OK, ok. Yes, this feature is called ‘Killer Hill’ and, yes, we know that Crows Lane near Dalton in West Lancashire cannot really be considered a ‘killer’, but stick with us on this and we’ll explain.
Barely a mile long with an average of five per cent and a just a tiny stretch of 12 per cent on the second-to-last corner, Crows Lane is more of a ‘kitten’ than a killer, but we decided to include it because…well…we love it. Most people who climb do, too. So there.
It’s winding. It’s scenic. It’s kind of old fashioned. You half expect some summer’s day to come across a hay cart or some yokel in a smock leaning over a gate with a straw in his mouth comparing you unfavourably to ‘that foreign bloke Albert Contad-ooor.’
Whether it’s misty, cold, sunny or fine, as soon as you turn off Stoney Brow at Roby Mill into the start of the climb on Farley Lane, ‘Crows’ calms you down. It’s like that, you see.
On your right, there’s a row of houses and a playground on your left as you begin to climb through the trees at an easy pace with a picturesque view either side.
The first bend, by the posh houses, is always rutted and gravelled by the stream that runs across it for two thirds of the year. Then, as you take this first left hander, this is the point where the incline eases off and you prepare to meet your first speeding Rage Rover. However, this is Crows, after all, so you’re more likely to meet a cautious elderly couple in a Rover than a Chelsea tractor.
After that, the road narrows a tad and a right-hander takes you up to a cute little hamlet with just a few sturdy stone cottages and an old white sign saying ‘Ye Olde Dalton.’
Actually, it just says ‘Dalton’, but you get the mood. It’s a quiet stone-walled oasis in the centre of Lancashire. The hill is really all big ring stuff so far and, if you’re fit, it should really be big ringing it all the way.
Then, as you admire the sloping field to your right, you can see what altitude you have left to tackle. Around the next right-hander, a steadily increasing gradient kicks in as the banks rise up around you into the last left-hander at 12 per cent.
The last drag to the junction with the bustling Beacon Lane has a beautiful stretch of Lancashire stretching out into the blue on your left – all skylarks, riffling of leaves in the trees in summer, Rivington in the misty distant and the burnt tones of bracken in the winter. See, we told you that it was lovely.
At the top, be cautious – especially turning right to reach the crest of Ashurst. On Sundays, some of the locals like to take this crest with all four wheels off the ground on their way to the paper shop in Up Holland.
Crows is a favourite part of many a club run, as it sits in the centre of what I call the Parbold Ring, which offers you both sides of Ashurst, Cobbs up to the church, Crows, Appley Bridge, Stoney Lane, Parbold Hill itself and the dreaded mini Mow Cop that is Bank Top. We would have done the latter this issue instead, but the editor bottled it and opted for Crows, as it was his turn to model. What a whimp, eh.
On my own in this area, I’ll often do a circuit that includes turning left at the top of Crows, sailing down into Up Holland and then taking a left and a left again, which will lead you down to Roby Mill and the base of Crows again in about 10 minutes.
It’s perfect for quick repetitions with a freewheel rest in the middle. And because it’s so quiet, it’s a friendly little climb. When last on it with a friend, we passed two young triathlon buckos stopped at the side of the road, who were all saddle bottle cages and tribars.
They soon came past us with a crackle of cheap Chinese carbon bottom brackets and were at the junction when we made the top waiting to nod to us in a ever-so-faintly smug way.
“Well,” I said to my mate. “You reach a stage in cycling when you look at younger riders and have to accept that you’ll never be as quick up the hills as them again – but you have the joy of knowing they’ll one day be as slow as you.”
That’s climbing for you. It isn’t just the ratio of power-to-weight, it’s also the ratio of power-to-time. David Bowie sang “Time takes a cigarette..” and, if time was a cyclist, he’d give up the fags and buy a compact.