The start overlooked a classic central European wooded valley with the town of Polanica-Zdroj nestling in the bottom. From there it was straight up – 65 metres of climb off the bike and pushing 🙁 but once up it was a reasonably dense track network with lots of route choice around steeply sided valleys.
We were allowed to ride (or carry / push) in the forest too so a few of the legs saw me diving into the trees (mostly downhill) cutting through between paths rather than riding round. I think this worked for me sometimes and not others.
I was riding OK, struggling with the physicality (500 metres of climbing) but eventually blew up at 3/4 distance, sweat in my eyes and not thinking straight a made a stupid mistake at #18 losing about 7 mins. I was really tired and hot after that and continued to lose a few seconds here and there all the way to the finish.
The decent into the finish was fun but it was a long one for me – 100 mins….
Cannock Chase has a few owners : Staffordshire County Council, Forestry Commission, Cemex Quarries, etc.. and soon the RSPB. The County Council own most of the heathland – the bit mostly covered in purple heather if you know the Chase – Sherbrook Valley and Brindley Heath. The heathland is apparently a man made landscape, caused by years of grazing by animals on the common land in conjunction with the poor free draining gravely soil. During WW1 the whole area was large Army camp which also seemed to keep the heathland in place, despite the lack of grazing! Nowadays although many deer roam, the heathland is under threat from the development of trees in the form of naturally occurring silver birch (A Level Geography – Pioneer Species, Natural Ecological Succession I assume) bracken and wind blown pine from nearby Forestry land. With no grazing sheep to keep the young shoots under control up they come, together with eventually bramble. The natural succession I understand would take the landscape back to climatic Oak woodland as per Brocton Coppice but it would take a a very long time.
Because the area is a SSSI (site of special scientific interest) the council are required by law to notify Natural England of certain activities (including recreational events) and also do nothing to endanger the flora and fauna on the site. Because some of the birds are protected it means they are I understand duty bound it seems to keep the heathland as is.
They have tried all sorts over the years, cutting and bailing the heather, spraying the bracken, burning, selective cutting down of pines and silver birch and clearing bramble and the latest thinking seems to be to re-introduce the grazing. The trouble is it’s a recreational area very popular with dog walkers – dogs and sheep don’t mix and sheep are also a little high maintenance. After some work done by Natural England with some environmental consultants and some experiments on Forestry artificial heath land corridors, Chasewater and Hednesford Hills the County Council now want to introduce docile cattle across the Sherbrook heathland – but how to stop them walking off? – fencing!
Now they have decided their preferred route to preserve the landscape for the future is cattle, they need to consult on installation of fencing around the whole of the Sherbrook valley as understandably many people are up in arms even if just because its ‘change’. What’s proposed is a combination of traditional stock fencing with pedestrian, equine and vehicle gates, cattle grids etc and what is known as an invisible fence down the middle of the Sherbrook valley and cutting across to Seven Springs. This invisible fence consists of a buried wire which transmits a frequency which collars on the cows pick up, giving them a little shock if they get too close, keeping them in!
See map (linked from the official website)
To be honest the fencing doesn’t worry me, as long as the equine gates also allow mountain bikes and runners to pass easily and quickly I don’t think visually they will be a huge issue looking at the consultation map. To me though it’s the wider cost to try and keep what is essentially an artificial man-made landscape as it is now… I am not sure how it is being funded but essentially whatever method – EU, Central Government or Local Government funded, well over 13 KM of fencing is going to be an expensive and disruptive CAPEX and the upkeep of the cows and continuous other activities to maintain the fencing and keep down the silver birch and bracken will be an ongoing OPEX cost too. The fence will probably also need replacing every 25 years too.
The impact on recreation also worries me, the reports states I think that they have not considered the effects on recreation and reading through it the archaeology lobby seems to have had more of a say than other stakeholder groups (worries of cows trampling and fence posts damaging WW1 camp remains)
My view is the opportunity cost to other currently underfunded issues such as youth work, health benefiting recreation and social care funding etc. etc. cannot be balanced with the protection of an artificial landscape and a few species of ground nesting birds, no matter if they are protected. I know the Council is looking for volunteer organisations to take the load off the OPEX costs but again the volunteer effort comes with an opportunity cost. I think the natural succession back towards birch and then ancient oak woodland (which is also a valuable and protected habitat) should be allowed to progress over time – you only have to look at how the area around Milford Common and Marquis drive has regenerated in the last 50 years or so back to beautiful woodland.
I arrived at a hot and dusty Castleton fairly late as I’d been to pick up an ebay purchased toolbox for the man-cave on the way there. I know the area around Castleton, Hope and Edale well from years of visits on foot and on bike and was looking forward to a cracking nights riding.
