A poor showing from our regular bunch this week for one reason or another, but numbers were bolstered by a showing from some-time member Rob and first-timer (with us) Vern (kaya from MTBG). The weather looked like it could do absolutely anything, including snow, as we left the Milburn Arms car park and headed north out of the village.
We kept to the road, staying left at any junctions along the way until we passed through School Row. Just at the end of the row of houses i a phone box, just beyond which we turn off right onto a bridleway. This climbs up through a small farmyard where there are always lots of nice looking hens, just beyond which the bridleway branches. Stay to the right - we'll be coming back this way via the other branch later!
The track climbs up and over the hill, quite steeply at times though thankfully the nature of the track means there's plenty of grip and not too much drag. The track continues on until it reaches the road, a route that bears no resemblance to where the bridleway goes on the OS map. Over the years we've given up looking for the proper bridleway, there's nothing at all to be seen on the ground, and it's better just to stick to the track.
Once at the road we turn left and at this point the weather starts to turn too. The wind is blowing gale force into our faces and the black clouds that have been looming finally decide to empty themselves on us. It starts as drizzle, then becomes hail stones, lashed into us by that wind they sting the face. We have only 1 1/4 miles of road work to do but it feels like 5 or 6 riding into this weather. I look hopefully at each passing track off to the left, hoping it's the one we're going to take, that will lead us to some respite by both turning our faces away from the gale and by losing us some ground. Eventually we reach our turn off (it's the second of the signposted Bridleways, as stated just over 1.25 miles from where we joined the road).
As soon as we make the left turn and stop to wait for Neil it feels loads better. Neil arrives with a right gob on, complaining about the wind and rain and threatening to bale if it doesn't improve! We head off down the bridleway, keeping left when a junction tempts us to go right. The track starts out as undemanding double track but eventually begins to drop pretty steeply, becoming rockier and a lot more technical too. It's a fun blast down to the railway line, where I somehow manage to lose it on the last 100m, catching a rut on a fairly easy bit of track to go spiraling off into the heather.
At the railway we go straight across, following the very handily placed signposts for the tearoom at Dale Head Farm. This track is just as steep as what had gone before but is not as technical. It does have a few corners around which walkers may be lurking though, so exercise a little caution.
Once down at the road at Dale Head Farm Vern tells us of the time the tea room there was giving away free beer! Sounds too good to be true, and unfortunately it doesn't look like they're repeating the offer today so we turn left onto the tarmac and continue on our way. We follow the road a little way, pass Red House Farm and then turn right on the track down to Moorlands Farm. Here we go through a gate with a sign saying "Footpath", but we (legally) ignore this and follow the very obvious jeep track that snakes its way up the hillside. This is the longest climb of the day and fairly tough, but it's easily cleanable despite the loose surface. I say "easily", I didn't quite manage it, having one dab when the back wheel spun out on some loose slate and lost me all of my traction.
The climb ends where it joins the old railway at a crossroads - don't miss this turn, you'll do a load of unnecessary climbing if you do, but at least you'd be by the Lion Inn, what better place to be by accident! We rest for a while, wait for Rob to catch up (he'll be glad to see the end of this, the worst of the climbing on this route) and then rest a while longer while we take on some energy.
Eventually we're up and riding again, heading north-west (i.e. a right turn) along the disused railway. It's pretty easy going from here on for the rest of this part of the loop. The railway loops around the head of the valley, its nature varying between doubletrack, singletrack and bog. Thankfully it's been very dry of late and the boggy bits are a lot less extreme and a lot less numerous than usual.
We have fun down the only interesting descent on railway and then continue on towards the old workings at East Mines. It's fairly easy trail and the slight downward slope means the pace really picks up along this stretch.
We pass Sturdy Bank where we crossed the railway line earlier in a matter of minutes and maintain the high pace right back to the farm with the nice hens just above School Row. From here we retrace our earlier steps, via the road, back to the village centre. The improved weather has stopped Neil acting like a right girl and he's happy to press on and do the second loop.
The second loop begins by heading out of the village in a southerly direction and heading as if to go up the dreaded Chimney bank - a challenge I'm relishing for another day. We climb a little way up the bank but then turn off left through the car park of the pub/hotel.
Straight through the car park we get onto the broad double track that leads past several farms and eventually comes to Hollins Farm. Here there's a whole host of different bikes lying in a pile on the grass and Neil takes a shine to a nice little full-suss trike.
Enough of the larking around, off we go again following the bridleway around the farm and then sticking to the left fork just beyond it - we'll be returning via the right fork later. From here on the track is excellent. Its slight downward (but undulating) gradient gives you a bit of speed and the lumpy, technical terrain keeps it all interesting as you try to pick the best line to keep your speed up. There's one or two surprises along the way as unseen rocks loom around corners and over ridges and one such rock spells the end of our good run of fortune on the mechanical/puncture side. A familiar sharp thud through the back wheel tells me I've smacked a rock too hard and seconds later I'm running on wheel rim rather than tyre.
One quick change later (I'm getting good at these) and we're off once again. From now (near Hartoft Bridge) until Lastimgham it's a little less interesting as the track becomes smoother and less technical. Once at Lastingham track turns to road and we turn right to follow the tarmac into the village. In the village centre we turn right and then go straight ahead, heading north out of the village towards the moor. I make a mental note that I should have taken a photo of the very sturdy and interesting looking church - something to do next time I'm here.
We exit onto the moor via a gate and from here it's an easy but quite incessant climb up a wall surfaced track.
We continue on towards Ana Cross, bearing right at a place called (on the map) Spring Heads Turn. From here it all gets very vague for a while. The track on the ground becomes very indistinct, something that's not helped at all by the fact that heather burning has been going on which means that the usual visible ribbon of track through the heather has vanished.
We muddle about for a while, alternating between unseen bridleway and highly visible, newly laid dolomite track, before we eventually find our way onto the track we're looking for that leads back down to Hollins Farm. It's probable that we could have done it by sticking entirely to the new tracks, but we're here anyway so it's all irrelevant.
Off we go down the track to Hollins Farm, a wide, fast track that twists its way through the heather down the hillside. It throws up the odd technical section and one nice little stretch of rocks, but on the whole it's fast and relatively undemanding.
Once at Hollins Farm we just retrace our steps from earlier, exiting the track via the hotel car park, turning right to descend the foothills of Chimney Bank and rolling back into Rosedale Abbey still as fresh as daisies and ready to do it all again. If only GrazeOn The Green wasn't calling so loudly!
We pack away the bikes, get changed, say goodbye to Vern & Rob and take the cars round to park in front of Graze On The Green, one of my favourite tea rooms. The object of my desire is the concoction they call The Hill Farmer, a lovely high-protein "lite bite" (it's hardly that) of thick crusty bread topped with ham, eggs and melted cheese.
Being veggie I take it without the ham and they kindly substitute an extra egg and charge me less. You can't grumble. Neil goes for the Fish Finger sandwich from the kids menu, and I have to pretend to be his dad in order to persuade the waitress. She conjours up a man-sized sarnie that must contain a whole box of fish fingers!
Rosedale Abbey Figure Of 8: 23 miles and 2800' of climbing in 3 1/2 hours, 40 minutes of which was spent stationary.
The ride comes from an old edition of MBR magazine which describes it as "A Killer Loop". It's hardly that, it's not too physically or technically challenging to any but the least experienced of riders, but it's still a darned good ride, scenic and interesting and with plenty of opportunities for stops along the way, or even to bale out at a little over half way!