Seven of us today, including the return of two that we haven't seen for a while, for what proved to be a cracking route on a beautiful spring-like day. The sun shone, the air was warm (by recent standards) and the scenery was stunning. Even the mud stayed away (almost).
Starting from Reeth we cut through the houses to bring us out on the footpath (yes, the footpath) that leads to the suspension bridge crossing the river. A wide, grassy track, you can either push this (the legal way) or ride it if there's no one looking.
Once over the bridge there's a little more footpath until we turn right onto a bridleway that heads back towards the river. We follow the track along the river's edge; at first it's a decent track, starting out cobbled, but soon degrades into a narrow strip that hugs the river bank with low branches straddling over it making it impossible to ride. No option but to push for a while, we gradually climb up the bank away from the river a little and rejoin a wider, easier track. I think there was a little navigation issue here, and we'd followed an obvious looking track that stayed too close to the river.
A little further on and the bridleway comes out at the road. Left here for a short way to the next bridleway off to the right, the start of the climb up to Harker Mines. This is quite a slog, gaining us 200m of height in 20 minutes, but at least its good track with no mud, and the views off to the right over the Swale are stunning. A couple of steep hairpins up an old mining track eventually bring us to the summit where we wait to regroup.
We turn left next and track over the top of High Harker Hill across to Low Harker Hill, turning right at the next crossroads of tracks to keep us with the bridleway. 800m along this track eventually brings us to a sturdy looking building - old mining hut or shooting lodge, I'm not sure. Anyway, it's a good place for us to stop and take on some carbs, and for me to recover from a tachycardic episode, my heart rate's been at 250 for the last 30 seconds, which was a bit scary.
Bananas, energy bars and gel packs are soon demolished and we're off once more, 1.5k more bringing us back to the road where we turn right. There's not much time spent on tarmac though and after only 1/2k we're back onto bridleway, cutting right away from the road. This good track takes us up another 100m to The Height Of Greets. It's been all climbing so far, there must surely be a downhill soon!
Well yes, The Height Of Greets is as high as we get and at last we start the downhill fun. Down the back of Greets Hill we go, a very fast stony track that drops 130m and demands your full attention before bearing left at Dents Houses to climb back up to the road. The road is a real high-speed blast and after 800m we rejoin a track off to the left, carrying our speed into it. Too much speed for me, and a little way on down the track I get a pinch flat after smacking a stone too hard. The first puncture that I recall since Sam's famous 3-in-30 minutes episode of late last year.
One quick repair later and we're off again, heading into the depths of the old mining & quarrying area. We head towards the large pond/small lake at Cobscar Mill, bearing left as we approach it and heading off towards Preston Moor.
The area is pockmarked with remains of the old industry, and tracks seem to lead off everywhere, but we manage to stick to the right route. Eventually we exit Preston Moor onto the road via a ford, at which point I have another strange episode - total deafness. I see Sam and Stewart splash through the ford in an eerie, slow-motion sort of way that is totally devoid of sound. Seconds later I hit the ford myself and the sound is back on again!
Left onto the road skirting Bellerby Ranges now and a long slog into a howling gale that comes as a bit of an (unwelcome) surprise! It's so strong that even after cresting the rise the downhill stretch still has to be pedalled, so no respite for us.
After 2.5k of roadwork, by Hags Gill Bridge, we go off road again, for one of our famous untried sections. The bridleway cuts across at 45 degrees from the road but is so indistinct that we can't really see it. Some heather bashing, coupled with a bit of following more obvious (but wrong) tracks on the ground lead us well off course - though the fact that it's a fast and fun downhill makes us not care too much. At this point we have a comic moment; Tony shouts us all to "hold on a minute" and then immediately does an over-the-bars, almost as if it's as intended. "Hold on a minute, watch this somersault". Just what his bad back needs, but thankfully no harm seems to be done. We tack across the hill to a gap in the wall and we're back on track once more. Down towards Hags Gill Farm, following the edge of the stream (or inadvertently diving into it, Stewart) and eventually coming out at the road.
Next was a choice - potentially dodgy river crossing or 4k of roadwork. We went for the river crossing but on seeing it decided to chicken out. I'm not sure what sort of semi-amphibious vehicles would normally use the ford here, but it was too deep, fast and wide for us to think about crossing. A bit of backtracking back to the road and then that 4k of road slog eventually brings us back to our starting point.
Only one choice of where to go for afters, not because it's our favourite but because the other alternative doesn't seem to be opening any more. Off to Ivy Cottage tea rooms it is then, where the scones don't score highly, the cheese sandwich comes with ham attached and the coffee cups are small. The crumpets, though imported and not local, are still very tasty though.
A cracking ride, one of my favourites in an area that has many of my favourites! Some good tough climbs, fantastic scenery, industrial ruins, fast descents and a spot of heather bashing; what more could you want.
Reeth - Harkerside - Redmire:
17miles and 2300' of ascent in 4 hours 10, an hour or so spent lunching, looking, waiting and fixing, and 2 funny turns for me. I hope that was a one off!