Sunday, 27 March 2011

Rosedale & Glaisdale Moor

For one reason or another there were only three of us today, and none of the reasons for not turning out had anything to do with the clocks having gone forward and giving us an hour less in bed!

We set off slightly later than planned (again, nothing to do with the clocks) and headed north west on the road out of the village, keeping left at the junction to Dale Head. At Hill Cottages we turned offroad to the right, up past the farm with all the nice hens. Usually here we keep going up, but this time we turned left past the farm to take the old railway.

We made rapid progress along there, pausing only just long enough to take a couple of photos before dropping down the trail through the trees, off to the left at Sturdy Bank.

Once down at the road by Dale Head Farm we turn left then take the next tarmaced right turn to head down past Moorlands Farm. Here we head offroad once more, through a gate and up the steep and sometimes rocky track on the other side. Mud at the bottom leads to a little pushing and denies any of us a "clean", but once beyond the mud we manage it with relative ease, even safely negotiating a section past a photographer with a camera on a tripod without embarrassing ourselves.

Onto the road near the Lion Inn where we turn right and head off towards Castleton. We're soon passed by a speedy bunch of roadies but soon afterwards turn off right onto tracks where they just can't venture. We take the singletrack that cuts the corner across Rosedale Head to end up at White Cross.

This is very much not-as-advertised, being nowhere near the line on the OS map - just follow the obvious trail instead. It's showing signs of wear here and there, most likely from excessive 4x4 use, with some deep gullies in some of the more peaty sections. On the whole it's a pretty satisfying bit of track though, but all too soon over and we're back on the road once more beside White Cross, or Fat Betty as she's known locally.

There's a tempting bit of singletrack heading off past this, but we're not going that way today. We're off along the road, turning left at the next junction and then pretty soon after turning right to go offroad once more on The Cut Road. We pass Trough House and make good use of the slight downwards incline to speed us along. In the distance, just cresting the hill, we spot two more riders. The chase is on (at least for Graham/Danny and me) and we up our pace, tearing along the descents and powering up the climbs. The track is great fun, especially when ridden flat out, and eventually turns to proper singletrack, cutting a narrow (sometimes almost invisible) ribbon through the heather. At about this point I capture and kill my prey (metaphorically).

A rest by the road while Graham/Danny and I wait for Tony to catch up and then we're off again, turning right onto the tarmac to follow it for 4 gentle kilometers before finally turning offroad once more, to the right. This track was quite tough in the reverse direction a couple of weeks ago and is slightly better this way. It's still not in great condition though, and a quite boggy in places, but its fun and challenging to ride.

It eventually becomes shooting track and we follow this, bearing left, for another 2k until we hit the road. Here we go straight over, onto yet another bit of singletrack that cuts across to Hancow Road. This is real proper moorland singletrack, an almost invisible ribbon of track cutting through heather that potentially hides the odd hazard. Graham finds out when he hits a hidden wheelcatcher at speed and is thrown over the bars bringing nose and visor into close contact.

It's only a flesh wound

You can barely see it!
Once at the road the fun doesn't end. We quickly duck left again to drop down Hartoft Rigg, another beautiful piece of singletrack

Right on the road and short tarmac stretch to Rock House where we turn right to go offroad once more. This is a tough but rewarding climb climb up through the woods - all that great singletrack has been spoiling us, it's about time we had to pay for it.

At the top of the climb we go straight over and diagonally right onto the woodland doubletrack that is a bit soft in places and feels like riding with the brakes on.

This eventually takes us towards Allotment Farm. This has been bought by townies who didn't like people and bikes passing through their "farmyard" and have had the bridleway diverted. The OS maps still show the old way, so this leads to confusion on trail user's part and shouting on their part. We made the mistake of going the wrong way last time - this time we get it right, though personally I'd be all for going the wrong way again because I hated their attitude last time.

Once that's negotiated we come to the top of a nice woodland decent. It's quite steep and loose, but well within our capabilities and a fun final downhill.

