3am and a constant beeping woke me up. I ignored it and fell back to sleep. 5.30am it woke me again. I ignored it, but didn’t fall back to sleep. I kept trying to ignore it but still I couldn’t fall asleep. In the end I couldn’t ignore it any longer and so I got up, moving as quietly as I could across the top bunk so as not to disturb Alistair, sleeping below. Out on the landing the beeping was louder, I followed it downstairs to a fire alarm box, pressed some buttons and wished I had done it before, because the beeping stopped. I needed a coffee, but found the power was out. If it didn’t come back soon the undercharged Garministas would be in a tiz.
8am and the power was still out. Missing a hot breakfast I could cope with, but with a ride over Buttertubs Pass planned, I wasn’t sure if I would cope without my morning coffees. Fortunately the gents at the Dales Bike Centre were as resourceful as they were hospitable. It wasn’t long before they had a gas-fuelled hotplate and BBQ going for bacon butties and steaming mugs of tea and coffee. Things were looking brighter, including out the window too!
We had two big climbs planned, although the route was a relatively short 30miler (well, most of us did have a 3 hour drive back down the A1, following the disappointing signs to The South – I’m always happier following the ones pointing to The North).
We set off to Reeth where our legs were woken by a sharp little climb through the town. From there it was a long ride through Swaledale. We had a bit of a head wind, but the newly resurfaced road more than compensated. We were on the Tour route, but heading in the opposite direction. Whether the pro’s get to appreciate the beauty of riding by the swift peat-stained river and through the woods, pungently scented by the brilliant white carpets of wild garlic, I’m not sure.
17km in we turned left and started our ascent of Buttertubs Pass. The group split quickly on the steep lower slope, averaging just over 10%. The gradient eased. Ahead the road followed a gentle zig-zag up the hillside; a sign warned of its 25% gradient. It was hard, but enjoyable, my legs felt good and I was getting some encouragement from descending riders. I followed the road around a bend and was in for a real treat. The road flattened and even dipped. I flicked the gears, picking up speed. The edge of the road had a protective wire fence, on the other side, the hillside dropped away to the tumbling waters of Cliff Beck, abrading a faster course through the bedrock. It was a stunning view. The road kicked up further ahead – it looked like a short little sprint. Hardly. It was another brutal 10-20% climb, at least this time only to the cattle gridded summit. 260m, 6% average (but with a downhill section!), open and wild, steep grinds and fast relief, Buttertubs Pass is a superb climb, probably the best of the weekend. If you like climbing, I defy you not to fall in love with Buttertubs!
The descent to Simonstone was steep and fast, my brake pads were again getting a thorough work out. From there we picked up a tailwind and flew across to Askrigg. We took a left turn and started to climb out of Wensleydale and back to Swaledale. There are several roads criss-crossing the moorland between the two Dales. Buttertubs is one. Oxnop Scar is another and features in Simon Warren’s 100 Greatest Climbs and from his description, I think the climb we did, up to Fleak Moss, sounds similar. After a steep start the gradient eased. Off to our right was the grey rock wall of Ellerkin Scar. The road switched back sharply to the right, but you couldn’t see it for the hedges. I found I was under geared and stalling on a 20% gradient. I was forced to a halt so that I could sort my gears, but getting going again was hard work. The road continued to rise steeply. Ahead of me Wayne was rocking all over his handlebars, Steve was happily spinning onwards. The gradient eased and I caught up to Wayne, then gradient kicked again. It was a pattern that was repeated over and over again, you couldn’t settle in to a rhythm, rather you had to push through the steeper bits and try to recover on the shallower sections. Eventually we reached the top and seemingly obligatory summit cattle grid. 313m at an 8% average gradient, it was some climb.
Unlike other climbs we’d done, the road surface here was rough. Not such a problem on the ascent, but it added a new dimension of fear to the, yet again, stupidly steep descent. Halfway down Wayne punctured. It was a long descent, Wayne’s puncture gave the rest of us an opportunity to admire Crackpot Side.
As we rejoined the main road back to Reeth we met up with Andy and Alistair for an easy ride home.
It was a great weekend and I can thoroughly recommend Dales Bike Centre for cake, coffee or a place to stay. Finally, thanks to Andy for organising the trip. Yeah, the Giro may be on, but I can’t wait for July, to follow signs to The North again.