I thought that the 400km ride in August would be my last long ride of the year, but an opportunity arose last Saturday to ride to Bishop Auckland. I had no responsibilities beyond needing to be there for a party starting at 2pm, and Carol offered to carry my clothes over in the car (the whole family were gathering for this party).
I set off in the dusky morning light at 6am with a rough plan to ride somewhere in the Yorkshire Dales. I had a map in my back pocket, a little money and my phone. There was no noticeable breeze but even at this hour it was warm. The duvet of clouds overhead had kept Teesside snuggly overnight.
I headed out of Ingleby Barwick north over the Jubilee bridge, my rear light blinking to make me visible. A police car came past in the other direction, but the street lights were already extinguished so there was no worry about being reprimanded for not having pedal reflectors. Other than that the dual carriageway was deserted, and I didn’t see another car right the way through Stockton and out past the shops in Hartburn. It wasn’t until I crossed over the A66 that I noticed anyone else around.
I like the road parallel with the A66 to Long Newton, it is smooth and quiet. From here I came past Durham Tees Valley airport and into Middleton St George. My legs were heavy this morning and it was taking a while to feel energetic. My plan to reach the Yorkshire Dales involved Scotch Corner and Richmond, so I weaved through Hurworth and Croft into Middleton Tyas first.
There was the Shoulder of Mutton, familiar from the Old 240. Too early for me to stop and too early for it to be open, but I’d recommend it if you like Gastro Pub food.
It is funny how different a road can feel in daylight compared to night, there is a clear incline from Middleton Tyas to Scotch Corner which I don’t remember even noticing a few weeks ago. The roundabout over the A1 is often busy, but at this time on Saturday morning it was deserted and I passed over to the A6108. A sign by the side of the road said “Cycle Event”, I’m guessing it was the Darlington Borough Council’s “Hell of the North” so there were going to be close to 1000 cyclists taking a similar route to me later on. Richmond is only 4 miles down the A6108 so getting there is quick, even with the climb from the restricted width bridge at Skeeby. In Richmond I took the Hudswell turning and a plan was beginning to form in my mind for a route.
Looking into Newbiggin from Cravengate
The beginning of the descent to cross the river at Bridge Street
View back up to Richmond Castle from the bridge over the River Swale
There is a nice steep and tough climb to get from here up to the Military Training area on top of the moors. There are plenty of signs warning, “Tanks Turning”, (but very few actual Tanks Turning). The wind was starting to pick up and it was clearly blowing straight from the west, the generally white clouds of earlier were now tinged with black and threatened rain. However the views north towards Arkengarthdale were misty, the wind didn’t seem to be in the valleys of the dales as much as blowing over the moor tops.
There are tough climbs and nice long descents in the dales, so getting to Leyburn consisted of slow hard climbing followed by 30-40mph sweeping downhill sections. Thankfully the roads were dry so I could enjoy them without worrying about skidding off on a damp patch.
Stopping for a double espresso in Leyburn
It had taken me 2 hours and 2 minutes to get to Leyburn so I sent Carol a text to let her know my plans and stopped at this lovely little coffee shop for a double espresso. While stopped I looked at the map and made my mind up that I wanted to ride Buttertubs pass, which meant a trip to Hawes. At this time of day (8am) there were still almost no cars about so I decided to stay on the A684 and blast as fast as I could to Hawes. It turns out that blasting as fast as I could would be difficult – the wind was now very strong and directly in my face. Keeping up 15mph was a challenge!
Empty roads and fast cycling!
A view to Castle Bolton from the A684
Along the route to Hawes you pass through brilliant little villages and this was shaping up to be a good last day of the summer holidays for everyone. Tea rooms were opening up, one or two motorbikers were doing their own “fast blast” along the A684. I ignored the B6160 to Kettlewell – my goal was north today. I like the green in Aysgarth, the grass is shaded differently in two long patches where you can imagine the kids do their sledging each winter.
