the route is never easy

We’re Night Riding out of a Rut in the Yorkshire Dales.

So easy to fall into a rut, isn’t it? Why should ruts be so comfortable and so unpopular?” Ruth Gordon.

Friday 22nd February 2013 I was downing a couple of beers in the Red Lion in Boldon with Brian and Andrew when the conversation came around to Friday nights. I have been travelling most Friday nights to meet up with my old mate Dave at the Grey Horse in Boldon for a few years now. While we have had the odd Friday night doing something different, basically over the years our schedule hasn’t deviated that much, you could say we were in our comfort zone.

Over the past few weeks we changed our routine and started meeting up with my brother in law Brian, and his nephew Andrew, at the Red Lion. Starting at the Red Lion at about 9pm we then head to the Black Horse before taking a brisk walk to the Grey Horse for the last couple of bevies.

Swaledale Rides: Swalien Landscapes by Bike

Should have gone to Specsavers or a little overdresssed?
Should have gone to Specsavers.

Cruising on your mountain bike along the limestone road from Surrender Bridge towards Great Pinseat you can’t help but notice the moorland and the Gill littered with grey coloured rocks and boulders. As you reach the abandoned Old Gang Smelt Mills that serviced the Swaledale and Arkengarthdale lead mining industry you begin to apprehend that there was once a flourishing industry here and the grey rocks that litter the hillsides isn't natural scree.

Three not so Wise Men, Three Mountain Bikes and Three Lights

OK, I confess, the stars have been Photoshoped inOK, I confess, the stars have been Photoshoped in
During the latter part of 2012 Trevor had been pushing me to do some night riding in the forests, but the idea had never really appealed that much. Mainly because it’s very daunting when Trevor starts to talk about bike equipment as he never considers the budget brands. I would rather eat my cycling shorts than part with over £250 for an Ay-Up MTB light kit or even £200 for Trevor’s second option the Hope lights. While Trevor’s an accountant by profession when it comes to mountain bike kit I’m the one who looks at things as the potential cost per ride, I mean how often would we even use the lights? Anyway, not to be beaten I did some internet research and kept stumbling on Magicshine lights which always got good user reviews. Deciding on the 1600 lumen MJ-872R at £89 I thought even if I just use them for the ride home for work it wouldn’t be a terrible investment.

When the Trail Dissolves to Overgrown Moorland

One of the things I enjoy about mountain biking is finding new routes and tracks. However taking your bike on trails and bridleways over moorland can often present more than a few problems. Lets face it, the whole point of taking your bike to the hills is to ride it, not carry it, so careful preparation is essential. When identifying a new route the first point of reference has to be the Ordinance Survey map, preferably scaled 1 to 25,000. Personally I plot my routes using digital maps which can be exported to Google Earth and overlaid onto the satellite images. I check the topography and gradient profiles, then once satisfied with the route load onto my GPS system and tackle the ride.

Mountain Bike Routes to Tan Hill from Muker and Keld

The Tan Hill Inn
The Tan Hill Inn

One of the challenges with your mountain bike in the Yorkshire Dales has to involve sticking on some padded cycling gloves and reaching the dizzy heights of The Tan Hill Inn, Britain’s highest pub. You may remember the Everest double glazing company featuring a bleak windswept Tan Hill Inn in their TV adverts. Located on Tan Hill at the upper end of Swaledale which is in the centre of moorland that even the Domesday Book wrote off as Wasteland, the mind boggles as to why there is a pub located in such a desolate place. I don’t suppose anyone could ever call this pub their local, which begs the question, “why does this pub even exist”?

The short answer is mining: since the 12th century and probably earlier there was an inferior smoky coal called “crow coal” mined at Tan Hill. The mines under Tan Hill were fairly extensive and until the early 20th century miners cottages stood near the Inn. In its heyday the Tan Hill Inn was at the hub of this activity, the miners would drink after a hard shift while horse drawn carts lined up to take the coal to the kilns of Arkengathdale, Reeth and Swaledale. In 1903 Susan Peacock and her husband took over the Inn making it successful even during the decline of the mining. It was in the 1930’s when Susan Peacock regularly appeared on radio broadcasts talking of her isolated life that gave the pub its curiosity factor, attracting hundreds of inquisitive visitors.

Nostalgic Ramblings: Why eat them if you don’t like them?

