Hills: the Longest, Steepest and Highest
With our man Roger currently putting together a North York Moors follow-up to his excellent Hill Climbs on the Yorkshire Wolds, we visit the archives of the Woldsman magazine for Roger's observations on the longest, steepest and highest climbs in the north of England. This article was originally published more than a decade ago.
Two years ago I answered a knock at the door, to be greeted by ex Hull Clarion member, Pete Francis. We had not had any contact or ridden together for over 40 years. It was good to see an old friend again, especially as he was still cycling. As a result of our re-union I headed over to Lancashire for a ride round Peter's local patch based on the west Pennines around Oldham. We headed North through Todmorden to our coffee stop outside Burnley, before starting the 1 in 5 climb onto the high moors to join The Long Causeway, part of an old Roman road which took us south to Hebden Bridge. From here we headed through Mytholmroyd to follow the B6138 over Blackstone Edge back to Littleborough. Outside Mytholmroyd the B6138 entered a typical Pennine valley known as Cragg Vale. Here was a roadside sign with the wording, ‘Cragg Vale. Start of the longest continuous gradient in England. Rises 968 feet over 5.5 miles.' At no point was the road steep, but 5.5 uphill miles into a headwind was tiring, even more so when the road emerged onto the bleak moorland for the final mile to Blackstone Edge at 1210ft.
This was the first I heard of Cragg Vale, its reputation as England's longest hill does not seem to be widely publicised, but after the ride I was pleased to have been introduced to a new area and Cragg Vale.
At 1 in 3, Rosedale Chimney Bank is regarded by many as the steepest surfaced road climb in England, and after the Cragg Vale ride I was reminded that I had never managed to ride up the Bank. Over the years, I had had several attempts, but all ended in failure due to either being over geared or under-legged. An attempt on the tandem had failed, just beyond the second hairpin, when the threads on the freewheel stripped.
After the Cragg Vale I decided to give Rosedale Chimney another attempt before I lost my summer fitness. Setting out from Malton, riding my tourer geared down to the mid twenties, I headed for Rosedale. Giving the café a miss, I made a left turn, straight for the hill which starts immediately after leaving the village. Past the White Horse Inn and over the cattle grid, the section between the two hairpins looks steep, but on rounding the second hairpin on the wrong side of the road to avoid the inside bend, it then gets steeper. Out of the saddle to keep the front wheel down and it was all over in less than 0.5 mile. When Chris Boardman won the RTTC championship on the hill, his time was around 5 minutes, it had taken me over 50 years to get up!
Great Dun Fell in the Northern Pennines is easily identified from the A66 between Appleby and Penrith by its radar station. The radar station is operated by National Air Traffic Control and stands at 2782 ft above the Eden Valley. It is accessed by a tarmac service road which is the highest surfaced road in the UK. The official status of the road is that of a bridleway, apart from the last 0.5 miles which is a private road. Leaving the valley just north of Dufton, the road climbs over 2000 ft in 4 miles. The first mile only climbs 250ft, before crossing a cattle grid, and then rises in a series of steps to the col between Great Dun Fell and Knock Fell, before turning up the shoulder of Great Dun Fell for the last 0.5 mile. Although the average gradient is 1 in 9 from the cattle grid, the steepest pitches are much steeper and offer a sustained and strenuous climb.
Last May I planned a ride in the Eden Valley with the specific intention of making a detour to Great Dun Fell. It was a typical spring day, cool and blustery with a threat of showers. Fine in the valley but high on the fells conditions can deteriorate quite a bit. The climb went well, just sit in there and spin the gears. On reaching the col I stopped to take a photograph, but before I could get the camera out, it started to snow – large white horizontal flakes blown by a north westerly gale. The bridleway ends here, but as no one was looking, I rode past the barrier and continued to the top, where I donned all my clothing including waterproofs. By the time I was ready to descend, it was thick mist and the road was covered in snow. As I lost height the snow soon turned to rain and then the sun came out as I arrived back in the valley. It had taken 1 hour to climb to the summit, and 10 minutes to get back down, in which time I had travelled from winter to spring.
Great Dun Fell offers a unique cycling experience in the UK, with unrivalled views across to the Lake District and Southern Scotland. For me it was well worth the effort.