The A684 is a sweeping road which undulates gently.
It takes a long time to cycle 15 miles when you are being punished with a blocking headwind and my knees were complaining about the constant effort I required from them. In Bainbridge the road twists and turns over the River Bain and into the village centre, passing more signs of life and more tea rooms readying themselves. There was still a good distance to go in order to get into Hawes, but I stuck to the pace, kept to the drops and out of the wind so I finally rolled onto the cobbled High Street at 9:15am, having ridden for 3 hours and 15 minutes, covering 52 miles.
Bikers Cafe in Hawes – a good place for breakfast!
There were a few cyclists around, the first I’d seen all day. Backing up from the High Street I headed out and over the River Ure before starting my ascent of Buttertubs. The wikipedia article on the pass refers to 20 or so potholes in the limestone rock where perhaps butter was stored to keep it cool. The wind had thrashed at some of the trees and there was debris in the road. You could see where a driver (hopefully in a car not on a motorbike), had come fast round a corner and smashed through a fallen branch.
There were several examples of debris in the road from damaged trees.
The climb to Buttertubs is not too hard as it ascends in steps, some about 15% and overall it is 6 miles from Hawes to Muker on the otherside. I allowed myself an hour, not being sure what the passing was going to be like. Although it was exposed with the wind now battering me from the side, it wasn’t too difficult to manage the conditions and before too long I was cresting the top and getting a glance into Swaledale.
Once over the top of Buttertubs the road still undulates and is precariously cut into the side of the valley with only a wire fence between the edge of the road and the steep drop. An HGV was merrily coming towards me using the full width of the road. I could see the driver’s face and he clearly didn’t want to get closer to the cliff edge, so I pulled to one side as he flashed past. After that my next encounter was a cyclist coming towards me, and I’d like to describe the look on his face as a “grimace of joy”, the gradient he was “enjoying” is about 25%.
I now had the wind to my back as I turned east to ride down Swaledale through Muker, Gunnerside and all the way to Reeth. Looking back behind me was a classically threatening Swaledale skyline.
Looks like rain in Swaledale!
The road down Swaledale is not all downhill like the route down Teesdale, the dale is much steeper sided and the tarmac climbs and falls along the valley edge. The tailwind was appreciated as it pushed me up some of the hills and kept my pace nice and high. I was feeling great and heading for the Dales Bicycle Centre just past Reeth. There is a cafe as well as B&B and bicycle hire / maintenance. I was looking for coffee and it was now 11am, I also wanted some brunch and opted for the soup.
Posing for “Soup of the Moment”
While in the cafe I dug my maps out to look at the next stage and work out the most sensible route to Bishop Auckland. I found a rather long looking but flat route back to Richmond and up the B6274. The other choice was to ride Stang Lane over Stang Top – goodie, a short cut, a long climb and some lovely views… the choice was easy. Riding back into Reeth after a rest was a test of the legs, but not as much of a test as riding up into Arkengarthdale was about to be.
The road from Reeth climbs along the edge of Reeth Low Moor on the west side of Arkengarthdale and to the east are the disused quarries and steep edges of Marrick Moor. I have not been into Arkengarthdale before so it was a complete surprise when I crested a hill to see Langthwaite in the distance. The sun was making a more regular appearance now and the clouds were thinning. The wind was still strong but the sunshine on the stone houses and church was beautiful. Well worth the climb to get there.
Langthwaite in Arkengarthdale
Here I saw a sign that the challenge was going to get harder, there was a road going up over the gap between Seal Houses Moor and Peat Moor Hill and it looked steep!
What a choice to give a cyclist! Tan Hill or Stang Lane to Barnard Castle.
Where does the road go? It goes up. (As usual!)
After the initial steep section the moorland road settled down to a more sedate climbing rate which allowed me to stay in the middle chainring and ease the bicycle along. One thing which was now bothering me was my right knee – obviously I was not 100% recovered from the Old 240. I managed the pressure by giving a bit more effort through my left leg and clicking down a gear.
