Author Topic: Wrapping up the season - Last Chance Dales Dance 200  (Read 2242 times)

Wrapping up the season - Last Chance Dales Dance 200
« on: November 11, 2011, 02:27:45 pm »
Here's a report on my final ride of the 2010-11 season on )ctober 30th.  Hope you enjoy it!

LAST CHANCE DALES DANCE  October 30th 2011

As its title suggests, this was the last calendar 200k of the season and it was run by Andy Corless from the village hall in Pendleton, near Clitheroe.  Those of you with a feel for northern topography will know what is implied by a clockwork loop taking in Settle, Hawes, Muker, Lofthouse and Greenhow: 3 AAA points and lots of scenery.  If this is unknown territory to you, come with me now to the wild, windswept moors of the deep dark north of England (pace National Theatre Of Brent).

The day started slightly ominously.  I was fortunate to get a lift from Don Black but I only just remembered the height-restriction bar on our car-park in time to stop him wiping out his faithful Mercian warhorse, which was on the roof-rack.  A stop-go tour of the Todmorden Illuminations, or road-works, meant we were a little late arriving at the start but still in time to see some of the usual suspects rolling out onto the course:  Cecil Ilsley from Huddersfield, Bob Bialek and Danial Webb, resplendent in white leg-warmers that were just begging for cyclo-cross.  After signing in and sorting stuff out, Don set off with me a little behind.  We were maybe quarter of an hour late but riders were still turning up as we left.

A few miles up the A59, which, with a 7am start, provided a leisurely and safe warm-up, I turned left for Sawley.  This is a magical little place, with a 12th century Cistercian abbey, now in ruins, courtesy of Henry VIII.  It is thought that the name Sawley comes from sallow, so there may have been a clump of willows here in the distant past.  Soon after crossing the fine bridge over the Ribble, I came up to Don and we rode together along the valley, first of  the Ribble and then Tosside Beck.  This was bike-riding at its best; excellent company, easy work and autumnal trees illuminating what was actually an overcast sky.  Ahead and to the west it looked as if we might get rained on later, though dry weather had been forecast.  We percolated on through Wigglesworth and so into Settle, a town very familiar to me, though I had never come in along that route before. 

Don stopped to get supplies and I rode on but was not alone for long.  As I climbed up towards Helwith Bridge and the first chevrons of the day, I was “caught” by David and Justin.  David is relatively new to Audax and Justin, whom I had met briefly on Don’s Bowland 200 in the summer, was churning along on his battleship-grey bike with a 69” fixed gear – all the hard-riders aren’t from the north!  We passed St. Oswald’s Church in Horton-in-Ribblesdale and crossed the Ribble to keep close company with the Settle-Carlisle Railway until the Ribble pretty much runs out, or dwindles into Gayle Beck, which is nowhere near Gayle, strangely.  Just as you are coming towards Ribblehead, there is a tantalising glimpse of the end of Ribblehead viaduct before you round another hillock and the whole magnificent structure fills the view.  The Chinese had a period when they were wont to describe valuable artefacts in museums as representing so many hours of labour and so on; I always wonder, briefly, how many deaths are represented by Ribblehead viaduct, but it is only briefly, the scene is so awe-inspiring.

Turning right, onto the Ingleton to Hawes road, I was wondering how we would fare up the long drag over Newby Head Moss.  This can be really hard work into a wind, but we had it behind us on this occasion and fairly shot along the miles to Widdale Head.  From there we got strung out as David went off the front and some long descents made it hard for Justin to spin fast enough; fixies really do earn their points.  We rolled up and down Widdale, past the splintered remains of forestry plantations, before coming together again in Hawes.

Frequently, Hawes is a control point on northern rides but today we were straight through and following signs for Muker.  The game was about to be afoot.  I had sub-divided the ride into four hilly sections (having forgotten Newby Head, which in the event was no trouble).  The first of these was the Buttertubs Pass between Hawes and Thwaite.  This was the only one of the climbing sections that I knew, having ridden it in June on Andy’s Tan Hill 200.  Familiarity breeds respect in this case and while I knew I could do it, I was grateful that the wind was still with us.  I talked about the climb with David and Justin  as we crossed over the Ure, which was by now winking in the pale sunlight as the weather improved.  From the bridge, I caught a glimpse of the rhubarb and custard livery on the passenger coaches of the Wensleydale Railway.  As we turned right for the pass, David called out that he’d got a flat tyre.  Ascertaining that he had a spare tube, we rode on, expecting to see him at the first control, in Thwaite.

