By John Lymer
On a weekday in late July a friend and I cycled the Mary Towneley Loop. This route is roughly Rochdale to Waterfoot to Holme Chapel (near Burnley) to Hebden Bridge to Todmorden to Whitworth and back to Rochdale. It passes over high moorland in many places and was the first section of the Pennine Bridleway to be opened back in 2002. The Loop runs for 47 miles, with an impressive 44 miles of it off-road; rare for a mountain bike ride but then this was created more with horses in mind. We did a total of 53 miles to start and finish from home in Rochdale and climbs on the route totalled 5,300 feet (that, of course, means plenty of good downhills too). This epic took 11.5 hours and we actually managed to enjoy it!
Sign-posting along the Loop can't be faulted and the mapping is good too (includes telephone numbers for all local bike shops .... and Farriers), even if hardly any map reading is actually needed. Most tracks have a good stone surface, though there are some trickier sections that guide books like to describe as "technical". The ground was very dry, though even in Winter the route is probably okay. A good option would be to split the ride over 2 days, unless conditions are anything other than ideal and you're very fit and experienced. You also need to be completely self-sufficient, as there is no drinking water or shops unless you leave the route and that would add further distance and time.
Further details available from www.nationaltrail.co.uk