Is it spring yet? More tales of headwinds.

Middlethorpe-Tadcaster-Collingham-Harewood-Otley-Ilkley-Skyreholme. 50 miles.

Click here for a map of the route.

It was an excellent stay at Middlethorpe Hall, very cycle-friendly with locked storage for the bike and not even a hair turned at our lycra-clad arrival. Our courtyard room was lovely, and we had an excellent meal in the dining room. It’s a William III house, once turned into a night-club but now restored to its former glory. It’s quite close to the A64 (and to York Racecourse), but we couldn’t hear any road noise from our room or from the dining room.

We decided to come back on a different route, partly for variety, and partly to avoid having to come up the hill from Pateley Bridge, to be honest. It started on quiet flat roads, with a nasty headwind and a little rain, but we remembered to shout ‘Bum rest’ at each other every so often (see yesterday….). We were soon at Tadcaster, where we joined the main Wetherby Road. Not a good choice – like so many A-roads it was very busy, which is fine if cars give you enough room, but there are always one or two who get closer than you’d like. Our planned LEJOG route avoids A-roads as far as possible, and the Wetherby Road reminded us why. The first rolling hills started to appear before we got to Boston Spa (humming Kaiser Chiefs’ ‘High Royds’ to ourselves), and then it was a long steady climb up past East Keswick and down the other side to Harewood. It seemed to take ages to get to Otley, not helped by indecisive road signs (13 miles, no 10 miles, no 12….), but the sky had brightened considerably and a lunch stop at Ikley was now in sight.

It’s a lovely quiet rolling ride from Otley to Ikley through Weston and Askwith, following the River Wharfe as we had done pretty much since leaving York. We’d made good time, and braved the Easter holiday hoardes at Pizza Express for lunch. After a quick provisioning stop at Tesco (and a chat with a lady who remembered her parents riding tandems for years and was delighted to see that it was still popular), we rode past the golf club, down through Nesfield and on to Bolton Abbey. After a slight knee-twang at East Keswick, the power from the stoker at the back was a little diminished, but we made it up through the Strid and on home.

On this trip, we’d hardly felt the weight of the panniers, although we were only carrying overnight gear, and we’d made very good time. Perhaps it’s not so bad after all, this flat terrain. Not much of it on the Land’s End to John o’Groats route though…!

Very flat, the Vale of York…

Skyreholme-Pateley Bridge-Knaresborough-Middlethorpe. 46 miles.

Click here for a map of the route.

A two day trip this time, practising navigating and carrying the weight of gear in the panniers, and a good excuse for a night away. We’d booked ourselves into Middlethorpe Hall just outside York for the night, just over 45 miles. It’s a tough start in that direction, straight up almost immediately to Stump Cross and Greenhow on a long steady climb to around 1300 feet. We knew that once we’d done that, though, any serious climbing was over for the day. The hill down to Pateley Bridge is pretty steep (and there are temporary traffic lights half-way down at the moment, which might catch you unawares), and it’s always difficult negotiating parked cars and pedestrians straying into the road as you ride up the high street. After Pateley Bridge it was a little up and down to Knaresborough, and we thought of stopping for lunch, since we were about to head into little back roads with no guarantee of somewhere to eat. It was only 12:45, though, so we decided to push on, heading for Little Ribston. Four fast miles later and we were there, but no pub. Another three miles on to Cowthorpe, no pub there either.

Finally, at Tockwith, a pub! It had been such a fast ten miles, though, that it was only 1:30, and we marvelled at how you can eat up the distance on such flat terrain. We had lunch at the Speckled Ox, a very friendly welcome and good food, then headed on past a couple of fields full of very free range pigs and frisky piglets. The last ten miles to Middlethorpe Hall were lovely, all on tiny quiet back roads through farmed land, past the incredibly picturesque open prison at Askham Richard and the agricultural college at Askham Bryan, and all completely flat.

