The Tor Divide, May 2024 by Jim Sutherland

The Tor Divide, May 2024 by Jim Sutherland


I am not quite sure how and when I found out about The Tor Divide but I entered sometime in 2023.  I had missed riding in the Peak District the year before on my version of LEJOG/GBDuro so I grabbed the chance of a place in this first edition.

Through winter and spring, my riding was a mixture of local mountain bike blasts or when the weather wasn’t too poor some longer outings on gravel to build up fitness.  By March 2024 Valerio, the creator of the Tor Divide had started to share more and more information about the format of the event.  There were two routes to choose from:  The Divide - 160 miles with 18,000 feet of ascent or The MIllstone - 101 miles with 10,000 feet of ascent.  Valerio was not recommending any one type of bike over another.  Instead, he championed the ethos of ‘ride what you bring’ which proved on the whole to be very inclusive for most participants.

Right up until April, I was pretty sure that I was going to ride my ‘yellow bike’ which is a sort of gravel bike built from a 1990 Kona, CinderCone frame rescued from a skip!  Then I saw a video from Josh Ibbett riding some of the route on a hardtail.  At that point I decided to ride my hardtail as if someone of his talent chose one it would be wise for me too.  So, my Lapierre 529 was set up with bike bags and given a thorough service before the middle of May.

My immediate boss at work used to live in Derbyshire so he pretty much set it up so I could travel the 400 miles down to Edale on the Friday as a 6-to-8-hour drive in daylight.  This set me up from the start and I am so grateful to Chris, Dugal, and Claire for making this possible.

I am not a fan of big drives and I usually end up dragging them out with stops to drink coffee and eat lots of rubbish to keep me going on my own.  However, near the end of my drive, the sight of Mam Tor and the surrounding beautiful Peak District lifted my spirits at 5 pm when I reached the Tor Divide HQ in Edale.

The event has a strong ethos of collaboration with local landowners, businesses, and accommodation providers.  Valerio had arranged for safe, clean, and convenient camping in a farmer’s field for the duration of the event.  After setting up my sleeping bag, and stove and checking my bike I took a walk to the nearby pub for dinner.  Replete after steak & ale pie, chips, and peas with some John Smiths beer, I was in bed by 10 pm.

In the morning, I walked down to registration just before 7 am and found a busy throng of folk there already!  Fair play to Valerio, he wasn’t letting anyone into the hall until 7 am - with good reason.  When we got in the hall was perfectly set out with our carefully thought-out gift pack, a stall to buy gels, etc., and at another table the treat of fresh coffee & pastries.  All done with calm panache.  He even took the time to welcome the lone Scot, which I appreciated.

By this time, I had made the decision not to ride the long course as I did not consider it sensible to ‘knock my pan in’ and then set off on a 400-mile, 8-hour drive home on my own on Sunday night.  So, I packed for an overnighter on the Millstone route and set off at about 7:30 am.

The road climbs up to Mam Tor hit me straight away and was a good reminder to sit in, take it easy, and try to keep my heart rate down as much as possible.  The morning mist on our climb and the traverse onto the crest made a very memorable start, especially when it lifted at the flagstone descent.  The rutted, rocky, and sometimes steep descents were a lot of fun, and I was also very happy about my choice of bike.

The spirit of the riders around me was open, friendly, and encouraging.  Everyone was super helpful when negotiating the many, many gates.  If someone held a gate for me and lots of others, I then made a point of getting to the next one first to return the good Karma.

Whilst having a ‘Garmin-faff’ near the first big reservoir I met up with another rider called Dominic.  He was from Manchester and shared stories with me about the trails around here.  He also told me how much I was going to enjoy the big trails such as the descent off Stratton HIll to Hathersage.

We rode and pushed for a few miles then swooped down from the heights of Margery HIll to Langsett Reservoir with its famous cyclist cafe.  The cafe was jumping with riders on the Tor Divide, bikepackers on their own routes, and folk just out for a road ride.  Shortly after this stop, I said cheerio to Dominic as he was doing the long course.  We both promised to keep in touch and he said he would come up to Scotland next year to take part in my wee charity ride here in Grantown on Spey.

On one of the higher bridleway/road intersections, I met up with Ross & Larry.  We rode together for a few miles and did seem to be moving at a similar pace although they were on lightly loaded bikes.  By now I had a loose plan to ride to Edale to close the first loop then push on for another couple of hours before stopping for the night.  However, I had not done all of my homework and hadn’t even factored in the crossing of Jacob's Ladder…  it was hard.  I was late in the day.  But I enjoyed the physicality of this crux part of the route.  For me, the key thing is to get used to pushing a heavy, loaded bike.  To get used to the loose rocks on the steep trail and finally, just get used to it being something that simply has to be done.

Things got pretty fluid as we approached Edale and next thing I was riding on my own into Edale and straight up to the pub to get chips after food orders had closed and a large shandy.  My van was nearby.  I had ridden fantastic trails and enjoyed great company as well as pushing myself and digging deep.  So, with that, I decided like many others to spend the night back where I had started in Edale.


Day two was even clearer and I was awake by 5 am.  My decision to strip all the overnight kit off of my bike for the southern loop seemed fine.  After all, I had seen more riders on more lightly loaded, or even unloaded bikes over the whole route from the start.  So, I put my repair kit, first aid kit, and power bank with some other essentials into my Aeropack and set off for Castleton via Mam Tor for the second time.

By the time I reached Hathersage I had ridden The Broken Road, negotiated the cement factory at Castleton, and climbed to the summit of Stratton Moor to be rewarded with an exhilarating and long descent.  At the cafe Igor, Kris, and Michal made me welcome at their tables and the four of us enjoyed a classic all-day breakfast with more good coffee, talked about the route, and of course some gear nerding.

The route kept my interest up with more climbs on lanes or bridleways and then a surprisingly tiring section for me on the Monsal along the disused railway line.  By now I thought that I might have had a scent of the finish, but Valerio had other plans!  There were loads more gorgeous views with bridleways for me to find and follow.  Some very well-hidden and also steep singletrack before at last I reached the bottom of a climb to Mam Tor for a third time.

Ross & Larry made an appearance for a short time which was a nice surprise.  I also saw a rider who completed the route single speed despite a broken crank on day #1 and then a bust rear mech on day #2 - hardcore girl!

The welcome from the Tor Divide team at Edale was warm and friendly.  The ‘Diavola’ pizza and Thornbridge vegan pint of beer were fresh and very tasty.  What an incredible weekend - thanks to everyone for creating such a challenging and fun route.  I will be telling my friends to sign up in 2025 for the Tor Divide.

Reading next

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Take another step: How to backpack faster, longer, and more enjoyably by Heather Hoechst

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