17 October 2017

NW3: Grinton to High Force

Day 3 of the eighth and last of my Yorkshire Compass Rides saw gale force winds, the remote Tees valley – and the culmination of the whole project at High Force, Yorkshire's version of Niagara Falls.

(Back to ← Day 2)

Dales Bike Centre in Reeth fixed my broken spoke in under ten minutes, so I was able to set off earlier than expected into the teeth, claws and talons of ex-Storm Brian. There were 30mph headwinds and 60mph gusts, so as Yorkshire folk round here would say, it was a bit breezy, like. Evidently the gale was so strong it had upended the pub sign for the Black Bull in Reeth's ruggedly fine village green (pic).

Heading northwest out of Reeth up the Arkengarthdale road, the scenery was blessed with this fine rainbow (pic). Bulgarian legend says that if you walk underneath one, you will change gender. I was reluctant to risk this. I know how expensive it is to get a really good women-specific bike frame.

This is the Stang (pic), the road towards Barnard Castle. The bend in the tree gives little idea of the sheer force of the headwind: I had been pushing, even downhill, much of the time since Reeth. But up the Stang it gradually became a mighty tailwind, whisking me uphill without pedalling like I was on an electric bike.

At the top of the Stang, someone had thoughtfully left a mattress for cyclists exhausted by the mile or so of steep climb (pic). This is the modern-day border with County Durham, but of course historic Yorkshire went much further. I hurtled down into the plains towards the Tees.

Barnard Castle didn't detain me: it would have meant crossing the river from historic Yorkshire into historic County Durham, and I wanted to stay inside the great county until the very northwesternmost point.

So I carried on, alongside the Tees's southwestern banks, along a narrow straight lane to the cul-de-sac village of Holwick (pic), dramatically situated under cliffs at Yorkshire's very top left corner. The pub was closed for the day, which was probably just as well.

The tarmac road became a farm track (pic), and the Tees valley to my right was now pretty dramatic, like one of the classic Yorkshire Dales. I was heading for that farmhouse, from where a short footpath runs down to the river...

...where a wooden footbridge allows Pennine Way walkers over the water (pic). This was my final goal, my choice as the far northwesternmost point you can cycle to in historic Yorkshire: High Force bridge, just round the corner from the waterfall itself.

So this was journey's end, the culmination of a fabulous summer of rides exploring my home county. Walk across here (pic) and you can see the tumbling brown liquid torrents of High Force: I'm referring to the pub of that name, and its decent, reasonably-priced local real ale. After a quick walk down to the waterfall itself, I settled in the pub to sit out the rainstorm before adjourning to my hostel up at Langdon Beck.

High Force itself was looking impressive (pic), thanks to the recent rains. It's not nearly the highest waterfall in England, but in terms of flow it's the biggest, and is possibly the loudest, so it's an appropriate endpoint for a Yorkshire project. Why bother going to Niagara Falls or Iguazu when we have this?

A couple of miles' walk along a muddy footpath from High Force, on the south bank of the Tees, is the rocky outcrop of Cronkley Scar (pic): the northernmost point in historic Yorkshire, seen from across the river looking west. Why bother going to Uluru or even Ayers Rock when we have this?

It's been another superb ride, showing me many different sides of my own county. I've thoroughly enjoyed this project and I'm a little sad that these eight rides are all over. Stunning dales and moors, vibrant industrial towns, lively people and great pubs, historical gems and fabulous cycling everywhere: Yorkshire's a grand place.

Miles today: 32
Miles from York to High Force: 102

Back to ← Day 2

16 October 2017

NW2: Ripon to Grinton

Day 2 of the eighth and last of my Yorkshire Compass Rides saw me get caught up in a grouse shoot, lose a spoke and dodge a firing range. But if the day saw me, I didn't see much of it back: it was zero visibility for most of the time. (Back to ← Day 1 • On to Day 3 →)

A morning of mist and fog turned into an afternoon of fog and mist. I'd planned to do most of today offroad, but after the first moortop crossing – from handsome Kirkby Malzeard to Lofthouse – I decided to stick to the road for the rest of the day. The tracks were boggy and wet, and I could see little beyond the handlebars. Perhaps it's just as well I couldn't be seen: at one point on Kirkby Moor I got caught up in a grouse shoot (pic). If I had got shot at least it would have been by accident.

