Three days in the Dales

Since riding the Way of the Roses with my good friend Tim a couple of years ago, I’ve wanted to return to God’s Own Country for some more two-wheeled purgatory. Our time in the Dales – albeit brief – on this wonderful route was characterised by vertiginous climbs, incongruously dry karst scenery, formidable slabs of cake and rather excellent beer.

Quite a bit has happened since then. And while the distractions of parenthood have been, at times, monopolising, the part of me that is constantly planning the next trip has not fallen silent.

That next trip would be the Yorkshire Dales Cycleway, and I booked three days away from the desk to pedal it.

Loading the bike into the car on a sunny Monday morning, I had to confront an unfamiliar emotion – leaving the family behind. My work sees me away from home most weeks, but this was different. I was going away for fun, and somehow it seemed wrong that Sophie and Joe were not coming with me. Actually, I should be completely honest here: I was sad that Sophie wasn’t joining me. As much as I love taking the Surly Burley for a spin, it can be a bit limiting. I hope Soph and I can grab some time on the bikes together soon.

The descent to Dent – steep

The Yorkshire Dales Cycleway is a 130-mile route that takes in most of the major the dales in this lovely district. In the wake of the extension to the Dales Park in 2016, there is a longer route that visits Sedbergh and the grassy hummocks of the Howgills, adding 25 miles to the route. Given I had three days to spare, along with travel, I opted for the ‘standard route’. While 130 miles may not seem much, the route packs a punch boasting over 4,300 meters of climbing. For someone who hadn’t spent that much time on a bike on the last year or so, it represented a challenge.

With this in mind, I planned a three-day itinerary that provided a relatively easy first day, with the parcours becoming progressively more arduous. This meant starting in the village of Kettlewell in Upper Wharfedale.

Day One – And the going is easy

I parked in the large National Park car park in the village which has the advantage of offering longer stay tickets – the older I get, prosaic concerns such as car parking seem to matter more and more.

I was soon ready to roll and pushed off along a quite lane following the easterly bank of the River Wharfe. Within approximately 35 seconds, I was beaming. It felt so good to be on the bike again, revelling in the knowledge that I would be doing precisely the same thing again tomorrow and the day after.

The stern easterly being funnelled down the dale provided a few ‘bonus watts’ to each pedal stroke and no doubt lightened my mood. Aeolus may have been smiling on me now, but he wouldn’t tomorrow. I got a sampler of the headwind to come while pedalling along the B6265 to re-join the route after Bolton Abbey, in order to avoid retracing my wheel tracks. For the record, this is not recommended. While the headwind was unpleasant, this B road is dogged by heavy traffic and much of it seemingly piloted by impatient folk.

Picking up the route at Cracoe, I hoped one of its cafés would be open. Alas, no. I ended ducking under the beams in the Devonshire Arms for a lime and soda. The grumpy triumvirate at the bar meant I didn’t delay. This trio seemed game for a debate on cycle helmets and ‘road tax’ upon seeing me and while I was itching to deliver my soliloquy on these subjects, a little voice reminded me that I was on holiday and my blood pressure would thank me for the restraint.


I pushed on in search of chocolate-based calories. I was banking on the Town End farm shop and café being open. Why wouldn’t it be? First week of the Easter holiday for some and folk would now doubt be cramming into this establishment after it featured in TV’s Top of the Shop with chef and all-round Mr Nice Guy Tom Kerridge.

It was closed.

I only had myself to blame. A bit of research goes a long way.

All that remained was to push on to my overnight stop of Malham ahead of schedule and hope to find victuals. This came in the form of a rather limp and mean-looking cheese and pickle sandwich from the Old Barn Café washed down with plain old filter coffee (‘The machine’s broken!’)

Unmoved by this meagre offering, I went next door to the Buck where a pot of ‘Yerrkshuh’ tea and a slab of carrot cake were far more satisfactory.

Climbing out of Malham

Now late afternoon, and with time to kill before check in at the youth hostel, I went for a spin up one of Malham’s two climbs – hefty ramps that thread sinuous routes through the limestone pavement. Tim and I had plunged down one of these roads on the Way of the Roses causing Tim’s front disc to ‘melt’.  I enjoyed the effort tackling it in the other direction, the low sun giving depth and texture to the scenery. I then walked the usually busy path to Malham Cove to find it empty, save for climber grappling with the limestone crags above. I sat listening to the river, now emerged once more after descending to a subterranean course a mile or so away at Water Sinks near Malham Tarn.