Justin and I climbed on.  On climbs as steep as this you need to do your own ride (which in my case means trying to keep the front wheel on the ground and turning fast enough not to fall off).  The use of the word “fast” in that last sentence is odd, but you know what I mean.  As I managed to look over my left shoulder to see the fell falling away towards Garsdale, there was no sign of Justin.  But not long after the cattle grid, which marks the summit, after the third and hardest effort, he came up to me easily.  It was impressive stuff on a gear two and a half times what I was using.  I warned him about the descent, which has some very sharp bends, always seeming to come at the ends of the fastest slopes.  It had been exhilerating in the summer – the views into Swaledale are breathtaking – but today the road was damp and required special concentration, which it duly received.  We made our necessarily-separate ways down to Thwaite and the control at Keartons café.

Cecil and some others had already been and gone but there were several riders inside.  The subdued lighting was augmented by Danial’s leg-warmers glowing away, as he sat with some mates from the West Yorkshire area.  Andy was stamping cards at a table where Bob Bialek was wrapping himself round the kind of all-day breakfast that would have taken me all day to eat.  Bob is fast becoming a legend.  He was knocked off by a bus last November (the bus never worked again) and didn’t start riding again until March, since when he has been making a desperate assault on the AAA climbing crown.  He has no transport except his bike and had ridden over Nick Of Pendle just to get to the start from Halifax.  If you are not familiar with the area, have a look at an OS map to see what that means.  He’d earned his breakfast.

I satisfied myself with a scone and cheese and chutney, which was efficiently and courteously served.  As I went outside to renew battle, David arrived, with the oil of toil on his face.  My pump is a bit better than his, so he did a bit more work on his tyres and I lent him a spare tube, just in case.  By the time I’d got everything back in place, Bob had conquered his plateful and we set off together.  We had a nice run down to Muker, which, like Thwaite, owes its name to Scandinavian invaders.  They must have had a very odd psyche, it seems to me: let’s go and kill a load of people, then push on inland until we can find somewhere really inhospitable to live.  Then again, that’s what crazy cyclists do, except for the killing bit.

After our short post-prandial leg-stretcher, we were embarking on the second hilly section, over to Middleham in the fat North Riding.  Things were about to get very inhospitable indeed, albeit temporarily.  This ride is unusual in that Andy offers a choice of routes over this section, each with the same distance and the same overall climbing: east along the Swale valley to Grinton, near Reeth, thence over Cogden Moor to Leyburn, or immediately south over Askrigg Common before turning east along Wensleydale.  I had done the eastern crossing already this year and Bob and I opted for Askrigg.  As the ever-brightening sky indicated that Danial and his group had gone east, Bob and I turned right for the moor and I immediately hit trouble: there is a little bit of one-in-four, which I knew was coming and for which I was in my lowest gear.  What I couldn’t prepare for was it being on a sharp bend with patches of wet leaves.  I was out of the saddle trying to keep the front end down, when my back wheel lost traction and span.  I managed to stay on by sitting down but I knew I’d have to stand on the pedals again to get up and lost my nerve at the thought of the back wheel going out from under me.  So, reader, I GOT OFF.  It was only for a few yards but they were the very yards which Andy was covering with his camera.  So, somewhere, there is a fine picture of Bob grinding a few centimetres off the slope, while I look for a hole to crawl into.  Still, it is the truth, so publish and be damned!

My disappointment was soon banished by the spectacle of Oxnop Scar above us on our left.  This is a limestone crag, about a mile long, a great grey wall, broken only by a dark chimney, like a tall archway about halfway along.  And it is guarded by ravens. The whole climb is magnificent and there is an almost alpine vista at one stage where you can’t see the whole road ahead of you, only a succession of bends gleaming out of the darkening heather.  Never mind the wet leaves, I had definitely made the right decision.