Hitch hiking through  Germany in 1975... check out those flares
Hitch hiking through Germany in 1975... check out those flares

It was the Saturday of the Jubilee weekend and we decided to leave our cycling clothes in the wardrobe and visit Catterick Races, which was really good as we all came out up on the day. On Sunday we travelled to Leyburn to spend our winnings on a spot of Sunday lunch in the gastro-pub known as The Sandpiper Inn. I was sitting with my wife, brother and sister in law after eating a superb Sunday lunch of Wensleydale braised beef and Yorkshire puds when the waitress came to take our dessert orders. “Are there nuts in the Knickerbocker glory”? I asked. “No sir, but it may contain trace elements” she replied. “That’s OK, I’m not allergic to nuts; I just don’t like the taste”.

Finding the Mythical Swaledale Pipeline

The way to the Pipeline
If only the biking route was actually signposted, it isn't, but this is the sign to look out for... and the direction you need to follow

I had heard there was a mysteriously obscure section of mountain bike downhill in Swaledale called the Pipeline that took its name from the black water pipe that runs along the trail down the hill side towards Reeth. After Googling “Pipeline Swaledale, Mountain Bike Pipeline Grinton, MTB Pipeline Reeth” and many other variations I came up with Swaledale Water Supply - Water Projects Online, a couple of blogs, a Youtube Video and a photo. After piecing the evidence together like a tormented "We shall see who is the one that will be saying nonsensical things that are sensing of nonsense" Inspector Clouseau, I eventually came up with a likely location. Plotting the route on Quo Mapping I exported it then uploaded the data to Google Earth, the satellite images showed I was nearly there. Just one small adjustment needed.

Checking the weather ahead it looked like Thursday 5th July 2012 was going to be about the best of a bad bunch of days for Brian and me to tackle the expedition to find the infamous mountain bike trail near Grinton in Swaledale.

Where’s the appeal in biking over desolate moorland and pastures green?

Checking the Trail Condition
Swaledale: From the path to Apedale Head looking towards Gunnerside and Muker

If anyone had told me five years ago that I would be pedaling a bicycle to an altitudes of over 500 metre using dirt tracks and mud paths just to ride over desolate moorland, I’d have said “they were raving mad”! Yet, again and again I keep packing my mountain bike shorts and returning to the Yorkshire Dales to tackle gut busting climbs in some god awful weather to reach the high fells and waterlogged moorland while loving every minute of it. So, excuse me while I just aimlessly bleet on as I add a few paragaphs and photos...

Dirty, filthy and mountain biking without a rain jacket

While cycling is a universal pursuit that can be enjoyed by anyone, mountain biking appeals to a much narrower section of the cycling community. Some would say; the reckless and foolhardy! Having said that, it’s not too difficult to be able to see the appeal of tackling rugged terrain.

Mountain biking isn’t just using a bicycle to transport you from A to B by the scenic route. It’s all about feeling your whole body jolt and shudder as you battle across uneven cycle paths. Or experiencing a carefree release as you hurtle downwards, spraying mud in all directions. Many cyclists are drawn to their sport because they relish a challenge. And what could be more challenging than defying convention and pitting your wits and sharpening your cycling skills against some of the UK’s wildest landscapes!

But while serious biking can be exhilarating, it is important to keep yourself as safe as possible. It’s preferable if your mountain bike has full suspension to cope with riding fast across large rocks.

The Diamond Jubilee and the Kielder Forest Trails

Start of the decent from Hill 361Starting the decent from Hill 361

It was late August 2009 when as trail centre rookies we first took our mountain bikes to Kielder Forest. Having only just been introduced to trail centre riding earlier that month at the Seven Stains, Kirroughtree and Ae Forest centres we hungered for a little more of the same action. Like bad pennies we keep sticking on our mountain bike shorts and returning to the Kielder trails because they are flowing with some hard climbs, good descents and is only an hour and a half drive. As our fitness and confidence and bikes have improved over the years it’s also nice to be able to revisit and conquer the challenges that we previously failed, you could say we have built up a sort of affiliation with the trails. There are a good number of trails at Kielder with varying levels of difficulty from Green to Black and there is even an Orange graded Bike Park meaning there is something for everyone.

