The Mary Towneley loop is a waymarked bridleway, 76km long and 1125m of ascent. It is a variation off of the main Pennine bridleway that currently runs from Matlock to Barnsley. The full route when finished will run all of the way to the Scottish borders.
A group of us first attempted the route in a day last December in subzero temperatures. We had had more mechanicals than I can ever remember on a ride before. Including two punctures in the tyres of two group members who had just finished raving about how they never got punctures in their tubeless tyres! We were forced to quit halfway round and cut back across the middle by road in order to get cars to rescue members of our teams who's bikes had become unrideable. That time we were finally stopped by frozen freehubs and drivetrains in the cold weather.
Saturday came and it felt like it had been raining for days. The trail was saturated and running with rivers of water. At least we weren't going to freeze. Four of us set of; Tatey who had done the ride before over two days and who was fairly fit but spent most of his riding time with slower people; Trotty who always finishes top few in Fred Whitton; and Ant my normal race partner who was in serious training for the Open Adventure C 2 C.
We set off from near Rawtenstall and were dragged round the first few hours at a furious pace by Ant. The loop is fairly new and a lot of thought has gone in to keeping it all rideable and dispite the extremely wet conditions there was only one short very steep section of trail that we found unrideable. This is even more impressive when you realise how little road there is. We didn't need to navigate much as Ant and Tatey had both done the route several times before but we did check the map a few times as the waymarking is certainly lacking in places.
The mechanicals started again Tatey's and Trotty's rear disc pads had gone through, two punctures were fixed. Then disaster struck, I was always faster than Ant downhill but he seemed to be flying today and I had just said as much when the rockerlink on his rear suspension snapped. The usual "Who ate all the pies?" jokes began and then we began to wonder if the ride was over for us all. An exhausted Tatey first apologised in case his destructive thoughts towards Ant and his pace setting had somehow telepathically damaged his bike. Then calmly said "I live 10 minutes away go and sit in the pub down the road and I'll get my car."
Not what you expect from a Turner! Lay off the doughnuts Ant.
Trotty and I decided to carry on, we were halfway round and had to get back to our cars anyway. The wet gritty conditions continued to take there toll on our bikes my front brake pads went through, which I changed. Trotty who had no spares had his front pads through to the metal as well as the rear ones. Then one of his chainring bolts fell out and was lost. Very quickly his middle ring bent out of shape and he could use only the big ring. His bike was now very difficult to ride uphill and almost impossible to stop downhill.
Starting near Rawtenstall means that you get the biggest climb, and then descent right at the end. He had to stand up to pedal all of the way to the top of the 465m (1563foot) hill. And then squeeze his brakes as hard as he could on the long descent back to the cars.
Lessons to be learned? Always carry spare brake pads - however worn the old ones are. My rear pads that were brand new at the start of the ride were worn out by the end of the ride. Does anyone carry spare crank bolts?
The Mary Towneley took us 7 hours in poor conditions I have been told that people have got round it in 5 and a bit. There is an organised ‘Challenge' day on the 13th September. Or if you check out http://www.nationaltrail.co.uk/PennineBridleway/index.asp there is lots of information on where to stay if you fancy doing it at a slower pace.