The descent is a potential killer.  It has more chevrons than a prison uniform and some bad bends.  But it has been recently re-surfaced, so that helped.  Bob was waiting at the junction in Askrigg and we set off for a relaxing spin along the north of Wensleydale, through Carperby, with good views of Castle Bolton, an excellent watering hole on the Tan Hill 200.  Regaining the river Ure at Wensley, we went right on the Hawes road then quickly left by the picturesque church.  This riverside section was an idyllic couple of miles, near the end of which there will be an ox-bow lake in the future.  The Ure is a beautiful old river and deserves its own dale.

We crossed the river at the striking Middleham Bridge, about a mile or so before the town itself.  I’d last been through this famous place in late August on the day of the North Yorkshire Road-Resurfacing Championships.  The whole county was covered in hot tar and chippings and we’d been convoyed through Middleham.  Today, all was smooth and sunny and I was able to glance over my shoulder at the ruined castle of Warwick The Kingmaker as we swung left through the market-place and down the hill towards East Witton, on the Ripon road.  Soon we were crossing a shady stone bridge over the River Cover, just before it joins the Ure.  In a couple of miles we had reached Jervaulx, another ruined Cistercian abbey.  Its abbot, Adam Sedgwick, had started the Pilgrimage of Grace from here, to protest against the dissolution of the monasteries and had paid for it with his life.  As we left the fertile flood-plain behind,  I couldn’t help thinking what a violent past was concealed by all this present beauty.

At the abbey, we turned right off the main road to start the third of the hilly sections over the moors to Lofthouse in Nidderdale.  We started to climb quite steeply and after a mile or two I was encouraged to see Danial’s “eastern” group just up the road.  We rode on for a bit with Bob and I just off the back and were just starting a stiff gradient up from Swinney Beck, where there is a sharp bend, when we were passed by a group of motor-cyclists making the descent, in a civilised fashion.  Soon, I heard a skid and wondered if one of them had had to make an adjustment on the tight corner at the bottom.  I thought no more about it until one of them came back up to me on the climb and said one of our cyclists had come off, so I went back down to see if I could help.  It turned out that Bill had come round the corner a bit wide and a motor-cycle had clipped his back wheel, which was badly pringled.  Fortunately everyone was fine and the motor-cyclists perfectly polite but unable to help, obviously.  Bill suggested that the best thing would be for me to continue to the control at How Stean Gorge café, whence Andy might be able to drive out and pick him up.  Bill would continue to walk in the direction of the café, more for something to do than anything else, as it was miles away.

On a mission, I set off back up the hill, with Bob now an occasional distant speck on the horizon.  This section was hard work into a relentless wind but there were compensations.  I crossed the beautifully-situated Leighton Reservoir by a small bridge then climbed up past Roundhill Reservoir.  Over to the east, above Arnagill Craggs, there is a very peculiar stone tower, which is apparently a “sighting” tower built to help with the location of other reservoirs.  I don’t understand it but it was certainly atmospheric.

As I struggled on into the wind, only occasionally looking up, I was passed by a 4x4 with a bike in the back.  I was hoping it was Bill.  Finally, I reached the descent into Lofthouse but, as with Askrigg Moor, this afforded no opportunity for relaxation because it had at least one very steep section, which the map shows as between 1 in 7 and 1 in 5 while the road sign warns of 1 in 4 and is probably nearer the truth.  Still, it was better than going up!  As I climbed up the last rise to the café, I was glad to have been forewarned (from Brimham Rocks 200) that the last hundred yards or so are pretty stiff if you’ve just relaxed and thinking “made it!”.

At the café, I found that it was indeed Bill who had been picked up by the 4x4 and that, now that he could get a signal for his phone, he had arranged for his wife to pick him up. This was just as well, because Andy had not been manning this control but had gone on to be sure of meeting first arrivals at the end.  Danial’s group were inside and we spent a leisurely half hour or so, with coffee and egg and chips and so on, before they set off a few minutes before Bob and I.

