Author Interview: Hannah Collingridge, Pennine Bridleway
- Thursday 1 April 2021
Gorple Lower Reservoir. © Joolze Dymond.
For forty years, Hannah Collingridge has been riding bikes while discovering interesting stories along the way. Pennine Bridleway is a guidebook to the National Trail with easy-to-follow directions, beautiful photography, and lots of local history woven throughout. Here, Hannah tells us about her adventures on multi-day trails, lockdown adjustments, and advice for beginner bikepackers.
Tell us about the way your guide is structured and how it brings out the most of the Pennines.
I’m not the greatest fan of guidebooks that are merely sets of directions, I want to know more than that about where I am and what’s going on around me. Hence, I tried to get as much interesting stuff as I thought my editor would allow into the book. Generally, there’s a set of directions followed by a snippet of info about the landscape you are travelling through. I’ve tried to make that information quite varied so hopefully there is something for everyone. The Pennines are a fascinating area so there is plenty to talk about … there’s a lot that didn’t make it into the book.
It’s clear that you appreciate the historical importance of the places where you cycle. In your opinion, what is the most interesting story behind a place along the Pennines?
If I have to pick just one, which is immensely tricky, I think it’s the story of how we’ve tried to cross the Pennines. Travelling up the line of the hills is an entirely odd thing to do but creating east/west trade routes is much more reasonable and there are plenty of examples of this along the trail. Standedge is possibly the best example: the Romans were the first to build a paved road over there (RR712 if you want to look it up). There would have been pack horse routes as well, but they are harder to trace as there were three separate turnpikes built later, all trying to find a decent gradient over the hill. The current A62 still uses the line of the final turnpike. Meanwhile, underneath the hill is a three-mile tunnel for the Huddersfield Narrow Canal, and three separate railway tunnels as the London and North Western Railway tried to get as much goods carrying capacity as they could. So, in one small area you have thousands of years of people all trying to find a way of getting from one side of the hill to the other.
What is your favourite part to cycle along the Pennine Bridleway and why?
Who came up with these impossible questions? It probably depends on my mood. I love the grittiness of the Pennines with the stunning industrial remains, but also the big open landscape of the Dales section. I also love the sections we can positively date or link to a particular time or person. In terms of pure riding, it’s probably the section from Rushup Edge to Hayfield which is good old Dark Peak riding and technically quite good fun.
Slab Bridge near Austwick. © Joolze Dymond.
How have lockdown restrictions affected your outdoor routines?
Indeed they have. Plans for writing guidebooks had to be changed several times over and the PBW would have been a different book had it not been written during and in between lockdowns. Instead of doing the route as some day trips and some trips staying away and getting to know an area better the vast majority of it was done as day trips from home. I also rode much more of the trail by myself than I’d been planning on originally, and that’s very much reflected in the photos of the route, for instance. Outside of the book, walking and riding became very much focused locally.
When did you begin combining cycling with writing and what inspired you?
My very good friend, Joolze Dymond, who did the photos for the book, was doing quite a few articles for CRANKED magazine. She’s not that fond of writing really, whereas I like writing, but my photos are hopeless. Teaming up made sense. Around the same time, I discovered the old maps section on the National Library of Scotland website and started researching what was below our local trails so we ended up doing an article exploring the history behind our usual local ride which I wrote and she photographed. Then it all got a bit out of control.
Could you suggest a guidebook by another author that you’ve read and would recommend to others?
I’m a fan of anything that shows how someone knows and loves a landscape. Hence, I’m still really fond of Wainwright’s Lakeland guides. A book I’ve had for years and still use is Tony Waltham’s Yorkshire Dales: Limestone Country (Constable, 1987) which describes stuff below the surface as well as above it, so there’s a whole chunk about how the limestone dales came to be, and how they are connected under the surface as well as the visible stuff.
One book I am really looking forward to is Anita Sethi’s I Belong Here: A Journey Along the Backbone of Britain (Bloomsbury, 2021) and seeing another northern woman’s take on the Pennines.
Walled track from Wormhill. © Joolze Dymond.
Pennine Bridleway is described as a guidebook that covers multi-day trails. Tell us about one of your best experiences with a trail that surpassed a single day.
Joolze and I rode the Jennride event in the Lakes a couple of years ago. We knew we weren’t going to do the full hundred-mile route, so we made it into the ride we wanted to do. There were some vague plans in my head based on knowledge about tracks I knew connected and some places I quite wanted to visit, and we went with what we fancied instead of anything set in concrete. I love that freedom of bikepacking, the sheer joy of being able to change your mind and potter off in a different direction. It was a really warm day, so we paddled in Coniston for a while, stopped off for snacks and coffee once in a while, and took detours round stuff we fancied.
Where is the most memorable place you’ve stayed on a multi-day trip?
I’ve stayed in plenty of places that probably class as memorable for one reason or another: a lime kiln, a cave, the public toilets in Hafren Forest, a stunning night in the Lakes next to a glaciated slab of rock with a view of a Roman road, a Neolithic axe factory and a Norse meeting place. Winter mornings often bring something special as well. We once had a temperature inversion over Hawes one February and the changing light of dawn over Penyghent one December. Other nights are more memorable for being more unpleasant than others … putting the tarp up in the Peak one night was memorable but not for good reasons.
As an enthusiast for nuggets of knowledge, can you tell us your most interesting fact that we can use to impress others?
It depends on what you class as interesting really. If you have a look at anywhere and nosy at the stories, there’s bound to be something interesting there. Take Garsdale station, for example. It was so windy up here they had to build a windbreak for the turntable otherwise engine could spin out of control. This story then appears in Rev Awdry’s Railway Series when James the Red Engine is caught by wind while being turned. (This is one of the stories in the guidebook.) The station waiting room at Garsdale was also once used for Anglican church services, while the Methodist chapel down the road was built by the railway company and has a distinctly railway styled architecture.
In 1910 there was a serious railway accident in the area caused mostly by a signalman forgetting about two engines which the express train then crashed into. At least this led to a great deal of fail-safe systems being introduced. As so frequently happens, it’s only when there are serious accidents that safety improves.
Garsdale is also a good example of a Norse placename showing one of the many layers of language in the landscape among the various settlers.
What is your go-to piece of advice for a bikepacker beginner?
Try your stuff out at home – make sure you can pitch your tent or tarp in comfort rather than getting frustrated/cold/wet/hungry in the wild. Try riding your bike locally with a load on so you know how the bike handles before you take it too far afield. For your first time don’t be over-ambitious – that can come later. And enjoy it. You are doing this for fun, otherwise there’s not much point.
To buy a copy of Pennine Bridleway with 20% off and free UK postage, click HERE.