Some peace by the river

Day Two – Do you know what really grinds my gears?

I can’t help feeling a wistful when I sit down to breakfast in a youth hostel. While the quality of the fare may not be top notch, there is something agreeably hearty and honest about the food on offer that takes me back to trips as a teenager, walking the hills and cramming in the calories on a budget.

Stuffing pastries into my jersey pockets, a retrieved the bike, loaded my simple luggage and headed for the climb to Malham Cove behind the hostel. This is a reasonable challenge in anyone’s road book and the ascent got the blood pumping. Yesterday’s easterly had gained additional legs overnight which made the going much harder.

The gradient soon eased and I pedalled along a deserted single-track road with the tarn to my right. It was glorious riding, given an added piquancy with the knowledge that I would normally by sitting down to work at this time.


The road dropped into a lonely valley at Sannat Hall Farm that required some effort to ascend the far side. It then hit me that Tim and I had travelled this road in the other direction two years previously. Then I had managed to pedal up the steep climb that I had now tentatively descended – disc brakes squealing in protest. There would be much more of this to come.

I soon reached Settle where I had a task to fulfil. Stupidly, I had forgotten my phone charger and despite eking out the juice on my mobile since discovering my cloth headedness, I needed a solution. I’m no slave to the phone, but it’s now more important to keep in touch with home and, as an avid ViewRanger user, I do like to use my device for navigation and route tracking.

It was market day in the town and I hoped that would mean a watch battery/vaping/phone unlocking/screen protector/mobile case (delete as appropriate) stall. I found said stall but the chap didn’t have a C-type mini USB cable among his collection.

‘I really need a petrol station with a shop,’ I ventured. The helpful stallholder pointed me in the right direction and I was soon on my way again with a new universal power block and cable.

Heading in a roughly north westerly direction and following the southern boundary of the Park, the route takes a breather from the climbing for a while. This changes after Ingleton, though. Aware that harder yards were to come, I stopped at Bernie’s for, ahem, two cakes, coffee and tea. The stop also gave me an opportunity to charge the phone.

The route then climbs to Kingsdale and follows a north easterly course. Today, that meant I would be pedalling directly into the teeth of the wind that had been tapping me on the shoulder since Kettlewell. Described as a ‘moderate breeze’ in the forecast, it made the going arduous and reminded me of a particularly challenging day in Iceland a few years back.

Dent viaduct

Kingsdale provided a stunning backdrop to my labours, though. The country felt lonely here and I had the road to myself. In common with other sections of the Dales Cycleway, the route is gated which provided additional torment in the wind. I reached White Shaw Moss and plummeted into Deep Dale only to check my progress as the road took on an alarming gradient. Brakes and nerves tested, I arrived at the pretty village of Dent to find the recommended Meadowside café closing early as the owners were attending a funeral. I tried the Heritage Centre and was not disappointed. The grilled cheese and ham sandwich was a delight, washed down with yet more tea. Sometimes, all you want are the simple things done well.

I followed the route along beautiful Dent Dale, enjoying the peace offered by this altogether quieter valley. The imposing Dent viaduct soon loomed and the climbing started again to Newby Head Moss. Here, I had another flashback. Riding home from Scotland some years back I had travelled this way following an off road route to Horton in Ribblesdale. That had been a challenging but altogether amazing day, too.

From here, it was a simple descent to Hawes on the B6255… the road was full of heavy traffic and I was glad to reach the hostel.

On the climb to Newby Head Moss

Day Three – Put your back into it

After embarrassing myself again at breakfast, I ventured outside the sample the temperature. There had been a frost overnight and the frigid morning air had me digging into my bike bags to find extra layers and gloves. I headed along Wensleydale with two Buffs arranged ‘Ninja-style’ to keep my face covered.

At Askrigg, the route would climb again and my legs were just about warm when I reached the foot of this supposed 25% pull. The gradient is more like 18% according to the various hill-bagging cycle sites, but it’s a decent test nonetheless. More important than the stats, it’s a really lovely ride but be ready for another alarming descent into Swaledale at Crow Trees.