We exit the woods, sprint across the field that declares "Bull In Field" (if he was there, he was hiding), hit the road, turn right and return to our starting point in the village.

What a fabulous ride. The weather has been great, there have only really been two climbs, and there has been singletrack after singletrack. Graham classes it a 5* ride and it's hard to disagree.

We're thankful that Graze O The Green is open again after its winter sojourn and the scones and cheese swirls go down very nicely.

Rosedale Abbey - Dale Head - Rosedale Head - Glaisdale Moor - Hamer House: 21 miles, 1800' of climb in 3'40 of which a whole hour was spent not moving (there were a lot of photo stops).

Full stats and a GPX download are available over at GarminConnect.

Sunday, 13 March 2011

Fremington, Pinseat & Old Gang

It's been a couple of months months since I was last out in the Dales and almost 4 since I was last at Reeth. A combination of bad weather, other commitments and the odd ailment conspiring to make me miss every ride that's been over there within that time, so I was really looking forward to today's ride.
The weather was pretty iffy when I left home, pouring with rain and just looking miserable, so I put on my full waterproofs. Within about 15 minutes of setting off from Reeth village green this proved to be a mistake. The weather was turning brighter by the minute and by the time we hit the climb up to Fremington Edge I was overheating big style. This led to an enforced stop to shed the waterproof trousers and let the legs breathe and cool a bit!

Barely 200m further up the hill I was forced to make another stop, this time for mechanical reasons. My rear brake had gone and the spring clip was clicking against the rotor as I pedaled. Barely 5 minutes were needed to change the pads over and I was off again, thankful that I'd found out about that brake on this climb, and not on the descent through the old quarry later on!
Once at the top of Fremmy Edge it's David's turn to be bike mechanic, as he discovers that his brake rotor is loose. A quick application of the torx driver on my multitool is all that it needs, and once that's sorted we continue over Marrick Moor to Hurst, enjoying the fast, stoney blast down to the road.

Left at the road and a short while later we're back offroad and onto the track that leads through Hind Rake and on to Fell End Lead Mine. The descent through the old mine workings/quarry is one of my favourite, fairly loose to start with with some decent step downs and good little hairpin, then getting a bit firmer and faster as the track becomes more grassy. Unfortunately the grassy bit had become a bit sodden, especially near a braking point where the track darts between a couple of walls. A total lack of traction led to two offs from other riders and in me taking it sideways, speedway style, and lucky to stay on.
At the bottom we hit the river and track along it to Langthwaite village, where the pub always looks very tempting - but never quite tempting enough!

From Langthwaite we took a route we'd never done before, turning left onto the main road then right onto the first bridleway off it, just before Arkle Town. This proved to be a right royal slog, steep and soft, not soft enough to make riding impossible but enough to make it feel like the brakes had locked on. I plodded on up it in granny gear all the way, happy to make it to the top and look back at the rest of the gang straggled out behind. I was more than a little surprised to see Doug right behind me!

A short but very welcome bit of tarmac now, down to the ford crossing at Fore Gill. This was the first of very many ford crossings we'd make today, all of which Tony wanted to video - "Sealskinz in action". This meant we all splashed through it as fast as possible, spraying as much water as we could. Most of it ended up all over us, and a good deal on Tony too.

We spent a good while after this messing about with Tony's forks. I made the mistake of "trying his bike" and found that the forks didn't seem to compress at all, like riding with lockout on. Somehow he hadn't noticed... We oiled them, let air out, put air in, nothing seemed to really work. We put it back to how it was - if he hadn't noticed anything was wrong, perhaps he still wouldn't...

Further on down the tarmac then off to the right up the track to Surrender Ground and Great Pinseat, another slog of a climb, but easier for being on stone track rather than grass. As we started the climb the sun was out good and proper and it was a real glorious day. Great, because this is one of my favourite areas and it looks way better in sunshine.

Half an hour later we were at the summit, the lunar-landscape looking pretty spectacular, and the promise of a good descent just over the rise.

