I’ve recently joined the Manchester Mountain Bikers club as a guest rider, principally in order to try some night riding, where for safety reasons it’s probably better to be part of a group. However, the weather has been so dismal that I’ve not been tempted to desert the comfort of the settee, and anyway many of the night rides are described as ‘fast-paced’ so probably not for me.
However, I noticed this ‘Screaming Cats’ ride and decided to get a bike out for the first time in a month. It would be Stumpy’s (my ‘new’ bike) first ‘proper’ trip.
Leader Keith advertised the route as “16 miles - usual Screaming Cats route with an extra loop around Knotbury, nice cheeky trail through quarry with a rocky switchback and chute, followed by a techy climb out of quarry, road section around top then fast techy descent to 3 Shires Head . Lunch, then nasty climb, rejoin cats route at top of Cumberland Clough then last climb and through Macc Forest to pub/cars.”
I’d not heard of the ‘Screaming Cats’ route before, but I don’t think Keith had heard of the ‘Big Macc Ramble’, which I also wrote about here. Basically, Screaming Cats is a shorter version of the Big Macc Ramble, omitting the descent to Langley and the long ascent to Charity Lane. But Keith’s extension makes his route a bit longer than the Big Macc Ramble.
The forecast predicted ‘showers at first, clearing by mid morning’ – pretty handy for a mid morning meet, and as five strangers assembled outside the Leather’s Smithy with their bikes the showers had indeed stopped. But we took so long to get going that the rain decided it had taken a long enough break, so it further delayed us as waterproofs were donned. They remained in place for the next five hours.
My usual start from here involves a relaxing descent to Langley and some pleasant tracks in the shadow of Tegg’s Nose before the ascent to Walker Barn and Charity Lane. Keith’s route was a bit more brutal, and we soon spread out as one by one we felt the effects of our morning coffees and the lack of facilities at the start.
Despite being strangers, this ride felt like being out with long-standing mates. There was a bit of waiting around for various reasons, and although I was clearly the slowest rider of the group I didn’t keep the others waiting for long, and everyone seemed more than happy to pause every now and then.
The views across to Shining Tor and the Cat & Fiddle from the top of Charity Lane were not exceptional today (see link to slideshow later) but at least the cloud wasn’t down, it wasn’t raining too hard, and I could educate the others by way of pointing out the highest place in Cheshire (Shining Tor).
Continuing along the familiar route to Macclesfield Forest and Bottom-of-the-Oven that ‘Screaming Cats’ shares with the ‘Big Macc Ramble’, Keith provided some useful comments about riding style on steep descents. I can’t say I’m into technical riding, and I’ve certainly never received any tuition, but this was the first time I’d ridden these loose rocky tracks on a bike with suspension, and I have to confess I found it considerably easier and quicker than with the old Shogun bike.
We were soon on the long road ascent to join the A537 near the Peak View Tea Rooms, from where I hadn’t realised that a good trail leads directly to the Cat & Fiddle, cutting out a hairpin on the busy main road. Thanks Keith, I won’t be cycling that section of road again.
By now it was somewhat inclement in the weather department, but we unanimously declined the dubious warmth of the draughty interior of the Cat & Fiddle in favour of a blow across Danebower Hollow with the wind vaguely behind us.
“We are all crazy” commented a couple of walkers, hanging onto their hats for dear life as I stopped nearby to collect a mudguard that had been expelled from the bike by an unexpected gust of wind.
“Do you want to do the 5-6 mile extension, or continue around the 12 mile Screaming Cats route?” asked Keith. If there were any dissenters, they kept quiet. I was firm with my choice – the extension was what I’d really come for. Everyone seemed happy enough despite the increasing frequency and intensity of the showers, and we were soon enjoying a technical descent into Danebower Quarries. I walked – I didn’t want to damage myself on this first trip with the club. The slideshow has some images and videos of the quarry descent and ford (which all bar Martin O walked across).
Then we headed along an excellent path above Knotbury, taking an unexpected turn left up the hill to the pub and café at Flash Bar. I was lagging behind and thought that Keith had taken pity on Martin O (soaking wet and cold) and brought us slightly off route to the warmth of the café. But no! “Oops!” exclaimed our leader, and headed off back down the hill without another word. Having regained the planned route, another enjoyable descent brought us to our designated lunch stop – Three Shires Head. Martin O paced up and down in a futile effort to get warm – he eventually snatched my camera and took some nice pictures of the water, the best of which is the lower of those below. Meanwhile, here’s Keith, like the rest of us, chomping through a butty.
Whilst I took a few images on the ascent from Three Shires Head – nobody managed this tough climb over loose rocks without having to dismount – the weather closed in for the rest of the ride and the camera was moved to a more waterproof location. The descent to Cumberland Cottage and the road at Clough House was so much easier with suspension – a totally different experience from the one I’m used to – but it did take us rather a long time. That was thanks to a problem with Graham’s brakes that Keith eventually fixed, but not before Julian and Martin O had spent much of the 40 minute delay cowering behind a dry stone wall in an attempt to shield themselves from the sheeting rain, sleet and hail. The conditions were less than pleasant.
The ‘usual’ route through Macc Forest was eschewed in a bid to get back to the cars before dark, and whilst a very slow vehicle did its best to foil us on the tarmac descent, we did all succeed in that objective.
The Leather’s Smithy was full of people, but its doors were locked, so with several riders wanting their hot baths as quickly as possible, we gave the pub a miss, heading off home but leaving Martin O sitting in his car in an attempt to thaw out. Perhaps he’s still there!
There’s a 24 image slideshow here. Note that the video captions may be out of sync, due to a problem with Picasa.
Here’s our route - approx 28km (18 miles) with 700 metres ascent in about 3 hours riding time, taking us a very leisurely nearly 5 hours in total.
Here’s the ‘report’ from my Garmin gadget:
Thanks for your company, everyone. I really enjoyed this first trip out with the MMB club.