The more often I go riding in North Yorkshire, the more I come to think that it truly is "God's own country". The ride today linked two of the most beautiful parts of the Yorkshire Dales, Wensleydale and Wharfedale, in sunny conditions that bettered much of last year's summer. The views throughout the route were simply stunning, making even the long uphill drags an absolute pleasure.
A pity on this fine, sunny day that there were only three of us, but three is better than none. We set off on time from the village green at Bainbridge, heading back along the A684 for a couple of hundred meters before turning off right towards Stalling Busk, keeping right at the next fork in the road, 1/2k further on.
This gentle road climb gives great views of Semer Water off to the right and the bizarre spectacle of dozens of dead moles strung up on the fences to our left. A warning to other would-be moles, or the mole-catcher's way of collecting his per-head bounty, who knows?
After about 4k the road reaches a T-junction right above Semer Water where we turn left after stopping for more great photo opportunities and a quick word with the friendly farmer who's doing up his dry stone walls. 800m further on and we finally turn off road, taking the track off to the left by the Stalling Busk sign for over 7k of byway.
The climb is prolonged but not too steep as the track cuts its way diagonally across the contours, but it's way too hot for the gear we've set out in. A quick stop part way along the track to shed some outer layers and we're off again, following the track as it arcs left around the hill above Cragdale before eventually joining up with the track from Carpley Green. 1 1/2k further on and we're finally at the summit at Stake Moss and only have downhill to look forward to, for the near future at least.
The track from Stake Moss (Gilbert Lane) falls away steeply, but is too loose, rocky and rutted for extreme speed. Some rock drop-offs add to the fun and 150m is lost in 1.5k before we hit the road. Right turn onto the road and time for a few seconds of extreme speed down the steep, tarmac hill, taking care not to get too carried away and shoot off past our turning point. Just before Cray High Bridge we turn left, off-road once more, passing through a particularly attractive piece of countryside that is punctuated by streams fed from waterfalls off to our left. Three ford crossings in a couple of hundred meters provide our first and only bit of entertainment of the falling-off kind. While Tony waits to photograph him splashing through a ford, Sam manages to fall off into it. I do hate it when Tony waits with the camera, I always expect to fall of right in front of it. I'm just glad it was Sam this time, but unforgivably Tony actually misses the shot!
Off we head once more for the very gentle climb along Buckden Rake until we reach the top of the track that leads down into Buckden village. This would give us the chance of some breakneck speed (and maybe some broken necks!) if it weren't for all the walkers littering the trail. We pass them carefully, using only as much speed as is appropriate before releasing the brakes for the final fling down to the gate where the trail is less restricting.
Enough of the off-road fun for now, now we've got a full 14k of roadwork. Anywhere else that might seem a bit of a drag, but not here and not in this weather. Crossing the road and taking Dubbs Lane out of Buckden we join up with the River Wharfe at Hubberholme, us on one side of the river, The Dale's Way Path on the other. Bikers and walkers a safe distance apart!
Close to Yockenthwaite we spot a track off to the left, leading up and over the hill to Halton Gill. Something for another day, perhaps.
By now we're following the river very closely, a particularly picturesque stretch where the river scrambles over and around the boulders that litter the river bed - a fine place to stop for a go-bar lunch and to take more photos.
Pressing on we cross the river at Deepdale Bridge, swapping sides once more with The Dale's Way Path. We turn right at the junction a little further on and do the short, sharp climb up into Oughtershaw where a remotely sited Wesleyan Chapel catches my eye, its grandeur a testament to how big the movement used to be out in these parts.
Time for some real climbing now, 240m in about 3k. Thankfully it's tarmac and the weather and the scenery are fine, so it's not even a boring climb. It's not too taxing either, and I even have time to be chatted up by a young motorist with a pretty smile who wants me to tell her the best place for downhilling around here. Well, we're heading for a pretty good one, there'll be amlost 7k of sustained downhill once we get to the top of this!
Eventually we reach the turn off (on the right) for the old Roman Road that leads back into Bainbridge, though cruelly this is after losing over 100ft that we'll have to regain! After a couple of k of climbing and level running we reach the start of the downhill. For the next 5k it's simply a question of how fast dare you go. There's nothing too challenging about the surface, though it's lumpy and bumpy and strewn with loose stones and rocks in places, as well as some ruts and a road-crossing. I peak at 30mph, but feel slightly out of my comfort zone at times, especially on some of the looser, lumpier stuff. Exhilaration gets the better of wisdom at times.
That last 5k seems to have taken no time at all, and in fact it's only been 11 minutes. All that's left is the short downhill road section into Bainbridge, and the chance to add almost another 10mph to the day's top speed. While packing away the bikes we have a chance encounter with Howard, out for a blast on his Kawasaki but assuring us he'd rather have been on his MTB. Yeah, yeah!
Back to Leyburn for afters; the all-day veggie breakfast is good but not quite as good as I remember it, and not as good value as the one at Castleton that's almost £2 cheaper. Still, no 1930's music and no sex-pest grannies, and my take-out treat of Old Peculier Fruit Cake is delicious, so it's not all bad.
Bainbridge - Buckden - Langstrothdale:
24.2 miles in 4 hours 15, 1 hour 15 of which was spent admiring the view, eating bananas and chatting up motorists. This was a fabulous ride, the stunning scenery more than making up for the extended on-road sections.