This was quite an epic route. 21 miles and 3500 feet of climbing was our toughest combination of the year so far, and to make things even more challenging the toughest of the climbs wasn't on tarmac this week.
Seven of us turned out this week, with a couple of welcome returns in the shape of Rick and Lawrie, neither of whom I've seen for almost a year.
We set off from Reeth village green almost dead on time, heading south east out of the village on the road to Low Fremington. We turn left after just under 1k and climb up to High Fremington on tarmac before taking a left onto the bridleway that tracks along the side of the hill. The views down over the river and Reeth beyond were fabulous.
The track starts off wide and grassy, and isn't too much of a challenge, though every now and then there's a slippy/rocky change of gradient which can prove difficult. Eventually the track narrows and becomes more rocky and rutted, a very fun bit of singletrack, albeit on the level. After just over 3k, as the track gets very close to the river, we have our first bit of mis-navigation when we get carried away by the clearness of the track and miss a turn off. We only go a hundred meters or so before realising and soon get back on track, climbing slightly before following the contours once more. There's quite a ditch to the left of the track for a way here, and obstacles on the trail try their best to divert you into it. No mishaps this time, though the same wasn't true last time we ventured out this way.
Our first and only real foray with the dreaded mud came just before Hegg's House, a swampy section that proved unrideable in parts. Once past there it was plain sailing again, on a particularly picturesque stretch that drops right down to the river before cutting diagonally across a couple of fields to come out by some farm buildings. Keeping left we drop back down to the river and follow the track along to Langthwaite.
Here we turn right, up through the village on a tarmac climb on a road that eventually peters out to become bridleway on its way to Booze. Once again the views, this time down over Arkle Town, are simply stunning and it's time for more photos. Pressing on we get lost again at Booze, and end up following a trail on the ground that isn't the actual right of way. We make a big loop around some fields, finding our way through a couple of gates to eventually get ourselves back on track. For a few meters at least, then we're back off exercising our "right to roam" at some poor farmers expense, climbing all the while.
A couple of hundred m of this eventually has us back on the legal route as we pass over Peat Moor Green and start to get amongst the mine workings that litter this area. Staying straight on, we follow the contour lines around the hillside on a very well surfaced track before dropping down left, a speedy descent onto the tarmac of Stang Lane.
Going left down Stang Lane we're once again off route. Carried away by the need for speed we pass our turning, and even when doubling back we still pick up the wrong trail. More illegal "right to roam" across virgin moorland (luckily we don't meet any Parish Councillors) and we eventually end up on the right track again, somewhere around Windegg Ings. Keeping right just beyond there we come across the bizarre prospect of having to cycle through someone's garden. A quick check reveals it to be the right route, confirmed by the National Park signage on the gates, and through we go, taking care to avoid the kid's toys and the daffodils.
Once through the garden we drop across the contour lines for a speedy descent down the rabbit killing fields that is Scarhouse Lane - never have I seen so many dead bunnies in such a short stretch of track. On crossing the bridge we're off on the wrong track once again - who'd believe two of us have portable GPS units on our bars? If only we knew how to use them! Backtracking once more, we eventually hit the road from Langthwaite.
Turning right up the hill we are passed at regular intervals by a procession of fabulous vintage open-top cars, and today's the day to be out in them! 1k on up the road and we turn off left onto the start of one of the most torturous and arduous climbs I've ever done.
It's not too bad at first as we pick our way along the indistinct track, doing a good job of it for once, but then the incline just gets steeper and steeper. In the lower reaches it's soft grassy track that's like riding with your brakes on. On one occasion I do actually pick my bike up and spin the wheels cos I'm convinced something mechanical is slowing me down. No, it's just the soft spongy grass and my tiring legs. On and on it goes before reaching a sharp switchback to double back on itself. On and on, less grassy now until we reach another switchback. I round it to see Rob & Tim pushing - never a good sign, this is obviously unrideable stuff of the highest magnitude. Large, rough-hewn stones form a surface that would be no fun to come down, and it's certainly no fun to go up. We walk it and are thankful when we reach the top - by the time we reach Great Pinseat we've climbed 250m, all of it an energy-sapping slog.
That's the majority of the day's climbing over though, and we track across the moor, vaguely down hill, though being boggy and mossy it's not enough to give any rest, until we reach Little Punchard Head. Turning left there's a little more speed to be had on the track to Doctor Gill. The excitement of finally seeing a bit of downhill and some rocks is too much for Lawrie and decides to take a real close look - head-first. We pause at the track crossroads by a spoil heap that crops up on many of our routes and which we've dubbed "Rob's Mound". Rob indulges us once again with his party-piece, a front wheelie descent of the mound, before we bomb off down the hill for the 50kph drop to Level House Bridge.
I did say it was only the majority of climbing that we'd done, so we're off uphill once again, turning left at the bridge to climb up towards Surrender Ground, at which point we find we're being pursued by a group from Durham University! We exchange pleasantries at the top before setting off once again for a bit of downhill fun. The descent from Surrender Ground to the road is almost 3k of fast and furious fun down loose-stoned track that requires no braking. Well, except for the bit where speed got the better of me and I left the track completely to jet off across uncharted moorland.
At the road we turn left, crossing the ford and heading up hill (really, this IS the final climb) to leave the road once more (on the right) for the track to Healaugh. It had been our intention to take a different route down to the one we usually do, but we passed the turn off at a speed that was way too fast to be looking at GPS readouts, and before we knew it we were on the tarmac track that we always take. Highest speed of the day down this bit, 55k, before ending with the trudge back to Reeth. I always wish there was some kind of bike-transfer from Healaugh to Reeth as I hate that bit of road. The legs are always dead by the time I get there, and with no more excitement to come there's little incentive to press on.
Afters in Reeth is at the "old usual" tea room (is it the Copper Kettle?). After a winter closure and a refit it's open once again, so no cockney crumpet for me today. Scones, cakes and all-day breakfasts are wolfed down and we meet the Durham Uni lads & lasses again!
Reeth - Great Pinseat - Little Punchard:
21.5 miles, 3500' of ascent in 4 hours 53, 1 1/2 of which was spent standing still. What DO we do for all that time? Thankfully only one thorn puncture this week, Stewart with a repair time of 9 minutes, which was pretty good.
A cracking ride - great scenery, good technical sections, tough climbs and white-knuckle descents, what more could you ask?
Farewell to Young Rob and good luck up in Scotland. No one for me to pick up new skills from now, unless I want to master the art of falling off sideways.