The descent through Forefield Rake is one of my favourites. Steep enough to give you a good blast of speed and not technical enough to make you have to take undue care, the greatest danger comes from the looseness of the surface as the track snakes its way down the hill. The rear end twitched once or twice as loose corners were taken at high speed. The downhill fun ends at a gate, beyond which was yet another ford that Tony wanted to video us through.

By now my socks were quite wet enough - one thing about waterproof socks is that when water DOES get in, it doesn't get out again! And it's only a couple of hundred meters to the next, but still by no means the final, ford of the day, beyond which the downhill fun begins again with the very high speed descent down the course of Flincher Gill, Hard Level Gill and Old Gang Beck. There's usually nothing more than a bit of loose stone and your own lack of skill or courage to deter you from going flat out down here, but today extra excitement was added in the way of some washed out gullies that have appeared, running left to right across the trail at regular intervals. A bit of high speed jumping is all that is required to clear them and in no time (about 2 1/2 minutes) we're at Old Gang Smelt Mills for the requisite photo stop.

Downwards still for the final dash to the road then it's straight over and past the smelting mill, except that in my excitement I've gone and picked up the footpath rather than the bridleway so we have to track back across the moor a bit to get back on course. That course takes us to the difficult crossing of Bleaberry Gill. Coming east to west it's at least rideable down to the gill, with a difficult push up the other side. Coming west to east, as we were now, it was just a difficult push both down and up - and crossing the gill presented its own challenges too.

.. all of which pales into insignificance compared to the stile-in-the-wall at the top of the bank, requiring us to team up and shuttle the bikes over the top one by one.

Not much left to do now. We cross a damp and muddy moor and head for Thiernswood Hall, descending across moorland that we've climbed several times and thought "this would be a better downhill". While that is true, it's actually not a very exciting or rewarding downhill and pretty soon we're out at the road, with what used to be my least favourite road slog, the 1 1/2 miles back to Reeth from Helaugh. I didn't mind it today, my legs felt empowered and the distance passed in no time.

Afters, as usual, at The Dales Bike Centre where Bren has baked a double batch of scones for us. Not one to pass up scones Tony has one there and takes two home with him. Most of the rest of us have one each, and the baked bean toasties go down well too.

Reeth - Fremington Edge, Hurst, Langthwaite, Pinseat, Old Gang, Helaugh: 17 miles, 2946' of climb in 4 hours dead, with a whole hour and a half stood still fixing bikes, videoing puddles and shuttling bikes over walls.

Full stats and GPX download available on GarminConnect.

Sunday, 23 January 2011

Low Mill Loop

It's been a while since we rode from Low Mills and while for half of our 6 strong group this was treading over old ground (see this blog entry), for the other three it was largely all new.

I won't go into too much detail, since the route is the same as shown in that other blog entry. We left Low Mill and headed south on the road towards Hutton-Le-Hole before turning off right, into the darkness and through the trees down Lund Road.

Despite the fact we've done this before, we still missed the turning off it at the bottom and had to backtrack a little. The field crossing was less muddy than last time, a surprise considering the rain and melt water that must be around. We crossed the "unsuitable for horses" bridge and climbed out of the woods on the other side of the river where we have to stop for Neil to fix a puncture. His comment of "that'll be enough air" when checking his pressures back at the car park prove to be incorrect!

Another road section takes us up to Aldergate Bank, a gentle gradient, but nonetheless an unforgiving slog over the dragging surface and with a stiff breeze in our faces. Soon enough we're at the top of Rollgate Bank, a nice bit of downhill at last, but inevitably this leads us on to the mud and dolomite hell of Little Roll Gate. It's so severely rutted by 4x4s now that alternative bits of track have begun to spring up to the sides of it where people (walkers and bikers) have had to avoid the damaged original trail.