I decided to get the climb out of the way early on and headed out via Hope and up on to Dirtlow Rake. I seemed to be riding well and felt reasonably strong (strange as I have been mainly running recently) on the climbs. I got up on the top with a route planned and then for some reason made a stupid decision to go and grab a little 10 pointer as an in and out on the way down Winnats pass – bonkers, what was I doing, it was almost at the bottom. I’d lost all my height gain… Well what to do – go in and hour early or climb back up. I did neither, I took the even more stupid decision to go all the way down and then back up the old road to Mam Tor…. Looking at my watch I’d realised I’d blown it and decided to just enjoy a ride and views along the top to Hollins Cross and then just trundle in. Stupidly again I thought – ooo there’s a 15 pointer just down the track into Edale – the riding was quite technical to get down which I enjoyed but it was slow going and again I lost far too much climb and ended up struggling back up even more losing time.
The drop back down into Castleton took longer than expected too and I ended up 7 mins late….. – not a great day at the office. Still the views were spectacular and it was great to be back in one of my favourite places in the Peaks.
Thursday night saw the normal frantic packing and wondering if I’ve remembered everything – one day I’ll do a check list – although to be honest I’ve never forgotten anything to date….
Friday morning found me in Stanstead Airport queuing through security with mostly hens and stags on their way to a European weekend of pre-nuptial debauchery. The outfits at 7.30 in the morning brought amusement to the process with the prize for ‘what can I get away with through security’ going to the chap in the gimp suit, complete with ‘un-done’ mask with second place going to the lad in the GB lycra triathlon suit. Come on girls a custom pink t-shirt and I am going on a hen do sash or a pair of fairy wings is just not good enough any more!
I am flying to Wroclaw and then driving down to Polanica-Zdroj for 2 days of intense competition – a sprint, middle, long and even a party, returning on Sunday night to the UK!
There are quite a few Brits going out – looking forward to a great weekend!
Spring has sprung into early summer and the long evenings bring back the 17th year of Dark and White summer weekday mountain bike orienteering series!
I’ve been doing these for the last 10 years or so – slowly getting to know the Peak District and particularly its steep bits year on year!
This year there are only 3 events 🙁 and I know the series is under pressure for the future if numbers are not up a little on last year.
The events are simple – 2 hours, get as many checkpoints as you can…… and don’t be late!
MTBO Camp ultra longs are legendary – mixtures of maps including tourist and google maps are not uncommon and the spring weather in Denmark and Sweden often unpredictable – bonkers hot or windy and sleet! This year in Northern Jutland everything was great, good maps, fine weather and fantastic views over the North Sea.
The Brit masters filled up the front row of the grid for the mass start, banter abounding ahead of the starting whistle as we received our A2 sized maps! We all streamed out turned right and pelted down the road in a large peloton before forking off to pick off the various free order controls which were designed to split the field. I was with a small group on I think a good route choice and I soon scooted round a dense network of tracks between Danish summer houses before heading for the first of the fixed order controls – number 8, feeling I may be out in front runners. On the way out from #8 down by the coast I realised my mistake, why I was on my own! – I’d missed one of the free order ones. I returned to #8 some minutes later slightly frustrated with a mini GB masters train now in tow (me knowing the way for some reason!). I put the hammer down, the red mist rising, trying to claw back some time only to make another mistake, this time putting me at the back of the GB train – choo chooo…. And then I was dropped, my legs couldn’t handle it on the long fire road section. I caught up through the next couple of controls through the singletracks and eventually over-took and pulled away after picking a lucky route choice to some WW2 gun emplacements as we headed out to the point on the coast. There was a route-choice of a long road climb around or a run up what felt to me like hundreds of steps up a sand dune. At the top the view was amazing (I returned later in the car to take it in properly) before I turned for home…. The GB group caught me again on another long fire road section after I had a wobble losing a track and ending up having to ride back around to the control but an unfortunate puncture stopped the train in its tracks and I got away again.
I kept the hammer down as hard as I could into the last section – a move to a 1:7500 maps for the final few controls on single-track.
I really enjoyed the race and it was pleasing that although I don’t have the fitness to keep up with the peloton yet I can at least keep going hard on the longer races (without too much climb)
I rode back from the finish chatting to the legend that is Lasse Brun Pedersen 2008 World and European MTBO Champion. It was good to catch-up but to be honest it was all I could do to keep up with him as he cruised back to the camp – my warm down more of a sprint as I tried to get the words out between breaths!
The Brits as usual sneaked off for a lunchtime café stop nearby following the middle race and a few of us returned to the mornings venue for the afternoon training – map memory.
A blank map was given out to carry around face down on our map boards to act as a safety net, in-case we lost the plot, but essentially there was a 2 leg little bit of laminated map hanging from a tree at each control and you had to memorise your route.
To be honest as we had been there in the morning and as we wound our way round again it was also a bit of terrain memory but excellent all the same. I tried 4 times to remember double legs, ie not stopping for two controls and memorizing the route the whole way. I managed it twice and had to resort to the backup map close to the control on two occasions to finish the leg.
The area is crisscrossed by dedicated MTB singletracks and we had a great time too enjoying these outside of race conditions before heading back to base before heading out for a team meal.