Mrs W and Junior were planning to spend a few days with her parents, whilst I had to be at work. They were to be away for a good chunk of the weekend also, so what was I to do with my freedom from responsibility? How about a micro adventure? Cycling to the Dales, going at my pace and thriving on the hills rather than cycling around them (as I would if I had Junior in tow)? Living in East Lancashire is a blessing with so much beautiful countryside on our doorstep and yet more no great distance away. So a plan was hatched to take in my favourite road in the Forest of Bowland along with along the lesser known routes in and out of Littondale.
Day 1 – The day started heavily overcast, but the forecast promised that the cloud would lift and the sun make an appearance by late morning (and indeed it did). My route was as follows:
First of all I took a new route over Grindleton Fell which I’d not ridden before, following NCN Route 90 from Holden. This route is further down the flank of the fell than the one I would normally take and proved to be a steadier gradient, to a lesser height but with views and as least as attractive as my usual route. New views are always a delight.
By the time I reached Slaidburn the sun was firmly in evidence and yet the day was not to hot. Ideal cycling weather. Now it was time to climb to the head of the Hodder Valley and up to the Yorkshire border. The ‘Trough of Bowland’ is the famous route through the Bowland Fells, my route being the only other North-South route in an area blessedly low in roads (I really must walk out into the middle of this wild space some time, but given it’s size and I think would be another micro-adventure in itself as a tent would be needed mid-way between access points.)
Arrival at the Yorkshire border yielded a glorious view of Pen-y-Ghent and Whernside.
My route then took me through very pleasant fields and woods to the New Inn at Clapham. Never one to turn down a special offer I tried a pint of their ‘special’ ale at a price even a true blooded Yorkshireman would have been happy with (more than could be said for their regular beers). This washed down my butties nicely and then it was time to make my way to the foot of my final climb of the day. Up Silverdale and along the flank of Pen-y-Ghent and Plover Hill themselves. My previous attempt at this route had been my first proper ride on the Metabike in traffic. Back then this climb had defeated me in two places where I had to get off and push. Would I be able to make it to the summit this time? Was I still ‘race fit’ after our tour of Norway in May? The answer was yes and yes – I was delighted to peddle all the way to the summit without any stretch really testing me to the limit. I must be stronger than two years ago, which when you are in your 40’s is a great boost to the self esteem. I rewarded myself with a rest break on the summit and the geek-treat of emailing a selfie to Mrs W.
Now I could swoop down into Halton Gill and then enjoy the longest strength of flat road I’d seen all day, taking me down the valley to Arncliffe. I was booked into The Falcon that night, not somewhere I’d even had a beer in before – but they had space available at the last minute and no single person supplement. (Now who sounds like a Yorkshireman?). Stepping into the pub was like stepping back in time, but also enabled me to encounter the warmest hospitality I think I’ve ever known in any overnight hostelry. The family who run the Falcon were warm, generous and helpful and even lent me a laptop to download the GPS route file for Day 2 which I’d prepared but forgotten to upload onto the Garmin. I had a backup on paper, but this would have been something of a hassle on a ‘bent. They are not built to hold maps and having a GPS strapped to the tiller is not only a great option, but really the only practical navigating option you have.
48 miles and 4243 feet of height gain got me the chance to sit back on a sofa, pint in one hand and novel in the other – bliss.
Day 2 – Breakfast was at 0830, by which time the overnight rain had cleared and whilst overcast the day looked promising – it looked like the forecast of the cloud lifting and clearing was a credible prediction. I’d treated myself to a pair of 25 litre panniers for weekends such as this, as with this volume you can carry enough for a weekend. Just the size that Frank Burns would approve of. I draped these over the seat of the Metabike (panniers on a ‘bent are often hung just as they would be on a horse, rather than clamped to a rack.) and set off in the direction of Malham. I’d been warned by locals that the road was steep and “I’d never get up it on one of those sleeping bikes!” Well I think I would have proven them wrong had I not had to get off to let a car past on a section of 1 in 5. But once at the top of this I found no need to dismount again. The elevated sections of this road towards Malham tarn were gorgeous. It felt like a special achievement to be peddling up at this level as I remember the magnitude of the walk to get there from the other side.
However as I peddled across I mused on the tiredness of my legs. I considered too if after another 35 miles I’d be OK to ride to the summit of Slack Top (925 feet) and thought better of this. Just then Mrs W texted that she would be home by 1400 and that was my mind made up. I’d head to the River Ribble and take a flat route back home. The river valley was a scenic contrast to the Fells as well as being an easier ride. I was home in 31 miles and in time for lunch. Achieving this distance by lunchtime seemed ‘none too shabby’ and I was then able to take Junior to the playground to enjoy his own micro adventure on the slide and the swings.