Sunday, 11 January 2009

Castle Bolton - Askrigg - Apedale

10 of us today, the biggest turn out for months on what would prove to be one of our most challenging rides. The weather on the tops proved to be quite extreme and with prior knowledge we might not have set off. Fortunately we’re all properly attired and reasonably competent so the weather didn’t put us in danger and I think we all probably felt a sense of achievement at finishing. The bad weather meant I didn't take a camera along though, so no photos from this ride.

The ride starts by heading due west away from Castle Bolton, a gentle climb on decent tracks at first that become progressively more and more muddy. Thankfully it wasn’t the unrideable mud that we’d encountered at Rosedale a few weeks earlier and a bit of skill and determination could get you through it. The route swings left then follows the hillside round above Carperby and the river Ure, down below in the valley.

Eventually it drops gently away again, past the disused lead mines and towards a large pond/small tarn. Here we had our first fun of the day. The pond, despite looking “normal” was actually frozen solid (solid enough to take your weight) but covered by an inch or two of water which disguised the fact that it was frozen. One of our party decided to ride through it, only to skid on the ice and plough through the water on his backside, getting himself well wet. It was hard not to laugh, once we’d ensured he was ok.

On a bit further then, above Hazel Bank and Woodhall and to our lunch stop, just by a gate where a farmer was busy calling his sheep through. It was quite spectacular watching them come streaming across the moor and funnelling through the gate, their backsides painted every colour under the sun.

One banana and a Go Bar later and we’re off again, a slow, muddy slog uphill towards the road above Newbiggin. By now we were starting to realise what we were in for; the skies had darkened to a dirty grey and the wind was howling quite badly. To make matters worse light rain, turning to hail at times, was lashing us. By the time we reached the junction with the road it was hard to stand upright and the wind-chill was really kicking in. We were less than halfway round and hadn’t hit the most exposed part of the route yet. With this in mind two of our group left us and took the quicker, less exposed way back to the start by road. A little while later a couple more of us wished they’d joined them!

Turning right onto the road we began the long tarmac climb up a road called “Long Band”. Thankfully the wind was at our backs, if it had been in our face I think we’d have abandoned. On stretches of this climb you could actually stop pedalling and let the wind carry you along!

Reward for this punishing climb came though in the form of the best road descent I’ve ever done – probably helped by the fact that the wind was capable of whipping you along at 40k with a minimum of input from your legs! Down, down, down, over 3km of descent of varying steepness and a speed that peaked at 65k, it was a pity when it had to end.

It was a shock to the system too, as the following steep climb up over Whitaside Moor was tackled into the face of the howling gale. The gradient and the wind combined to make the climb largely unrideable, and the constant pushing into the gale started to take its toll on backs, thighs and knees. It was a relief to reach the summit at Apedale Head. Downhill all the way from now on. Not without its perils though, as the wind, mud and now ice all served to throw spanners into our collective works. One of our group hit an ice patch and lost it, almost taking another member with him; no harm done but enough to make you a little more cautious from now on.

A sharp right turn at Dent’s Houses and the icy, muddy, downhill fun continues. I’d just spotted Tony rolling round on his back with his bike on top of him (as usual) and I’d no sooner finished laughing at him when an icy puddle gave way and caught my wheel, pitching me headlong into some unfrozen mud, which made for a softer but very dirty landing. Right at the bottom, on the steepest part of the descent (at which point my GPS log show we were on the footpath rather than the bridleway) I hit yet more ice, this time at speed, and was pitched into filthy mud for the second time, just to make sure I was as dirty as could be. I’m sure there were many other spills on the way down, but as we were quite spread out some will have got away without being seen!

No teashop in Castle Bolton during the winter so we made our way to Leyburn and the Posthorn Tea Rooms. A new personal favourite destination for all-day-breakfasts and tasty crumpets.

Castle Bolton - Askrigg - Apedale
15 miles, 2000' of ascent
in 3 hours 45.

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