Sunday, 8 March 2009

Rudland Rigg & Bloody Hail!

What is it with Rudland Rigg? It seems that every time I go up there it blows a gale and lashes down with hailstones! Today was another of those days; generally a bright and fine day until we ascended onto Rudland Rigg and what started as light sleet degenerated into stinging hail. At one point it had us sheltering in a grouse butt!

Six of us set off today on our second ride from Low Mills in recent weeks, though this one followed a completely different route to the first. Turning left out of the car park we then took the left fork in the road and then right onto Daleside Road for 4k of road work, a long gentle climb to warm us up for the tougher climbs that must surely lie ahead.

After 4k we turned right onto Lund Road, a broad, fast downhill track. All that gained height lost so soon! Over the river at Lowna Bridge and then the steep little climb up into Gillamoor where we stop for a protracted rest right in the middle of the road junction. It’s a testament to how quiet these moors roads are that we weren’t disturbed by a car once.

Moving on we pass through Fadmoor, doing a left-right at the end of the village to take us towards Green Lane and left onto Caldron Mill Road. So far so good – the roadwork and decent tracks has left us mud free, but surely that can’t last. A right turn down into Mell Bank Wood looks ominous; muddy it is, but the mud isn’t deep and the track stays firm. Taking a diagonal right turn towards Cogg Hole we head for the ford to cross the river, the track taking us through a field that is more mud-lake than arable pasture. Mud up to my wheel centres – this is more like it!

We cross the ford without getting our feet wet - there's a bridge there that's signed "unsuitable for horses". Makes no mention of bikes, so over we go. A tough little climb up out of the woods at the other side is just the intro for over 5km of solid climbing which gains us over 220m. The final couple of k are along the edge of Aldergate Bank, with the wind picking up and doing its best to push us over the edge as we slog our way along the rutted double track. We pass the delightfully named Potato Nab and finally reach the summit at Rollgate Bank.

A bit of fun now, the short, sharp blast down Rollgate Bank. Nothing too challenging, save for the odd muddy rut, but a good chance to get up some speed and rest tired legs. Just as well, because coming up is my "favourite" (the quotes indicate irony) bit of doubletrack, the dolomite paved hell that is Little Roll Gate. It starts off quite fun; deep ruts, puddles and mud holes that you can pick your way around and through with a bit of skill and good judgement, but eventually it deteriorates into an "improved" section of track that is slab after slab of rough laid stone. Not challenging and not fun, just a slog, and an uphill one at that. It ends, thankfully, by the large puddle/small lake formed in the remains of some old quarry workings.

Here the track goes four ways, and we take the right fork. 600m on and the fun begins again. The track drops down the hill to become fast and challenging, most of the challenge coming from the ruts and the slippery mud. More than once I find myself cornering like a speedway rider and on one occasion lose my back end completely, ending up (gently) in a ditch. The fun ends with the realisation that we've taken the wrong track. As Roy Walker might say "it's good, but it's not right". We should have forked left soon after our descent began, but we got carried away by the speed and the fun and followed something that doesn't exist on the map and yet was very real on the ground. No matter, we track to the left alongside a wall, heading for our lunch stop at Stork House a little way in the distance. Time still for a little more amusement at Sam's expense. An ill-judged drop off into a lake of mud sees him pitched head first into it. He manages to keep his head clear, and therefore clean, but that's the only bit of him that is. As far as Sam is concerned, brown is now the new black.

Lunch at Stork House, a quite extensive and by the looks of it once rather magnificent farm complex that is now a sad, fenced-off ruin. We look at the landscape and the map and wonder where we went wrong with our descent, while stuffing our faces with go-bars and bananas.

We head off once more, a steep, leaf covered downhill takes us past Stocking Crags and over Hodge Beck via another handily placed bridge - it's nice to keep our feet dry for once! Too much descending lately, so it's time to climb again, another 5k of climbing to be exact. From Hodge Beck we go on to Shaw Beck, climbing up to the road past the disused quarry. Left at the road and then after 1800m branching offroad once more (to the right) onto the track over Shaw Ridge. By now the wind is blowing hail about and I'm fearing the worst as Rudland Rigg approaches. At the T-junction of tracks we pause for a while to wait for our stragglers, taking shelter in some grouse buts to keep out of the worst of the weather while we mull over what enjoyment can be had from shooting at birds that can barely fly.

Onward once more, (taking the right fork at the T-junction) into the driving hail and towards the junction with the track over Rudland Rigg, where we turn right again at the 4 way crossroads. Another 500m and we're at the start of what must be the finest downhill on the Moors. Taking a track off to the left we start with a bit of heather bashing, an inauspicious start to the pleasures that are to follow, and in fact (according to mytracklog ) we get quite a way off the official route. The track eventually becomes more distinct as it begins to plummet more steeply down the hillside, picking its way between and over rocks, hugging the edge of precipitous drops and plunging through springs and mud holes. It's nice to be able to appreciate it fully - the hail has stopped and we're sheltered from the wind, two things that never happened last time I tried this descent.

The track widens out eventually and the best of the fun is over as we regroup at High Barn. Still a bit more downhill to go though, not so challenging now, which of course means faster. There's still time for one more piece of amusement. Tony has a rush of blood to the head when he thinks he can do his second piece of overtaking in two months, but his passing attempt ends in a spill which results in him being attached to and dragged along by my bike! Luckily the muddy ground was soft enough that no damage was done, but Tony now agress with Sam about brown being the new black.

Finally we're at the road where we turn right for the final few hundred meters back to the start.

This has been a fabulous ride. There must have been four good descents on it, all of them fun in varying degrees, with the best saved till last. It's great to enjoy a downhill experience like that final one and not have to ruin it with another big climb!

Off to Castleton as usual for afters. This time the 1920's music was being appreciated by a group of women who were teenagers when it still in fashion and probably owned it on waxed cylinder. They took a shine to our Muddybums hoodies and engaged in some mild sexual innuendo. It could only happen in Castleton's "time warp" tea rooms.

The veggie & non-veggie all day breakfasts and the scones were as good as ever, and we added a couple of bowls of "real chips" too. Tasty if somewhat greasy, the second bowl was swimming in a pool of grease, enough to lube up all our bikes' drive chains!

Farndale (Low Mill) - Bransdale - Rudland Rigg.
20 miles dead in 4 hours
, 1 of which was spent stood still. Plenty of good downhills (one stunner), no unrideable sections and not too much mud. Perfect.

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