The trouble with completely flat terrain like the Vale of York, though, is that you don’t get a chance to rest your bum. Solo cyclists often rise out of the saddle to pedal for a while (known as ‘honking’!), and this gives the bum a rest, reducing the possibility of saddle-soreness. Most couples don’t tend to honk on a tandem, because unless you’re very experienced it’s difficult – you both have to stand up, and you have to do it at the same time, otherwise it’s quite possible that you’re going to fall off. We haven’t even tried it – too scary yet. We can do standing up to rest the bum, though, and usually this is done after you’ve crested a rise, while you’re coasting down the other side. When the terrain is completely flat, though, the tendency is just to keep pedalling, until you suddenly realise you can’t feel your buttocks, and then when you do stand up it’s like putting very cold hands into hot water and feeling them come back to life.

Romantic stuff this tandem-riding…

Una bella giornata!

Skyreholme-Halton Gill-Horton-in-Ribblesdale-Halton Gill-Skyreholme 59 miles.

Click here for a map of the route.

An early start today, to ride to Horton-in-Ribblesdale for an Italian lesson. We’ve been going for years, and at sixty miles for the round-trip it’s now a good training ride for LEJOG, around the distance we are aiming to ride each day. With a few cheery waves from neighbours seeing their kids onto the school bus (okay, so not that early really), we were off. We followed the same route as our weekend ride ten days ago, up the valley towards Kettlewell, but turning off to Litton. This time we made the corner up over the cattlegrid in the right gear, and the sheep were clearly impressed.

It’s a nice run up Littondale, you feel you’re making good progress even though it’s a gentle climb all the while. There’s a village every couple of miles to mark the way, but it’s almost impossible to keep your eyes off that hill rising ominously up out of Halton Gill. It’s not fantastically steep, but it’s one of those hills that fools you into thinking you’re nearly there, then reveals another summit, and another, and another, until you finally get to the top at nearly 1500ft. The views are incredible, though, and as you get higher and further along the valley, Pen-y-ghent appears. It’s said to resemble a big sleeping lion, and if the cloud layer is not too low that’s a good description. It’s part of the Yorkshire Three Peaks walk, so there are pretty much always people up there.

At the Malham turn-off this time we continued on towards Stainforth, gliding down at a good speed, then braving the quarry lorries on the main road towards Horton-in-Ribblesdale. They were all pretty good, giving us a wide berth, but the slipstream behind them can be a little wild. In Horton-in-Ribblesdale we passed the cafe where Three Peak-ers have breakfast and register their walk, and then it was on to our Italian teacher’s house, and three hours of conversation, exercises and tenses, and a delicious lunch to set us on our way.

We were much faster on the way home, and really enjoyed the section from Halton Gill to where the road joins the Kettlewell route. It’s imperceptibly downhill, very flattering. We stopped at the Queen’s Arms in Litton, thinking to have a coffee and get out of the saddle for a bit, and although it was ages after they’d actually closed and he was on his way out, the new landlord kindly made us a pot of coffee. The rest of the ride passed in a blur – all familiar roads, but it was encouraging that we got home in great time and feeling strong. We’d done sixty miles and two climbs of over a thousand feet, probably equivalent to a harder day on LEJOG. The training must be starting to pay off.

A sudden loss of power…

Skyreholme-Halton Gill-Malham-Hetton-Skyreholme 46 miles

Click here for a map of the route.

Time to try the big hill over from Halton Gill to Malham. It’s nearly a thousand feet of climbing, gently at first, but the last five hundred feet rise in about four miles, taking you up to some great views along the valley. It was raining slightly as we headed up through Burnsall, Threshfield, past the big caravan site at Long Ashes, and down towards the Tennants Arms at Kilnsey. That’s the pub made famous by the Calendar Girls first calendar launch. At the turn-off for Litton where we ‘wimped out’ last time, we turned towards Halton Gill, forgetting quite how sharp the turn was, and in completely the wrong gear to get up over the cattlegrid. Despite the display of flailing incompetence we managed to stay on, make the corner and find a better gear. Good job there were only sheep to witness it.

