Monday, 10 December 2012

Trans Pennine Trail - Penistone to Northenden

Weekend before last I got a text from Simon asking me if I fancied joining him and four others on a bike ride across the Pennines. Cycling the Trans Pennine Trail route from Sheffield to Manchester. Having had no outdoor fix for quite some time I simply could not resist. The weather for the weekend looked awesome with cold yet sunny days predicted, and my original plans for the weekend of a weekend away in the Lakes with the Butcher clan had fallen through. I have cycled the Trans Pennine Trail from Glossop to Manchester before but never cycled across the Pennines section. I am not a huge fan of cycling up hill to be honest. So I was very pleased when Simon revised the starting point to Penistone, some 100m higher and 14 miles north of Sheffield. I packed my gear and readied the bike on Thursday night so I could got a decent nights sleep on Friday. The bike has just had a new chain and cassette so was in great condition for a long ride. The weather forecast looked daunting on Friday night with severe ice warnings. Saturday morning when I woke it was dark and rainy. Fortunately by the time I made it to the platform at Altrincham railway station the rain clouds were fading away to show glimpses of clear skies.

Altrincham Railway Station
At Altrincham railway station I boarded the Northern Rail train to Manchester Piccadilly via Stockport. I had my new Kobo Mini eReader with me on this trip. Reading Monty Halls 'The Great Escape' made the twenty minute journey to stockport seem like only five. I highly recommend the Kobo Mini eReader it is a bargain and a great piece of lightweight yet fully functional kit for backpackers and regular travellers. At Stockport railway station I only had a few minutes in which to grab a hot chocolate and a bacon butty. Rushing from platform four to the comically named platform zero I spilt most of my hot chocolate.

My bike and hot chocolate on the train to Sheffield
On the Trans Pennine service to Sheffield I buried my head back into my eBook. The only time I looked out of the window was the moment the the train raced out of the Cowburn Tunnel into the brightness of the Hope Valley. I was slightly disappointed to see that the tops of Rushup Edge, Mam Tor and Kinder were lacking any snow. I smiled though as I always do when I'm on a train racing through the Hope Valley, I know every one of these big hills like the back of my hand and think back to so many incredible moments on top of them in all kind of weathers, the last visit a few weeks back when I saw Brocken Spectres on Lose Hill. The train entered the next dark abyss of the even longer Totley Tunnel, before racing out into brightness again, this time Yorkshire and the outskirts of Sheffield. At Sheffield station I met up with Gary and Simon, the only two remaining as Richard and Mark had to pull out last minute. We finished breakfast and jumped on the next train to Penistone. As the train made a steady ascent through the countryside we all commented on how relieved we were not to be doing those extra 14 miles and 100m of ascent had we started from Sheffield.

Trans Pennine Trail information board at Penistone, West Yorkshire
Three Leeds fans watched as we alighted from the train at Penistone. On their way to the match and all three of them already drinking cans of cider at ten. I kept my red lancastrian allegiances quiet of course. At Penistone the Trans Pennine Trail takes the route of an old railway line to Dunford Bridge. It is a distance of six miles with a hundred and ten metres of ascent. The railway took the steadiest line of ascent which makes the route really easy. We always knew that our biggest problem today was not going to be steep hills or muddy tracks it was always going to be the ice. The puddles were actually great fun to cycle through when the ice was thin as they made a very satisfying crunch similar to that which snow makes when you walk on it.

Icy puddles on Trans Pennine Trail near Penistone, West Yorkshire
Where the ice was not thick though in the deep cold railway cuttings the puddles were often dangerous in places. You could tell as you passed over some of them that if you forced the slightest change in direction or attempted to break you would be on your side, the bike on top of you and most likely your arms or knees slamming on to frozen solid ground. The route was very pleasant as we followed the valley of the River Don passing Thurlstone, Millhouse Green, Ecklands Bridge then Hazelhead Bridge after which the scenery got distinctly wilder. We were now surrounded by Dark Peak landscapes of wild peat moorland and the sound of moorland birds like Grouse, Skylark and Curlew.

Gary cycling up Windle Edge, Peak District
At Dunford Bridge the track reached the end of the old railway route. There is now two miles on road to reach the Woodhead Pass and the highest point of the day. Simon had warned us beforehand about a very steep hill somewhere along the route and as we turned left on to the minor road at Dunford Bridge we realised this was it. There was a lot of huffing and puffing. I couldn't see a single thing through my sunglasses when I finally reached the top. I was really pleased with my stamina during the day on the hills which I feared they would be my downfall, but I managed them surprisingly well. A mile and a half down the road is the highest point of the journey. We stopped and looked east towards the huge power stations in Yorkshire beyond Winscar Reservior and looked west down the Woodhead Valley with its many reservoirs and could see as far as Helsby Point near Chester on the horizon. 

