Heavy rain throughout the week and again overnight prior to our ride, followed by a brief but heavy downpour on the morning too, meant that we pretty much knew what to expect from this ride in terms of the conditions under wheel. What we didn't know was quite what the route had in store for us in terms of the terrain. Tony had planned the route and then dropped out, leaving me to guide it, and a quick glance at the map made me think it was pretty much all stuff we had done before. I was wrong - a good 50% of the off-road sections were stuff we hadn't done before, and some of the stuff we had done before we hadn't done that way round, which made it totally different.
6 of us set off from Danby Moors Centre, heading up Park bank and taking the first left at the brow of the hill. A couple of hundred meters on and we turn offroad to the left and onto the bridleway over Castleton Pits. This pretty much set the scene for the day - it was totally waterlogged, the dual track being more like dual streams.
We stayed with this until it hit the road past Clitherbeck Farm, turned left onto the road for a short section then went offroad once more to the right. This is the Pannierman's Causeway and we've ridden a part of it on the other side of the road, but not on this side. We actually missed the causeway for quite a bit, following an obvious trail on the ground that was not necessarily the right one! Eventually we joined up with where we ought to have been (evidenced by the flagstones that mark this ancient right of way) and descended down towards the crossing of Ewe Crag Beck. Unfortunately here, near a dwelling, we stayed too far right and missed the actual bridleway, traversing a field until we reached the gate at the bottom. The landowner and his wife were both stood at the top of the field bellowing at us that "this is not a right of way". I decided that the only correct thing to do was to go back, face them, and apologise, even though we were just a gate and 4 feet away from where we wanted to be.
We dragged our bikes back up the hill and faced the music. The guy was pretty annoyed, but cooled down when we were apologetic and said we had no interest in going the wrong way, we had just made a simple mistake. He told me we were the first bikers who had ever apologised - perhaps if more did he wouldn't get so irate. Having said that, his own initial attitude left a lot to be desired and was rubbing some of us (yes, you Neil) up the wrong way.
So back on track again we headed for the ford crossing at Ewe Crag Beck, a crossing Tony had commented "might be a bit iffy". We needn't have worried, even with all of the rainfall there had been it was easily rideable and no one got there feet wet save for the splash caused by the wheels cutting through the water.
Up out the other side, a nice grassy climb and then an even nicer nice grassy descent back down to the road near Danby.
We do a sharp right at the road, almost doubling back on ourselves, and take this to the next junction where we turn left. Right at the next junction and we're on Longlands Lane for a while before we turn off down the track that leads up to North End Farm. Just before reaching the farm buildings there's a left hand turn through a narrow gate, and beyond that is a push up a slippery, rocky slope that gains us 200 feet before we're able to remount. We came down this way a few rides ago and I'd forgotten just how steep and rocky it was. Gorgeous views from the top.
A bit more level riding (well, less steep anyway) and we reach the start of the descent - the reason we're up here! The previous time we'd come this way we'd come up what we were now about to go down, and even in the dry it was pretty much unrideable due to the steepness and the technicality that the various rocks and drops added into it.
We threw ourselves off the top as fast as we dared, taking care in the wet and slippery conditions but enjoying the challenge.
Towards the bottom the track swings left, flattens out slightly and broadens out into a more grassy surface. The ideal opportunity to let go the brakes and pick up some real speed. A bad line choice while doing 24mph+ saw me giving thanks to the "Jumps & Drops" course I'd done a couple of months back. The "grassy slope" suddenly became "4 foot vertical mini-cliff". My mindset is still not quite at the point where I think "Oh good, a jump". It starts off as "oh dear, how do I avoid this...?" followed by "this is gonna hurt a lot...!!" followed by "why don't I just jump it...?" I sailed off the end and landed it perfectly.
At the end of the track we're back at the road. We have a little amusement at Craig's expense. He's already part way up the road climb when we shout him back because we're going to be going the other way. But then find that we're not. Sorry Craig, back up that bank you go!
