Monday, 5 October 2015

A little exploration does you good.

Sometimes it's worth doing a little exploring, while things may be known to others it's nice to be able to find them for yourself rather than having them handed to you on a plate. With Cath off doing the Yorkshire Dales 200 I'd got the time to myself to locate a couple of descents in Swaledale that I knew about and knew of their approximate location but had never been to or ridden.

The first began near the road and I'd remarked to Cath several times that "That gully starts round here", so parking up near where I thought it would be I followed the first path through the heather that I came across and purely by chance got the right line! A piece of singletrack snaked its way along and down an old "hush", a very old (back to Roman times) means of mining, until it opened out in to a set of mine workings. All very rideable so I walked back up to the car.

The second trail is known as the "Pipeline Descent", I've seen it in a couple of videos and had read a blog on how to get to it, though the latter didn't make a whole lot of sense plus it was described from the opposite direction to how I was intending to get there.

Setting off from the Dales Bike Centre, it was the usual ride along the banks of the Swale until it was time to gird the loins and head up on to Harkerside Moor. I must still be suffering from the cold of a couple of weeks ago and felt like I was struggling and my legs just weren't working. Ahead on the upper traversing track was a group of riders, probably watching me heave my way upwards though they'd gone by the time I reached their position. As I got on to the plateau I could see them contouring the edge of the moor - exactly where I needed to be heading! They must be aiming for the same descent. With the morning dew still on the grass it was quite easy to follow them threading my way through heather and patches of open ground.

The group were just beginning their descent when I got to the start. Declining the offer of the last two to go ahead as I was sure I'd be slower than them (I'm always really slow on descents) I watched them on the first part. The ground wasn't steep but there was really just the one line through it - a semi traverse before pointing downhill as the angle eased and a blast through more heather to the start of the next drop. I committed my usual sin of going too slowly and had to dab but there was really only one short section that was hard. The next part of the descent was in a shallow gully so no chance off falling off and rolling down the hillside, you just had to keep rolling downwards. There was a slot in the bed of the gully about twice the width of the bike tyre so it was a matter of ensuring you followed that. Halfway down there's a couple of blocks across the line so you need to keep some speed going. After that it's just more heading downwards to the moorland below.

I caught the group up a little later, they were on an Orange Bikes demo day and Stu the owner of Dales Bike Centre was with them showing them some trails. After a chat (and to get my breath back) I headed up and across the moor to find the other gully descent. A bit of road climbing and I was there.

No stopping and I was straight in to it, nowhere technical, the hardest part was making sure you had your pedals set correctly so you didn't catch any of the rocks to the side. The whole thing was over far too quickly but then in the workings below I got the wrong side of a drainage channel so a quick dismount and a hop over it and I was on my way again. The rest of the ride was a simple blast down old mining tracks and the road back to the Centre.

After some grub I declined to head out on the second demo ride and drove up the dale to Muker. One published ride that I'd not done in Swaledale was the ride over Kisdon, a curious hill that divides the upper dale - the river runs to one side, the road and habitation are on the other "dry" side. The only problem was that I wasn't entirely sure how to get across the river to begin the loop.

In the end I simply road back down the road until I came to the bridge that we'd crossed on the YD300 and grunted and groaned my way up the tarmac climb on the other side. Eventually the tarmac gave way to rough farm track and I was following the Swale in a wonderful semi-abandoned part of the dale.

All too soon the track began to head upwards towards the wonderfully named Crackpot Hall then it was back down to the level of the Swale where a three-way fingerpost sign gave no indication of where to go (I'd no map with me hence the earlier uncertainty on how to cross the river), two fingers simply said "Pennine Way" and the third, pointing back the way I'd come: "Bridleway". I took a punt and headed down to the bridge and pushed up the other side until another sign indicated "BW Keld". All that remained was the climb back over Kisdon to Muker.

This started off OK but after about 100 metres my legs and lungs simply gave up so it was a case of pushing the bike to the top of the steep section and the first gate. The rest of the climb was steady and soon loose stone gave way to grass, the general angle easing all the while. A couple more gates and I'm at the top. There's hardly any time to savour the views as the track drops away  quckly and begins a helter-skelter of a descent down to Muker pausing only for several gates and losing 250 metres of height in about 1.5 kilometres. Not a route I'd like to do in the opposite direction! A gentle roll back to the car and I'm done.

Somewhat curiously despite my feeling that I wasn't up to par, Strava shows that I recorded some of my best times on the rides including some top ten times.