Tuesday, 29 January 2013

Residual Snow

The snow had all but gone this morning and the view across the Hope Valley was restored to normal save for white strings nestling under walls and running along ridge lines and the base of the crags, marking out the partitions, folds and creases in the landscape.

It resembled something an artist might produce as an initial sketch or a giant lace doily created by someone with absolutely no sense of symmetry.

A photograph of the scene would be good at this point but I was running late and didn't have time to stop.  So instead here are a couple of mad signs seen this month.

Fire Risk - note the water running behind the pole


Mud on Woodland Tracks - oh no!!!

Monday, 28 January 2013

The Rabbit of Seville

As I drove over Ringinglow this morning on the way to the office, the sun was shining, there was enough snow on the moors to provide some contrast with the dark shades of the dormant heather and dead bracken and Rossini's Overture to the Barber of Seville was playing on Classic FM.

We might, hyperbolically speaking, still be in the grip of winter but it's days like this that uplift the spirit and make you think that spring may be just around the corner or over the top of the next rise.

There is of course only one arrangment of the Barber of Seville overture worth spending time on*, so if you happen to have 7 minutes and 31 seconds to waste, here it is.


Rabbit of Seville


*Others may disagree but hey, what do they know?

Sunday, 27 January 2013

And it's snow, thaw, rain, hail, sleet, wind and sun

In a weekend when just about every type of weather except fog is thrown at one, it's hard for a chap to decide what to wear.  So facing that dilemma full on, I wore everything I could lay hands on and Hilary and I set off for Longshaw and the tea shop, taking in a walk round Burbage on the way.

We hadn't even reached the start of the walk when we got flagged down by a bloke in a high vis vest on Pitchford Lane.  Winding down the car window, I was just about to launch into a tirade along the lines of "What's the meaning of this my good man, stopping an Englishman on a Sunday from getting to a tea shop?" when he mentioned there were 300 runners about to come through and Hilary remembered that her son was one of them.  Aha.  Bright lights shone.  Pennies dropped.  It was the annual Tiggar Tor race, a 10 mile circuit from the Sheffield Tigers RUFC ground up on to Higgar Tor and back (hence "Tiggar Tor".)

So we waited for a few minutes and then the first runners came into view and Hilary shouted, "There he is" and jumped up and down in her seat a bit. 

Tiggar Tor runners heading up to Houndkirk Moor
 
Anyway, we reached Longshaw, parked up , put on a lot of coats and set off through the slush. The first obstacle was the gate down from Fox House which seemed to be doing a poor job at keeping a seasonal stream from escaping the moor.
 


It's a bit of a pointless affair anyway, as you can step over the wire fence.  We splodged our way through snow and slush to Burbage South,  a popular bouldering spot in winter but where unsurprisingly, there was nobody climbing today.

Burbage South Quarry


View from Burbage South across to Carl Wark and Higgar Tor
 
Higgar Tor and the Burbage plantations
 
A bit of heather bashing ensued, to drop us down to the main track and we soon met up with the Tiggar Tor runners again, who by now had been to the top of Higgar Tor and were heading back over to Houndkirk by another track.  Well, the front runners were.  The whole group was spread out by 20-30 minutes at this point.

Runners heading back towards Houndkirk

Runners below Burbage Edge

We missed Hilary's son - he was too fast for us - but offered words of encouragement to the participants. 

At Burbage Bridge we decided to take the road, rather than ford the river.

Burbage Bridge and a very brown and frothy Burbage Brook

It was blowing a hooley on the top of Higgar Tor and we struggled to stay upright.  It was a relief to drop out of the wind briefly, to cross Burbage Brook by the old packhorse bridge, which is thought to date from medieval times.

The old packhorse bridge and Burbage Edge in the background

Then a back up to the main track below Burbage Edge and a brisk walk into the wind to this particular journey's end - the Longshaw tea shop.

Woolly hats off to the runners - a blooming good effort in far from ideal conditions.  Hilary's son finished in the first 20 (he's far too fit!).  Would I like to run the Tiggar Tor?  Yes.  Am I ever likely to?  No.


Tuesday, 8 January 2013

Mountain Biking in the Southern Uplands

I'm determined to get last year's major trips written up before we get too far into this year. Here goes...

Fresh form the Moor to Sea for me and Way of the Roses for Hilary, we set off on the following Thursday night in the campervan headed for the Lowther Hills. We pitched up at the side of the road about 11.30 at night, somewhere between Elvanfoot and Leadhills. It was flat and quiet and after 5-6 hours driving, that was good enough. In fact it turned out to be rather better than good enough the next morning.  When we looked out of the window, the sun was shining and we were surrounded by some rather fine scenery and an inviting track heading off up the hill opposite

Roadside overnight camp near Elvanfoot

Wanlockhead and the Southern Upland Way

With a complete disregard for spontaneity, we resisted the temptation of instant gratification in favour of sticking to the master plan and drove through Wanlockhead and down the Mennock Pass to the start of the day's route. Well it would have been the start of the route, if I'd thought to check the grid reference in the Scottish Mountain Trails book instead of just guessing it.  So rather than park up on a broad, flat expanse of land at the bottom of the pass, we tucked into a narrow, sloping lay-by halfway down the hill.  It made little difference, since it was a circular route taking in the aforementioned pass, then north to pick up a section of the Southern Upland Way into Wanlockhead and back via Green Lowther.

