The weather couldn't really decide which way it was going to go today as we set off from Reeth. Dark clouds loomed, but sunshine never looked far away either. I set off in my lightweight rain jacket and hoped that I'd soon be taking it off.
We started out along the road to Healaugh, passed through the village then branched right onto the minor road that leads to Surrender Bridge. A short way along here and we turn right again, through some gates and up what appears to be someone's nice gravel drive. In fact it is someone's nice gravel drive (Thiernswood Hall), but it's also a bridleway. Last time we were here we lingered about a bit, wondering if it was the right track, the "No Entry, Private Road" sign being slightly off putting. I'm not sure whether he'd ever be allowed to close and lock those nice iron gates of his.
Up the gravel path we go, straight ahead at the hall and into the woods for a few yards before emerging at a gate. Through this, up a small bank to another gate and then we're cutting diagonally up the hillside on a nice grassy track that's steep and draggy, thank goodness it's not also wet! It's a fair old slog to the top, but once there we're onto more level ground as the track heads west towards the delightfully named Cringley Bottom. Part way along we have a fairly lengthy wait for Tony, so long in fact we're just about to set off back and look for him when he emerges over the brow of the hill. He's had another of his falling off sessions, and judging by the delay not a trivial one. (With the state of his back and joints no falling off is trivial any more!)
A little further on and the bridleway passes through a narrow ladder stile in a wall. This is bizarre, as there's no way you could get a horse through there and as such it must surely count as an obstruction to the right of way. The reason is probably because the slope down and up beyond the stile are treacherous for horses - but they look fun for mountain bikers! We pass our bikes up and over the stile and head off down the hillside, zig-zagging our way down to Bleaberry Gill.
Once across the gill we have to lug our bikes up the other side - it's way too steep to ride and hard enough to walk. No wonder they don't let horses through this way any more.
Once at the top there's a nice stretch of moorland singletrack, a narrow ribbon through the heather that's probably not seen many bikes. This eventually comes out by some old smelt mill buildings that we've not visited before where we stop for a few photos.
All our photographing done we continue on, climbing the road from Surrender Bridge towards Fore Gill Gate. Tony has left us at this point, he's taking the shorter, less hilly route to Bunton Hush by going straight up alongside Mill Gill (Old Gang Beck). The rest of us are going up and over Surrender Ground. It doesn't start too well as I miss the bridleway off to the left and we go a couple of hundred yards too far before tracking back across some grassy hillside to rejoin the correct track. This is a loose stone and dirt track, typical of a lot of the tracks in this area, and it climbs relentlessly upwards, gaining 600 feet in 2 miles.
Once at the top there's a lovely blast back down to Level House Bridge. This is fast and furious, and the track is dry, stony and dusty, which equates to quite slippery and the back wheels are snaking about a bit at times. We blast down Forefield Rake and turn left to follow Flincher Gill, at which point a conveniently located ford, an enthusiastic buddy and a load of good luck provide me with one of my best ever action photos!
At Level House Bridge we turn sharp right and head back uphill again, past Old Gang mines to eventuall meet up with Tony again at the top of Bunton Hush. He's been waiting for us for 10 minutes and has used the time to scope out the approaches into The Hush.
Bunton Hush is amazing, a rock garden on steroids it's a huge gorge full of rocks and boulders of all shapes and sizes, all of them sharp and dangerous looking. You have to wonder if there's a rideable route through all of this debris, but eventually your eyes pick up the tracks that have been worn smooth and cleared of a little of the debris.
We drop into the hush and pick our way gently through it, taking it in a number of small sections, each one separated by a period of scoping out the route for the next bit. The landscape in the lower section has changed since we were last in here, winter obviously brought some kind of land slip.
Eventually we all find our way to the bottom, no one having crashed or even banged their bikes (last time up here I bent some teeth on my chainring) and end up by a finger post. Tim has got the downhill bug and heads off down the bridleway off to the right before anyone can stop him. It's the wrong way, we should be going left. It's left to me to go chasing after him to call him back. On my return I'm so taken in by the awesome look of the Hush that I spend too long looking at that and not at the trail ahead. Next thing I know I'm face down in the dirt again, my front wheel having been swallowed by a bit of landslip that I didn't notice. The slow, uphill speed meant no harm was done, and soon we were all off once more, heading in the right direction (i.e. left) alongside Gunnerside Gill.
The scenery here is truly amazing, a mixture of natural beauty mixed with the "ugly beauty" that the years of mining have brought to it. We track along Swina Bank Scar and up along Winterings Scar, the track clinging precariously to the side of the hill at times. Evetually it opens up into a wider trial and loses some height as it passes Winterings, meaning you can really open the throttle. This bit of track is beautiful - fast, undulating, twisty, with the odd bit where you need to pedal to keep your speed as high as possible. It's a shame when it ends by the gate at Barf End Gate.
The view from here is as lovely as it gets.
The fun isn't over though - through the gate is a wide, grassy track that looks like it's been mowed and rolled, reminiscent of riding on a golf course. This works its way at a fairly high pace down to another gate in a wall. Normally we go straight ahead through this gate, but today we're in for a real treat, a new entry into the Top Descents section. We cut sharp right at the wall and drop down the bridleway to Gunnerside, a plummet that loses us 500 feet in about 3/4 of a mile! It has a bit of everything - swooping grassy track, loose stony stuff, a few drops, some nice humps that you can get a decent jump off (you've got to love Stewart, he can't help but shout "woo hoo" every time he grabs some air, so you know what's happening even when he's behind you), narrow sections of track between walls, even a few walkers thrown in to make it "interesting" (caution advised at all times!) It all just flows so well, you never want it to end. It's all over in three minutes.
After this it becomes relatively boring, though never entirely so in this part of the world with its stunning scenery as far as the eye can see. We head south from Gunnerside to cross the Swale and then turn left onto the road to Crackpot, another of the wonderful names you find out in these dales. Two miles of roadwork takes us to Crackpot where we turn left and do another three miles on road and "track" before turning off road again proper, to the left, just past Browna Gill Bridge.
For much of this last section of the route we've been just above the river, this next section takes us right by it. A fast descent down a good grassy track that traces the side of the hill brings us to within a few feet of the river and a lovely bit of riverside single track that skims by trees and judders over roots. Briefly it becomes a cobbled pavement that rattles you to the core before eventually becoming singletrack again.
Eventually the track branches away at 45 degrees to the river to cross a field (just before you get to the picturesque suspension footbridge that crosses the river). Through a few gates and across a few more fields and we emerge on the road into Grinton. Left in the village, over the river and back to Reeth via the road. It's been a fantastic ride, one of the best we've done in an area that has a load of great routes!
Reeth - Surrender Ground - Bunton Hush - Gunnerside:
21.5 miles, 3000' of ascent in 4 hours dead, 1 1/2 of which were spent stood still!