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…

Spring has sprung, a little early…

Skyreholme-Buckden-Bishopdale-Coverdale-Kettlewell-Skyreholme. 57 miles.

Click here for a map of the route.

At last, a dry, clear, sunny day… It has been a frustrating couple of weeks since the end of our 5-day “training ride”, and the tandem had been restored (more or less) to cleanliness. So, to celebrate, a trip over into Wensleydale and back. As always, the first part of the ride is on familiar ground, the rolling hills through Appletreewick, Burnsall and Kilnsey towards Kettlewell, where the traffic virtually disappears. The quiet, narrow lane alongside the Wharfe brings us to Starbotton and Buckden where we have a quick halt for coffee, timed perfectly as within thirty seconds of stopping a phalanx of about thirty ‘proper’ cyclists heads past us up to Kidstones. You can tell they are serious cyclists, as they are chattering away loudly between themselves, whilst going at some pace uphill… The Buck Inn at Buckden (much improved recently under new ownership) provides coffee, tea and conversation, then we head up the first serious climb of the day, past Cray and up Kidstones Pass into Bishopdale.

It is so unusual (in our recent experience) to be cycling in dry weather that we can hardly believe our luck, and the initial climb is soon over, followed by an initially steep descent into Bishopdale. There then follows mile after mile of idyllic valley cycling, listening to the birds singing. The last time we cycled down here was between Christmas and New Year, when all of Bishopdale seemed to be under water. Today it is drier, although pools of water still lie in the adjacent fields. We arrive at West Burton and continue through towards Swinithwaite. There’s an intriguing track from West Burton round to Melmerby, but we’re not brave enough to try it as the O.S map indicates an unmetalled surface… Fine views of Castle Bolton guide us toward the main valley road, which is busy but not too bad. We contemplate turning right at West Witton, but the road is called “Witton Steeps”…

Just before Wensley we turn off onto the Yorkshire Dales Cycleway towards Coverdale. Jonathan did the Cycleway on his solo bike with some friends last summer, but claims to have suppressed the memory of the hill which greets us when we turn off the main road. It’s a fair climb, but lunch is calling, and then there’s the prospect of a more severe climb back over into Wharfedale. We eventually arrive at the Foresters Arms in Carlton, where a couple of pints of Daleside Blonde and and excellent light lunch provide fortification for the 23 remaining miles. Excellent service, too.

Inevitably we start somewhat slowly in the afternoon, but the initial stages of the climb up Coverdale are relatively gentle, through to Horsehouse and beyond. Then we cross over to the other side of the valley and the steeper section begins. By now there’s a head-wind to contend with, and a short, sharp climb takes us up from the valley floor, before a much longer steep section brings us wearily to the watershed between the Wharfe and Ure. We rest briefly at the top, watching two remote-controlled aircraft wheeling around the upper slopes of Great Whernside in the clear blue sky. Then it’s down to Park Rash, where two downhill sections of 25% gradient await us. By the time we get to the really steep corners the wheel rims and disc brake are worryingly hot to the touch, so we chicken out and walk for a couple of hundred yards. The descent to Kettlewell thereafter is relaxing and scenic, though.

From Kettlewell to home is a very familiar journey, on a little-frequented lane via Conistone to Grassington. The first spring lambs are tottering around in the fields between Kettlewell and Conistone, and although everything is still that ‘winter’ green colour rather than the lush green it will become in the summer, it really feels like spring has arrived today. At Conistone we stop for a drink of water, and are greeted by the ever-present dog who seems to be determined to welcome every visitor to this lovely hamlet. We continue down the valley to Grass Wood, where there alway seems to be a head-wind no matter which way the wind is blowing! The last six miles from Grassington to Skyreholme are a little hilly, but we know by now the exact amount of effort required to climb each hill, so it’s not long before we’re climbing up past the Craven Arms and New Inn into Appletreewick, then pedalling the last uphill half-mile to Skyreholme. We’re quite weary as we arrive home, but it has been a gloriously sunny day, perfect for tandeming.

Winter Training Day 5 – Aldbrough St John to Skyreholme

Aldbrough St John-Richmond-Masham-Kirby Malzeard-Pateley Bridge-Skyreholme. 44 miles.

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Possibly our most miserable day’s cycling ever… It was raining hard as we left Aldbrough, and we had a gentle warm-up through Melsonby and up to the A66 before gliding down Gilling Bank and slogging through the first floods of the day up to Richmond. Snow started as we reached the outskirts of Richmond, and our already sodden feet started to get cold too. We cycled through Catterick (past the Gaza Barracks – can that really be right?) and on through the rain. As we slogged up one hill, a passenger in a white van was moved to wind down his window and shout “You’re mad, you are”, which seemed pretty accurate, even to us.

