29 July 2020

Swale 2: Northallerton to Myton

Day 2 of the River Swale ride featured a lot of quiet back lanes, waterside bridleways, and a bridge to nowhere by the final confluence with the Ouse. (Back to ← Day 1)

I was at home last night, and got the morning train back to Northallerton to resume. It was market day, and the centre was mildly lively with stalls selling everyday consumables such as fruit and veg, cakes, facemasks etc.

Back on the road, I headed west to realign myself with the Swale (pic), now meandering quietly through flat farmland. And yes, I had changed over to a legal pair of trousers for today.

I’d chosen the right bike for the trip (pic) – my trekker, an old hardtail MTB fitted with rack, mudguards and raised handlebars. Out of all eight rivers in this project, the Swale is the one you can cycle most closely, with bridleways along most of its non-roadside length, for which my trekker was ideal.

At Maunby I crossed over the Swale on the old railway bridge (pic), on a path of debatable legality but clear everyday common use. Locals seemed quite happy to direct me along it. Perhaps they had heard of my trouser debacle yesterday, and were just happy to be rid of me.

A feature of the river is how many village names reference it: Brompton on Swale, Bolton on Swale, Myton on Swale etc. Satnav fails are bad enough, but if you turned up at the wrong Bolton, for example, in mailcoach days, you were days rather than hours from where you should have been.

Topcliffe (pic) was the home of ‘Yorkshire’s meanest man’, ’Mealy Faced John’ (1784–1868).

Being the tightest bloke in such a financially cautious county is clearly something. John M– (they had some strange names in those days) was so worried about people nicking his flour when he was away that on departure he would press his face into it, thus leaving an impression that would reveal any tampering when he returned.

Well, here’s the village mill, whose flour may have adorned his face.

The village of Brafferton had some fine brick houses (pic) and a distinctive brick church. A fine place to stop for a snack. It’s amazing how many places are.

The Swale finishes at Myton (...on Swale) just downstream from this historic bridge (pic). There were two puzzles here. First, someone had left a pair of decent-looking walking boots on the bridge, along with an empty can of beer.

Someone who’d just completed the Swale Trail walk, perhaps, who had simply had enough of walking and didn’t want to see those damn boots again?

Second mystery is the other side of the bridge, which turns into a narrow and rapidly indistinct bridleway. Myton is a cul-de-sac, and the crossing nowadays is a bridge to nowhere. This was the site of a major battle with the Scots in 1319. Fortunately nowadays the English and the Scots have no disagreements about anything. Like EU membership for instance.

And this was journey’s end. A short walk along from the bridge is the confluence with the Ure (pic).

The two rivers (Swale on the left of the pic, Ure on the right) feel pretty equal in status, though maybe that’s my 21st-century collaborative sensibilities at work, rather than old imperialist attitudes about one river being dominant over the other.

It’s been a gloriously varied and scenic ride. Upper Swaledale is Yorkshire’s, and possibly England’s, most dramatic river landscape, and the lower dale was a pleasure to trundle along thanks to the bridleways and back lanes.

Miles today: 42
Total miles along Swale: 93

Back to ← Day 1

28 July 2020

Swale 1: Keld to Northallerton

River Swale

Source   Birkdale Beck and Great Sleddale Beck, Birkdale
Mouth   River Ouse, Myton on Swale
Length   73 miles
Towns   Richmond
Route   See on Ridewithgps

The seventh of my Rivers Rides was a spectacular two-day, 90-mile trip from remote moortop to vale farmland along the River Swale. Day 1 featured potentially illegal trousers, fjords, castles, upside-down pub signs and a lot of quite wonderful scenery. (On to Day 2 →)

Train problems meant it was lunchtime before I got to Kirkby Stephen station. Things got off to a rip-roaring start, but not in a good way: my ancient cargo pants, Vietnam veterans indeed, tore spectacularly as I cocked my leg to get on to my bike (pic).

They didn’t get any less torn as the day progressed, either. I spent the rest of the day increasingly well ventilated.

Luckily I managed to avoid arrest.

I rode through Nateby and up Lamps Moss, with views back to the Vale of Eden (pic). I wasn’t the only smiling cyclist out today.

