Some way south of both the Yorkshire Dales and the North Yorkshire Moors is a little valley, so steep sided in places that the sun doesn't technically rise in winter for months. It is stuffed full of secret pack-horse trails, wide open moorland, hilariously technical descents and nadgery climbs. The hills aren't astonishingly high, but you'll be afforded some amazing views, and if you've a mind to push yourself, you can find climbs and descents to satisfy even the most gnarly of palates. A trail honeypot, if you will. This valley is Calderdale.
We’ve picked a selection of trails that showcase some of the best the valley has to offer. Some are short, for a quick energetic spin, some are much, much longer, but all will display different facets of the riding around Calderdale. Be advised though, even the easiest of them contain some reasonably stiff climbs - the valley sides are steep, after all - but they're all very rewarding.
First up, there's a fun little spin up and around Norland to whet your appetite - it’s full of sweet little trail nuggets, not least the storming descent back to Copley which will make your mouth water - and quite possibly your feet too, if it's been raining. And if you're after a more substantial ride in the same area then the loop up to Scammonden Dam, which nudges Ripponden, should see you right.
Fancy getting a little Brontë? The loop from Ogden Water up into proper Brontë country should fit the bill. It drops you down to Oxenhope and back up to the Black and White Moors before a fantastic singletrack charge back to your starting point. Sightings of Heathcliff and Cathy are unfortunately not guaranteed.
And then we’ve picked four fantastic loops around Hebden Bridge and Todmorden. These take in a plethora of local delights, but all have similarities - wide open moorland, lungbusting climbs, and the occasional nadgery surprise. And plenty of places for coffee and snacks, naturally. If you really want to make a day of it, then you must try the Mary Towneley Loop: Huge climbs, enormous descents, staggering views, singletrack, double track, and gates (oh yes, gates) - this ride has the lot.
Whichever loop you choose, you'll perhaps begin to appreciate why some locals never ride anywhere else.
Say you've not got too much time, but you fancy a quick ride just outside Halifax. Well, this little loop will fit the bill nicely.
If you start in the extremely pretty mill-built Copley Village, you'll first experience a stiff climb past the toll house (the bridge was recently rebuilt having been washed away in the floods of Boxing Day 2015).
This will bring you up - after a bit of green-lane wandering - onto Norland Moor, where you can enjoy the views and the sandy singletrack.
A section of road then takes you past the much-celebrated Moorcock Inn (you'll need to book for the tasting menu, though) through Norland and then the fun really begins. The way down to Copley is via an excellent piece of singletrack (if it's been raining it's a stream at the bottom - be warned!) known locally as either the 'Copley Cracker' or (more prosaically) the Landrover Trail. It's hard to see how a Land Rover would manage to navigate it successfully, though - it's singletrack most of the time, and pretty rocky when it's wide enough.
Once you've popped out at the bottom (and wrung out your socks), there's just a gentle spin along the canal back to your starting point.
There's plenty of parking at Copley itself, or if you're on public transport it's just a short spin from Sowerby Bridge train station along the canal.
Starting just South West of Halifax, this ride is one of the lesser-known gems in Calderdale (although it does dip its toes into Kirklees here and there), and it gives a taste of what lies beyond the more well-known confines of the Calder valley proper.
It's not the longest ride, true, but it packs a lot into it's 17 miles, and there's plenty of lungbusting on offer if you've a mind for it. Especially noteworthy for this is the climb up Cockpit lane, which will have you gasping for gears.
It's a mostly open route, largely on doubletrack; although there are some singletrack sections, you can probably manage most of it on a cyclocross or gravel bike if you're adventurous. And as a result it's pretty good all year round; the terrain drains well, and it's a good one for the winter months.
Especially welcome is the fact that once you've gained height, it takes a while to lose it again; you're not subjected to the 'winch and plummet' dynamic that's common in so much of the rest of Calderdale.
But that's not to say there aren't fun descents to be had; the run down Carr Hall Lane and the descent from Fiddler's Lane above Ripponden are both extremely entertaining. But it's a great, fun ride for lots of reasons - it's not every day that you find yourself riding a tunnel under a motorway on a bike ride!