The roads became progressively wetter, as all the accumulated rain of the last few days ran off the fields. At Masham we stopped for a coffee in a pub (too wet to notice which one), and adjusted all the brakes, which had once again worn down considerably in the wet conditions. We decided to try to push on for Pateley Bridge before lunch, and cycled on towards Kirkby Malzeard and up onto the moor. At one flood cars were turning back, but we decided we had no choice but to cycle through, and of course we were very wet already. Cycling through water doesn’t half slow you down, though, and watching the ‘bow wave’ from the stoker’s position was a little scary. With Jonathan shouting “Whatever you do, don’t stop pedalling!” we made it through without incident, but were thoroughly saturated from the knees down.

The road up over the moor is probably lovely on a clear day, but it seemed interminable in the rain, and by now a head-wind was also contributing to our misery. After what seemed like weeks we reached the top of the descent into Pateley Bridge. At 20% in places and very wet, it was far too steep to enjoy and we took it very slowly. We arrived at the Crown in Pateley Bridge to find a roaring fire (in front of which we arranged our gently steaming socks) and the incredulous locals marvelled at our foolhardiness. After an hour in the warm, and a good lunch, we were ready to tackle our final climb, the hill out of Pateley Bridge to Greenhow. We’ve driven up this hill so many times and knew it would be hard, with several sections at 16%, but we tackled it slowly and ground our way to the top, to be greeted by a freezing headwind. We passed Stump Cross Caverns (always very spectacular when it’s been raining, but the vision of a hot bath at home was drawing us on), and finally took the turn down and into Skyreholme and home.

So. The shiny new Landescape tandem was looking somewhat less than shiny now, but we’d made it, everything had held up well and our Ortlieb panniers had proved to be utterly waterproof in the most testing of conditions. We’re now planning for Land’s End to John O’Groats – surely it couldn’t be as wet as that in June. Could it?

Winter Training Day 4 – Hexham to Aldbrough St John

Hexham-Blanchland-Stanhope-Barnard Castle-Aldbrough St John. 52 miles.

Click here for a map of the route.

A long hard climb out of Hexham started the day, through Slaley and up through a forest section where we heard our first cry of “She’s not pedalling on the back”. It had taken over three days before someone shouted this, surely a record?! We climbed on to Blanchard, where the short 20% descent was too steep to coast freely. We picked up the pace in an enjoyable section alongside the Derwent reservoir, gaining a lot of height on a very gentle gradient with no great effort, and then turned south towards Edmundbyers. Six miles of slow climbing later we’d made it to the top at 1500ft. The descent into Stanhope was only slightly marred by the view of the long hill up the other side.
Our slow climbing meant it was already lunchtime, so we stopped in Stanhope for toasties, and a good tip from the landlord for avoiding the impassable Stanhope Ford without going miles out of our way. We set off up the climb, 17% at the bottom, but soon giving way to zig-zags at a more sustainable gradient. We suppressed smiles (alright, grimaces) as we passed an RAC van helping a lady whose car had given up on the hill. It was very bleak, we climbed past a well-hidden open-cast coal mine and as we reached the first summit the wind started to get up. There was a mile of descent after the first summit, but we could see the road going up again and disappearing over the ridge. After two more miles of climbing we made it over the top at 1700ft, and really enjoyed the long descent into Teesdale. It seemed to be downhill almost all the way to Barnard Castle, then easy cycling to Winston and finally to Aldbrough St John, where Jonathan’s sister put us up for the night.

Winter Training Day 3 – Armathwaite to Hexham

Armathwaite-Castle Carrock-Brampton-Greenhead-Once Brewed-Wall-Hexham. 46 miles.

Click here for a map of the route.

The forecast had been for a clear day, and it was fantastic to be cycling in dry weather after the previous two days. We headed out of Armathwaite towards Castle Carrock and Brampton, enjoying the gently rolling roads and happy to be able see the scenery for a change. The buildings were different again from the Lakes, often a lovely rose-coloured limestone, and all the more attractive for being bathed in sunlight. Well, a bit of sunlight – after two days of rain we were ridiculously happy to be casting any kind of shadow. At Brampton we had a little trouble finding the road out towards Lanercost Priory, but a very helpful local man out with his dog walked with us though an alleyway which led directly to the road. The road to the Priory was quiet and pretty undemanding, and we made good time up to the first sighting of the ruins of Hadrian’s Wall. The road runs right alongside the Wall until Birdoswald, then you see the Wall continue ahead, dead straight of course, whilst you peel off left on the road.

