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Cyclist Best of British: No. 7 Pennines

30 Jul 2020

Words: Martin James Photography: Richard Faulks

It is not an area for those who like their landscape cosy

That was how poet WH Auden once described his beloved Pennines, going as far as to say this rugged range of hills and mountains was the inspiration behind many of his works.

Aptly referred to as the ‘backbone of England’, the Pennines run from the Peak District in the south to the border with Scotland in the north, with much of it designated an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

It’s also an area of outstanding walking and cycling riches. In terms of the former there’s the blank canvas of rolling landscape just begging to be explored. The Pennine Way is a favourite for walkers and hikers, and no wonder. At 431km it’s not quite the UK’s longest National Trail, but it’s certainly one of the toughest.

For those on two wheels, what the Pennines offer is simply hills, hills and more hills.

There’s no headline climbing act like Mount Snowdon in Snowdonia, simply 400km of hills dressed in wild heather and rough grass, ripe with riding possibilities both on the road and off.

Set out from Hexham in the north-east and you’ll quickly get a taste of what’s to come on the ominously named Gallows Bank, but there are bigger tests coming such as Chapel Hill, which rises just 300m over 4km but throws in sections of near 20% to crank up the suffering.

Before taking it on, we’d recommend a stop at the cyclist-friendly Chatterbox Café in St John’s Chapel, both to fortify yourself for the climbing to come and, for a time at least, to avoid it.

In truth, though, climbs like Chapel Hill are an exception to the rule in these parts. For the most part, the hills are more rolling than rapidly rising, giving you every chance to soak in the spectacular landscape around you, exposed and relentless as it is.

It adds up to make the Pennines the perfect counterpoint to cluttered and congested life, a wild region of rich and alluring beauty and one of the country's most rewarding places to visit.  

Top tip

For a full flavour of the Pennines on two wheels, look to further than the Pennine Cycleway. It covers 526km in total, taking in four national parks and 7,490m of climbing. No wonder Sustrans founder John Grimshaw labelled it 'the best National Cycle Network route of the lot.  

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