Tuesday, 6 January 2009

A Day in the Freezer

There is no better time to ride a bike in the Yorkshire Dales than the depths of winter. No really... stay with me here.

Many trails have a solid rock base, the huge skies seem even more commanding than usual and the bridleways are quieter than a Yorkshire man when it’s his round. Add some clear skies and permafrost inducing temperatures and you’ve got a recipe for A Grand Day Out.

Reeth has long been my base of choice for exploring the Dales and it also happens to be on the route of the Coast to Coast. So I arranged to meet Partner in Crime, Paul Errington, to have a weekend of reccy with the odd jar of Black Sheep thrown into the bargain.

We hooked up at 9am in Reeth village square. It was cold enough to induce rigor mortis...what would it be like on the tops! Desperate to warm up we looked for somewhere to grab a coffee... a conversation with a local shopkeeper (clearly for Local People) convinced us that freezing or otherwise, we were probably safer on the deserted fells...

We started climbing up behind Grinton. What a brutal start... The term False Summit was invented in the Dales and can be applied to descriptions about almost any hill in the area. After what seemed like an age we turned off right onto the ice covered bridleway. Pre cold snap water had obviously been welling out of the ground in such volume that it formed great pillows of ice. No way across. You just had to pick around the no go zones sometimes to end at an impasse surrounded by huge swathes of the slippery stuff. Once over the top the miles long downhill to Low Houses was generally free from ice... but belting down at full tilt there was always doubt in your mind...

The bridleway then joined a minor road before it doglegged further down the hill.... looked simple on the map. However, this is why reccy is so important on an epic ride like this... the bridleway was right in front of us... but could we find it? It took a heck of a long time to be sure of our route... the bridleway had actually been destroyed in a land slide and the maze of boulders were hellish tricky to clamber across when covered in ice and snow.

Heading up the valley towards the bottom of Tan Hill the rink size patches of ice increased in number…. The lower slopes were frequently unrideable and this set the tone for the slog up to the road and the pub. It was only the dusting of snow higher up that gave some grip across the ice traps…. far preferable to warm and wet though….

We realised just how cold it was as soon as we stopped climbing outside the pub… we dived indoors for a bucket of chilli and chips. Convinced that this would act like some kind of ‘Shield of Steel’ against the arctic conditions, we stepped back outside….

After a cosy fire stoked pub the cold hit us like erm… a cat or a badger! Within a couple of pedal strokes it was difficult to breath…. follow this with a couple of miles of road downhill and we were both virtually stunned into silence (in a kind of Tazer style).

The next bridleway turning had a nice big sign. That pointed straight down a rubble strewn bank and into long grass. Great. No sign of any trail. It’s days like this when you relish a nice long climb so we abandoned mission to continue another day, and turned back to enjoy the warmth inducing ascent back to the Tan Hill bridleway.

This is one really long descent made nice and fast by the rock hard ground. It won’t be like this in May and will be a really tough section if it is sodden. Unfortunately I had a mechanical and Paul had rear brake problems… we had to pick our way down. In retrospect, this was probably a good thing because with the amount ice around a full speed charge would have definitely ended in catastrophe…

Happy with another good chunk of reconnaissance under the belt we span back in darkness to check in to the Youth Hostel in Grinton.

However, due to the current economic climate and the importance of supporting local businesses, we dragged ourselves back down the hill to Reeth for a pint or two of local produce. I can live without Woolies but no Black Sheep is unthinkable.
Thanks to Paul 'Sharp Shooter' Errington for some great photos and chilled out company.

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