The Way of the Roses days one and two: Morecambe to Ripon

As grand departs go, it was middling at best. The train from Manchester to Morecambe had made Tim and I a little gloomy. We were both tired – hangovers from our respective working lives – but it was more the promise of a weather front careering down the country ferried by northerly winds that caused our long faces. Wintery showers bloated the front and the sharp downpour we’d witnessed just south of Lancaster gave weight to the forecast. So much for benefiting from prevailing winds travelling from the west…

Alighting at Morecambe and our moods lifted though. The sun was shining and the wind was still pushing off the sea, just. We pedalled the short distance from the station to the official start of the Way of the Roses and had the obligatory stupid photographs taken. It was time to push off.

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Leaving major urban centres on National Cycle Network routes can be a mixed experience. Tim and I have had our fair share of ‘bandit country’ riding around the Northwest conurbation. The start of the Way is graced by a lovely off-road path, which quickly plots a course to Lancaster and spills out into a broad river valley with views extending to the hills that were to come. Within half an hour of leaving the train we’d been transported to a lush landscape of verdant fields dotted with sheep. A peace had already descended and I was blissfully happy to be touring again.

Mention had already been made about the weights of our respective steeds that morning. My Bob Jackson was fairly light given I had full camping kit. It’s fair to say Tim’s Troll weighed a Bob and a half, if not more. But then Tim had brought five pairs of gloves with and a ‘box of 500 energy bars’. I never found out how many bars he’d brought, but it was enough to set up a sportive feed station.

We left the trail and started climbing. The heavy bikes (well, Tim’s) making the inches gained all the harder. My bike may have been lighter, but it was far noisier. A discordant symphony of clicks and creaks accompanied each pedal stroke. We speculated as to the source – seat post, bottom bracket, chainring bolts and all the usual suspects. Eventually, the metallic chirp started to induce a nervous tick and I jumped off the bike at an agricultural hardware store. That panacea for all squeaking ills WD40 was liberally applied to my bike and an on looking Tim. And then, silence. Never fails.

These early climbs proved one thing for certain. I was quicker going up, but Tim was far more rapid going downhill. Always a more courageous descender than me, he also had the benefit of all that weight leveraging gravity.

We soon arrived at Wray, a pretty village that was – naturally – in the throes of its annual scarecrow festival. Each front garden had a slightly unnerving take on the theme. We stopped and admired the locals’ handiwork before ducking into the village hall for soup, tea and cake. All were fantastic.

Outside, a walker wandered over and asked in a rather stout Cumbrian accent: ‘Where have you come and where are you going to?’ More of a demand than a question. I explained the day and week’s itinerary. Seemingly satisfied, he nodded in approval and simply said ‘Enjoy’. You’ll note I’ve avoided an exclamation mark in the quote. Just doesn’t seem appropriate somehow.

We pushed on and the route left the Forest of Bowland and entered the Dales. The hills became a patchwork of fields bounded by stonewalls; old enclosure lines and ridge and furrow pointing to earlier agriculture.

The weather had been kind all day, only the cold northerly chilling us when the sun hid behind sparse cloud. With some 40 miles pedalled, we dropped down a terrific and terrifying descent into the pretty village of Malham. Earlier in the day I had been waxing lyrical about that ever-impressive limestone amphitheatre Malham Cove and our road afforded a fantastic view. Tim as ever had barrelled off ahead but drew to a halt suddenly when an alarming noise and smell, and no doubt smoke, emanated from his front disc. We admired the cove from afar as everything cooled down, including my nerves.

Having shaken the Internet to book ahead earlier, we checked into the excellent YHA and bagged a huge room for ourselves. Food and beer came courtesy the recommended Lister Arms where Tim opted for pork pie as desert… and why not?

The night was cold and clear, although some snow did fall. I peered cautiously out the window of our room to find another bright day. Happiness! Lots of coffee and eggs for breakfast and we readied the bikes for our departure on the hostel lawn. The grass crunched underfoot, brittle from the night’s frost.

A few clicks along the valley road and Tim was already concerned about the state of his front brakes after the previous evening’s hairy descent. The front rotor was making an unhealthy grinding noise and his eve faithful Surly Troll juddered to a halt under braking. We were going to need a bike shop.