After a long descent into Greenhead, greeting the cyclists coming up the other way, it was our turn to climb, a 14% section out of Greenhead and then a steady climb up on the Roman road. We headed for the pub at Once Brewed, with the Wall up on the ridge to our left, and a surprising number of walkers visible on the skyline. As you would expect, the Roman road is completely straight, so of course you can see exactly what pleasure or pain is coming your way. After lunch at the pub (the Twice Brewed, where lots of walkers stop on the Pennine Way), we were back on the road, and after only two bends in about fifteen miles we coasted down into Walwick and over the Tyne into Chollerford. We had planned to head up Brunton Bank to avoid the A-road, but when we got there it seemed silly to climb again when the A-road through Wall was quiet and flat. The (presumably SusTrans) cycle path alongside the A69 took us into Hexham, and the tourist information centre sorted out a room for us at Queensgate House. The owner told us she had been a tandem rider for forty years with her late husband, wearing out three tandems over the years! Pizza at the Quattro Mori restaurant rounded off a good day – no rain, and no need for the cycle lights today.

Winter Training Day 2 – Windermere to Armathwaite

Windermere-Ambleside-Keswick-Bassenthwaite-Caldwell-Hesket Newmarket-Armathwaite. 56 miles.

Click here for a map of the route.

We started with four miles to Ambleside alongside the lake, then a visit to ‘Ghyllside’ bike shop to sort out the brakes. After such a wet first day we needed new blocks all round, but a bigger problem was the disc brake, which was not effective at all. The pads were now almost down to the metal – we really should have checked them before we left home, but we suspected that the wet conditions were at least partly to blame. The shop specialised in tandems, so we swapped stories with the owner whilst he sorted everything out, and we were soon on our way past Rydal Water and Grasmere. It was a long but steady climb up Dunmail Raise towards Thirlmere, and in better weather it would have been lovely to take the more scenic road around the west side of the lake. Feeling damp and a little behind schedule though, we pushed on on the A591 to Keswick.

After Keswick we seemed to pick up the pace somehow, and soon found we were only two miles from Bassenthwaite, where we stopped for lunch at the Sun Inn. The landlady put us on the right road out of the village (with a warning that it was a bit hilly), and we really enjoyed an hour of dry weather, cycling through the forest on a tiny quiet track. There were some short steep sections in the climb to Caldbeck, but nothing seemed so bad after a good lunch and a warm in the pub. After a few miles largely free-wheeling along we descended into Hesket Newmarket, then up the other side through Sowerby Row and Ivegill on quiet back lanes, and we were soon passing under the M6 again. The wind had got up steadily, and the high-tension wires between the pylons were really howling as we passed underneath. A gentle climb with the wind at our backs took us to the A6, then we glided down into Armathwaite in the gloom. Henry gave us a great reception at the Duke’s Head, stored the tandem and helped us hang all our wet clothing in the boiler room. The dinner at the Duke’s Head was also great, and we would heartily recommend this place for touring cyclists, a lovely room and excellent value for money.

Winter Training Day 1 – Skyreholme to Windermere

Skyreholme-Airton-Settle-Eldroth-Ingleton-Kirkby Lonsdale-Kendal-Windermere. 62 miles.

Click here for a map of the route

We’re lucky enough to live in Skyreholme in the Yorkshire Dales, so we have some lovely rides right from the door, and we set off along a familiar route towards Grassington, Hetton and Airton. It was a good warm-up on roads we know well, although we could feel the additional weight of the panniers and our Christmas over-indulgences. At Airton we headed off towards Settle, and the drizzle turned to sleet as we battled over the moor, so we abandoned a proposed visit to Scaleber Force on the way. After a steep descent into Settle, we warmed up in the Naked Man Café, then crossed the A65 and took the back roads through Eldroth to Clapham. From Clapham it was a steady climb to the top, then a lovely glide down into Ingleton, where we had lunch at the Wheatsheaf, and they didn’t mind us drying our socks on the radiators while we ate.

After Ingleton there seemed to be no choice other than the busy A65 to get us to Kirkby Lonsdale, but it was horrible – raining hard now, and heavy lorries thundering past. The sheep in the fields beside the road were completely unfazed by the lorries, but took off in fright as we went past. After what seemed like an age we were off the main road and heading for Kendal. It was a long six-mile haul to Old Hutton, mainly climbing, and with very little downhill as a reward. Eventually we crossed under the M6 and found ourselves suddenly in Lakeland landscapes, the slate walls of the church at Old Hutton very different to all the Dales dry-stone walls we’d cycled past. We made an unintended detour in Kendal that had us slogging up the A591 dual carriageway for a couple of miles to the Crook turn-off, then it was very up and down to Bowness, and a last mile and a half up to Windermere. We’d been slow, and arrived in the dark, but a warm welcome at the Westbury B&B on Broad Street and a long hot bath were both much appreciated.