On reaching the old quarry pond we bear right and head towards Stork House. Conscious of our having missed the bridleway turn-off last t(there's a more obvious, unmarked, track that goes straight ahead) we take more care this time. We spot the bridleway marker and peel ff to the left for a nice bit of downhill into Stork House.

This is quite an impressive ruined farm, probably the most impressive on the moors, but not all of us are impressed by tumble-down masonry.

We continue out by the corner of the farmhouse and down towards the crossing of Hodge Beck. A steep road climb out the other side followed by another grinding slog takes us off road once more onto Shaw Ridge. The grind continues, and even though our track eventually loops almost 180 degrees round to join Westside Road (Rudland Rigg) the stiff breeze seems to be constantly in our face. I'm starting to tire (mentally, not physically) of of these constant drags and so it's with a great deal of relief that we eventually reach the top of the Moor's best bit of downhill singletrack.

2km long and losing 140m it has a bit of everything (though no large drop-offs) and flows really well. Neil contrives to fall off in the first 100m before it even gets challenging, but makes up for it and is off again and flying. This is the kind of descent you want to do again and again, but without the hell involved in getting to the top!

A bit of a muddy track from the end of the descent back to the road where we turn right for the final few hundred meters back to the car park.
Afters is at Castleton where I enjoy a veggie full English and the other lads go for the famous scones. The staff have changed since last time we visited, but the exquisite taste in 1940's music hasn't.

Low Mill (Farndale) - Gillamoor - Rollgate Bank - Stork House - Rudland Rigg 19.5 miles, 2400' of ascent in 4hours, with 1 hour of standing around (exactly the same stats as last time - we're nothing if not consistent).

Full stats and GPX download available on GarminConnect.

Sunday, 9 January 2011

Ice Road Truckers

Yes, I know I've used the title Ice Road Truckers before but there was nothing more appropriate to call this ride - Ice Road Truckers summed it up perfectly.

The snow of the last few weeks had led Tony to design a route that involved quite a bit of tarmac, the plan being that the tarmac would be easier than the snowy off-road sections and give us a decent ride in a decent time. Overnight rain and sub-zero temperatures put paid to that plan - what we found instead was roads that were sheet ice and barely rideable, and in such a treacherous state that progress even when going downhill was painfully slow.

Four of us set off from the parking area at Marske, leaving till later the obvious problem that the van was not going to get out again given the amount of ice, and headed north out of the village. This is generally uphill, and difficult going in the ice, but the occasional downward undulation proved even more tricky.

On the first downward section I couldn't control my speed at all with the rear brake, the back wheel just skidding on the zero friction surface. As my speed built I decided it would be best to bail before things got too fast, so I laid the bike over and slid down the road on my side. This was my first (and thankfully only) off of the ride, but it was an early indication of how bad it was going to be.

After almost three miles we turned offroad, left into the woods and onto tracks that were much more rideable.

There hadn't been much through there ahead of us, mainly deer and rabbits by the look of it, but we got good traction on the soft, virgin snow and made decent progress. Until Tim noticed he had a puncture...

... which turned out to be 2, front and rear. 20 minutes later we were on our way again, leaving the woods and crossing open countryside on nice, frozen tracks that felt very safe after the ice sheets on the road.

We crossed the Richmond to Kirby Hill road and went straight ahead back into the woods on the opposite side. We passed a forestry worker in there who told us we were mad to be in there, with all the ice that there was. We told him it was preferable to the tarmac and continued on our way - he wasn't the only person that day who'd tell us we were mad.

Emerging from the woods we continued on for a bit before taking a left fork and emerging back onto tarmac hell at the outskirts of Washton. At this point we'd done 6 miles in exactly 2 hours - slow progress and not boding well for our 20 mile ride! Would we get back before sundown?

We climbed slowly and carefully up to Kirby Hill then descended just as carefully back down the other side, through Gayles and towards Dalton - 7mph top speed on a downhill tarmac section!! After that, two miles of continual climbing that gained us almost 800 feet.

The higher up we got, the more the ice turned to snow until eventually we were riding in nice soft stuff a few cm deep!