At the watershed, with Nine Standards Rigg to my left and some wet but defiantly happy Coast-to-Coast walkers for company, I crossed from Cumbria into Yorkshire (pic). From here it was downhill all the way to my house.

In theory. But then in theory, it’s easy to switch bank accounts. Except HSBC’s phone banking told me to do it online, their website told me to go to a branch, and the branch told me to use phone banking.

A few determined streams begin their journey east (pic). I had a brisk tailwind behind me and altitude in the bank, though whether HSBC had switched it yet I wasn’t sure. Anyway, I was zooming along, and happy like you simply can’t imagine.

Unless you’re a cycle tourer, in which case you simply can.

This is the source of the Swale, though not where it begins (pic). The light drizzle that had dusted me on the way up gathers here, in Birkdale and neighbouring Sled Dale, and runs off the hillsides heading for the North Sea. In a couple of days’ time, the water here will be gracefully passing York Minster. And soon after, less gracefully, Hull.

This is where the Swale begins, though not its source (pic). Round about where that farmhouse is, Great Sled Dale Beck and Birkdale Beck join, and from here it’s the River Swale. The name comes from an Old English word meaning ’fast-moving and quick to rise’.

In which case, I’m not very swale.

Welcome to Swaledale (pic) When I’m riding in Wharfedale, I think that’s the most beautiful dale. When I’m riding in Swaledale, I know that’s the most beautiful dale.

From Keld, the highest village in the dale, begins the Swale Trail. The 20-mile mountain bike route starts off with some quite fabulous scenery, as you climb up out of the village for views of one of Yorkshire’s finest gorges (pic). I lunched at a waterfall, happy like you might be able to imagine even if you’re not a cycle tourer.

A picture is worth a thousand words, they say (pic). That’s 985 words saved, then.

I headed east, between Muker and Gunnerside, along the back lane above the dale (pic). There were lots of families out cycling, which was great to see. And, encouragingly, no childish moaning about tough climbs, stony surfaces, I’m tired, are we nearly there yet, etc. I’m pleased that I’ve managed to stop that.

In Reeth, I stopped to admire the green and have a snack among the demob-happy tourists...

...and smiled again at the upside-down pub sign (pic).

(¿ɥǝ ’ʇɐǝu - uʍop-ǝpısdn sɹǝʇʇǝן ןɐuoıʇuǝʌuoɔ ǝʞıן *ʞooן* oʇ uǝddɐɥ ʇsnɾ ʇɐɥʇ sɹǝʇɔɐɹɐɥɔ ǝɹnɔsqo sǝsn ʇɐɥʇ ןɯʇɥ uı ʇxǝʇ uʍop-ǝpısdn ƃuıʎɐןdsıp oʇ ʞɔıɹʇ ɐ s,ǝɹǝɥʇ)

Richmond is well-known for its ugly car park, or as the tourist brochures amusingly call it, ‘fine Georgian market square’, which I’ve cycled many times.

However, I’d somehow never ridden along the lane right alongside the Swale, dramatically situated underneath the ruins of the castle (pic).

Or, as an estate agent might call it, ‘fine building of period charm with bags of potential’.

The sign (pic) reminded me of the Swale’s reputation as Britain’s fastest-to-spate river. It can rise metres in minutes. These days, evidently, it does so even more abruptly than a generation or two ago, when it only rose feet in minutes.

You can imagine what’s to blame. The EU, clearly.

I’d also never seen Richmond’s ‘Iguazu Falls’ (pic). Well, it resembles Iguazu no less than the car park resembles a market square.

The scenery quietens down after Richmond, and the Swale placidly wanders along Vale of York farmland. It was nearly seven, thanks to my delayed start this morning, and I scuttled along quiet back lanes through little villages with occasional views of the waters (pic).

With accommodation snapped up by staycationers and campsites rendered pointless by their not providing toilets or showers, I got the train home from Northallerton, intending to return the next morning to continue.

Unfortunately I was booked on a late train and the station waiting room was shut, so I had to kick my heels in the pub next door with nothing to entertain me except the TV highlights of England’s test victory today.

Miles today: 51

On to Day 2 →