You can access it by car from Stainland (home of a few good pubs), Holywell Green (slightly fewer good pubs - try the Rock at the bottom of Station Road) or you can get the train to Halifax station and spin down the Hebble trail and up Stainland Road to the start.
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Ogden Water is a popular place for the inhabitants of nearby Halifax and Denshaw - there are some excellent walks, a gift shop, and it's great fun to wander around with the kids. For our purposes, though, it's also a great place to begin a fabulous ride which encompasses many of the area's assets - stiff climbs, open moorland, testing singletrack and inspiring views.
The first climb is actually something of a highlight. It's a great warmup, it's never too steep, and (although it does seem to go on for slightly too long) it's soon over! The views on the top, as you cruise (on a recently metalled road) past the windfarm, are gorgeous.
After the kinetic descent into Oxenhope - a great place to recharge your batteries for the return leg - you climb up onto Black and White Moors. This really is Brontë Country (the Brontë sisters lived and worked in nearby Haworth); it's bleak and beautiful in equal measure.
Once you've enjoyed/endured the climb up from Oxenhope, the singletrack on Black Moor comes as a welcome relief. The climbing's not over yet, though, as you bring up another couple of killers through White Moor and onto Hambleton Lane. If you can master the last climb up onto the top of the moor you can give yourself a pat on the back as you look forward to the final descent.
Actually, as a pure downhill, Hambleton Lane is a pretty gentle slope. But don't relax just yet; it's a multi-stranded ribbon of singletrack, gently downhill when ridden west to east, but you need real skill to ride it well. It's smooth and easy enough in places to encourage you to greater and greater speeds before pitching you into something thrutchy and impassable. It's all too easy to get carried away here, so be warned!
Odgen Water is probably the best place to start from if you're driving, there's a carpark with an honesty box and a little shop selling sandwiches and snacks. But you could equally well start from Oxenhope and treat Odgen Water as your half-way point if you preferred.
This route is very entertaining, and should only take a couple of hours, if you've got the legs for it! Starting from Hebden Bridge, an easy spin along the canal leads into the first climb, up into Callis Wood, which starts off lulling you into false sense of security, before becoming increasingly steep and unpleasant/pleasant (delete as applicable) before crossing the mysterious Beaumont Clough Bridge.
From there, you enjoy the delights of London Road before climbing up the very (very) steep trail to the top of the moor, enjoying the sumptuous views as you drop down the other side to Withens Clough reservoir. This descent is great, fast fun, though not at all technical, and gives you a chance to get your breath back before spitting you half way up Cragg Vale (a renowned local road climb - although it's not at all steep) where you spin onto the moors above Ripponden and Mytholmroyd.
And then it's all downhill. Stake Lane was, until a few years ago, an ultra-technical gnarfest. But thanks to unhappy walkers, injured riders and some frantic money-finding, it's been partially sanitised. It's still pretty entertaining, mind you; there are multiple lines on a few corners - and at the bottom where the repair work is most obvious it can be very, very fast if you're not careful, so watch out for walkers coming up! Once you're at the bottom, and back in civilisation (or Mytholmroyd), it's a simple spin along the canal back to your starting point.
You can start this ride in a few places - Mytholmroyd and Hebden are both served by trains (the ones to Hebden are slightly more frequent), there's more parking in Hebden (although most of it is pay-and-display) and cafes are more abundant. Many people park towards Hebden on the road between the two towns.
If you met up with a local and asked them for the best introduction to riding in the area, chances are they'd suggest this ride, or something very like it.
As you'd expect from Calderdale, there's plenty of climbing, some astonishing views, and - rarely, around here - the ride is (mostly) fine all year round.
London Road and the ride over to Walsden generally hold up regardless of what the weather is throwing at you; there's a testing climb from the Shepherd's Rest pub, but it's largely stone under tyre, and the descent down the other side is very entertaining.
The top of Whirlaw can get pretty claggy if it's wet, mind you, but it soon hardens up into the (surprisingly grippy) slabs typical of the area.
And then there's Rodwell End, which is such an entertaining descent that people have been known to push up it again for another go!