Gary and Simon on Windle Edge above Winscar Reservoir
We descended to the Woodhead Pass and crossed it to the track that descends the moorland to Salters Brook. The scenery was now awesome. The wild moorland of Bleaklow dominating the skyline in front of us. It felt amazing to be cycling at nearly 20mph through somewhere I am so used to walking slowly through. It has to be said that cycling in areas like this is just as if not more invigorating than hill walking. You get to see so much more and go a greater distance yet it still feels natural.

Simon and Gary on the Trans Pennie Trail near Salters Brook
When the guys headed down the final ascent to Salters Brook it looked so much fun I just had to stop and take a photo of them. I followed soon after and got up to great speed. The only problem we had with some of these tracks was that they often followed a man made crossing from east to west and visa versa. Therefore they had tall stone walls on their south side and when combined with the surrounding hills and low winter sunshine meant any lying ice would stay shadowed from the warm sunshine and frozen for days.

Gary and Simon descending Trans Pennine Trail to Salters Brook
I rattled my way down the icy track towards the gate before the packhorse bridge at Salters Brook. I took great care but made one crucial mistake. When I stopped I should have headed to the far right side of the path that was clearly bathing in warm sunshine. Instead I was a right numpty and stopped over an ancient paving of hard stone cobbles covered in black ice. A few moments later my poor left arm slammed on these hard cobbles and my face was one of shameful embaressment.

Salters Brook information board, Peak District
We all had a good laugh at my expense at Salters Brook as we soaked up the awesome views. We couldn't believe how lucky we had been with the weather. As you can see from the photos it was glorious all day.

Gary and Simon at Salters Brook, Peak District
As we ascended from Salters Brook there was a lovely moment where two Grouse that were sat on top of the stone wall seemed some what unperturbed by our presence as we cycled by.

Gary passing Grouse on stone wall above Salters Brook
We crossed the Woodhead Pass again at Longside End then made our way along the track across Longside Edge. This was a fairly level route on a sticky track through farm fields. We were having so much fun racing down the wide open track that we missed the left turn off down the official Trans Pennine Trail route to the Woodhead Tunnels.

Simon and Gary on the Trans Pennine Trail over Longside Edge
Instead we took a far more adventurous route over the stream at Audernshaw Clough and down the edge of Pikenaze Hill. Cycling down steep hills and through streams was so much fun.

Gary crossing the stream at Audernshaw Clough
We stopped for a moment on Pikenaze Hill to take in the views down through the Woodhead Valley over Woodhead Reservoir. Again all commenting on how lucky we had been with the weather.

Myself and bike above Woodhead Reservoir, Peak District
The last descent down Pikenaze Hill to the Woodhead Pass was incredibly good fun. The track changed from a muddy sticky quagmire into a fast rocky path passing old sheep folds and gateways. You had to really concentrate at that speed and on a rocky path throwing you all over the place. When we reached the Woodhead Pass road again we realised out navigational mistake. We realised that to correct it we needed to either ascend the busy Woodhead Pass to the Woodhead Tunnel or descend the busy Woodhead Pass skipping out the reservoir section of the Trans Pennine Trail.

Simon and Gary descending Pikenaze Hill to Woodhead Reservoir
Travelling by car over the woodhead pass I have seen the road side of this valley on numerous occasions. I wanted to see the quieter side where the Trans Pennine Trail followed the old railway route. I had also never seen the entrance to the Woodhead Tunnel before.

Woodhead Tunnel and River Etherow, Peak District
The entrance to the Woodhead Tunnel was fairly dull if I'm honest, Not sure what I expected really as these days they are owned by the National Grid and are blocked up and carry huge power lines. Luckily for those of us who admire the Peak District's scenery this means the ugly power lines come down from there big ugly metal stands and are hidden under the ground for miles.

Pikenaze Hill across Woodhead Reservoir, Peak District
The view across Woodhead Reservoir was pretty spectaular. The most prominent feature across the reservoir being Pikenaze Hill that we had just descended. A ribbon of beautiful moorland hills held up by the blue waters of the Woodhead Reservoir and backed by perfect cloudless blue skies.

Broadbottom railway viaduct above the Trans Pennine Trail
The route of the Trans Pennine Trail along the Woodhead Valley suffered from the same sheltered shadowing effect of the higher tracks. With the mighty bulk of Bleaklow on the south side, parts of the Woodhead Valley's south side get no sun during winter months. Gary unfortunately was the first to come a cropper and in some fashion. He couldn't see the black ice at the bottom of one small dip in the track and his bike went from under him. A sore knee for Gary and the going was a bit slower after that. We stopped above Torside Reservoir to refuel our bellies as we were all feeling a little deflated and lacking energy. At Hadfield Simon and Gary decided they had enjoyed crossing the Pennines but were struggling, Gary with his sore knee and Simon lacking energy as he hadn't eaten too well, so both decided to call it a day. Leaving myself as the lone straggler. I carried on along the Trans Pennine Trail which was now familiar to me as I had cycled this section before. The hills of the Pennines were nothing compared to the hill at Broadbottom which is massivly underestimated by those travelling along the Trans Pennine Trail as looking at a map it doesn't look much. The urban terraced buildings along the road hiding the contours. I made it up that hill by simply shouting at myself, calling myself all the names under the sun I could think of, ridiculing myself for years of being over weight, eating badly and not doing enough exercise.

