We'd had this ride planned for a while and there was no telling how the weather would be by the time the date came along. The previous day had been totally dire so we didn't hold out much hope for the day of the ride, but how pleasantly wrong we were!
Five of us set off from Sedbergh to tackle what could well be our toughest ride to date, covering 25 miles and with 4000 feet of ascent, a lot of it all at once at the start of the ride - well at least we'd be fresh for it.
We headed north then west out of Sedbergh, heading for Lockbank Farm where we wound our way through the farm and went offroad. The track up the hillside is long and steep and on a draggy grassy surface which started to sap our energy straight away. The track looks almost mowed into the hillside, giving a clear view of where we were going to be headed, and it looked a long, long way. This put me in two minds as to whether I should slog my way up some of the steeper slopes or take it more gently (and even walk) to conserve energy for later. Riding won out, except for where that was impossible, my leg muscles much preferring the cycling to walking!
By the time we had our first break we were about half way up and 40 minutes into the ride. The route ahead looked no less challenging than what we'd already done, and ominously we couldn't even see the summit. The scenery was spectacular though, in the directional light that the combination of sun and cloud was giving.
We pressed on, eventually crossing a saddle at the head of a valley which served to funnel the wind to more than gale force. No wind like this was forecast, and it was so strong it made riding totally impossible at times, and coupled with the steep gradient and dragging grass slope it meant that occasional hike-a-bikes were unavoidable.
Once this saddle was out of the way the wind was never quite that strong again, though it did still howl at times. We were glad to reach the cairn at Calders where the ground leveled off and the wind eased and got behind us a little. The ride from there to the summit of The Calf was a lot quicker and easier.
We had another break at the trig point on The Calf. Sam needed to relieve himself and for some reason decided to go and do it in the small tarn/large puddle that was nearby. We think he took delight in peeing in what could end up as Tony's drinking water, though I'm sure that it would be filtered through several beds of peat before it ended up anywhere near a tap.
"All downhill from here" we thought, having climbed 1800 feet in the last 4 1/2 miles, and our eyes seemed to back up what our minds were telling us. The trail stretched out seemingly forever, shadowing Bowderdale Beck all the way down the valley in what must be one of the most beautiful pieces of singletrack going.
If we thought that meant it would be easy from now on though, we were in for a nasty surprise. After the initial plummet, which was largely gravity driven, though technical and requiring a lot of concentration and a modicum of skill, the trail eased off quite a bit, and while still being largely downwards required an awful lot of pedaling to overcome the obstacles in the trail.
The most annoying of these were the constant array of minor fords that we had to cross, caused by the dozens of streams and springs that flow off the hillside. The amount of water that was around from the previous day's rain also meant that much of the trail was like riding in a river, or at best a constant trail of mud.
Progress along here was nowhere near as rapid as we perhaps expected it would be, though the weather was holding and the views were still gorgeous. The trail's difficulty meant we also kept getting strung out, our various degrees of skill and fitness meaning a fair few breaks to regroup.
Eventually we exited the moor, emerging on the road at Bowderdale. There followed a few miles of the least interesting part of the route, a combination of tarmac and pastoral bridleways that took us from Bowderdale to Weasdale to Ravenstonedale. I have to say that I was impressed by the look of Ravenstonedale, and the two pubs there looked very tempting!
We pressed on, taking the tarmac out of Ravenstonedale towards Adamthwaite. Progress was pretty good along here (well, it's tarmac after all) but just after the bridge over Gais Gill there's a steep section where I was hit by the dreaded chain suck. My drivetrain had been lubricated by nothing but mud for a good few miles now, and it was starting to show. No one had any lube with them, so a bit of lateral thinking from Sam had me trying out Gatorade as a chain lube. It worked!
Chain suck banished, we continued up the hill and on towards the point where we went offroad once more, on the bridleway towards Murthwaite. This looked like it would be a muddy, sodden morass, but although wet it was firm and well rideable. There was even time for some real gravity-driven fun down a rocky/stony section of the track where we finally hit the heady heights of over 20mph!
A bit more field-crossing, past some of the famous "wild horses", and we find ourselves in a particularly lovely little woodland descent. It's tricky - small sharp stones are hidden beneath slippery leaves, and a stream appears to be running down the entire length, but it's as fun as it is challenging as it is picturesque! Biggest grin of the day so far.
After that there was a succession of bridge and ford crossings that have all blurred into one! I know I got my feet wet more than once, and was thankful of the best efforts of the Sealskinz socks to keep my feet dry and warm.
A final ford and bridge crossing over Cautley Holme Beck, and a short wait for Tim to fix the day's only puncture, took us on to the final fun part of our ride, a few miles of nice singletrack as good as anything you'll find.
This was no more easy to ride than the section in Bowderdale, being just as wet and having almost as many obstacles en-route. It was good fun, but by now the legs were beginning to feel weary and mistakes were creeping in, and I found myself on my back more than once.
Eventually at Crook Holme we exited the bridlway early via a short section of footpath, so that we could hit the road and drop Tony and Ian at the B&B they were staying at. The promise of dozens of gates on that final stretch also had a bearing on our route choice, our weary legs and the diminishing light meaning that stopping every couple of hundred yards for gates was the last thing we wanted. We must go back some other time and complete that last mile of singletrack.
Back in Sedbergh we changed out of wet and very muddy clothes and hit the cafes. We were about to go into the well known Cafe Sedbergh but they put up the closed sign as we were about to step into the door. Their loss was Cafe Duo (next door)'s gain, and maybe ours too. The hand-cut cheesy chips that Sam and I had really hit the spot, I've rarely had nicer chips. A good big pot of tea too.
The Calf (Sedbergh, Bowderdale, Ravenstonedale, Murthwaite, Narthwaite): 25 miles, 4000' of ascent in 6 hours 20 minutes, of which more than 2 hours was spent eating, resting, photographing, fixing punctures and waiting to regroup.
Riders: Steve, Ian, Tony, Sam, Tim
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