We pushed on along glorious Yorkshire roads. The going was initially easy until the road reared to our left after Calton and a challenging climb ramped up before us. Rather than keeping my butt in the saddle and spinning it out, I (almost) danced on the pedals and pushed my way to the top without timid recourse for the granny gear. I surprised myself and took some comfort ahead of my Alpine adventures later in the year. I managed the whole day in similar fashion and we later dubbed the uncharacteristic show of energy ‘Contadoring’. I’m sure Alberto would (not) be proud to know this.

The climbs continued to come thick and fast(ish) and we soon we left the Dales and entered Nidderdale. A long descent dropped into Pately Bridge where our search for a bike shop was fruitless and our lunch a little underwhelming.

We decided that Ripon would be our objective for the day. This filled me with a little trepidation and I remember visiting the town before and found it a little austere. Jumping on booking.com once more, I booked us into the cheapest room I could find.

Leaving Pately Bridge the road climbed to High Moor and an intriguing landscape that reminded me of home just before we went the wrong way, deciding to head to Ripley instead of Ripon – south instead of north.

As navigational errors go it plumbed new depths. I stopped and mentioned to Tim that our course didn’t feel right. We consulted the map and realised our schoolboy error. Turning about, a squall rolled in and pelted us with hail. Hiding behind a garage wall, I had a minor tantrum trying, in vain, to get my gloves back on as the roads turned white.

The shot blasting hail soon passed and we were on our way again, slightly chastened by the weather. But the sun reappeared for our sortie into Ripon and a glorious approach it was too through Studley Roger. We entered town and approached our rather underwhelming digs for the night.

The Way of the Roses – good times, good gravy

There’s something very agreeable about a coast-to-coast route. Crossing a country and seeing two seas lends the trip a grander geographical context, even if the route itself is relatively short, the country crossed relatively small.

The Way of the Roses is by no means long – just 170 miles – but it ably meets these criteria. While it may not boast the wilds of Northumberland or Hadrian’s Wall found in more northerly crossings, it more than compensates in other ways. The route is superb and a credit to the engineers who sewed it together. There’s probably one bland section, the remainder on quite, traffic-free lanes and tracks. Maybe it was because we made our crossing early in the season, but you can achieve that wonderful sense of detachment riding this route – that the world is churning along somewhere but you’re managing to avoid it.

The route starts in either Morecambe or Bridlington. Starting in the west may give you the benefit of prevailing winds while an eastern push off saves the climbing for later in the itinerary. And be under no illusion about the climbing in the Yorkshire Dales and Forest of Bowland, those hills kick.

I rode the route with my good friend Tim from Life in the Cycle Lane. Both of us hadn’t toured in a while and felt the route was a solid objective; definitely a challenge, but one that would satisfy our somewhat voracious appetite for cake, Yorkshire Tapas (read: high-quality meat products) and ale.

We covered it in four days and rode 181 miles in total. This is a leisurely pace but we were touring not racing. Our progress was punctuated by photo stops and we spent a great deal of time riding side-by-side laughing our asses off about an encounter en route or an anecdote from one of our previous trips. It’s the way to roll on a journey like this… leave your Strava fixation at home.

Accommodation is straightforward en route. We lugged camping gear but only had cause to use it one night. That said, we were travelling off peak. The Way of the Roses is a justifiably popular and you’ll need to book ahead in the summer months.

Navigation is no chore either, particularly if armed with the excellent Sustrans route map. Still, we did manage one navigational boo-boo so keep your wits about you when looking for the waymarking signs. This part of the country is justifiably criss-crossed with numerous cycle routes and it’s possible to start following, say, the Yorkshire Wolds Cycleway, when you shouldn’t be.

A few tales from the road coming shortly…

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Velo Orange Porteur and Constructeur Racks

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When I built my Bob Jackson World Tour last year, I had a plan to fit racks at some point. I’d considered a number of options, but given the overall aesthetic of this bike – think French Randonneur – replica parts seemed the order of the day rather than fitting more purposeful Tubus or Surly load luggers.

