Follow the acorns, you can't go wrong... mostly.
The best info on the MTL is this map produced by National Trails which, as well as showing the trail direction, lists many of the amenities en route. Looking at the altitude profile I elected to do it clockwise from Widdop so that I could ride more (steady uphills, steep downhills) and push less. This also meant the last climb and descent was on familiar territory.
I confess my heart wasn't in it when I woke up, having fried my brain the previous day playing 6 hours of new board games and 2 hours of Netrunner tournament at the Leeds MeepFest; I was all for rolling over and getting a few more hours sleep. As a result I was a bit later than I would have liked setting off.
The small car park at Widdop was full of JCBs and portakabins so I parked by the track to Gorple, got heavily midge-d getting the bike off the roof so was glad to get going finally.
L: At the start and on the way to Gorple
R: Sheep having a paddle in the drinking water
Dropping down into Rodmer Clough the signage for the trail worsened and the veritable confusion of footpaths in the area didn't help my map reading. With the assistance of my phone GPS I eventually got back on track but missed the turning up to Blackshaw Head and ended up coming down Colden Clough (or should that be "rough"?) into Hebden Bridge. Back out on the main road again to pick up the turn up the hill at Callis Bridge where I stopped for a couple of chocolate brioche rolls from the rucksack.
On this leg the route has felt quite broken up and not particularly flowing with the poor waymarking (and navigating) and numerous gates.
Herman taking a break at Callis Bridge
The climb out of the valley is through pleasant woodland on a decently paved track and altitude was gained quickly. It didn't take long to get to the top...
...which revealed a view of the trail ahead traversing underneath Stoodley Pike down to Makinholes. Riding down this bit of trail brought back memories of doing the Haworth Hobble a few years ago, being fed single malt by the KCAC crew at the Makinholes checkpoint and having a massive energy crash coming back over to Haworth. Fun times.
By far and away this was the most popular segment with horses as I (carefully) passed around 10 of them travelling in either direction. Finally, the descent into Lumbutts was down some steep stone set trails with the odd upended stone mid path to keep things interesting.
Moving out of Lumbutts I got stuck in the worst traffic jam for a while with a farmer and family moving their sheep up the road to another field. It was nice to have all the traffic slowed down to the same pace as I offered round my jelly babies to the kids that were helping keep the sheep on track.
Traffic jam, Lumbutts style
A steady climb in bottom gear from Lumbutts around Rake End on mode bumpy stone set paths before dropping down steep rocky trails, passing bikers pushing up the other way and a collie dog intent on herding me, down into Bottomley. This stretch from Hebden Bridge to Bottomley was quite rough but much more flowing and enjoyable than the first part, especially the traverse under Stoodley Pike and the views down the valley.
Bottomley Canal crossing
I pushed up the steep path out of Bottomley, plagued by flying ants and strange flying insects with long dangling legs that kept trying to hitch a free ride to the top of the hill. Gerrof me legs! I found a fly free spot at the top to have a marmite and cheese bagel from the pack and a brief rest.
The bit from Summit to Watergrove reservoir to Broadley can't have been that interesting as it all passed in a bit of a blur. I remember a nice memorial garden just above the res with a good view out to Rochdale and a bike barrier too narrow to fit a pair of mountain bike bars through (thoughtful!).
I did stop to chat to a fellow biker who held a gate open for me. He'd been practicing a line in what looked like some old mine workings and was chuffed to have finally cleaned it. We talked about the local biking scene, the MTL and he recommended both Cragg Quarry and Lee Quarry as good biking venues with short punchy technical lines. Might be worth a trip out sometime.
Looking down to Watergrove reservoir
Down into Broadley and it was time to stop and refuel at the corner shop. A bottle of water went in into the pack and a flapjack and a tin of Vimto went down the hatch getting ready for the big climb up Rooley Moor.
Passing through the amusingly named Prickshaw and up Whimsy Hill, past Bagden Hillocks and Clegg Ding on the long, slow, bottom-gear-and-spin climb up to Top of Leach summit on Rooley Moor. Small fist sized rocks cause the front wheel to twist as they send you in a different direction, usually into more of them that rebound you away like a pinball buffer or into some really draggy sandy gravel that takes even more from your legs. I passed a chap on a bike who grumbled that I wasn't going to give him a tow up! Nevertheless I made it to the top clean and was quite happy to get the biggest and hardest climb out of the way.
Perspective issues. The bottom reservoir (Cowpe) is about 10 times larger than the top one.
There are many, many gates on this ride.
There's a bit of a pointless diversion as you cross the A671 to keep the horses away from the traffic; if you are on a bike then just follow the road and pick up the bridleway later. Just above Holme Chapel is a memorial stone to Mary, Lady Towneley who campaigned for better bridleways. Obviously a horsey sort of person (as in liked rather than resembled) I wonder what she would think of hordes of sweaty mountain bikers tearing around the place.
The monument reads:
The air of heaven is that which blows between a horse's ears.After pausing a while and eating some jelly babies I dropped down into Holme Chapel and climbed up to Long Causeway. This last stretch feels like the wildest and least touched by human efforts despite the odd reservoir and wind farm.
Lady Towneley MBE 23.2.1935 - 13.2.2001
Pause awhile beside this monument and remember Mary, whose vision opened up once more these ancient routes so that you too can refresh your spirit as the wild and romantic terrain of the Pennine Bridleway unfolds before you.
Down to Cant Clough reservoir and the last of my sandwiches with the sheep looking on in envy. I knew they wanted that last brioche roll but it was mine!
As soon as I hit the track up to Gorple Gate I got a little boost of spirit, knowing that I'd set out on something that I thought was pretty tough and managed to make it round. A steady climb in a lower gear than last time I did it and before I knew it I was looking down over Gorple with only the last rocky descent to do.
Bumpy paths and rocky roads were the staple of the ride and the last descent to Widdop was no exception with my biceps feeling like they were about to be shaken off completely. Despite this tiredness I still managed to get a Strava 2nd best and a PR on this segment. Not sure how!
The midges were out when I got back to the car having taken 8 1/2 hours with breaks to complete the loop, a time that I'm very happy with given the distance and terrain. My Strava log for the ride is here.
I went home and treated myself to a massive Domino's pizza and a pint of tea after sluicing off half the moor off my legs.
Thoughts on the day
The weather was great for this kind of endeavour, a light cloud covering was keeping the temperature down and reducing the risk of sunburn. No wind to push against, although I wouldn't have said no to a playful, cooling breeze at some points.
A lightweight merino top was all I needed and the windproof stayed in the pack. I was mindful to keep drinking from my water bladder throughout the day and I'd loaded it up with some Nuun tablets to make sure I didn't run out of salts. I slurped my last bit of water from my bladder as I was coming down to the car so perfect timing. It subsequently took me half a day to rehydrate properly though, I was definitely in water debt!
The marmite and cheese bagels were a savoury delight as usual.
The route is OK with some really good bits like under Stoodley Pike and from Long Causeway to Gorple. However fighting through numerous gates and being shaken to bits at various points took a bit of a shine off it. A good day out nevertheless and a tough physical challenge. I might be tempted to do it the other way round for comparison but there are other bridleways in the Dales that are clamouring for my attention.