once I’d got those out of the way it was a steady drag to the summit followed by a really fun descent into Ripponden.
2) Once I’d passed through the traffic lights at the foot of the hill I took a right turn onto Elland Road and was immediately met with my second climb of the day – the Côte de Ripponden. This featured on the 2014 Tour de France route (just as Cragg Vale did) and it certainly packed a punch. I was already out of my saddle and breathing heavily as the road kinked left halfway up it, and by the time the gradient finally levelled out my legs were also feeling the burn. The Tour organisers ranked this a category-three climb and with an average gradient of 8.6% over 1.6km it’s easy to see why.
3) I was rewarded for my efforts with some great views over Kirklees and Calderdale before I descended into Elland, and crossed the River Calder there before continuing alongside the Calder and Hebble Navigation. Entering Brighouse, I took the first exit at the roundabout and headed onto Halifax Road for a kilometre or so before turning down Mill Hill Lane and continuing along the far quieter back road to Hipperholme. From this point on it was all about conserving my energy for the hurt that was to come…
4) I approached Shibden Wall via Leeds Road and Kell Lane, taking a left turn down Blake Hill and then trying to hold as much speed as I could as I approached the ascent. The road ramped up as soon as I’d crossed a small bridge though and a section at 25% meant I was immediately on my smallest gear. A second blow came a few hundred metres later when the road switched from concrete to cobbles, and by the time I’d hit the dreaded ‘s-bend’ section I was on my absolute limit. Fortunately the cobbles were dry so I could alternate between riding in and out of my saddle but there was no relent in the gradient whatsoever as I slogged my way to the summit. Once I’d reached the top I was absolutely spent, but there was a sense of satisfaction in there somewhere knowing I’d just conquered one of the country’s hardest and most notorious climbs.
5) As tired as I was I needed to keep my wits about me on the technical descent into Lee Mount, and the subsequent climb to Mount Tabor seemed relatively tame by comparison even though it had its own steep gradients and my legs were tiring fast. The drop down to Luddenden was another fast one, and anybody that takes this ride on needs to be aware of a very tight chicane which comes midway down it before you reach the village itself.
6) I don’t know why but a sense of bravado gripped me at the bottom there, and instead of taking the pan-flat valley road back into Mytholmroyd, I opted to tackle one last climb up Solomon Hill before reaching my destination. I regretted it almost immediately as this is another brute of an ascent with the steepest ramps coming towards the top. When I reached my car I’d clocked up over 1,200m of climbing and my legs certainly felt it, but it was a great tour of this Yorkshire cycling heartland.
Difficulty Rating: 4 stars
Time: 2 Hours 15 Minutes (at 14mph average speed)
Distance: 31 miles (50km)
Parking: St Michael's Square car park. Grid Ref: SE 01277 25966
Public Toilets: Located in Mytholmroyd Railway Station