Trans Pennine Trail tunnel under the Peak Forest Canal in Hyde
I past by the not so pretty Hattersley then headed along the A57 to Gee Cross. Here the Trans Pennine Trail descends a fast stone track to reach an old railway cutting. This easy level route heads west to reach Hyde. At Hyde it drops to a tunnel under the Peak Forest Canal before entering the Haughton Dale Local Nature Reserve. This is a really nice section of the Trans Pennine Trail following the valley of the River Tame.

Weir on the River Tame at Haughton Dale
It was here at this weir on the River Tame a few months ago that I watched in amazement at a Salmon leaping up the weir. It was an incredible moment as I never thought I'd see a Salmon this far up stream in such an urban waterway. It must have made its way up so many obstacles, forty miles along the River Mersey and Manchester Ship Canal.

Railway viaduct at Reddish Vale on the Trans Pennine Trail
The Tame Valley is a stunning green belt area. I followed the river bank all the way to the A6017 where another testing hill took me up to a housing estate through which the trail runs to Hyde Hall. At Hyde Hall there is a horrible track with huge holes and massive puddles of water. I can only liken it to those muddy bumpy tracks on indoor motor cross circuits. It is probably the part of the Trans Pennine Trail route I hate the most and today it was quite ridiculous after a week of rain. For the first time all day, despite having waterproof footwear my feet were soaked. I was cold, wet and tired and to make things worse I could see that the sun was about to set.

My bike on the side of the Trans Pennine Trail
I had to get a move on and after Reddish Vale I picked up speed along the old railway route to Stockport from Brinnington. When I got to Stockport I decided against the up hill and longer route around Lancashire Hill. Instead I cycled through the subways of the Portwood Roundabout and took the shortcut straight through the town centre of Stockport. I got some funny looks as I passed shoppers with a bike twice its width due to huge amounts of mud stuck to it.

Sunset over River Mersey near Didsbury, Greater Manchester
When I reached the pyramid building the sun had set which made for a lovely ride along the banks of the River Mersey to Didsbury. The glowing horizon was stunning. You would have no idea you were within the heart of the third largest conurbation in Britain.
Sunset over River Mersey near Didsbury, Greater Manchester
Unfortunately there is one part of the bank of the River Mersey that is inaccessible so the Trans Pennine Trail gets re-routed through streets for almost two miles. The proper route heads through the back way to Didsbury village avoiding the busy road junction at Parrs Wood. I understand why they do this as it isn't a bike friendly junction, but it does add some time to the journey and I was struggling for day light now and had my lights on. I decided to go the Parrs Wood way and then made my way down to Ford Lane where another humongous puddle awaited my arrival.

River Mersey at Ford Lane, Northenden, Greater Manchester
I wasn't cycling home to my house in Altrincham as I had plans to watch the United match at my mums house which happens to be in Northenden where the Trans Pennine Trail passes. Ford Lane took me along the River Mersey and literally a few hundred metres from the bottom of my mums road. As I jumped off my bike at my mums house I was shocked by how much mud was all over me and the bike in particular. I also felt a slight twinge in my legs muscles and could feel the on set of cramp so immediately warmed down with a few stretches. I was so glad that I had really pushed myself, it was a great ride.

Myself tired and muddy after 39.5 mile ride
I worked out the next day that I had cycled 39.5 Miles, 835m Total Ascent, 964m Total Descent, 449m Max Altitude, and burned 3611 Calories. Job well done.

Route Map...

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  1. Well done Jamie, that a good day out. The Mary Towneley Loop next?
    Seriously, if you do this again I'd love to join you. Presumably you had no problem with the bike on the trains? Did you have to pay for it?

  2. I love the path along the Mersey, really feels rural in spite of it's situation. I play rugby at Ford Lane and can testify, it's been pretty damp!

  3. I would never accuse you guys of being lazy, of course, but the bike ride from Sheffield to Penistone takes a couple of hours, while the train takes 50 mins and you would have had to wait a while for it, so there isn't really much difference. You can follow NCN627 along the Don Valley (there are just a couple of gaps where you need to take to the road, including a steep but short climb out of Oughtibridge) and takes you through Beeley and Wharncliffe Woods followed an excellent section of trail through Oxspring. (Much better quality than the section west of Penistone) Try it sometime!

  4. Hi! :-) I want to say a huge thankyou to everyone involved and to everyone who is supporting us in this challenge!

    'I have always wanted to bike the Trans Pennine Trail as a personal goal of mine. However, it became more than a personal goal when a close friend was diagnosed with cancer. This friend left me feeling utterly inspired after witnessing the endurance of the human spirit, from the point of diagnosis and through the course of there treatment. It was at that point and meeting others in similar situations that drove my passion to do this bike ride for a reason.'

    Thakns Follow us and donate for uor challenge.... on