Although it may never have been my intention to carry camping kit on this bike, my hand has been forced by next week’s Way of the Roses ride. Frames to replace my trusty but just–too–darn-small Surly Troll are either in transit or can’t be collected until May. I’d be pedalling coast to coast on the Bob Jackson then, and I needed racks to suit.

The hunt for the right replica parts normally means Velo Orange and I’ve been chewing over options from their range for a while. I eventually settled on a minimalist but rather elegant Constructuer rear rack and the more substantial Porteur front, which provides a sizeable platform for a large bag that I hope to acquire some time in the future. (There are some rather nice options from this cottage manufacturer in the Netherlands.)

The two VO racks arrived last month and I was immediately struck but how burly the Porteur is. By contrast, the Constructeur feels somewhat under gunned with its svelte lines and thin tubing. Both are made from stainless steel and rather nicely finished, though. Reading the VO specs they should be adequate to carry my slimmed down camping kit with control.

Fitting the racks was a bit of a faff… but isn’t it always? Both allow for the option to drill mudguards (if you have ‘proper’ alloy or steel mudguards that is) and it’s worth measuring, praying and drilling for the additional stability this provides – both for the racks and the guards.

You’ll note from the pictures I’m running the Constructeur rather tight to the mudguard while the Porteur is a little higher (and there’s a stack of M5 washers helping to keep the ‘guard put). In both cases I have to cut the tabs which attach to the drop out mounts – make sure you have a quality hacksaw for this job as the metal is reassuringly hardy.

This is a huge frame and having the Porteur rack a little higher gives me the perfect distance between its platform and handlebars for the aforementioned large ‘porteur’ bag. I’ve angled the rack back slightly too so the bag will be inline with the angle of the head tube. A personal quirk that may or may not work when the bag is ultimately in place.

Initial shake down rides now done and I am a big fan of the Porteur. I’ve carried reasonable weight up front with little discernable effect on the handling. If anything, the rack has made the Bob more settled if that’s possible for this most predictable of bikes. The rack will carry a drybag next week containing tent, sleeping bag, and sleeping mat along with lighter clothes and food.

The Constructuer, while looking dandy, is not so practical. It will just ferry a pair of small Caradice Super C panniers with some adjustment of the hooks. The platform will take a small drybag of some description too.

I’m hoping this three-bag solution will take care of my gear. I have the option to add an Alpkit framebag to spread the load a wee bit further. The Porteur will take front panniers too if needed but I’m trying to avoid the additional weight.

I’ll report back after next week’s trundle.

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Mad dogs and Englishmen (and women)…

… go out for a day-long pedal into the Peak District without checking the forecast.

Sometimes the plan is just set. I was always going out for a ride on Easter Day this year. I wanted a long, but sedate, day on the bike, more for endurance ahead of the Eroica and my coast-to-coast next week. The miles also would pay dividends when I sheepishly get off the plane in Nice in a few weeks helping me believe I can pedal over some real mountains.

The day started well. I puffed over Chunal Moor to Chapel-en-le-Frith and picked up Eroica routes past and headed to Whaley Bridge and that sublime pull out of the Goyt Valley to Derbyshire Bridge – for my money some of the best climbing inches in this lovely district. If you haven’t bowed your head to this route on a bike yet, you simply must.

A very chilly drop down from the Axe Edge Moor led through through Earl Sterrdale before picking up NCN Route 68 and the High Peak Trail. Rail-bed paths followed – the Peak’s very own Strade Bianche.

At Hartington I diverted briefly before picking up the lovely Cardlemere Lane (NCN Route 548) for more excellent traffic-free gravel before picking up the High Peak Trail/Midshires Way again through Gotham (no, not that one) and Friden – scene of this year’s Eroica Festival.

Back at Parsley Hay, I hit the road through Youlgreave and ultimately Bakewell where the Monsal Trail pointed me in the direction of home.

Here, the day delivered the sting in its tail. Rain swept in and I reluctantly left the relative protection of the trail for lonely windswept roads through Wormhill, Peak Dale, and Dove Holes before picking up Route 68 again near Chinley for some knee-grinding climbs back to Glossop. I met a group of women road cyclists also enjoying the conditions. We could only exchange feeble smiles.

