Bollihope-y New Year!

photo courtesy of Dean Clementson

I am very grateful to a group of friends for the 3rd January bicycle ride we did together; setting off from Darlington around 9am Saturday morning we had a 105km social ride out into the Pennines and back to Darlington for a pint at the Half Moon before going our separate ways.  Special thanks to Dean for making all the arrangements and route planning.  No icy roads!  Some wonderful views… and how he managed to plan blue skies was amazing.  Dean has written up his experience, with photographs here.
We converged in Darlington from all over the north of England; Dean, Steve, Andy, Peter, Trevor and myself; and followed secret paths through housing estates and quiet roads until we found Burtree Lane and the junction with the A68.  Dean’s plan was for us to get out past Bishop Auckland reasonably quickly so that we could enjoy the hills beyond.; so following the wide main road / dual carriageway we headed north and through Heighington and Redworth towards Shildon.  My family on my father’s side are from (and still live in) Shildon, but I’ve not cycled here very often and don’t know the roads as well as I ought.  We then carried on to Bishop Auckland and past the optimistic palm trees in Tindale.
The busiest of the traffic was over for now; we kept on for Witton Park and Witton-le-Wear.  There are some wonderful bridges in this area, and here is a picture Dean took of our favourite – a bridge within a bridge.  The railway line goes over the top, the road through the middle and the river Wear underneath… this is featured in the “Bridges for CrinklyLion” thread on yet another cycling forum.
photo courtesy of Dean Clementson
We stopped for a late breakfast at the cafe in Hemsterley Forest, and although they had just opened, they worked fast to get hearty vegetable soup, some pies, and bacon sandwiches out to us along with warming cups of coffee.  My view out the window kept me entertained too – there were a set of four speed bumps close together, and as the full suspension MTB riders came past I was treated to their comedy-clown-bicycle impressions, bumping up and down.

We set off again for the hills ‘proper’, the climb of Shull Bank and the drop into Wolsingham, Dean headed off to the top to capture photos of us all arriving out of breath.  I rode alongside Andy and we were so busy chatting that I think Peter was surprised to find himself over taking and leaving us.  But it isn’t a race and we were deep in conversation.  The view of Wolsingham was good from the top of Shull Bank, but there was a touch of drizzle in the air and we knew the descent could be strewn with hazards; gravel, damp road surfaces and sharp corners; so we took it easy.
The plan was to climb Bollihope from the Frosterley turning, which necessitated a section of the A689; this is a wide road with plenty of space for people in cars to overtake.  Today there seemed to be a few people driving who couldn’t be bothered to move out as I had a couple of very close passes and this is perhaps my one teeny complaint about cycling in County Durham.  A minority of motorists haven’t thought through the consequences of accidentally hitting another human being with a tonne of metal at 50+mph.  Oh well, it didn’t spoil the day.
We turned off at Frosterley through Bridge End and started climbing.  Andy and I together again, discussing our favourite rides of last year, and we laughed as we passed a sign “Hill End” as it clearly wasn’t – we could see the hill climbing away on the road ahead of us!  We regrouped at the top of the climb looking down into Bollihope Burn and the exposed moorland beyond.
Cramp! We administered Trevor with banana to combat the cramp attack he’d had crossing the cattle grid in Hill End.  This was going to be Trevor’s furthest and highest ride ever.  I’ve often thought it is okay to push yourself faster, or further, or harder… but rarely two of these or never all three at the same time.  Trevor was certainly keeping up a good speed with us, and climbing more than he’d done before and on his longest journey. 
There was a fast descent down to Bollihope Burn which brought a smile to everyone’s face; and then the major climb of the day began – Bollihope… to the top – which brought grimaces of effort.
Again I rode alongside Andy, surrounded by bleakly stunning and wide open views of the top of the Pennine hills.  There were no cars.  And no motorbikes.  I’ve cycled up here in the summer time to the constant roar of engines; but this day early in the new year of 2015 was almost as perfect as it could be – the skies were blue, the air was cool enough to stop us over-heating and yet the ground was not icy.  We passed the snow poles; as this is one of the only routes linking isolated towns together the council have an obligation to keep them open no matter how deep the snow gets.  The ploughs come up here and the only way to know you’re on the road is to follow the markers.  It might be fun to come up here when the snow is 2m deep either side.
We reached the top and stopped for event-memorable photographs.
Ever heard the phrase, “it’s all downhill from here (except for the hills)”?  Well that is a good description of the ride back from Bollihope to Darlington.  Mostly downhill… mostly.  There was really only Folly Bank to climb – not too onerous.  First though, we had the stunning descent from the top to Eggleston.  Dean and I had ridden up here while the world was purple, but with the sun shining in our eyes and the brown heather, we were being treated to another beautiful day, with a sweeping open road and nothing to force us to slow down.  Brilliant!
We called in at the Moorcock Inn in Eggleston, the “Wild West Pub” with the portrait of John Wayne on the wall; coincidentally McLintock! was showing on the telly.  Helpfully they had a map on the wall telling us where we were.  After a refreshing pint we headed out again for the final leg back to Darlington.  Over Folly Bank, down along the B6279 through Staindrop and Ingleton.  Here we took a detour from roads I know; Dean knew that there were roadworks and the resultant diversions were making the road ahead very busy, so we weaved our way south and east towards Piercebridge and with some comedy off-road moments around the closed road signs.  Closed roads are great fun; I enjoyed riding along the wrong side of the road and also sweeping back and forth through the gaps in the white lines.  To feel like a kid again!
We were back in Darlington by 4pm and had enough time to enjoy a pint in the Half Moon, although why I have it stuck in my head at the ‘Mushroom’ is odd.  I don’t think I’ve heard of a pub called the ‘Mushroom’ before.
Peter had bought us all commemorative badges to celebrate our first group ride of 2015, which was a really nice touch – thank you Peter, great to ride with you again.  Trevor had ridden his furthest and hardest ride so far – big congratulations to him!  It was brilliant to ride with Steve again after our last experience on the dead-arrow.  And to Andy for his company and conversation – good to be out with you again; and finally to Dean – perfect social ride.

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