Love/Hate Relationship: The Mary Towneley Loop

It’s one of those rides.  One of those ‘have to do it every so often’ rides.  One that you look forward to and dread in equal measure.  The Mary Towneley Loop is a 44 mile extension to the Pennine Bridleway and is a doorstep challenge for me, living 4.5 miles from the route itself.  It’s too long to do in all but the brightest and longest summer evenings but it’s not quite a day long ride.  It’s hard, but at times very rewarding, and you always seem to come out of it much fitter than when you start it.  With c. 6,000 feet of climbing it’s bound to be.   I love doing it, but I really hate it too.


Firstly, a list of reasons that I want to do this ride from time to time:

  1. It’s a challenge.  No matter how the weather is or how your fitness is, there’s a feeling of having completed something on what could otherwise be “just a training ride”.  If you’re going well, then you can push yourself for a PB time
  2. It’s achievable on a cyclocross bike.  Not that I’d opt for it, but I’ve done in on a ‘cross bike and it’s not so gnarly or technical that it needs a full suspension mountainbike or anything.
  3. The countryside is special. Okay so it’s not the Dales or the Lake District, but the ‘lived in’ feel of these industrial fells is varied and interesting.  Open moorland mingles willingly with urban edges.  Former open cast quarries with ancient woodland.


  1. It’s excruciatingly hard in places. It’s fair to say that there are some parts of the loop that grind you down if you’re pushing yourself.  Whether you do the loop clockwise (which I think is slightly more flowing) or anti-clockwise, there are some nasty granny-ring climbs that test your morale as well as your fitness.  Those valleys aren’t the Alps, but they’re long enough at times.  I rode it anti-clockwise yesterday and the killer climbs were combined with a nagging heat build-up during the day.  I capitulated at the grassy climb from Holme Chapel to Deerplay – it’s ridable all the way in the dry, but I crumbled and walked for 150 metres or so.
  2. There’s not much technical stuff. One of the main reasons we ride off road is to enjoy the challenges of the immediate under-tyre terrain.  Take away to can-you-stay-on-the-bike climbs and the MTL is not very demanding or ‘fun’ as off-road climbs go. (and hence you could ride it on a ‘cross bike… see (2) above!)
  3. The Gates. Not sure of the right figure but it believe it to be 92 gates.  That’s approx one every half mile.  Some stretches are better than others but riding on your own this really grinds you down.  And I mean really. Luckily my Garmin has auto-pause on it, so yesterday’s ‘real’ time of 4 hrs 40 mins was actually measured as 4 hrs 22 mins of riding.  That means that I spent rougly 15 or so minutes opening and shutting gates yesterday.  To many people that in itself would be a reasonable workout.
Mary Towneley Loop