This past Easter weekend we fancied a long mountain bike ride away from our usual trails in the Lake District. For a while I’d had my eye on the northern section of the Pennine Bridleway running from the top of the Mary Townley Loop (MTL) back to Newby Head near Dent.
I marked up the route and worked out we could do about 50 miles per day with a stopover in Settle, travelling pretty light if we stayed in a B&B with just a change of clothes for the evening.
Good Friday evening we boarded the train at Oxenholme for Accrington and cycled to my parent’s house in the Rossendale Valley. Early Saturday morning we rode some trails from my youth to rejoin the MTL near Fearns School, Waterfoot. Start of the Rossendale & Pendle Mountain Rescue Team MTL Challenge.
We followed the MTL clockwise on a section I’d ridden a few times before and remembered for the sheer number of gates. Taking turns to open and ride through we soon got onto the open moorland trails and over Worsthorne Moor to Hurstwood Reservoir.
Not far along here the Pennine Bridleway North splits off from the MTL over Extwistle Moor. On the map this was just a featureless moorland with no trails marked so I was keen to see what we’d be crossing over, imagining shouldering the bikes and carrying over boggy moorland. I couldn’t have been more wrong, the new trails that have been built were nice wide gravel tracks, well drained and with great swooping bends to tame the steep contours. Fantastic!
We carried on to the quaint village of Wycoller, somewhere I’d heard of many times but never visited. There’s a great tea-room at the Craft Centre with a roaring fire and a great selection of local foods and cake. Unfortunately it was pretty full inside and we were a bit muddy so opted to sit outside in the weak sunshine.
From here was a bit of a slog on the road along a temporary route diversion whilst the new trails are finished. Once past Barnoldswick the route flattened out and it was back to navigating fields and gates towards Long Preston, only getting slightly lost in a field once having missed a small stake with a bridleway arrow.
From Long Preston it was a last climb over the old road to Settle. The OS map here shows a road right through so we were a bit confused by the ‘No through road’ sign at the bottom of the lane, but once at the top the road turned to a gravel track with sections of single track and not something you’d want to drive over. A last freewheel down to Settle and the B&B saw the end of Day 1.
There’s plenty of food and accommodation options in Settle plus shops to stock up on more food for the next days riding.
After a great B&B breakfast we set off up the road towards Stackhouse to rejoin the trail. The clouds looked much heavier today and it wasn’t long before the drizzle started, not enough to warrant getting the waterproofs out though.
The trail heads on towards Austwick and then we were back on some familiar trails over Long Scar, a great bridleway over the moor though the limestone pavement. Dropping off the tops we got to cross the award-winning wooden bridge over the River Ribble. A gem on the trail as it’s these sections that really bring it all together.
The trail joins up with the Pennine Way here and we had the trail to ourselves as we crossed to Cam Fell. No wonder as there were sections of snow covering the track and we had to push for a few hundred meters. Not something you expect in Yorkshire at Easter!
At the top of Cam Fell the trail turns sharp left and follows another new section, upgraded from a footpath down to Newby Head. This is another smile-inducing descent with gravel tracks and sweeping bends. Keeping the speed down so as not to slide off on the bends we arrived at the road junction and for us, the end of the trail.
From here the PBW carries on north around the top of Dentdale to and along Mallerstang before heading up over Wild Boar Fell. We’d both ridden this section many times before so we dropped down the road to Dent and to the fantastic Stone Close Tea Room for lunch and pedalled home mostly on the roads.
It was great two day journey and we were lucky with the weather given the poor forecast. For me it was a great chance to cycle off-road from my child-hood home back to Kendal.
Best bits: The new sections of trail that link together the more established bridleways and add to the feeling of being on a ‘journey’. It sometimes looks on the map like you’re being taken a long way round ‘two sides of a triangle’ but these often include the best bits of trail and show that the route planners wanted to showcase the best bits along the way.
Worst bits: Gates! There are a lot of gates along the way that interrupt the rhythm of the riding. However, to be able to cross so much farmland and stay off the roads it’s worth the compromise.
Tips: Make sure you’re well equipped with bad-weather clothing, spares, and plenty of food. The route doesn’t pass through much civilisation so you need to be self-sufficient. Sections of the route cross high open moorland and if the weather turns bad, even in summer, you’d be quite exposed. I used a Mapdec on my bike to make cycling and navigating easier.
Anthony & Sally