It has become a tradition that, for Christmas each year, I buy my husband (and me) a night away in a B&B without the children. Before you jump to any conclusions, or worry about where this post might go, I should also add that his Christmas envelope also contains a little map, showing where we’ll be riding before arrival at the B&B. Not for us the luxury spa with couples massage and champagne on arrival; we aim to pedal until our legs have just enough energy left in them to allow us to stagger to a nearby pub and back for food and beers.
So, this weekend started with the usual trip over to the in-laws to allow us to leave the children as early as possible and get plenty of riding in (bikes, you lot, riding bikes). All the running around packing clothes for everyone meant I forgot to head out on my bike until dusk, so at the last minute I hopped on my bike and had a quick ride around the estate. In an effort to save time and get out before it got dark, I didn’t bother to put my shoes on, and it was only as I headed down the road that I realised there was a fair chance that someone might call the police and report a stolen road bike being ridden down the road by a thief in socks. I snapped a quick picture of the sky, which was doing pretty things, and rode back before anyone could arrest me.
Next day, we headed off bright and early to Aysgarth in the Yorkshire Dales. Now I know this blog is supposed to extol the virtues of the South Pennines, but the great thing about the South Pennines is that you can easily get to the Dales, but you don’t have to work in a B&B or a craft shop. I’m exaggerating slightly, but a lot of the Dales is lovely precisely because it’s so quiet, the roads are quiet because there’s very little reason to go from A to B, and I think I might go a little crazy if I actually lived there…unless I had one of the humongous houses with a vast garden, green house, and outbuildings big enough for many kinds of bicycle, workstands and maybe even one of those wall mounted tool racks where there’s a special space for every tool…but then my craft shop/B&B would have to be awfully successful, so I think I’ll stick with living in the slightly more practical South Pennines.
Anyway, the Dales is lovely to visit, especially if the weather is as kind as it was on Saturday. We did a 77km loop from Aysgarth, taking in the well known climbs of Buttertubs (where I got a little weepy as I rode past the sight of those famous crowd shots from last year’s Tour de France) and Tan Hill. Just before Reeth, we turned off a road called Bouldershaw Lane that I’d included on the route purely because it was marked with steep gradient arrows on the map. This had been spectacularly resurfaced, and its super smooth finish made climbing off into the wilderness a joy. The hairpin descent down to a surprise ford was slightly interesting – maybe the warning signs have yet to be put back post resurfacing – and I’m afraid we both chickened out of riding over the cobbled ford and made use of the footbridge instead. Feeling like we really were out in the wilds, I couldn’t believe it when I round a corner to find Jamie Wardley of Sand in Your Eye (he created the Loss Is Eternal sculpture at Hebden Bridge Town Hall last year) out for a walk with his family – small world and all that. Another climb and another superfast-if-slightly-scary descent, and we were in Reeth for a late lunch. A final climb up of Greets Moss and we were back in Aysgarth in time for a wander round the famous falls, and surprisingly interesting church. Total distance – 77km; total climb – 1984m; total cars – 10. Really, it was that quiet – we hardly saw any cars at all, we probably saw more cyclists that we did cars. Every road offered lovely views and good surfaces. This route should be on a ‘rides to do before you die’ list. Heaven. And I got to spend most of the day looking at my husband’s bottom while drafting behind him – added bonus.
After a cooked breakfast on Sunday, we ventured back out to some more roads I’d spotted on the map sporting gradient arrows, this time of the double variety. As promised, the hills were indeed steep, and I did begin to worry if this was such a good idea after such a large breakfast. Upon reaching the top of the first climb, we took a road which only just qualified as a road. There was grass down the middle, the tarmac was crumbling, and there were numerous gates to keep the sheep from wandering off. There were also spectacular views across the valley, as the road followed the top edge of a small scar. Unfortunately the weather was a little cooler than the day before and I couldn’t quite face taking my gloves off to take as many pictures as the scenery warranted. Along the valley bottom, back over another 2 arrow hill, and the breakfast was successfully burned off. I even managed to hang on to my husband’s wheel as he tried to drop me. To be fair, it was into a headwind. Still, it was his Christmas present, so it’s only fair to let him go first, right?