Fjords Tour (SfSS) – Day 3

Day 3 – Botn to Ortnevik – 48 miles

Day3Fabulous, fabulous, fabulous! Today was a day which we have been anticipating for many months. We prayed that today we would have sunshine, and God did not disappoint us. Our route would take us along the shore of Sognefjord for the whole day. Once fuelled with porridge we set off. After less than an hour we were on the quiet road which would have almost to ourselves all day. We were heading for Ortnevik which was at the very end of the road. We only saw around a car an hour, the road surface was excellent and the route had no significant climb on it all day. Ideal for lying back (as one does on a recumbent) peddling away and enjoying the view. The best way to describe the route is with pictures not words, so here goes:

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IMG_6941Upon arrival in Ortnevik there were no signs to the ‘cabins’ we planned to stay in and the chap in the shop couldn’t help either. However a quick phone call brought forth the girlfriend of the couple who have the cabins who turned out to be English, paired with a local chap. Now we did face a steep climb as their farm and cabins were a little way up, up, up the valley. But when we got there the cabin was excellent as was the view.

Ortevik Cabin

The next morning it turned out the price was pretty reasonable too (we were too tired to ask the night before, and anyway had no other option). It offered great walk options too, so well worth considering.

Continue to Day 4

Fjords Tour (SfSS) – Day 2

Day 2 – Manger to Botn – 46 miles

Today was about covering ground to get us to the shore of Sognefjord, but proved a pleasant ride nonetheless. It was Sunday and the roads were really quiet – although another reason for this was that this was, Norway’s ‘Constitution Day’.

Route - part 1

Route – From Start to Ferry

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Route - part 2

Route – from Ferry to Sognefjord

There were many flags in evidence and groups of people in traditional dress taking part in celebrations in all the villages we passed through. By lunchtime we had reached the ferry port at Slovag. It was not warm so we enjoyed the heated waiting room for the short time before the ferry arrived. It was a 30 minute crossing, so an excellent time for lunch especially as it had just started to rain. From the main road out of Leirvag we caught occasional glimpses of Eidesfjorden and the mountains on the far side and then it was time to peel off onto a side road to take us up one of only two big climbs of the tour, to get us into the neighbouring ‘valley’ of Sognefjord. As we descended the other side of the rain started in earnest but we were soon in the reception building of Botnen campsite. The sun did emerge again later that evening and revealed a truly magnificent view across the fjord. A foretaste of what we were to enjoy the next day.

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Continue to Day 3

HPV CommuteMachine

It always seems a shame to put up a post without a photo or two within it. Perhaps I’ll have chance to add one later. What follows is likely to bear relation to many people who have been bitten by the recumbent bug. One is never enough. I think the reason is clear and normally unspoken….   For all the advantages of riding recumbent, the challenge is which design of bike or trike to choose.   When you have a choice with anything in life you have to play the pluses against the minuses – but with ‘bents the designs we have today, I am not aware of a machine out there which has the breadth of utility of a conventional diamond-frame design. With my 531 steel tourer, a little gentle off road is OK, riding with a group of roadies is OK and it’s good for commuting to work, pulling a kiddy trailer and of course it excels at touring. But if such true versatility exists in a ‘bent I have yet to see the design to achieve this. I would however be delighted to be corrected on this, dear reader.

My recumbent journey started with a trike. I opted for full suspension as it had 20” wheels and being a ‘bent I could not hitch myself out of the saddle for pot holes. It was supremely comfortable and an enormous amount of fun. It was fabulous for commuting and OK for short local day rides. However for longer day rides or touring the mechanical inefficiency of having three wheels on the road, the losses into the suspension / chain tubes and the weight meant that 40 miles felt like 60, especially when hauling panniers or a baby trailer. I did take it on a tour  which I really enjoyed, but it was too hard work up hills with a load. As I say, 40 miles felt like 60. It was however great in the snow and I think it is this capability that I will miss most, but probably only for one week every five years. She is now sold.

My downfall was looking for the most efficient long distance, hill climbing machine on the market. There seemed to be two designs considered to contend for this prize. The Lightning P38  and the Metabike.   I did get to sit on a P38 thanks to a kind young lady in Edinburgh who dropped into Laid Back Bikes (LBB) when I was there for a test ride. But in that short time I simply could master riding it. Also, it had a 20” unsuspended front wheel which from my experience is just not practical on British roads where we don’t so much ride on the left of the road as ride on what is left of the road!  Whilst I was at LBB I tried a Nazca Fuego (20” unsuspended front wheel) and whilst this was great in many ways, on Edinburgh cobbles it did seek to shake out all my fillings! So having tried a few designs I opted for the Metabike, where the 28” wheels take the edge off the British roads without having the inherent inefficiency of mechanical suspension. It was and is great, but as I said it was also my downfall. This showed me just how fast and efficient a ‘bent could be.  It doesn’t have suspension or chain tube losses, it isn’t heavy and yet the frame is braced and stiff. It allows me average speeds, over the same route, some 2 mph faster than my standard touring bike. So I found I did not need to compromise efficiency to enjoy the laid back posture of ‘bent riding, from then on the days were numbered for the trike.