Moor [sic] climbing.
It really is the case that the brow of the hill ahead of you is rarely the top of the climb, and as with the photograph above, once over the steepest section Stang Lane just keeps climbing. Thankfully now the gradient was a lot more comfortable.
Getting a photograph of myself crossing Stang Top was very difficult. The wind was blowing hard and knocking the camera over, I had a touch of cramp as I jumped on the bicycle mentally counting down the 10 seconds I had on the timer. I was surprise to get this photograph first time.
Leaving the top of the moors I could see the rolling countryside of County Durham ahead and although I knew that there were some jagged and steep hills out there, from up here it looked flat.
The edge of the Yorkshire Dales looking north into County Durham
I had not expected the wonderful descent I was about to enjoy, this road has a couple of sharp bends near the top, but then undulated for a few miles. It felt like a classic old fashioned roller-coaster dropping down to the valley bottom – each rise was not quite as high as the preceding drop, so there was almost no need to pedal. I loved the heavy feeling rolling through the bottom of each section and the weightlessness cresting the next hill. Brilliant! But what a nightmare to climb the other way, those rolling hills would make the climb twice as high as it appears.
A66 – Unofficial motorway of the Pennines
Crossing the A66 was dicey. The traffic thundered past barely slowing for a cyclist. I’m glad it was just a few hundred metres to the left turn for Barnard Castle. Once off the A66 I was still enjoying the rolling and generally downhill route to Barnard Castle. It was Farmer’s Market day in the town centre and there were hundreds of people milling around shopping and making the most of the warm sunny Saturday. I was nearing the end of my journey and as I passed the GSK’s manufacturing plant I spotted a pub I know, the Redwell Inn. I had 90 minutes remaining to cover 15 miles to Bishop Auckland, so plenty of time in hand for a pint and some peanuts (for the salt). I pulled up and relaxed for a while.
Is it the Red Well Inn or the Redwell Inn – even they don’t know!
Self-timer, click, run, sit, relax and smile…
Maps, fermented isotonic sports drink, and nourishment.
I stayed for about 15 minutes letting my legs relax and then set off again on the last section to Bishop Auckland and Suzanne’s party. But there was a sting in the tail of the route; Dent Gate Lane had some climbing in store for me, for my tired legs and for my complaining knees.
Dent Gate Lane felt steeper than it looks.
I joined the B6282 at Copley and followed it to Toft Hill and down through High Etherley, Low Etherley, Etherley Moor and Etherley Dene and turned onto Etherley Lane. A glance at the bicycle computer told me I would get to my parent’s house with about 99.5 miles completed – so obviously I took a detour over Lambton Drive and through the main shopping street for the last gasp climb of Princes Street. I finished with 100.9 miles on the clock and was 15 minutes early for the party.
What a brilliant route around the Yorkshire Dales. I loved climbing Buttertubs and discovering Stang Top and Langthwaite. The descent into County Durham was a hoot. Soup at the Dales Bike Centre is recommended and a pint of beer anywhere is also recommended. Starting and stopping at different locations gives you much more scope to cover a greater variety of countryside. It was certainly a refreshing change not to loop back to Ingleby Barwick.
Wensleydale, Swaledale and Arkengarthdale
The route profile shows the notable climbs of the moor outside Richmond first, then the tallest climb of Buttertubs Pass and finally the gentle rise over Stang. You can also see the “choppiness” of the rest of the ride; this would be a faster ride for a lightweight climber, unlike me.
Statistics for the ride:
Setting out at 6:00am and finishing at 1:45pm, 7 hours and 45 minutes approximately. 6 hours 47 minutes of cycling, so therefore about an hour of drinking coffee, eating soup and quaffing beer.
162 km (100 miles) at 24 kph (14.9 mph) moving average. Top speed of 78 kph (45.5 mph). 5,290 calories used – plenty of space for eating and drinking at the party!