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.
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.