Pennine Bridleway update
The Pennine Bridleway is something of an oddity in the National Trail world. Originally conceived as a Trail to offer horse riders the chance to undertake the sort of challenge that walkers had long been able to enjoy, the advent and increasing popularity of mountain biking means that it has something to offer many types of user be it on foot, bike or horseback. To my mind one of the main advantages of a bridleway National Trail is of course that there are no stiles, which I find most useful when I am out with Holly, my elderly and rather large labrador!
But that's not the only reason why the Pennine Bridleway is different. Unlike a walking route where there is already an existing network of footpaths to choose from upon which to base the Trail, such is the difficulty in trying to piece together a continuous bridleway route of any decent length that 40% of the Pennine Bridleway will ultimately be made up of newly negotiated bridleway links. Negotiating with landowners to acquire these new routes is proving to be a lengthy process so rather than keeping our potential users waiting for the whole route to become available, we are opening the Pennine Bridleway in stages. Of course this has meant that we get to have a "jolly" (or opening ceremony) every so often and to date 130 miles of the Trail have been officially opened.
So what's new on the Pennine Bridleway?
For many years the route of the Trail immediately north of the Mary Towneley Loop in the South Pennines was affectionately known by the Pennine Bridleway team as "the black hole". There was no obvious route to take as there were no existing bridleways and construction over the somewhat undulating and isolated moor was going to be tricky. However as we all know, time is a great healer and Spring 09 will see the opening of a fantastic new route that will take users from the top of the Mary Towneley Loop across the moors to the picturesque village of Wycoller in Lancashire.
Having finally secured the necessary creation agreements the construction of the route has been a challenge. It has taken a good two years work, made more difficult by the bad weather and the restrictions on working due to the moors' designation as a Special Protection Area (i.e. no works from the end of March until August due to bird breeding) but at the end of the day the route will be fabulous offering far reaching views and a challenging but inviting new track.
The construction of the track has required skilled machine operators to create the initial path using a soil reversal method. The surface of the stone has then been dressed with stone flown in by helicopter to reach the isolated site and prevent causing unnecessary damage. The track zigzags across the hillside to lessen the severe gradients and is built with a cross fall and shaped so that it sheds water to lessen the chances of erosion.The new route should be available for use from May onwards.
The Pennine Bridleway team has also been developing three link routes in tandem with the main Trail. One of these, the 17 mile Calder Aire link from Bingley to the Mary Towneley Loop, is already open. Works are also currently underway on the Dark Peak link (Penistone to Oldham) where a new bridleway has been created across the dam at Butterley reservoir near Marsden following improvement works to the existing bridleway along Wessenden Valley. We have had to overcome a problem where the parapets on a narrow, ornate bridge over the spillway have had to be raised to ensure that the bridge was safe for horse riders. To maintain the character of the bridge new moulds have had to be made so that the design of the existing parapets can be replicated but at an increased height of 1.8 metres. Ramps have had to be constructed at either side of the bridge to get rid of the steps and stone mounting blocks have also been provided should riders decide they would rather dismount and lead their horses to the other side.
Mountain Bike Loop Guides
On the marketing side, one of the successes of the year has been the mountain bike loop guides that are now available from the Pennine Bridleway website. With routes and mapping designed by a mountain biker, the routes use sections of the National trail along with linking bridleways and sections of minor road to provide opportunities to explore the corridor of the Pennine Bridleway. All routes offer the option of starting from a nearby railway station so you can feel good about your carbon footprint as well as getting some healthy and enjoyable exercise. The routes available at present are based around Hayfield, Tintwistle and Diggle, with a revamp of the Hebden Bridge route due out soon along with 3 other routes at Littleborough/Walsden, St Ives (using the Calder Aire link) and Clapham in the Yorkshire Dales.
After much nagging from the Pennine Bridleway ranger, who is determined to bring us up to date technologically speaking, we are also hoping to place tracklogs of the rides on the website. Using "bikecam" he has also filmed his friends out on the Trail, the idea is that you can get a preview of the Pennine Bridleway "experience". Whilst we work out how to get this on the website, a word of warning should you choose to view it - don't watch for too long if you suffer from travel sickness!
Of course horse power is a great advantage on the hills and my photo call requiring a horse will often result in my horse, Troy, making an appearance. It is also useful to demonstrate to those working on the Trail who may not be familiar with horses, just how difficult it can be to open/shut a gate from a horse if things like the positioning of the catch or gate haven't been thought out. The offer to try it themselves is often enough to ensure a speedy resolution to any problem!
With some major bridge installations to prepare for this year, we are ever hopeful that the weather will be a bit kinder to us than it has been for the last two "summers".