The Tour de France is coming and it’s coming to Yorkshire, and so one of my club mates had organised a trip up to the Dales to see what all the fuss was about. 14 of us went up, I travelled up with Steve late in the afternoon on Friday. After a clear run up the A1 and then freshly surfaced, Tour-ready roads, we arrived early evening to find the rest of the guys comfortably embedded in the Bridge Inn, sipping on recovery ales after a leg stretcher up Tan Hill. We dumped our stuff at the Dales Bike Centre, sitting in the heart of the beautiful Swaledale valley and right on the Stage 1 route.
Saturday morning we awoke to the forecast rain, we had hoped it would ease off by mid morning, but it didn’t. Resigned to a soaking and a little bit blue we set off for a revised (we decided not to go straight up the Grinton climb), but still ambitious tour of the Dales.
We rode to Leyburn then turned off for quieter roads at Jervaulx Abbey. Immediately we were on to the first proper climb, up High Newstead and across to Healy, a 130m ascent, averaging 7%. The first section was the steepest and hardest, touching 20% at one point. It levelled off, along a more open stretch of road, then gave a couple more 10% kicks before dropping down for one of the better descents of the day to Leighton Reservoir. This first climb had seen us split into two groups. I had continued ahead with Wayne, Steve, Gary and George.
The ride alongside Leighton Reservoir was lovely, we crossed an old stone bridge where a couple of fishermen were struggling with bait, then started to climb again. It started steep with a 10% section, eased, then offered up another 10%, but the roads were as good as the scenery and I was still fresh. About a kilometre up from the reservoir, the mood of the climb changed, we passed into open Moorland and the weather closed in. I had stopped for a photo so followed the other 4 along a bleak and lengthy stretch of road, improved by the black zig zag road to Lofthouse Moor ahead. The road dipped down, quite sharply, to a swift running stream then the 120m ascent started steeply on the other side with another 10% plus gradient. It eased off bit by bit until Nidderdale came into view directly below. We needed to get down to Lofthouse and the way down was Trapping Hill.
In his 100 Greatest Climbs book, Simon Warren says of Trapping Hill, “you always know you’re in for some fun when you see the ‘unsuitable for heavy goods’ sign – it’s a badge of honour that really tough climbs are proud to display”, so you can guess a descent with -20-25% segments, in the pouring rain with a river streaming down the tarmac, is going to get the heart pumping. It did: with terror.
Nidderdale provided glorious recuperation for post-descent nerves. Riding alongside the stunningly beautiful Gouthwaite Reservoir the sun tried to shine, yet we were still being rained on.
We soon arrived in Pateley Bridge for the next big climb, Greenhow, another in the 100 Greatest Cycling Climbs. I recognised it immediately from the picture of the pub at the foot of the first wicked 16% slope. I didn’t enjoy the climb. It was a hard, grim grind. The rain was back, the surrounding countryside ugly and unwelcoming. The climb rose once more to moor and the giant phallus of Coldstones Cut, looking more like some bygone ruin of the Industrial Revolution than commissioned sculpture.
The rain continued to worsen. In Appletreewick we found a campsite serving up homemade cakes, scones, tea and coffee from a vintage Airstream caravan. The temptation to stop was too great to resist. A fresh cheese scone and hot tea were quickly devoured and as the rain started to rattle on the caravan’s aluminium skin we retreated into a barn for shelter, along with an old VW campervan modified into a truck! We missed the worst of that shower, the other group didn’t, arriving drenched and shivering while we were finishing our drinks.
Savouring the hot drinks had softened us up and we decided the constant rain and showers were getting a little too much so we would take a more direct route back, although since we were at the southernmost part of the route, we wouldn’t be shaving much off. The route headed north west and I remember from the maps a couple of roads forked off to the north east, in the direction of home. We double checked the maps. Buckden or Kettlewell were the promising shortcuts, but since Kettlewell was shorter we opted for that. I’m not sure how many of the others knew just what was up the road from there though…
The ride through Wharfdale was superb; Kilnsey Cragg, its overhanging rock bearing down on the valley like a fossilised tidal wave, made a far more magnificent sight than man’s Coldstones Cut.
I took us on a wrong turn out of Kettlewell, it didn’t feel right and some local farmers confirmed my suspicions and set us back on the right route. The others checked with more locals back in Ketttlewell. They warned us the road was steep. I knew that – I had checked the book. Out of the village the road kicked up sharply with a 10% plus gradient then eased off for an easy roll alongside wild Park Gill Beck. Ahead, the viciously steep tarmac scars of Park Rash loomed closer.
The road bent right and tore up the hillside at a ridiculous angle. Sharp left and right bends followed and the climb continued at around 18%. George was walking, my legs were grinding over the 39:23 gear, the best I had, and my arms shrieked for rest. Respite did come, but not for long. The road kicked up again to 20%. I joined the others at the top, by a cattle grid, and took in the views. It was a hard and beautiful climb, averaging over 10% for 2km, definitely the best of the day. The ride over the top of the moors was equally spectacular – a good open road with a fast tailwind and the curlews and lapwings calling overhead, you can’t ask for more from a post climb recovery.
And that was the climbing done. We rode back to the Dales Bike Centre for coffee and cake.
‘twus epic. 132km, 2160m http://www.strava.com/activities/139544501