The climb from Askrigg
Reaching the high ground

Here, the route heads east along the B6270 and, while quiet this Wednesday morning, I know from previous experience this road can be busy in peak season and for good reason as Swaledale is a lovely place to linger. Fortunately, the Dales Cycleway crosses the river and picks up a narrow lane the climbs the southerly slopes of the valley. Consulting the map, it is possible to plot an alternative route that would avoid the B-route altogether.

I’d pedalled 20 miles or so by the time I reached Grinton and the need for coffee and cake was palpable. I headed off route to Reeth only to stumble on the Dales Cycle Centre (what did I say about too little research being a dangerous thing!?) Happily it was open, the coffee was superb as was the plum flapjack and ‘all-the -chocolate’ brownie. Highly recommended!

Nom, nom, nom etc

I spent half an hour or so in the café warming my extremities yet mindful of the obstacles that lay ahead. I reluctantly left and immediately felt the strain of the climb to Grinton Moor which felt more gradual and akin to the climbs back home in the Peak. Tumbling down the other site to Castle Bolton I screeched to a halt as a Dales Cycle Way sign pointed left to a farm gate. Checking the map, this was indeed correct and I pedalled along a lovely farm track that would have met the criteria of the Grass up the Middle folk.

From here, the route takes in pretty villages and leaves the National park for a wee while. The sun now shone as I entered Coverdale for the final hurrah of the route. The climb out of this dale and into Wharfedale once more is a stunning, seemingly remote pedal with just sheep and the odd adventurous motorists for company. I stopped at the Hunters Stone – just shy of the summit – and found a hollow in the hillside out of the wind to eat the remainder of my trail mix and sunbathe.

Hunters Stone

It was one of those wonderfully restorative experiences that you sometimes encounter on the hill; the wind whistling around you and yet you’re shielded from its pernicious intent. You have an overwhelming sense of presence and detachment from the daily grind that is mercifully going on somewhere else.

Aware that my trip would soon be over, I pedalled slowly over the summit cattle grid and gingerly descended into Kettlewell. Here the route had one final sting in the tail. The switchbacks at Park Rash need great care on descent. This is a genuine 25% ramp and I treated it with great respect. With brakes simmering, I dropped into Kettlewell for a celebratory ice cream.

Four months in… and gently does it

Joseph, the new addition to the Northern Walker posse, has had one or two outdoors-lite experiences since he joined us in March. And in keeping with what has gone before in this blog, I already have one or two observations on kit.

Boots, baby and the ErgoBaby 360

Incorporating a little human into our albeit gentle forays into the Peak District and beyond has not been without incident – normally associated with what’s appearing out of Joe’s rear end. But Joe’s mum, Sophie, and I are living and learning and every day’s a school day.

Early adventuring saw us hiking in the gentle hills and dales near home. Joe was carried in an inherited ErgoBaby 360 carrier mounted on the front. This has proven to be an excellent carrier and Joe loves it, more often than not sleeping for two hours or more while mum and dad wander and natter. The disadvantage of this well-made baby lugger is that it runs warm, particularly for me. It’s also a little on the small side for anyone over six foot. Weather protection necessitates the purchase of additional rain covers and other accessories… or the resourceful addition of muslin cloths and clothes pegs to fend off the sun’s rays.

While airing a rather sweaty Joe after a more challenging bimble around Hathersage, Sophie decided to look for a cooler alternative and we shelled out on a recommended Beco Gemini Cool. This seemingly well-designed carrier will appeal to the lightweight backpackers out there with its use of hi-tech and lightweight materials allied to a strong and secure harness that, on first inspection, transfers weight well to the hips.

However, in practice, we couldn’t get on with this carrier. Joe never felt that secure and the harness proved to be too much of a faff. I’m sure this model works well for some parents, just not us when dealing with the realities of a wriggling child. Fortunately, we bought it from a vendor that allowed a trial period, a recommended safeguard covering purchases for fickle babies and their parents.

The advantages of carrying baby upfront are numerous. You can interact with your precious cargo and baby feels secure and calm, cosseted with a kind of in-utero security. However, there are limitations if you want to tackle more technical ground as you can’t see where you’re putting your feet. While many of these carriers can either be worn front or back (some side-on even), I feel the suggested method of fitting the Ergobaby in reverse is cumbersome and not overly secure. Again, if your little one is docile then I’m sure this works well but Joe is far too active to complete this deft move safely.