However, whilst the Metabike is truly fabulous for day rides and touring, and if you are a regular reader you’ll know I rode along the Pennines / Spine of the England in the summer, it is not ideal for commuting in stop / start commuter traffic.   So what to do if I want to keep my ‘bent muscles working between tours, have the pleasure of a laid back commute into work but not be peddling something I know is far harder (less efficient) that I know it could be? It was time to research a compromise machine. Something easier to balance in stop/start traffic, good over potholes and yet not as inefficient as the trike… I guess it should be no surprise that my choice was to be the recumbent which is the most popular in the UK. Others also must have been looking for a versatile machine, and perhaps it is what I should have started with too. That said, hindsight is always 20:20!

So three weeks ago I went for a long drive to test ride, then purchase and bring home a second hand HPV Streetmachine GTe.   The first thing it needed was a change of drive chain to lose the grip shifts and 8 speed rear mech. My thanks to the ever helpful Richard at ATR Cycles for his advice and speedy work upgrading me to bar end shifters, cable oilers (ready for the winter) and rear cassette. She is now a great ride. Not as efficient as the Metabike, but on the spectrum from suspended trike to High Racer I know I am far closer to the High Racer end of the range. And for me efficiency really matters, not just as a concept but because my commute home involves picking up my son in his trailer and then cycling up hill to get home.

‘bent over the Pennines 5th and Final Day : Holmfirth to Ilam – 60 miles

Life has rather got in the way of blogging, so the conclusion of my tour notes has been somewhat delayed. For this, dear reader, I apologise. However the distractions have all been good ones! When I left off I had just reached Holmfirth, stopping some 10-12 miles before my planned end point because day four had proved to be the meanest stretch that the Pennines would have to offer. The Holme Valley Campsite proved to be very good. That it was so quiet was not be expected from the map, falling as it does between two busy A roads. However not only was it a haven of peace, the staff were fabulous and hospitable too. Also their new shower block was nothing short of the state of the art – and no coin slots for the showers. What a welcome change compared to our time in Barnoldswick.

early_LOTSW_5Rolling back into the town centre was an easy start, but Holme Moss was there waiting for me. Once again the initial climb was very steep, but soon settled out to a manageable 1:7. The TDF went this way, but took the A6024 over the fell which was (once again) a slightly easier route than NCN 68. If I were to do it again, I’d follow the A road, as the support van reported that this was a pretty quiet road even at around 5 pm. On top of the fell it was a little misty, the first less than perfect weather of the trip. However I was soon down from height and barrelling down towards the Woodhead Pass (A628). Luckily I joined this on a downhill section (heading West) and so was able to keep up a respectable 38-40 mph and was thus not so much slower than the trucks. There were plenty of those and I was glad to get to the Torside Resovoir and onto the B road on the other side. The ride down into Glossop was both glorious and all but traffic free. I didn’t stop in the town, nothing invited me to do so and it was busy with traffic as usual. The really steep hills were now behind me, but there were still a couple of significant climbs ahead. The countryside rolled and swayed as I entered Derbyshire and apart from one navigational error it was an easy ride to my lunch spot. The wind had built up, and whilst this is not a big issue peddling a ‘bent, it did mean seeking cover for my lunch. The Pack Horse Inn filled my beer stomach nicely, and after a rest it was time to hit the road again. My hope (which turned out to be realized) was that this should turn out to be the easiest afternoon of the trip.   In terms of what I had seen up until this point, really there was only one more ‘real hill’ to get over that day. This was just outside Buxton. I deviated away from NCN 68 as my advice had told me that ‘off road’ section was far too rough for me. Sticking to the A5004 I thought I had ‘hit the wall’. Instead it turns out that Long Hill is aptly named. I could see that I was on the side of a hill, but not until the road snaked back on itself did I get to see where I had come from… And this told me that I was not running out of steam, I was instead battling up a very long [if gentle] climb. This was finally rewarded by a sweeping decent into Buxton and a trip to Gregg’s to try out a couple of their Danish Pastries. Two for the price of one, it would have been rude not to! Mrs W and the support van arrived in town just after me and together we had a fun conversation with a cycling cleric who wanted to know more about my Metabike. What a great chap he was and I was buoyed up for the final leg with the assurance that ‘there are no more big hills South of here.’

