MOST hill climbs in the UK can be approached from either direction and with Waddington Fell, the Newton side is definitely the hardest.
From the Waddington village side, it’s a pretty straight road. You can see the job in hand and it’s a steady gradient until last 100 yards or so. In addition, more often than not, you’ll have the Brucie bonus of a tailwind to ease your rump up the worst of it.
However, from Newton, Waddington Fell is a tricksy, mendacious ribbon of tarmac that deserves humbling by Quintana but instead sits back and welcomes the constant batch of huffin’ puffin’ amateurs like a school bully – with a playful cuff around the victim’s head to start with establish who’s boss, a pretence of play fighting as the teacher passes, before resuming the beating.
Our friends at The Bowland Badass try and neuter the climb by calling it ‘The Big Wad’ and ‘Big Boy’. It’s a bit like meeting a bear in the woods, bowling up to it and trying to high five it.
Approach with respect and deference, or run away, and you might live. To be fair to the BB boys, they do go on to call it ‘The Evil Anvil’ and not to underestimate it’s ‘rigours’.
The Trough of Bowland, as a whole, has a deliciously creepy atmosphere when you ride it. If you look on a map of the UK, it’s the part of the map with the least main roads across it and, the lack of traffic combined with the enclosing rather tumulus hills, give the area an ancient, secretive stillness.
It reminds me a little of that Hammer House of Horror story of the village full of cannibals that only appeared once a year to ensnare unwary motorists – all very Slaughtered Lamb ‘don’t stray from the path…’ territory.
Waddington Fell has been much raced over the years by car enthusiasts and cyclists – the Tour of Britain crossed it in 2009 without losing anyone to werewolves or pagan ritual, but that was in daylight with a Police escort.
On an empty winter’s day, in the gloaming, with the single crow cawing from the twisted oak, the whisper of the wind across the moors… I’m just saying. I wouldn’t venture across the Trough at dusk – even with an 11- speed.
Where was I? Starting from Newton village, you point yourself at the highest thing in sight. Glide over a small stone bridge and you’ll immediately see the task ahead, as the road rises up through the trees for 600 yards.
The good news is that this is the steepest and worst stretch of the whole climb – the bad news is that front loading the pain is not always the best way to enjoy the scenery.
During what I call my ‘summer of cramp’ in 2011, which I hadn’t had before or had since, this stretch is the only hill I’ve had to walk part of in 25 years.
Once you reach the farm buildings, it eases off and then grinds on up to a left hander and more open country. This left hander is, of course, a right hander on the way down and one to watch out for if you ever descend Waddington this way.
It’s tight on the wrong side of the white line, let alone the right side of the white line and you have very little time to realise this – correct your line and cut 20mph off your speed before you reach it. Fear not. There is an loose dry stone wall and a short drop into the field beyond as a last resort.
Climbing on, you hit another little patch of steepness before the moors open up. Taking the photographs, I danced alongside our Killer Hill model John at this point in true Grand Tour fashion screaming “Allez! Allez!” in his face. “That…is..f***ing annoying,” observed John.
Back on the climb, you then come around a left hand curve and the rest of the climb is laid out in front of you – with tiny white blobs of sheep on the far heights to give your grateful mind an idea of the distance you have left to sweat up.
I remember contemplating this view the first time when I took part in the Bill Bradley Memorial Ride and having my moment of panicked contemplation interrupted by the chirpy voice of veteran champ, Peter Matthews, as he pulled alongside.
“Is that a compact your using?”
“Oh. I thought so..”
Pete gave a condescending smirk, as he slipped into his bottom gear of 39/25 and pulled away.
In the middle of this moorland stretch, you dip down momentarily then face another steepish section that you know is coming as you can see every rider in front of you (aside from smug so and so’s like Matthews, of course).
Give up the comfort of the saddle and rise reluctantly into the final option of standing on the pedals. Even after this, the road curves around the hill to the right and the flat section crowned by the cattle grid that marks the top is an unnecessarily long time in coming.
As far as climbs go in the area, it’s probably the most satisfying to tackle as it’s lumpy and long. It graduates from leafy valley to God-forsaken moor before giving you plenty of fresh air and a sense of achievement.
Unless your daft and have decided to carry on to the Nick of Pendle and the Black Hill, you’ve probably finished the rough stuff for the day.
It’s a careful descent from here and you’re in the rather cozy village of Waddington complete with the welcoming arms of the rather fine cyclist friendly cafe by the bridge.
Distance: 2.2 miles
Average gradient: 5.8%
Maximum Gradient: Must be at least 16% at the bottom
Feet gained: 752
The Bowland Badass boys note that the Strava list for Waddington Fell is ‘populated by the usual bunch of local loonies’. You can count Ben Greenwood, Hugh Carthy and Sir Brad as certifiable then. The BB boys identify the KOM leader as setting a time of 10 minutes 13 seconds and issue the following warning: “Do not even think of trying to beat this time, even on a training day. There are two reasons: 1.You won’t beat it. 2. If you do, he will kill you, or kill himself trying to win it back off you.”
Wise words from the Badass boys.