Sunday, 27 December 2009

Snowy Day At The Mines

We'd been dying to do a good snowy ride up Reeth way, but it was looking like conditions would be too snowy to make a ride possible. Info from our friends at The Dales Bike Centre and a reccy by intrepid squad member Matt suggested the icy backroads and 3-4 foots snowdrifts would make reaching Old Gang mines nigh on impossible, unless we stuck to main (boring) roads.

What the hell. We decided to just go and see what we could manage.

6 of us set off from Reeth village green and headed up the Arkengarthdale road. Nothing too challenging in its constant, gentle climb and we were soon at Langthwaite at which point we turned left onto the minor road to Low Row. This was more interesting - the snowy top-covering had been ploughed off to leave only the icy base layer. Thankfully this wasn't totally glass-like ice and had enough grip in it that we could ride it, albeit slowly and carefully.

On up the hillside we went, gaining 500 icy feet and taking almost 1/2 an hour to do the mile to the summit (though a chunk of this time was spent taking photos, it was quite spectacular scenery).

At the top the ploughing had come to an abrupt halt, and so therefore had the road. All we could see ahead was fields of snow and we had no idea where the road ought to be. A best guess was to stay close to the wall as we tried our best to make headway in the feet-deep crystallised snow.

This had hardened to a degree where it could almost support our bike weights, the tyres only digging in a few inches. With careful weight distribution (keeping the front wheel light so it doesn't plough and dig in) slow progress was possible. The fact it was downhill helped too. In places the snow would become a bit too soft and we'd grind to a halt, this on occasion causing gentle, slow-speed endos with a cold but soft landing in the snow beyond. We all stopped to take pictures of our bikes, standing up on their own, supported by the wheel deep snow, or of the road signs warning of zig-zag bends ahead (road, what road?).

Eventually we reached the ford at Fore Gill Gate. All but one of us rode this without problem, but one (there's always one) managed to fall off right in the middle of it. Fortunately he didn't get icy cold water inside his waterproofs, only in one of his gloves.

A right turn shortly after this took us onto the track up to Old Gang Mines. Thankfully for us a 4x4 or quad bike or something had been up that way and had compressed 2 tyre tracks into the snow. We rode these as best we could, once again getting just enough grip to keep going while trying to keep our trajectories straight enough to stay inside the tyre marks.

We were rewarded with some spectacular views of the old buildings as mist started to descend on the valley and the weather looked like it was going to make a turn for the worse. This wiped out any thoughts (if we ever had any) that we'd press on to the top and after a 15 minute photo stop we turned tail and headed back down the valley. This was fun and required maximum concentration and a bit of speedway technique to keep the bikes upright and on-track at the relatively high speeds of our gravity-induced descent. I lost it at one point and almost hurtled headlong down the bank into the beck, but managed to get back under control in the nick of time.

Once back at the road we took another side road back to Healaugh. This was another road that had been scraped by the plough to leave an icy covering, only this one was downhill rather than up. How fast dare we go? How much grip was there? Not very, was the answer to both questions. Some of us managed better than others, and the odd off-bike excursion took place as various patches of ice took on friction-free glass-like properties. Spot them soon, keep a straight line, a sensible speed, a relaxed gait and STAY OFF THE BRAKES and you'd skate over them. Get it wrong and the hedge or the ditch was waiting for you!

Once back to Healaugh all that remained was my least favourite road-slog back to Reeth, though today this didn't seem as long or as arduous as it usually does, probably because we'd only done 10 miles by now.

A quick change and short drive to The Dales Bike Centre for speciality coffees, home made cakes, beans on toast and friendly craic. It had only been a short ride, but it was good given the conditions and it was great to be out seeing the countryside with its blanket of snow.

Reeth - Langthwaite - Old Gang:
11.5miles, 1750ft up/down, 2hrs45

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