Somewhere on this climb "Mr Angry" stopped and had a word with us. We were totally irresponsible being out in these conditions - and what would happen if we fell off in front of his car? We waved him cheerily on his way as we continued on our way, not bothering to ask him what would happen if he was to skid off into a ditch or through a wall.

Eventually the road ended with a choice - bridleways to left or right. We plumped for right, which took us across a totally virgin field of drifted snow, a foot to 18 inches deep.

There was no option here but to push, until eventually we got to the point where the ground began to fall away and the drifting stopped. The snow became shallow enough to ride and as we descended further all but vanished. Eventually we emerged at the road once more, turned left and followed it, undulating at first before plumetting quite rapidly down to Helwith. At various points down there we hit the heady heights of 17mph - Yee Ha!

We crossed the river via the bridge and were then faced with the long, steep push up the snowy bridleway on the other side. This was the most arduous part of the ride but thankfully was soon over, after about 15 minutes of pushing.

Back in the saddle once more it's now down hill (more or less) all the way back to Marske. I couldn't resist one last photo...

 That pretty much summed up the ride!

First job back at the car park was to push the van into a position where we could swing it round without ending up in the river. We did it without much effort, thankfully! Unfortunately there was to be no post-ride scones, or refreshments of any sort, the Tea Rooms in Marske being shut (presumably all winter?).

Marske - Washton - Dalton - Helwith: 19 miles, 4 hours 50'. It would be considerably faster in better conditions.

Route, stats and download available on GarminConnect.

Sunday, 7 November 2010

Danby, Fryup, Glaisdale & Lealholm

Heavy rain throughout the week and again overnight prior to our ride, followed by a brief but heavy downpour on the morning too, meant that we pretty much knew what to expect from this ride in terms of the conditions under wheel. What we didn't know was quite what the route had in store for us in terms of the terrain. Tony had planned the route and then dropped out, leaving me to guide it, and a quick glance at the map made me think it was pretty much all stuff we had done before. I was wrong - a good 50% of the off-road sections were stuff we hadn't done before, and some of the stuff we had done before we hadn't done that way round, which made it totally different.

6 of us set off from Danby Moors Centre, heading up Park bank and taking the first left at the brow of the hill. A couple of hundred meters on and we turn offroad to the left and onto the bridleway over Castleton Pits. This pretty much set the scene for the day - it was totally waterlogged, the dual track being more like dual streams.

We stayed with this until it hit the road past Clitherbeck Farm, turned left onto the road for a short section then went offroad once more to the right. This is the Pannierman's Causeway and we've ridden a part of it on the other side of the road, but not on this side. We actually missed the causeway for quite a bit, following an obvious trail on the ground that was not necessarily the right one! Eventually we joined up with where we ought to have been (evidenced by the flagstones that mark this ancient right of way) and descended down towards the crossing of Ewe Crag Beck. Unfortunately here, near a dwelling, we stayed too far right and missed the actual bridleway, traversing a field until we reached the gate at the bottom. The landowner and his wife were both stood at the top of the field bellowing at us that "this is not a right of way". I decided that the only correct thing to do was to go back, face them, and apologise, even though we were just a gate and 4 feet away from where we wanted to be.

We dragged our bikes back up the hill and faced the music. The guy was pretty annoyed, but cooled down when we were apologetic and said we had no interest in going the wrong way, we had just made a simple mistake. He told me we were the first bikers who had ever apologised - perhaps if more did he wouldn't get so irate. Having said that, his own initial attitude left a lot to be desired and was rubbing some of us (yes, you Neil) up the wrong way.

So back on track again we headed for the ford crossing at Ewe Crag Beck, a crossing Tony had commented "might be a bit iffy". We needn't have worried, even with all of the rainfall there had been it was easily rideable and no one got there feet wet save for the splash caused by the wheels cutting through the water.

Up out the other side, a nice grassy climb and then an even nicer nice grassy descent back down to the road near Danby.