Staying on road proved the right decision, though the traffic could be busy some times (pic).

After a sneaky back road to Ellingstring that was closed for roadworks but open for bikes, I had a quick peek at Jervaulx Abbey – what I could see through the fog, anyway – and was startled by the thwunk of a spoke going on my back wheel. The bike shop in Leyburn was closed for the day, so I had to crack on to Grinton, my destination for the evening.

'Crack' was the operative word, as this took me excitingly through an MOD firing range (pic), but confident in my invincibility given my grouse-shoot survival earlier on, I carried on.

At last the fog lifted, the mist dissipated, and the sun almost came out. I enjoyed a fine moortop ride (pic) and then fabulous rollercoaster descent down into Swaledale, Yorkshire's most dramatic dale. Things round here have hardly changed since the days of James Herriot's vet stories. Things such as mobile phone provision. So, unable to call, I had to ride down into Reeth to book my bike for a wheel-fix tomorrow morning...

...and then back up the hill to the YHA hostel of Grinton Lodge, a castle-like converted shooting lodge (pic). The day turned out to have had a quite a theme. I completed it by having a few shots myself, the type that come in small glasses.

Miles today: 41
Miles since York: 73

Back to ← Day 1 • On to Day 3 →

15 October 2017

NW1: York to Ripon

The last of my eight Yorkshire Compass Rides was a three-day trip to the northwesternmost reaches of historic Yorkshire, up in the remote Tees valley amid the Pennines. Day 1 involved a flood, a bridge to nowhere, a darts player's rival to Stonehenge, and Europe's oldest continuously performed ceremony outside a Wetherspoon. (On to Day 2 →)

I did this on my offroad touring bike, intending to avoid tarmac where possible. An underwater bike would have come in handy for the first section on the NCN route alongside the Ouse, which was unexpectedly flooded (pic). To avoid it I had to go along the busy A19 for a bit before rejoining the quiet cycle route through splendid Beningborough Hall, home of some of Yorkshire's most expensive bacon sandwiches.

I peeled off the NCN route at Aldwark, heading along farm tracks to the village of Myton. Its restored bridge (pic) goes nowhere now, which seemed appropriate for my career trajectory. More tracks led to back lanes and then main roads to Boroughbridge, famous for its Roman remains. More excitingly, it also has Yorkshire's answer to Stonehenge, though it can't have been a serious question: the Devil's Arrows.

These slabs of millstone grit were transported from Plumpton Rocks near Harrogate around 4700 years ago. Three monoliths survive, grooved by centuries of rain, almost in a line (pic).

Their purpose has been forgotten, which is hardly surprising. There's stuff in my attic that's only thirty years old but I now have no idea what it's for or why I got it in the first place.

The name comes from the legend that the Devil was cross with Aldborough and chucked stones at it, but missed, so Boroughbridge copped it instead.

Pondering this, and wondering why faces that seem to appear in toast or clouds are always angels or Jesus, but any large-format geology gets satanic credit, I cycled on.

Thanks to my bike's chunky tyres, I did the last couple of miles into historic Ripon along its pleasant canal (pic), a favourite for local dog-walkers. I went past a pristine Morris Minor parked by the canal, and it all felt like the old days, the days before dog owners picked up their poo.

This is the car in question. E reg makes it 50 years old. It's looking better for its age than me.

Ripon is the smallest of Yorkshire's seven cities (the others are York, Leeds, Bradford, Hull, Sheffield and Wakefield). I'd come to stay here overnight to see Europe's oldest continuously performed ceremony. Every night at 9pm since the year 886 – yes, every single night, without fail – a man has sounded the horn four times, once at each corner of the market cross.

Not the same man, or horn, obviously: a team shares the duty, and after each performance the hornblower gives a little talk to the cluster of sightseers (pic) that takes rather longer than the ceremony itself.

As it happened, my room for the night was in Wetherspoon's Unicorn Hotel, which overlooks the square. I could enjoy the historic ritual from my room, without having to put on any shoes. Or anything else.

On to Day 2 →

Miles today: 32