I pressed on and the rain intensified. The air had the tang of smoke from woodburners and I gazed – somewhat pathetically – through the windows of cosy cottages  as folk sat down to a family dinner.

Home, at last, and my sodden cycling clothes sagged… my shoes were frigid foot spas. Never has a shower and pizza been quite so sweet.

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Early morning ECR

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I’m not really a fan of loading the bike in the car and driving somewhere to ride… seems kinda’ counter intuitive for this rider.

However, I succumbed at the weekend. Recovering from manflu, I didn’t think it would be the best idea to pedal over the Snake Pass (and back) from Glossop to the Upper Derwent Valley where I fancied a pootle on the Monster Truck (read: Surly ECR). So I loaded the bike in the back of the van and let internal combustion take the strain.

I left early and found sublime conditions in the Upper Derwent. It may have been chilly, but I enjoyed the best of this lovely valley and made good my escape before the crowds descended.

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Ullswater Way

The twisted boughs above were beaded with moisture and excitable streams rushed below my feet as I paced along the trail. The night’s rain was being channeled around me; drips, rivulets, forces, becks and rivers all on a downward course to Ullswater.

The previous night had indeed been wild. I’d slept in a pod, one of those parabolic sheds that find favour with holiday parks and holidaymakers these days. The shelter’s idiosyncratic profile would have made a half-decent boat if upturned – a mini ark for hill lovers should the rain have become really bad.

Maybe it’s my age, but I was glad of my wooden home as it shuddered in the wind. I was grateful too of the wool wadding insulating its walls and keeping the night’s chill at bay. The snap decision to leave the tent at home had been a wise one.

I was in Lakeland to walk and early morning prospects were grim. The rain continued and heavy gusts of wind promised a thorough bludgeoning on the fell. However, after exhausting the delaying tactic of making yet another cup of tea, the skies began to clear. A pasty-shaped hole opened in the clouds and the rain became a mist haze. When the sun appeared, so did the rainbows.

I hastily put on my boots and waterproofs and headed out.

The path was wonderful – a section of the Ullswater Way following a balcony well above the shore. It skirted plantation and much more gnarly woodland, trees with sodden branches just showing the buds of new growth. Spring, tantalisingly close thank goodness.

It felt good to be out. The difficulties of the last few months that still weighed so heavily fell away, if only for a short while. I felt invigorated, optimistic even. More important, though, was a rekindled enthusiasm for these fells.

Later, back at the hut and armed with a warming dram, I pored over maps and made plans.

It’s all gone quiet over there…

Err, yes. It has hasn’t it? I blame real life… its twists and turns and how it had an uncanny knack of kicking me squarely between the legs in 2016 for one reason or another.

So, a New Year, a new start and new plans.

Usually at this time of year, when the rain is lashing against my office window, I’m daydreaming about trips on foot and bike. I have a little notebook full of ‘adventure ideas’. It was a gift from someone very dear to me who, tragically, is sadly no longer with us… last year’s most horrible event.

She was well aware of my ability to stare out of the window and escape and, always a fan of a list, bought me the book in the hope that some of these mental voyages would become a reality.

I was leafing though its pages just after the New Year celebrations and found some notes on two trips in the Alps – a place I’d never really visited save for a rather gloomy school skiing trip in my teens.

The first adventure – on the bike – detailed a trip from the South of France to the north taking on the Route des Grande Alpes in reverse before plotting a route through the Jura and, even, taking on the notorious pavé. A personal Tour de France if you will but at a more sedate pace on a touring bike. The trip was all about good food, good wine, incredibly scenery and very, very testing climbs.

The second – on foot – revisited the Alps for a tour of Mont Blanc, the classic multi-day hike linking mountain refuges. This, again, involved some serious ascent but promised a feast of Alpine scenery.

On a dingy train home last week I chewed over these options again and couldn’t really decide between them… so I settled on both. I’ve selected June for the bike trip and September for the walking tour. In doing so, I aim to avoid the busier periods and, potentially, enjoy more stable weather.

Training has now started in earnest… ish.

Riding a bike at this time of year requires a special kind of masochism. Hail is my favourite. Still, the hard yards now will hopefully soften the blow of, say, the Col de l’Iseran and Bonette.

Hopefully.

Bob Jackson World Tour