We do a sharp right at the road, almost doubling back on ourselves, and take this to the next junction where we turn left. Right at the next junction and we're on Longlands Lane for a while before we turn off down the track that leads up to North End Farm. Just before reaching the farm buildings there's a left hand turn through a narrow gate, and beyond that is a push up a slippery, rocky slope that gains us 200 feet before we're able to remount. We came down this way a few rides ago and I'd forgotten just how steep and rocky it was. Gorgeous views from the top.

A bit more level riding (well, less steep anyway) and we reach the start of the descent - the reason we're up here! The previous time we'd come this way we'd come up what we were now about to go down, and even in the dry it was pretty much unrideable due to the steepness and the technicality that the various rocks and drops added into it.

We threw ourselves off the top as fast as we dared, taking care in the wet and slippery conditions but enjoying the challenge.

Towards the bottom the track swings left, flattens out slightly and broadens out into a more grassy surface. The ideal opportunity to let go the brakes and pick up some real speed. A bad line choice while doing 24mph+ saw me giving thanks to the "Jumps & Drops" course I'd done a couple of months back. The "grassy  slope" suddenly became "4 foot vertical mini-cliff". My mindset is still not quite at the point where I think "Oh good, a jump". It starts off as "oh dear, how do I avoid this...?" followed by "this is gonna hurt a lot...!!" followed by "why don't I just jump it...?" I sailed off the end and landed it perfectly.

At the end of the track we're back at the road. We have a little amusement at Craig's expense. He's already part way up the road climb when we shout him back because we're going to be going the other way. But then find that we're not. Sorry Craig, back up that bank you go!

We do the road climb up New Way, ignoring the bridleway descent that we usually do (around Round Hill) and instead go down Raven Hill. At the head of the climb we meet a group of uppity walkers who try to tell us we have no right to ride this track and that "it has to be 3m wide before we can bring a bike on it". We smile, wave politely and continue on our way.

The walkers must gain a little amusement from the fact that the trail proves to be unrideable. The first hundred meters or so is fine, but after that it becomes too steep, rocky and slippery (and with a stream running down it) to ride. It's hard enough for me to walk!

Eventually the track becomes rideable once more and we decide to consign this track to the "don't bother" list - well, certainly not when it's wet. It may be more of an option when it's nice and dry. At the bottom of the hill the track turns left and becomes a nice grassy traverse that ends at Woodhead Farm.

 We pass through the farm and continue on to reach the road, pass Fryup Hall Farm and turn right towards Street. This brings us to one of my favourite road climbs, up Street Lane towards Glaisdale Rigg. It's a tough old slog, especially near the road junction mid-climb where naturally we take the steeper, right hand option. At times it's hard to keep the front wheel planted on the tarmac.

Usually we take the road all the way to the top - today we're doing a bit of bridleway that cuts diagonally across Stony Rigg. Unfortunately Neil doesn't know this and is almost at the top of the road climb before we call him back. We take a look at the bridleway - it looks like yet another trudge up a muddy hill pulling a bike along, and we decide to bin it and take the road way after all. Sorry Neil.

At the top of the road we turn right and then turn back on ourselves onto Glaisdale Rigg, right by where we should have emerged. A quick glance down makes us glad we opted for the road way.
A fairly quick, loose and rocky blast along Glaisdale Rigg and we take the second waymarked bridleway on the right.

This is a grassy, muddy slope in a bit of a cut that works its way diagonally down the hillside before turning to go straight down across a field and emerge at the road where we turn left.

As we go along the road I keep seeing bridleways coming down onto it - there must be dozens of ways down off Glaisdale Rigg. Eventually the GPS tells me that one of these "ways down" is in fact our way back up! Just before Postgate Farm we turn left onto yet another steep and slippery bridleway, but at least this one's rideable, bar for a few meters of pushing.