Enter a dedicated, rucksack carrier, then. After much research, I opted for an Osprey Poco AG. Expensive, heavy, but very well engineered. Rucksack-type carriers are recommended for babies six months and older but Joe is ahead of the game in terms of his physical development. This may seem a blinkered, new parent boast, but at 18lb 8oz ‘Big Joe’ already has great head control and can sit up. I hope to take this carrier for a test drive this week and will report back… let’s hope he likes it (!)


Yurt life in Swaledale

Last month, I decided to take the new family away for a few days. While this fortuitously coincided with mum’s birthday, I felt we needed to celebrate making it this far as new parents (while only causing minor consternation for the health visitor).

My initial, perhaps optimistic, intention was to go camping. Everyone loves camping, don’t they? …and the boy would love it too! However, the new, somewhat risk-averse voice in my head that has started nagging since Joe arrived saw me find an easier alternative. I find this personal common sense revolution a little unnerving to be honest. I hope as I become more experienced with this baby lark, the slightly more adventurous self will return.

The safer alternative was to go glamping in a yurt in Yorkshire – Swaledale Yurts to be precise. I’d reconnoitered this destination before, both on bike and foot, and had been looking for an opportunity to visit. Suffice to say I can highly recommend it. The pleasant owners can cater for your every need if required while the remoteness of the location will allow you to disconnect for a while – always a good thing.

Joe failing to nap in his temporary home

As for Joe, I think he found his temporary home perhaps a little overwhelming. Although we tried to maintain his normal routine, I think our trip coincided with a major developmental spurt. This has subsequently been confirmed as the last few weeks have been characterised by variable moods and (very) disturbed sleep.

We managed a few gentle hikes in Swaledale, and it was really gratifying to see Joe experience new sights, smells and sounds when not feeding or having a minor huff.

All in all, the trip was mostly successful and it gave us confidence. And given we are heading to Norway in August, it’s confidence we’ll need.


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.


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 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

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.


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

The Way of the Roses day three and four: Ripon to Bridlington

Bob Jackson World Tour – Old skool packing for the road


Cycle Touring Northern England – Berwick on Tweed to Glossop

Bike touring normally means a welcome escape from technology and being ‘connected’. On this trip, I’d never been far from my mobile phone as it served as my navigation device via OS maps and the excellent Viewranger. Perched on my Jones bars using a handy Rixen and Kaul Klikfix mount, it had successfully negated the need to carry numerous paper map sheets and guide books.

ECR on the Sandstone Way bikepack
Great riding on the Sandstone Way near Ingram

The technology came into its own yet again securing digs in Berwick. A quick search on late rooms and Google Maps was directing me to the Rob Roy Inn and a comfortable room. The ECR had a comfortable lodging for the night, too – the games room.

After last night’s extravagant meal, my dinner that night was far more modest. Two course for eight quid – mushrooms with dips and a very good pie and chips. I demolished it with guilt-free relish. Continue reading

Easter in the Yorkshire Dales

If a pattern is emerging in 2015, then it’s to squeeze in as much as possible in the time I have away from the office.

While my four camping trips may pale in comparison to the bevy of lightweight backpackers and cycle tourists who pepper the blogosphere with their exploits, for me the tally is an impressive one.

The fourth trip to add to these pages was an Easter amble to the rather lovely Yorkshire Dales – Swaledale in fact. We took the Vango Force Ten to Usha Gap campsite near Muker and revelled in the scenery and simply wonderful weather. Continue reading

A Bank Holiday and some peace

Travelled up to the Yorkshire Dales on Monday with the crowds. Despite my other half hailing from Gods Own County, she’d never seen the karst in the flesh.

I bored her with how years of percolation had created these impressive landforms (albeit with a bit of periglaciation). She was more concerned about negotiating the steep road climbing out of Wharfedale.

We stopped for fish and chips in Hawes and, slightly stunned by the proliferation of noisy bikers, I took the wheel and we drove down Garsdale by a mistake… but what a happy mistake it was.

New territory for me, we were the only car at times along this beautiful Cumbrian dale.

It is not a remote area by any means, with good links to the M6, more a forgotten valley given the honey pot attractions of the Lakes and Dales so close by.

At the head of the valley, the landscape has a distinct moorland flavour, but as you progress, broad lush fields alongside the River Clough extend to hills beyond, latterly the remote hummocks of the Howgills.

Sedbergh signalled the end of this lovely drive. We are going back in May to linger.