There was still a light drizzle, and a bit of a headwind, but we made good progress up the valley until the heavens opened and the hail started. Even quite small beads of ice are really painful when they are fired at high speed at your face. It’s not too bad for the stoker on the back who can shelter behind the captain, but if you’re on the front it’s difficult even to raise a hand to shield yourself. Passing the Queen’s Arms at Litton we contemplated stopping for a coffee in the hope that the weather would pass, but even as we were dismounting the hail just stopped suddenly, and the sun came out. No excuse for coffee, then, and we couldn’t put the hill off any longer.

It’s a long-ish climb but not so steep, and there’s plenty to look at as you wind slowly up. The moor in the middle section was teeming with plovers, and other birds we couldn’t identify. The Pennine Way crosses the road at one point, but there were no hardy walkers in evidence. It was still quite windy over the top, so we couldn’t quite coast on the downhill section towards the Malham turn-off. There was a steep drop-off on the Malham road, but we were out of the wind at last, which made the brief 20% uphill section the other side a bit easier. Then it was four miles of fairly undemanding road, with bits of limestone pavement starting to appear on either side, then the long sweeping road down past great views of Malham Cove, and finally into the village. We just made the pub in time for lunch – lucky we didn’t stop in Litton.

It was after lunch it all went wrong – suddenly no power from the captain, and it was a slow trip home through Winterburn, Hetton, past the quarry and on through Burnsall. What was the problem? Bidons (water bottles in cyclist-ese) caked in road muck, and other nasty substances, and four days to recover from a stomach upset. We thought we’d been careful, but obviously not careful enough. We’ve ordered new bottles now, with covered mouthpieces.

The joys of wind(!)

Skyreholme-Kettlewell-Buckden-Linton-Skyreholme. 25 miles

It’s been incredibly windy, and at 9pm yesterday the power went off and didn’t come back. We decided to bring our weekend ride forward, in the hope that the power would be back by the time we got home, but looking out of the back window the conifers opposite were nearly bent double… We fooled ourselves that it was just a bit breezy, but as we set off it was clear that the severe ‘head-breeze’ was going to cause problems. We’d intended to go up Littondale to Halton Gill, over the top and back via Malham, but as we struggled up the valley towards the Litton turn-off we were barely able to maintain an average speed of 10mph. As we passed through various villages with no power there was a chorus of burglar alarms, supposedly warning their clearly absent owners that the power was off. As if they wouldn’t have noticed, were they there… Must be really annoying for all the neighbours who are at home.

We pushed on, feeling we needed the training miles, but it was horribly confidence-sapping – why are we so weak and slow today? It’s easy to underestimate the power of a headwind, but you feel you ought to be able to do better, somehow. A solo cyclist passed us at some speed, cheerily yelling ‘This wind’s not very helpful!’ whilst seeming completely unaffected by it. And he was wearing shorts.

At the turn-off for Litton, we would have been turning directly into the wind for at least five miles before the big hill, so we decided to postpone that climb for another day, and head on into Kettlewell and on to Buckden. After a reviving cup of tea at the Buck we turned for home, with the idea of lunch at the Fountaine at Linton. What a difference – with the wind behind us now we were suddenly invincible, bowling along in the gears on the big ring with our average speed rocketing upwards and confidence restored. Sailing back towards Linton there seemed to be lights on everywhere, and arriving at the pub they told us their power had come back on at midnight. After an excellent lunch (‘Yorkshire’ hot-pot!), we headed home, but as we got closer it was obvious there still wasn’t any electricity. The only power was at the Craven Arms at Appletreewick, where a generator was chugging quietly.

No hot water at home for a bath, of course, so the only option was laboriously heating pans of water on the camping stove. And naturally, literally minutes after completing this tedious process, back came the power…