We had no idea what the conditions were like on the moors, especially as there had been a fresh fall of snow on Friday night. As a result I had 3 different routes plotted into the GPS, all starting from Square Corner but going off in different directions.
It was a fine, sunny day when we set out, so hopes were high. We went down the Hawnby road a little way before taking the shooting track up to Swainby Shooting House.
This was a nice bit of track, easy to ride with a thin covering of icy snow. If it was like this all the way then today would be great, though even this track threw up the odd challenge as Neil and I, in unison, crunched through the ice of a puddle to find our wheels grabbed up to their centres and us flying through the air and onto the icy ground. Sam meanwhile just skated over all of the ice, oblivious to the fun and games going on behind him. Icy puddles; something to watch out for on the rest of this ride! We eventually got to "decision time" and decided that as the tracks were easily rideable, the sun was shining and the sky was blue, we'd do the longest, most remote loop of our 3 options, up to Bilsdale transmitter and back down through Arden Hall.
The further along the track towards the transmitter we got, the worse and worse the snow became. Deeper, softer, and with "hollow" bits underneath where meltwater from the moors had tunneled underneath the snow. Neal went over, and consequently into one of these, a knee deep wheel-catcher full of the wet stuff and hidden by a cunning layer of snow. The most spectacular crash of the day so far, but unknown to us, soon to be bettered!
We proceeded even more carefully after this, not wanting to be carrying too much speed into one of these hidden hazards. Not that "too much speed" was much of an option now, the snow was so soft and icy that it was hard to go more than a few meters without sliding to slippery stop again. Unless you're called Sam, who once again powered on ahead unaware of the right dog's dinner me & Neil were making of it. These super-duper mud tyres don't seem quite so good in these conditions. Perhaps it's the wrong type of snow.
Leaving the transmitter behind meant saying goodbye to the deep snow, but not to the ice. What is usually a good 4km, unchallenging but very fast downhill blast became a careful, sometimes sideways, always scary, tootle!
Once at the road we had to take the bridleway to Hill End House. We got a little distracted by an interesting looking singletrack climb up Hawnby Hill, hoping that it would lead to an equally interesting downhill at the other side. It didn't, it just led to an alternative farm track down to Hill End House, and later examination of a map showed it to be non-existent and therefore doubtless illegal. Oops!
The final descent down to the river had a couple of muddy/icy technical sections that were quite fun and we were thankful of the two lovely bridges that took us over the river so we didn't have to get our feet wet.
Up and out to the road via New Hall and their usual array of wildly barking dogs and we're skirting round Coomb Hill. The road is a bit frosty, and I'm watching Sam riding in the running water at the edge. I'm thinking "that looks a good idea, you know that bit's not frozen, but then again, the watery spray will get my feet cold & wet". Suddenly BANG, Neil goes down on a sheet of solid ice. I'm not sure whether I was always going to go the same way, or if seeing him go down made my fingers twitch on the brakes. Either way BANG, I'm down too, a heavy fall on a solid road, skidding along until I'm in a pile with Neil. For the umpteenth time today Sam glides on, unaware of the debacle behind him. We could barely stand back up, the road was so slippery. A quick check of bikes and bodies revealed nothing broken (though I ached a bit later) and on we went again.
The climb from Arden Hall is never easy. Give the road a good covering of compressed snow and it becomes, as they say in these parts, "a right bugger!" It was rideable all the way, but when every third pedal stroke results in slippage, and when you can't stand out of the saddle for a bit of respite on the toughest bits, it was slow, tough going.
We all made it without stopping and plodded on towards the Drove Road.
I always hate this bit of any route that comes this way. All you really want is the frenetic dash down "The Mad Mile" but prior to that you have a few km of drudgery. It was made a little more interesting this time by the conditions - we had to ride in a 6" deep Land Rover track for a good way up to The Drove Road, which again made the going tough.
Once we reached the Drove Road I have to say (I'm not ashamed) I reached down and gave my nads a good cuddle! The lack of opportunity to get up out of the saddle, combined with the cold, had almost cut off circulation! I was just happy to find they were still there and still alive!
We plodded on towards The Mad Mile, finding more knee-deep poholes in the snow on the way. It was quite incredible and I'd love to know what force of man or nature had created them.
The Mad Mile was madder than ever. The larger drops at the top were made all the more interesting by being covered in compressed snow, the drainage gullies that run across it further down were filled with sheet ice and the whole run was done just a tad more nervously than usual - and with a lot smaller jumps than I usually go for.
So back at the car, the 19 miles covered in just under 4 hours elapsed, an hour of which was spent stationary, taking photos, eating bananas, picking ourselves off the floor and larking about in snow-holes. The state of the trails in the latter part of the ride made it very tough going, we all knew we'd had quite a workout, but that's exactly what we all needed. Good times.
Square Corner - Whorlton Moor - Bilsdale - Black Hambleton:
19 miles, 1900' ascent, 4 Hours.
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