The Quiet Woman PH

10 miles outside of Buxton I joined the Monsal Trail. The surface was much better than I remembered from my last trip here in 2005. Perhaps it had been improved? The dry weather will have helped. Now the challenge was on; would I be able to complete the final 20 miles before dinner time / my own personal energy store ran low? A nice flat level trail really is ‘bent country, and apart from negotiating around dawdling grockels I was managing 20-22 mph all the way. This suggested that I would get to Ilam, my end destination within the hour. This is in fact exactly what happened. Whilst lacking in geological drama, the rail-bed route made up for this with bucolic views seen at high speed, or at least what is high speed for a long distance tourist at the end of a long day.

Our final campsite proved to be the delight we hoped it would be. The NT site at Ilam Hall. A little luxury and the chance for a couple of days family time at the end of the tour.

Ilam HallSo would I recommend NCN 68? A qualified yes… …the scenery was outstanding, the route quiet (apart from the Woodhead Pass!) and the sense of achievement massive. I’m glad I got the chance to do it ‘supported’ however and did not have the weight of touring gear. Given the hills on days three and four, very short days would have been in order had I had this weight with me. I would have added a day. However I had no weight, so for me it as an excellent route.  Pleasingly also, I can counter the misconception that ‘bents cannot climb.   It is true that a lot of ‘bents are built more for comfort rather than speed, but there are at least two designs out there which have the same / very similar mechanical efficiency to the standard diamond frame design and the Metabike is one of those. So it was a great route for a great bike – luckily I was on just such a machine and had great weather thrown in for good measure.

‘bent over the Pennines Day 4 : Salterforth to Holmfirth – 41 (hard) miles

IMG_6419The campsite at Salterforth had little to recommend it apart from its convenient location so I headed out early along the canal towpath towards Foulridge. The flat start to the day was to be a vast contrast to what was waiting beyond Colne. The next three valleys I was to cross seemed to have near vertical sides to them, and the initial climb was tough to impossible in each case. Could I have ridden all the way up these on a conventional bike? Somehow I doubt it would have been possible even then. However, in each case the gradient soon reduced some quarter of a mile up each climb into something steady and manageable. The tops of the fells were at their very best in the glorious sunshine. Reservoirs were features at the top of each of these fells and they were lovely in each case

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On one fell top, as I stopped for a drink, I met the only people I was to meet on the tour who were riding the same route as me – NCN 68. They were heading North and were keen to hear which sections of ‘off road’ where OK to tackle and which to avoid. As I said in an earlier post I was indebted to the group from CTC Cambridge whose blog had given me the low down on this and had guided me well on all but the rail bed of day 1.

The next landmark was the M62. Whilst I was doing this ride to enjoy the wild splendor of the hills, there always seems something special about crossing a motorway. Perhaps this is because of my penchant for riding or walking ‘Coast to Coast’ and because the M6 and A1 feel like major milestones on such crossings? Route 68 takes a tunnel under the M62 which was rather fun.

It was time for a rest when I reached bustling Hebden Bridge and time to top of up water. The Metabike turned heads and a number of people were keen to know ‘how do you start off on that thing’ and ‘can we watch you set off?’ It pays not to be too shy if you ride a ‘bent because you are always going to stand out from the crowd. I decided to follow the canal towards Sowerby Bridge but soon found this too slow for my liking. Also I simply didn’t feel confident riding over the cobbles which seemed to be a feature under each bridge so I headed out onto the A646. Route 68 takes you South of the canal on minor roads, but this would have been very up and down. After my climb over the fells from Colne I wanted lunch before I tackled anything too challenging again.

IMG_6426On the outskirts of Sowerby Bridge ‘Friendly Fisheries’ came into view and this looked a good place/plaice to buy lunch. The day was sunny and warm, the hills significant and your truly was good and sweaty. As the lady behind the counter rooted through the Haddock to choose one to fry she seemed to be paying undue attention to the task. I must have looked like I’d done a good mornings work because the result, once cooked, was a very big portion – I must have conveyed the full hunger I was feeling! Once again I had to push the bike up the initial ascent out of Sowerby Bridge– but a bench at the top of the steep section gave me a lunch-spot with a view over the town.

This time the fell had a greater length of elevated section which I enjoyed greatly. Once again there was an attractive reservoir to ride around. Interestingly some of the reservoirs in this area provide water to the high sections of the local canals rather than drinking water. Finally I descended through the attractive and amusingly titled Upper Thong. My schoolboy mind boggled! It had been the toughest day yet by some margin and it was almost dinner time when I peddled into the attractive Holme Valley campsite just outside Holmfirth. I was to save Holm Moss, made famous by day two of the TDF until the morning.

