12 January 2022

Over Hill and Dale – The Pennine Bridleway 

Over the summer a group of students (most from Sevenoaks) undertook a challenging 250-mile off-road bike ride. Self sufficient for the entire tip and encountering every type of terrain imaginable, the group of ten put themselves to the test cycling the Pennine Bridleway.

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Over the summer a group of students (most from Sevenoaks) undertook a challenging 250-mile off-road bike ride. Self sufficient for the entire tip and encountering every type of terrain imaginable, the group of ten put themselves to the test cycling the Pennine Bridleway.

During the summer, my friends and I set off for a 250-mile off-road bike ride in the Peak District and Yorkshire Dales National Parks, with high hopes and heavy panniers. The trail was the Pennine Bridleway, which runs across probably the most mountainous, rocky region of England and is one of only two National Trails that can be cycled. Our group consisted of me, five of my friends Anthony Bristow, Thomas Bristow, Alec Jones, James Lucas and Quentin Hayman plus four dads.

By the first day it became clear the going would be tough, even with a daily mileage of only 35 miles. The rocky terrain, constant hills, time spent getting lost, equipment and mechanical problems, as well as managing a group of ten made it a challenge to say the least.  We only saw one other cyclist bikepacking the trail, everyone else on the trail seemed to be day-trippers. This contrasted the South Downs Way (which we tackled in 2020), where almost all the people we saw were hiking or bikepacking. 

We were self-sufficient for the entire trail, carrying all our own camping and cooking equipment without support. We had eight full suspension bikes and two hardtails. For those of you reading this thinking of doing the trip yourselves, it is worth noting hardtails have significantly more carrying capacity than a full suspension bike due to being able to carry a more functional and stronger rear rack. However, this trail really requires a full suspension bike to deal with the terrain, so I would recommend using a full suspension bike and packing very lightly.

The difficulty of this trail is not to be underestimated. It is by far the hardest bikepacking trip I have ever completed. Finding food and water was more challenging than we expected due to the remoteness of the trail and many small village stores having shut down over recent years. We brought LifeStraw water filters, which came in very handy a few times, as we ran out of water on-route and had to fill up from nearby reservoirs and streams.  Power for charging electronics was also hard to come by, so it would have been worth having a front hub generator or solar charger. 

We encountered every type of terrain imaginable, and the trail itself, due to its rough and rocky nature was very tough on our equipment. The wet weather in the initial days claimed the life of one (supposedly water resistant) iPhone. The rocks on the trail destroyed the screen of another iPhone, popped six spokes on a rear wheel, knocked out the rachet mechanism on one rear hub and the bearing on another and on the very last day broke a rear derailleur hangar into two pieces. Surprisingly, we had only two punctures over the entire trip. I had expected a lot more. 

The scenery, descents and adventure on this trip were incredible. We had stunning views of vast expanses of land, glimmering lakes, and reservoirs. One of the highlights of the trip for me was the third to last day when we had our lunch break at Stainforth Force (‘force’ means waterfall) outside the town of Settle with an awesome spot for cliff jumping and swimming, which was loads of fun. The Settle Loop was another of the highlights of the trip, which had breath-taking views and a big climb followed by an awesome descent into our accommodation for the night.

The following morning, we continued this truly epic descent on the Settle Loop, which was like a rollercoaster ride with long sweeping turns and fast, flowing, undulations. By the end of many of the descents, our disc brake rotors were so hot that they would instantly vaporise water when we splashed it onto them. We encountered many waterfalls along the way, which made for interesting breaks. We also toured Ingleborough Cavern, which was alongside the trail. In addition to the normal stalactites and stalagmites, it had an underground river that flowed underneath the hill that we were about to ride over.  At some of the trail gates, we had to confront cows that blocked the way and gave us an unbothered look. They simply couldn’t understand why they had to move.

My legs have gained a lot of strength over this trip due to the path often going perpendicular to contour lines, straight up seemingly impossible climbs, which most of us still managed to summit without dismounting! We gave ourselves ‘mountain goat’ points if we made it to the top of the climbs without dismounting, which increased our determination to get to the top (usually drenched in sweat). Thomas and I were the two top mountain goats, and the only two that summited the last brutal climb at the end of the trail.   

We started with ten people and finished with ten people, thanks to everyone’s perseverance, good teamwork, and enthusiasm. It was an adventure, and we all had the right attitude to overcome the setbacks along the way, such as getting lost a few times and solving equipment problems. We even had to rent a replacement bike for the last day due to Anthony’s freehub breaking! Amazingly, we had no significant injuries other than me falling out of an unusually high top-bunk whilst sleeping in a hiker’s cabin, causing a rather deep gash in my shin when I hit the table on the way down.

Overall, this was an awesome trip and well worth doing if you are up for an adventure and rock-solid legs by the end of it! 

Johnny Dunlop (L6)

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