By the time we set off down the road, it had started to cloud over.  We lost the remaining height very quickly and then regained it rather more slowly via lowland farm roads and, higher up, rufty-tufty tracks across open moorland.  The views opened out around us in way the picture below almost totally fails to capture (but my bike looks good, doesn't it?)

(Almost) views of the hills north of Sanquar-ish

This next section was actually a bit hard going, by which I mean soft-going and in places, downright boggy.  The final approach to the S. Uplands Way involved a long push up some quite closely spaced contours. Attempts to cycle it were short-lived and brutal and resulted in lung shredding gasps for air.  Once this was overcome however, there was a stretch of satisfying singletrack interspersed by a few wooden bridges with increasingly more technical approaches and exits. 

'North Shore', Southern Uplands style

We made a poor fist of most of them, by which I mean we got off and walked across, but there was nobody around to see.  It felt a bit scrappy until we reached the high point and the descent to Wanlock Water, a kilometre of fast, flowing doubletrack. 

Fast, twisty doubletrack down to Wanlock Water

At the bottom you can chose to cross the river by bridge or ford.  With memories of the Geldie Burn incident still fresh, Hilary opted for the bridge.  I cycled through the ford, misjudged the depth and got wet feet.

Wanlockhead is Scotland's highest village (1531' above sea level) and a former lead mining community. Wikipeadia notes that the lead was first exploited by the Romans.  This is well north of Hadrian's vallum, though south of the short lived one built by Antonine, so I wonder just how much exploiting of it they did.  Perhaps they did it under cover of darkness, like we used to do sometimes, when we were digging in Notts Pot. It isn't just lead in them there hills either.  There's zinc, copper and silver to be dug up and if you've got a wok, you can try panning for some of the world's (allegedly) purest gold.  It's a pretty little village, in a post-industrial kind of way. We paused to look at the preserved beam engine, dating back to 1745, which lifted water 100' up from the mine level, the last example of a water bucket pumping engine in the UK.  The horse gin (only the circular track remains) was a horse drawn windlass, used to raise the mined ore to the surface.   There's a few of these to be seen in Derbyshire, including one on the old Mam Tor road out of Castleton.


Wanlockhead beam engine and horse gin


But the real attraction of Wanlockhead on a day of Scottish drizzle is the Mining Museum tea shop and we felt obliged to sample its delights, which were delightful and welcome.  There are a lot of old black and white prints on the walls showing life in the days when there was an active mining community.  The people in them looked well 'ard and that was just the women.

We came out of the tea shop to find the Scottish drizzle had become a determined, heavy rain and Green Lowther had been stolen by the cloud, which now brushed the tops of our heads.  The guide book noted (in bold type) that the track beyond Green Lowther was indistinct and across a featureless hillside, whilst it described the Dempster Road back to the Pass as skinny ribbons of singletrack requiring balance, finesse and concentration.  Bravely hiding her disappointment at missing out on the skinny ribbons, Hilary accepted my suggestion that we should bale and come back when the sun was shining.  I've never seen the point in going high if you can't see.  We took the road back to the Mennock Pass and had a screaming descent back to the campervan

After peeling off sodden clothes (even the best quality Goretex seems to struggle against Scottish rain), we dunked our uneaten cheese sarnies into some of Ainsley's finest Chicken and Leek packet soup left over from the Challenge and it couldn't have tasted better.  Then we drove to Innerleithen.

14 miles and 2700' ascent

Innerleithen and Minch Moor
We'd booked ourselves in at the caravan park at Innerleithen.  It was the nearest to where we wanted to be next, which was just across the river, and it boasted an on site bar with hot food open at weekends, which this now was. We were quite excited about this, though our suspicions were aroused when we learnt its name.   It's called, wait for it..., "The Tow-Bar" (groan). The menu isn't extensive and the Friday night specials are heavy on the batter: battered haddock supper, battered sausage supper, battered burger supper, battered haggis supper, battered chicken curry - oh no, wait, that one came naked.  All of these can be rounded off by a cherry surprise dessert, described as vanilla ice cream with a cherry Vimto sauce.  Mmmmm. Yum.  Be still my beating heart - it certainly would have been after all that batter.  Our earlier excitement was quickly dampened like a Scottish drizzle and Hilary decided she'd recce the main street for take-aways. It's quite a long main street, typical of this part of Scotland but she came back with news of a curry house (The Saffron) that would deliver to the camp site. Woohoo! We rang through our order and with dinner sorted, we cracked open a Leffe and cranked up the music.  It had stopped raining.  The curry arrived (we had to collect it from the gate).  It was eaten.  It tasted good.  Things were back on track.