There's plenty of parking at the beginning of this ride either in the carpark or the lay-by a hundred or so metres along (beware of the two metre height restriction at the carpark though), or if you prefer to get the train you can spin out to the start from the centre of the town - we highly recommend finishing on Rodwell End, as the ride does here - it's a great way to end proceedings.
This ride is something of a classic around these parts. It starts at the bottom of the valley before climbing up to the very top, and lingering there a while before an absolute blast of a descent back down to the valley bottom and a well-earned snack.
But before filling your face, there's plenty of climbing to do. And that climbing starts with a bang (or in some cases, a whimper). Mytholm Steeps is horrendous, but thankfully you're not on it for long - a couple of hundred metres is more than enough to give you a taster before it swings off up the track to Jack Bridge. Which is much easier. It's still up, up, up though; and the up doesn't stop until you get to Standing Stone Hill, though there are brief scenic respites - and a pub, the New Delight, at the top of Jack Bridge if you really need a drink.
It's plain (but far from flat) sailing from here on in after the first descent to Lower Gorple reservoir, with some stiff climbs and some ace (if straightforward) descents before the push up to High Brown Knoll. This can be very sloppy in the winter, and (like the rest of the ride) it's pretty exposed, so be sure to wrap up warm.
The descent back into Hebden includes another classic though - Pecket Well's bridlepath down to New Bridge is fast, furious, bumpy and an absolute hoot. Do take care, though. There are a couple of blind corners, and some fast sections which get abruptly steeper and much more technical. After that exhilaration, it's a spin back into Hebden Bridge to enjoy the ambience, and to fill your face with a well deserved snack. Or three.
By far the easiest place to start this ride is Hebden Bridge - there's loads of car parking, a well-served train station and all the decent coffee you need. There are also loads of restaurants and cafes, and this being Hebden Bridge, your vegetarian and vegan needs are well catered for. Most of the car parking is pay-and-display, so bring some change for the machines.
This is the big one - almost 45 miles, over 100 gates, some prime singletrack, loads of climbs, loads of descents, spectacular countryside - this ride has it all.
First of all, as with pretty much every ride around here, you'll need to start with a climb. The thrutchy trail up and over to Walsden (home of Grandma Pollard's Fish and Chips) is made up of slabs of stone - this once once served as a packhorse trail to enable pre-industrial carriage of goods to the boggy valley below, before the canal and railway rendered them obsolete. These slabs do make great mtb trails now, though - although some form of suspension is a good idea unless you've got a cast-iron bottom.
Once you reach Walden, the trail strikes out west, almost breathing on Rochdale, before it strikes out north once again, and you feel as if you're getting into the wilds. There's plenty of climbing up this side of the valley, you'll be pleased to hear - the valley sides at this point feel particularly steep. Thankfully, they're not horrendously long, so they're soon despatched.
Eventually, you'll reach Cant Clough Reservoir and Hurstwood Reservoir (with its surprising, short and fun mountain bike trails). Even here, though, you're still just a brief whimper to a pub away, although there are few other facilities. Mind you, at this point perhaps something to eat and drink might be welcome; you'll be feeling it by now unless you're the most steely-eyed of die-hard adventurers.
But there's still much to do, so onward! Although it may feel remote much of the time, you're not truly in the middle of nowhere on this ride until you're at the nothernmost point, where you're treated to expansive views, rolling hills and picturesque moorland.
And now for the return. After the many gates you'll have experienced by now, you're treated to the trail down from Blackshaw head, which is a blast. And then you'll cross over the road and face the final climb to up to London Road, and the last descent back to a well-earned drink.
This is probably a ride best undertaken in the spring, summer or autumn. It's clearly waymarked, and well surfaced for the most part, although you spend substantial time on the top of the moors, which can get very claggy in the winter. Decent tyres and some sort of mudguards would be useful if you tackle it then!
A good - if slightly remote - place to start is the Shepherd's Rest pub. It's fairly quiet, and it also does food. Which is something you'll be very grateful for once you've finished this route. Although there are plenty of other places you could begin of course; it's one big loop after all. Todmorden and Walsden have lots of parking, cafes and other places selling refreshments. If you're not driving, your best bet is to get the train to Todmorden, Walsden or (at a push) Hebden Bridge and run the route from there.