Spring is in the air and its time to leave the local roads behind and head North to the Yorkshire Dales.
Later this year my friend Gordon and I are planning to do a few days in Scotland and rather than do the planning on the phone, we figured it was a great opportunity for a few days in the Dales, so we can catch up, throw some ideas together and it’s guaranteed to put us in the right frame of mind.
We arranged to meet at the Dales Cycle Centre, in Fremington, in the heart of Swaledale. Not only is it a great bike shop and cafe, but it is also a bunkhouse, so it will be our base for a couple of nights.
I knew from a cycling holiday back in 1977 that this is a great, if a little hilly, area to cycle. I also have some unfinished business here in the shape of a couple of hills I could not manage to climb 42 years ago. I hope I can better that now, I should, now that I am not limited to a 42 x 25 bottom gear.
After 160 miles driving North in glorious sunshine, I started to drop in to Swaledale. Looking to my left I could see snow on the tops of the surrounding hills and a white wave rolling down the valley. I gave Gordon a quick call to see how close he was and he informed me he had just passed through the storm I could see. Apparently there was 100mm of snow on the hills and in Hawes the river had burst it’s banks. It’s going to be interesting!
We met up at 09:30, got a brew and were on the road by 10:30. The idea for the next few days was a gentle exploration of the area, led by G, who only lives 50 miles away, and has spent quite a bit of time around here.
Ok, so I say gentle, but we headed out of Fremington, through Grinton and on to Whipperdale, a really steep pull.
We then took a right turn heading to Castle Bolton, up the Cogden Hall climb. Now bear in mind that there was a strong south westerly wind blowing over the top and the gradient varied from a lowly 7% to a leg busting 35%. It was a good way to start, but it can only get easier, can’t it?
Over the top we dropped down in to Castle Bolton to be greeted by the impressive castle. We have a quick stop for pictures, then down to the Wensleydale valley floor, heading west towards Hawes. It was at this point we felt the full force of the wind, which would be in our face for the next 16Km or so.
We did get a respite when we took a scenic detour down to Aysgarth Falls. I love this place, as it looks different as the seasons change. It can be idyllic in the summer, but today it was full-on, after the terrible storms at the weekend. There was already scaffolding up to help repair previous damage.
Back on the valley road we head towards Hawes, two revolutions forward, one back, as we hit the wind.
For lunch G suggested a cafe/bike shop he had heard about in the old Hawes railway station. What a cool place, and run by a real nice guy, Micheal, who spent ages telling us about the cycling in the area and showing off the bike he had built for himself. We ordered two “giant” tea cakes and tea, but “giant” still doesn’t prepare you for the 200mm diameter object that arrives.
Stuffed to the gills we retrace our steps out of Hawes, where there are signs of the flooding, with debris all over the road and in the trees.
A quick left then right and we start the climb of Buttertubs, a well known 6Km climb, used in the Tour d’France in 2014. The wind was blowing from the side as we began the slog to the top, but what an amazing view out over the moorland. In the distance, however, the sky was looking ominous, as I looked back and saw G appearing over the crest.
A quick drop down to the “butter tubs” themselves, two large holes in the stone where the running water has eroded the soft rock to form deep wells.
Dropping down from the tubs we arrive back in Swaledale and take a right to Muker, following the river all the way through to Reeth. We had another quick detour, following a sign for Crackpot, I mean, you have to take a look with a name like that.
From the valley road you could see the flood damage and standing water in the fields, it must have been quite a weekend.
Finally, back to base, we load the bikes in the car and its time to go and get ready for food.
Total 61.46km and 1,253m of climbing
This was supposed to be the best of the three days weather wise, but this morning it looks a little under par. With this in mind we decided it would be prudent to stay low first thing until it has warmed through and any ice there may be has melted.
So, we headed down the valley, following the river Swale in to Richmond, a historic old town with some great old buildings. We stopped to see the castle, and in an area on the way out town we found the Colloden Tower, built in 1746 to celebrate the victory.
From Richmond we took a steep climb out and started to head for Leyburn, another lovely old market town.
On the way we could see a weather front starting to approach, and as it was time for a coffee stop, we spotted a ‘biker’ cafe. Ideal you might think, only their usual bikers were on slightly more powerful machines than ours, and clad in leather. Still, they made us welcome, served a great brew, and it was dry, which was the most important thing.
Twenty minutes later, we were back on the road, and swooping up and down through to Leyburn town centre. The market square was paved in cobbles stones, I had forgotten how much they loved cobbled streets up here, Richmond and Hawes both had their share.
Looking at the weather to the south, our best plan was to head over the top and back to base in Fremington for lunch and then plan a route for the afternoon.
As we climbed out of Leyburn the view opens back up in to a wide empty moorland vista, and you enter the army training area, all fenced off, with signs for tanks, shooting ranges and army buildings all the way over the moor. It’s a really strange atmosphere when it is not in use, but it must be even stranger when there is the sound of sniper rifles ringing through the air.
To the right G points out a hill in the distance and to the left of it you could see the chimneys of the ICI plant in Teeside. Hard to believe we were that close to the East coast, while deep in West Yorkshire.
Once over the top there is a cracking descent in to Grinton, covered in the salty leftovers from the previous nights gritting lorry, it swoops and twists, landing us back in the village, next to the pub where we ate last night.
A chat with some locals over lunch pointed us in the direction of the “Swale Trail“, a propose built trail that runs down the south side of the river Swale from Grinton, through to Keld.
This was a great way to finish the day, spinning along on the gravel by the river, then up an over on the grass until it hit the road again.
There were sections of the trail badly affected by the weekends flooding, requiring us to wade through the water to complete the journey, which in this case was back to the bridge near Crackpot, where we stopped yesterday.
We then followed the same valley road back in to Reeth as we did yesterday.
Total 60.69km and 939m of climbing
Today was always going to be a short spin, as we both needed to be away by mid-day. We therefore set off through Reeth, and up in the direction of Tan Hill, but as we reached the CB Inn, the cloud had come down and it looked miserable.
We decided to take a left just before the inn, heading back over the moor to Low Row. We had already climbed 300m to get the the CB Inn, but the next 2Km took us up to 420m at an average of 9%, a real good pull.
Once over the crest we kept our eyes open for the ford, which we had been warned about. The advice was “don’t ride through it, people have been air lifted out because of it”. Good advice which we took seriously, and when we arrive we can see why it is so dangerous. There is a big gully across the centre of it, and hitting that at speed would cause chaos. We paddle across the foot bridge and continued down.
After the ford the road becomes a lovely descent right the way through to just above Low Row, then suddenly it tips and there is a whopping 25% drop back down to the main Reeth road. As it is wet, and it joins the main road, we gave this descent a lot of respect.
Once back on the bottom road we just rolled back to the bike centre for a shower, food, a brew and say our goodbyes.
Total 19.42km and 463m of climbing
It was only a short break and gave us chance to catch up, plan Scotland and explore an area I had not ridden for years.
I am looking forward to May now, and what will be a great little adventure for me, taking the train to Scotland, then after our few days in Callander, I plan to loop back down the east coast, then round to York to pick up a train back home….if all goes well.