Up on Glaisdale Rigg once more we bear left and descend a track that emerges at the road by Broad Leas. Right onto the road then left at the first junction and we follow the tarmac until it runs out and becomes a rough track descending towards what I expect to be a ford. It's nice to see there's actually a bridge there, and Craig takes a bit of friendly ribbing for his well intentioned comment of "what a good place to put a bridge". "Yes, over a river. Where would you put it in Canada?"

Yet more mud and puddles (small swimming pools more like) await us at the other side of the bridge but we're soon out of it and back onto Tarmac. Not much excitement left for us now, just a long, largely road ride back to Danby. Thankfully our route isn't taking us up onto Danby Beacon, a bit of a pointless and boring drag whose only worthiness is as a fitness booster. None of that today, we just want to get back.

We stay on Rakes lane, through Lealholm Side and on to Oakley Side where we turn left for our final descent of the day.This is another track that is washed out from excessive water leaving a lot of bare rock and slippery cobbles, so it's speed and caution in equal measure down to the bottom.

Right onto the road at the bottom and it's just a quick blast of a mile or so back to Danby Lodge.
It's been a good ride, though at times I've cursed Tony and said the "he knew what he was doing, planning this and then bailing out". There's been a lot of mud, but really only the climb to Ainthorp Rigg and the descent of Raven Hill were unrideable, and the rest was good fun and good exercise, and with some really splendid views. A good bit of banter today too, not least aimed at Howard and his constant wardrobe changes.

Only 3 of us bothered with the cafe. I had a culinary first - beans in toast (no, there's no spelling mistake there). Toast cut into fingers and built up into a square, a bit like a sheep pen, then filled with baked beans. It was a trifle bizarre, maybe showing some country influence. They'll be doing dry toast walling next.

Danby, Fryup, Glaisdale & Lealholm, 22 miles, 3300' of ascent in four hours dead, a pretty good pace.

Riders: Steve, Tim, Neil, Craig, Sam, Howard

Full statistics, map and route download available on GarminConnect.

Wednesday, 27 October 2010

The Calf

We'd had this ride planned for a while and there was no telling how the weather would be by the time the date came along. The previous day had been totally dire so we didn't hold out much hope for the day of the ride, but how pleasantly wrong we were!

Five of us set off from Sedbergh to tackle what could well be our toughest ride to date, covering 25 miles and with 4000 feet of ascent, a lot of it all at once at the start of the ride - well at least we'd be fresh for it.

We headed north then west out of Sedbergh, heading for Lockbank Farm where we wound our way through the farm and went offroad. The track up the hillside is long and steep and on a draggy grassy surface which started to sap our energy straight away. The track looks almost mowed into the hillside, giving a clear view of where we were going to be headed, and it looked a long, long way. This put me in two minds as to whether I should slog my way up some of the steeper slopes or take it more gently (and even walk) to conserve energy for later. Riding won out, except for where that was impossible, my leg muscles much preferring the cycling to walking!

By the time we had our first break we were about half way up and 40 minutes into the ride. The route ahead looked no less challenging than what we'd already done, and ominously we couldn't even see the summit. The scenery was spectacular though, in the directional light that the combination of sun and cloud was giving.

We pressed on, eventually crossing a saddle at the head of a valley which served to funnel the wind to more than gale force. No wind like this was forecast, and it was so strong it made riding totally impossible at times, and coupled with the steep gradient and dragging grass slope it meant that occasional hike-a-bikes were unavoidable.

Once this saddle was out of the way the wind was never quite that strong again, though it did still howl at times. We were glad to reach the cairn at Calders where the ground leveled off and the wind eased and got behind us a little. The ride from there to the summit of The Calf was a lot quicker and easier.

We had another break at the trig point on The Calf. Sam needed to relieve himself and for some reason decided to go and  do it in the small tarn/large puddle that was nearby. We think he took delight in peeing in what could end up as Tony's drinking water, though I'm sure that it would be filtered through several beds of peat before it ended up anywhere near a tap.