We do the road climb up New Way, ignoring the bridleway descent that we usually do (around Round Hill) and instead go down Raven Hill. At the head of the climb we meet a group of uppity walkers who try to tell us we have no right to ride this track and that "it has to be 3m wide before we can bring a bike on it". We smile, wave politely and continue on our way.
The walkers must gain a little amusement from the fact that the trail proves to be unrideable. The first hundred meters or so is fine, but after that it becomes too steep, rocky and slippery (and with a stream running down it) to ride. It's hard enough for me to walk!
Eventually the track becomes rideable once more and we decide to consign this track to the "don't bother" list - well, certainly not when it's wet. It may be more of an option when it's nice and dry. At the bottom of the hill the track turns left and becomes a nice grassy traverse that ends at Woodhead Farm.
We pass through the farm and continue on to reach the road, pass Fryup Hall Farm and turn right towards Street. This brings us to one of my favourite road climbs, up Street Lane towards Glaisdale Rigg. It's a tough old slog, especially near the road junction mid-climb where naturally we take the steeper, right hand option. At times it's hard to keep the front wheel planted on the tarmac.
Usually we take the road all the way to the top - today we're doing a bit of bridleway that cuts diagonally across Stony Rigg. Unfortunately Neil doesn't know this and is almost at the top of the road climb before we call him back. We take a look at the bridleway - it looks like yet another trudge up a muddy hill pulling a bike along, and we decide to bin it and take the road way after all. Sorry Neil.
At the top of the road we turn right and then turn back on ourselves onto Glaisdale Rigg, right by where we should have emerged. A quick glance down makes us glad we opted for the road way.
A fairly quick, loose and rocky blast along Glaisdale Rigg and we take the second waymarked bridleway on the right.
This is a grassy, muddy slope in a bit of a cut that works its way diagonally down the hillside before turning to go straight down across a field and emerge at the road where we turn left.
As we go along the road I keep seeing bridleways coming down onto it - there must be dozens of ways down off Glaisdale Rigg. Eventually the GPS tells me that one of these "ways down" is in fact our way back up! Just before Postgate Farm we turn left onto yet another steep and slippery bridleway, but at least this one's rideable, bar for a few meters of pushing.
Up on Glaisdale Rigg once more we bear left and descend a track that emerges at the road by Broad Leas. Right onto the road then left at the first junction and we follow the tarmac until it runs out and becomes a rough track descending towards what I expect to be a ford. It's nice to see there's actually a bridge there, and Craig takes a bit of friendly ribbing for his well intentioned comment of "what a good place to put a bridge". "Yes, over a river. Where would you put it in Canada?"
Yet more mud and puddles (small swimming pools more like) await us at the other side of the bridge but we're soon out of it and back onto Tarmac. Not much excitement left for us now, just a long, largely road ride back to Danby. Thankfully our route isn't taking us up onto Danby Beacon, a bit of a pointless and boring drag whose only worthiness is as a fitness booster. None of that today, we just want to get back.
We stay on Rakes lane, through Lealholm Side and on to Oakley Side where we turn left for our final descent of the day.This is another track that is washed out from excessive water leaving a lot of bare rock and slippery cobbles, so it's speed and caution in equal measure down to the bottom.
Right onto the road at the bottom and it's just a quick blast of a mile or so back to Danby Lodge.
It's been a good ride, though at times I've cursed Tony and said the "he knew what he was doing, planning this and then bailing out". There's been a lot of mud, but really only the climb to Ainthorp Rigg and the descent of Raven Hill were unrideable, and the rest was good fun and good exercise, and with some really splendid views. A good bit of banter today too, not least aimed at Howard and his constant wardrobe changes.
Only 3 of us bothered with the cafe. I had a culinary first - beans in toast (no, there's no spelling mistake there). Toast cut into fingers and built up into a square, a bit like a sheep pen, then filled with baked beans. It was a trifle bizarre, maybe showing some country influence. They'll be doing dry toast walling next.
Danby, Fryup, Glaisdale & Lealholm, 22 miles, 3300' of ascent in four hours dead, a pretty good pace.
Riders: Steve, Tim, Neil, Craig, Sam, Howard
Full statistics, map and route download available on GarminConnect.