Sunday, 29 March 2009

Thorn In My Side

Four of us gathered on this lovely sunny spring morning for a ride that would take in a fair few bits of untried trails on a route round "Heartbeat Country".

We set off slightly later than planned, leaving the car park and turning left to cross the level crossing. Just beyond that we take a right between some buildings, down an "unsuitables" towards the river. Here there are three ford crossings in quick succession, two of them across the deep and fast flowing Murk Esk. No problem though, they're proper fords with a concrete base only a few inches below the water, crossing should be a doddle. Well, no. Whether it's slime or ice or whatever, there's no grip at all and within a few feet both front and back wheel are skating off in opposite directions, dumping me on my backside into the icy cold water. Thank God for Endura waterproofs! Not for the last time today though I was wishing I'd gone for Sealskinz socks too as I set off again with cold wet feet.

Forewarned is forearmed and the next two crossings were uneventful and we began the steep tarmac climb up past Dale End Farm and Morton Close to eventually reach the road. Sharp left here and just over 1k of roadwork brings us to a permissive bridleway off to our right. The key word here will be "bridleway". About half way along this track we run into Mr Angry, claiming to be "on the parish council" who blocks the way and insists we shouldn't be riding on this track as "it's bridleway". He's lucky that we're reasonable people and responsible riders; standing in the way of a fast moving mountain bike can be a dangerous pastime. We leave him behind shaking his fist, and spend the rest of the ride moaning about him.

It doesn't say "No Bikes!"

After just over 2k we arrive at the road once more at Goathland. We turn right onto the road, cross the river and the railway (with a particularly nice view of the station) and climb up into the village where I have to stop by the "Aidesnfield Garage" (tourist trap shop) to repair the first puncture of the day. If only we knew then how this day would turn out... Repair time, approx 11 minutes.

Off once more, following the road through the village, keeping left at the end of the main street and eventually passing the Mallyan Spout Hotel, just beyond which we take a bridleway off to the left. We stay low, parallel to the road, eventually staying TOO low and following the wrong trail. No harm done, other than a couple of hundred m of illegal riding, and we exit at the road just a little way short of where we should have. It's been a good stretch of moorland trail, nice rocky, technical singletrack.

Along the road a short way before turning sharp right at Gill View to drop down another bridleway towards yet another ford, though this one is totally dry! A nice tough climb after this, up a challenging bit of singletrack that's cut in a channel up the hillside. It gains us 65m in just over 1/2k before levelling out by Hazel Head Farm.

A nice bit of farm track now, past Hollin House Farm and on to Julian Park where we turn left. 800m further on and we're turning off road once more at Randy Rigg! A little drop down takes us into an area of grassy wetlands that is tricky to ride, in fact impossible in places. Once or twice we almost lose our bikes completely in water that is up past our wheels and my just-about-dry feet are wet and cold once more.

Having got through that we now have a tough climb up, tough because of the lack of traction rather than out & out steepness. At the top of the climb we come out onto open moor and take a track that is barely visible before pausing at a gate to look down at where we're meant to be going next.

There's barely anything visible at all as we pick our way down the steep moorside and we find ourselves on the wrong side of a wall. A bit of fence and ditch hopping ensues as we try to get back on track, but we've no idea where the real right-of-way is. We press on, generally in the right direction but never quite on the right track until eventually we pick up the route again, a fine bit of barely-used singletrack that climbs up and over In Moor to eventually come out at the road. It's been a difficult job of navigating but worth it.

Left onto the road for a short stretch before turning right once again onto more indistinct track. It's hard to navigate at times, but it's a nice downhill section, nothing exciting or challenging, just gentle moorland, but a chance to rest the legs a bit. Passing Swang Farm and Hall Grange Farm we eventually hit a steep and very straight downhill section where the brakes come off and the speed goes up, before coming out on the road.
Left here for a bit, as far as The Delves where a right turn has us back offroad once again, ducking into the forest. At the start it's a steep uphill over rocks that are slippery when wet (are they ever dry here?) and we have a few goes at trying to clean it before giving up and hiking.

After hitting level ground again we have to stop to fix a broken chain, once again that great invention the SRAM Power Link coming to the rescue (note to self, order another few, that's 2 we've used in the last few months).

The track through the woods is interesting and exciting. Undulating but generally downhill, it is paved the whole length with great stone slabs and in some parts this path is quite high compared to the ground around it. It's like riding a stone boardwalk, and with the river cutting a steep cliff just to your right. At one point I get a little too much excitement, I lose my line and plunge off the path, a healthy sized drop off with the river cliff just beyond, but I hold it and get back on line at the next convenient point.

The stone path levels out next to the river, where Rob decides to plunge his bike in to get rid of some of the excess weight it's carrying in the form of mud - oh yes, mud is back on the menu on this ride. Pulling the bike back out of the water we can hear a hissing noise that can only be air escaping from a puncture. Were there thorns in that wood? It's a beautiful spot to get a puncture.

A little further on and we emerge from the woods by the magnificent arched packhorse bridge at Glaisdale. Apparently there WERE thorns in the wood because I find I've got a puncture too, my second of the ride. I change the inner while Rob puts more air in his tire - repair time 14 minutes, I'm not getting any faster.

Off we go again, right at the road and up the precipitously steep Limber Bank. This looks and feels like the steepest section of bank I've ever done and the front end wants to rear up with every pedal stroke. Eventually the gradient lessens to something comparatively flat, though it's still an uphill slog to Egton. Here we make our biggest mistake.

A quick plunge down the bank brings us to a bridleway off to the left by the school. This track will take us downhill to the railway and the path back to Grosmont . Unfortunately it's littered with freshly flailed thorns, some a couple of inches long. As my bike seems to have become a thorn magnet today it's not long before I'm riding on a flat again. I have to borrow my second tube of the day to make the repair - time taken 7 minutes. Fastest change so far, no doubt down to the realisation that my pump is rubbish and tires inflate much faster with Tony's.

From here I'm not even going to ride, there's just too many thorns and I don't want a fourth puncture, that would be too embarrassing. It doesn't work out though, and even pushing I manage to get a bad boy right through my front sidewall. I'm in good company. When we catch up Rob & Tim we find they have 3 punctures between the two of them. With no spare tubes, and no great enthusiasm for trying to repair the holes anyway, we trudge our way the last 2k back to the start point. Tony gleefully and gloatingly cycles most of the way before succumbing to his own slow puncture a couple of hundred meters from the end.
Four riders and 9 punctures, that has to be a record!

How Much For Bikes?

The tea shop at Grosmont Station, the only offering at this time of year, was a disappointment. No cooked food at this time of day (and anyway, they only do full English till 11:30), no scones, a limited selection of cakes and soup that looked and tasted like it came from a packet. At least the coffee was nice.

Grosmont - Goathland - Glaisdale
16.5 miles, 2400' of ascent in 4 hours 45, 1 hour 50 of which was spent fixing punctures and wondering where the trails had vanished to, and half an hour's slow trudge back dragging bikes beset by punctures.

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