"All downhill from here" we thought, having climbed 1800 feet in the last 4 1/2 miles, and our eyes seemed to back up what our minds were telling us. The trail stretched out seemingly forever, shadowing Bowderdale Beck all the way down the valley in what must be one of the most beautiful pieces of singletrack going.

If we thought that meant it would be easy from now on though, we were in for a nasty surprise. After the initial plummet, which was largely gravity driven, though technical and requiring a lot of concentration and a modicum of skill, the trail eased off quite a bit, and while still being largely downwards required an awful lot of pedaling to overcome the obstacles in the trail.

The most annoying of these were the constant array of minor fords that we had to cross, caused by the dozens of streams and springs that flow off the hillside. The amount of water that was around from the previous day's rain also meant that much of the trail was like riding in a river, or at best a constant trail of mud.

Progress along here was nowhere near as rapid as we perhaps expected it would be, though the weather was holding and the views were still gorgeous. The trail's difficulty meant we also kept getting strung out, our various degrees of skill and fitness meaning a fair few breaks to regroup.

Eventually we exited the moor, emerging on the road at Bowderdale. There followed a few miles of the least interesting part of the route, a combination of tarmac and pastoral bridleways that took us from Bowderdale to Weasdale to Ravenstonedale. I have to say that I was impressed by the look of Ravenstonedale, and the two pubs there looked very tempting!

We pressed on, taking the tarmac out of Ravenstonedale towards Adamthwaite. Progress was pretty good along here (well, it's tarmac after all) but just after the bridge over Gais Gill there's a steep section where I was hit by the dreaded chain suck. My drivetrain had been lubricated by nothing but mud for a good few miles now, and it was starting to show. No one had any lube with them, so a bit of lateral thinking from Sam had me trying out Gatorade as a chain lube. It worked!

Chain suck banished, we continued up the hill and on towards the point where we went offroad once more, on the bridleway towards Murthwaite. This looked like it would be a muddy, sodden morass, but although wet it was firm and well rideable. There was even time for some real gravity-driven fun down a rocky/stony section of the track where we finally hit the heady heights of over 20mph!

A bit more field-crossing, past some of the famous "wild horses", and we find ourselves in a particularly lovely little woodland descent. It's tricky - small sharp stones are hidden beneath slippery leaves, and a stream appears to be running down the entire length, but it's as fun as it is challenging as it is picturesque! Biggest grin of the day so far.

After that there was a succession of bridge and ford crossings that have all blurred into one! I know I got my feet wet more than once, and was thankful of the best efforts of the Sealskinz socks to keep my feet dry and warm.

A final ford and bridge crossing over Cautley Holme Beck, and a short wait for Tim to fix the day's only puncture, took us on to the final fun part of our ride, a few miles of nice singletrack as good as anything you'll find.

This was no more easy to ride than the section in Bowderdale, being just as wet and having almost as many obstacles en-route. It was good fun, but by now the legs were beginning to feel weary and mistakes were creeping in, and I found myself on my back more than once.

Eventually at Crook Holme we exited the bridlway early via a short section of footpath, so that we could hit the road and drop Tony and Ian at the B&B they were staying at. The promise of dozens of gates on that final stretch also had a bearing on our route choice, our weary legs and the diminishing light meaning that stopping every couple of hundred yards for gates was the last thing we wanted. We must go back some other time and complete that last mile of singletrack.

Back in Sedbergh we changed out of wet and very muddy clothes and hit the cafes. We were about to go into the well known Cafe Sedbergh but they put up the closed sign as we were about to step into the door. Their loss was Cafe Duo (next door)'s gain, and maybe ours too. The hand-cut cheesy chips that Sam and I had really hit the spot, I've rarely had nicer chips. A good big pot of tea too.

The Calf (Sedbergh, Bowderdale, Ravenstonedale, Murthwaite, Narthwaite): 25 miles, 4000' of ascent in 6 hours 20 minutes, of which more than 2 hours was spent eating, resting, photographing, fixing punctures and waiting to regroup.

Riders: Steve, Ian, Tony, Sam, Tim

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