I was curious about the last hilly section because it is represented almost exclusively by Greenhow Hill, which is legendary.  It even featured in a Second World War ride report in the CTC magazine recently.  So this is a hill that has been done in black and white.  However, I kept all this well to the back of my mind because first there was Nidderdale to ride along.  The road from Pateley Bridge to Lofthouse is one of the chief jewels in the crown of British landscape.  It is five or six miles of gently undulating lane with the blue sheet of Gouthwaite Reservoir glinting tantalisingly through the trees in the middle few miles, when it is sunny.  And the sun was really bright now, which was to make for interesting riding a little later on.  We eased our hard-worked muscles along this beautiful valley and I was so absorbed that I completely failed to notice the colourful waterwheel at Foster Beck Mill.  Still, I’d had a good view of it on a previous ride.

As we turned right in Pateley Bridge, Bob opined that the hardest part of Greenhow Hill is the earlier section and I think he is right.  The thing about it is that the climb is mis-named: it should be Greenhow Hills.  For two or three miles, they just keep coming at you and though the second kick is the steepest, I was getting tired and so didn’t really feel much appreciation of any later reductions in gradient.  But the main memory was of the sun, which was by now descending over the moor.  The road runs just south of east, so the sun was right ahead and so bright that I had to keep my head averted, which meant that I wasn’t always quite sure of where the road was going.  A very strange experience in broad daylight.  You know how dark a photograph appears if you shoot into the sun?  Well, it was like that.

On and on we churned towards the setting sun.  Not long after Stump Cross Caverns, I was passed on a descent by five or six Landrovers from some sort of outward-bound organisation.  They appeared from the number-plates to be Belgian and the last one passed so close that I thrust half of Django Reinhardt’s left hand in the air to make them feel at home.  I imagine sign language is universal.  The “half-Django” is now copyright!

Eventually, I was past Grassington and I stopped to eat a sandwich or two and put on some lights.  The run through Hetton to Gargrave and on to West Marton is the reverse of part of the Spring Into The Dales classic from Hebden Bridge .  It’s undulating but gently so and became more and atmospheric as the dark fell and and a sickle moon winked through the spectral trees.  The only drawback with my lighting set-up (non death-ray) is that, while it’s perfectly adequate at the speeds I ride at for seeing the immediate surface and for being seen, it can be hard to tell whether you’re actually on the flat or a slight incline.  Does anyone else find this?

In Gargrave I jinked left and right to follow the Leeds and Liverpool canal through Bank Newton.  It was now fully dark and tawny owls were hooting around me and a couple of bats flittered up the lane; perfect accompaniment for All Hallows Eve...Eve.    This was another magical few miles taking me to the A59 Skipton to Preston road where I turned right for Gisburn.  Not many rides I do finish with a ten or eleven mile dash along a main road but this was no hardship after such a lumpy day.  With the moon for company and no more close passes from the traffic, I was soon at the left turn for Pendleton.  I turned into the car-park in time to see Bob setting out with Danial who was giving him a lift back to Todmorden.  I handed my card to Andy and had some tea and a bite to eat.  Justin and Don arrived soon after and before long we were heading off back to the city.

What a way to end the season!  Thanks to all the companions on the road, to Don in addition for the lift and to Andy for organising the event.  A cracker!


  • per ardua ad aqua
Re: Wrapping up the season - Last Chance Dales Dance 200
« Reply #1 on: November 12, 2011, 10:08:32 pm »
Thanks Peter, a beautifully written piece. I enjoyed this as much as the ride itself. That Greenhow stretch was quite a test. It was certainly a cracker of a ride.

Re: Wrapping up the season - Last Chance Dales Dance 200
« Reply #2 on: November 14, 2011, 10:10:08 am »
Cheers, Vindec!

Bill Honeywell

Re: Wrapping up the season - Last Chance Dales Dance 200
« Reply #3 on: December 04, 2011, 02:27:42 pm »
Peter - great report. Thanks for coming back to check on me after the motorbike incident - I must admit I then flagged the 4x4 driver down to make sure I got a lift from that remote spot. He very kindly took me all the way to How Stean Gorge. That was my first Audax, so not an auspicious start, but I think I'll be back next year.