Coming soon – Holmforth to Dovedale, the concluding section of my Spine of England tour.

‘bent over the Pennines Day 3 – Castle Bolton to Salterforth – 45 miles

IMG_6412The start of the day took me along Wensleydale; fast riding with gentle undulations. Soon however, the climb up into Coverdale began along with the wonderful views which this affords. For most of the ride up this Dale the gradients are gentle, but you know you are heading ever upwards. Finally the string of settlements come to an end and the real climbing, up the Flank of Great Whernside, begins. Once above the treeline, the views stretch a long way and you really feel a sense of exhilarating isolation. The final stretch of climb saw me walking on two occasions, but thanks to a quick prayer, the clouds depositing their blessings into the next valley and not onto me. A climb like this, in summer, in Goretex would have been very warm indeed. The view from Park Rash Pass made me feel I was looking down on the whole of the Dales.

The descent towards Kettlewell was steep and winding, the 25% sections reminding me why I’ve always ridden this from NE to SW and not in reverse. Descending a 25% gradient on a recumbent is an odd sensation as it almost feels as if you are standing upright.

I was feeling tired as I headed along Wharfedale towards Grassington and glad to be following the valley floor. Lunchtime would see me all but on the edge of the Dales and about to leave Yorkshire for Lancashire. My support crew met me Hetton for lunch and I was able to shelter from the lunchtime shower in the van, Barm cake in hand.

I was now back on familiar ground with my route criss-crossing the Leeds to Liverpool Canal through Gargrave and Barnoldswick and finishing in Salterforth. I was now on the route I took when I first took the Metabike out for a long ride. Finishing mid-afternoon gave time for Nathan to enjoy an a bath ‘al fresco…

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…and then for the whole family to take a walk along the canal, albeit in the rain which I had managed to miss seeing close up all day.

‘bent over the Pennines Day 2 – Appleby to Castle Bolton – 40 miles

After rain overnight, the weather cleared for another dry sunny day. This was to be the dawn of the greatest day of cycling I’ve ever enjoyed in the UK.   The day started on gentle rolling terrain heading East into Kirkby Steven. Mellow riding in lovely sunshine. The gentle ripples of the landscape became ever bigger, just like the pattern of waves on a pond as you look towards where the stone plopped into the water. I was now on the same roads as the part of our extended Dales Cycleway but without any hint of rain this time. Then I came to Barras and what a mighty slope faces you when you leave the village on the Tan Hill Road. Last time it beat me, but this time I conquered! Once up the steep section it was then a really pleasant gentle climb all the way up to the highest pub in England. The views just got better and better as I climbed. I recalled slogging up here in heavy rain just a few weeks previously – what a difference some sunshine makes (I imagine the lack of a 20 kg trailer helped a little too). I was buoyed up by the time I reached the Tan Hill Inn and had worked up a thirst.

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Suitably hydrated I headed up onto Arkengarthdale Moor which yielded a fabulous vista over Yorkshire to the West, whilst temptingly hiding the delights of Swaledale to the East. A satisfying flat section (possibly the last I was going to see before reaching Derbyshire three days later) the gave way to a sweeping descent towards the fabulously named Whaw – and phwoar! what a view greeted me there.

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A cheeky little climb is all the stood between me and the steep drop into Reeth and my lunch spot – sat on the green in the sunshine alongside the support crew who met me for lunch.

ReethThere wasn’t far to go now, it being a day it would not be practical to extend. You don’t just slip Coverdale onto the end of a day as an afterthought, well not unless you are Sir Bradley anyway. Next was [Côte de] Grinton Moor – one of the climbs on Le Grand Depart. I noted that the TDF route took the lower, easier road over the aptly named Wimp Hill… I took the route over the top on the Dales Cycleway, although admittedly I did have to stop for a puff on a few occasions on the way up. On a recumbent you have to spin up a hill, which is OK unless the hill is too steep for too long. A short section of 1:5 is OK, as is many miles of 1:8 but something in between can leave you anoxic. Once again, what was steep at the start settled out as soon as the first 10% was out of the way. How lovely to then freewheel down into Wensleydale, the home of Wallace’s favourite cheese and a chance to take Mrs W (and Junior) out to the Bolton Arms to celebrate our 8th wedding anniversary. And since this is apparently the ‘salt’ anniversary, chips were a cultural must. What a truly great day.

 Coming soon ‘bent over the Pennines Day 3 – Castle Bolton to Barnoldswick.