Our last visit was the Tuesday of the Queens Diamond Jubilee, on the Monday evening pissed off with rained off barbies and too much alcohol we made a snap decision visit the Kielder Castle trail centre. The plan was to do the red section of the Deadwater Route then ride up the fire roads to Skyspace and take on the end of the Lonesome Pine, mixing a bit of technical downhill with some fast undulating flowing downhill. However when we got to the information boards at Kielder Castle car park they stated the Osprey Blue route was 8 miles and the Deadwater was 4 miles.

Cycling with the clown prince of the comedy fall

According to the American humorist, Erma Bombeck, “There is a thin line that separates laughter and pain, comedy and tragedy, humour and hurt”. If you are mountain biking regularly in all weathers over all terrains then crossing that thin line is inevitable, or in other words if you are going to take that unscheduled tumble its best to err on the side of humour. Which begs the question, why are the guys in the photo laughing so hard? The simple answer is; “the comedy fall”. The beauty of the comedy fall is there are rarely two identical but what makes this fall more eventful was this one happened on Friday 13th April.

Laughter on the trial to GunnersideLaughter on the trail to Gunnerside

Big Bang Theory Sheldon Cooper v Mike Vandeman on Mountain Bikers

Dr Sheldon CooperDr Sheldon Cooper
If anyone watches the TV comedy series the Big Bang Theory, they will know the character Dr Sheldon Cooper, B.S., M.S., M.A., Ph.D., Sc.D. He’s a young Theoretical Physicist, self proclaimed genius and socially awkward uber-geek, with idiosyncrasies similar to Asperger syndrome or OCD (Obsessive-compulsive disorder). He has issues with just about everything, which is funny because he isn’t real; thank goodness that people like that don’t really exist. Or do they?

Last years video of Mountain Biking in Upper Swaledale

Summer is around the corner so hold that thought because I found some footage on a camera SD card of a ride that Trevor, Ryan and myself tackled back in June 2011, it was possibly one of the hottest weekends of the year so it was nice to wear just a short sleeved cycling jersey.

The Roman Road at Bainbridge, Is it a bike ride or a quest?

Cam High Road, the Roman Road at BainbridgeThe Roman Road in Wensleydale is a 300mtr decent or accent over 5km of rock, pebbles and shale

I have cycled the Wensleydale bridle path from Castle Bolton towards Askrigg on a few occasions and without fail my eyes are drawn towards the Roman Road on the southern side of the Dale. It’s approximately 5km of unusually straight road that travels methodically uphill into an otherwise curvaceous landscape. Cam High Road as it is known in reality is about as straight as the seams on my cycling tights but from a distance it looks like a perfectly straight line has been gouged into the hillside. I always imagined it to be a tarmac road so when I discovered it was a dirt track the temptation to gather a mountain biking posse and tackle a route that included Cam High Road became a little overwhelming.

Sometimes even the best laid plans go horribly wrong, my first attempt to tackle the road was 17th March 2012 when Trevor the wives and myself spent a couple of nights at Richmond. Trevor and I planned a day mountain biking while the girls went shopping. I took the opportunity to plan a route from Askrigg up Thornton Rust across Thornton Moor and up to Stake Allotments then downhill to Stalling Busk and onto Marsett where we’d climb to Common Allotments and take the Roman Road (Cam High Rd) downhill to Bainbridge then back to Askrigg.

Loved, lost and forsaken: It’s just a mountain bike by any other name

The Nerve and the Boardman at Gunnerside GillThe Nerve and the Boardman at Gunnerside Gill
Cycling is like any other activity, once you start down the road of buying and bikes and equipment you can get pretty much carried away. In April 2009 at the ripe age of fifty three years I took the advice of a friend and invested £380 on a GT Aggressor hardtail and a cycling helmet. As far as bikes go it did the job of getting me hooked on cross country and trail riding while helping me to shed a few pounds in the process. After spending more on cycling shorts and other accessories then visiting Trail Centres at Kielder Forest, Whinlatter Forest, Ae Forest and Kirroughtree I was starting to accumulate some practical experience and became a convert to mountain biking. My riding skills improved but the constant arse pounding from the hardtail was starting to convince me the bike had some obvious limitations.

In February 2010 prior to a trip to Whinlatter Forest I decided to upgrade to a full suspension bike. After some research I spent £800 on a Boardman Comp FS and gave the old GT to my son in law.