It was till dry the next morning but a large breakfast and a bit of bike fettling meant that we didn't have an especially early start.  Innerleithen is home to one of the 7 Stanes MTB trail centres.  At one level it's the poor relation, in that it has no facilities.  At another, it's got hardcore downhill runs.  We weren't going to get involved with any of that nonsense but we did intend to make use of the trail up to the top of Minch Moor, described on the website as a "leg burning, lung busting climb".  The bottom section from the road, through the forest is a very steep and twisty affair, after which it breaks out onto to a forest access road with views across to the hills I'd traversed on Mike's Peeb-Moffling adventures.  Then back into the trees again, along some man-made rooty, rocky singletrack sections before coming out onto open moorland and an unseasonally cold wind.  It took us about an hour to reach the summit, where we sheltered behind a pile of rocks and snacked - but only briefly.


Finally above the tree line on Minch Moor



Minch Moor summit looking east along Southern Uplands Way

The descent from the top was fast and satisfyingly technical without scaring us too much.  We dropped about 500' and met our old friend the Southern Uplands Way.  Turning east we fought our way along an extremely boggy section of track, down and then up, exiting the forest on the old drove road to Brown Knowe and Broomy Law.  This was good riding supplemented by good views.

The Old Drove Road and Southern Uplands Way looking back to Minch Moor

The Old Drove Road looking east towards Broomy Law

So far we had been following a route in the Scottish Mountain Biking - Wild Trails book.  This continued east as far as the Three Brethren  then dropped down into the valley and came back up to the point in the picture, along a track on Hilary's right.  It would then retrace the boggy forest track and return to Innerleithen down the red route, billed as being quite technical.  Whilst we felt that would be very nice, apart from the boggy bit, we had another plan.  This was to head down a track on the far side of Broomy Law and meet up with a road running along the edge of a forest as far as Peel.  From there we would follow the minor road running along the southern bank of the River Tweed back to the camp site.  The flaw in this plan was that the track shown on the 1;50,000, running north from the Drove Road no longer exists.  This presented us with a predicament.  We could revert to the route in the book, which would mean more ascent than we wanted to do or we could continue past the Three Brethren and try to pick up some forest trails, which would mean more distance or, taadaa!, we could following the inviting forest track that we currently stood at the top off, which whilst not marked on the map, was going in almost exactly the right direction. 

The battery level indicator on the MemoryMap GPS was down to its last bar and I would have preferred to be navigating unmarked forest trails knowing we could accurately locate our position.  On the other hand how long could it take to descend through the forest, assuming this track went somewhere and wasn't just a dead end?  We decided to take a chance and waved goodbye to the Brethren looking down on us.  It started steep - bum over the back of the saddle steep - and was fast and a bit rutty in places but as I watched the red line on the GPS trace out our route I could see that we were in fact going to intersect terra cognita or at least a forest road shown on the map.  And that's exactly what happened. From there we flew down through the forest at thigh aching speeds for 3 miles and losing 800' in under 10 minutes.  We only play this game of snakes and ladders for the downhill bits, you know.

The road from Peel to Innerleithen was quiet but went on a bit too long for my liking,  Hilary's the road biker and always takes the lead in these situations.  I think she's got a magic technique.  Either that or my tyres are just wrong for tarmac.  I did eventually get a second wind a little before Innerleithen, which was probably just as well or she would have missed the bridge back into the camp site and ended up in Peebles.

Despite the lengthy road section, it was a fine ride.  On a warmer day and when the going below Minch Moor is less boggy, it would be good to do the route from the book and check out the Innerleithen red.

20.5 miles and 2750' ascent

Glentress - 7 Stanes

On the Sunday, we drove down the road to Glentress, another of the 7 Stanes centres, just outside Peebles, and did the Blue Route.  I'd done some of this about 10 years earlier but had little recollection of it.  In any case, it has recently been extended to go higher up the mountain (above the Buzzard's Nest car park) and some fine technical sections added.  Berm Baby Berm is just gorgeous twisty riding.  We're not huge trail centre fans but this was a pure hedonistic delight.  

Although graded blue, it shares sections with the red route and offers some optional technical features on which to try out your skills.  Among these are the particularly evil 'log skinnies'.  Take a mature pine tree about 8" in diameter, and saw it in half down the length of the trunk.  Then mount the two halves, end to end and flat side up, about a foot off the ground.  Then try and cycle along it without falling off.    

9.5 miles

All in all a great three days and an area with so much more to explore by mountain bike, if we can find the time between all the other trips planned for this year.




Saturday, 5 January 2013

North York Moors: Moor to Sea Cycle Network

It was August Bank Holiday weekend and Hilary had gone off to cycle the Way of the Roses, 166 miles from Morecambe to Brid, with her elder son.  So, as a change from the Gaping Gill Winch Meet with the CPC, I decided to take the bike and the BoB trailer up to the NY Moors to ride a few stages of the Moor to Sea trails and fit in 1 or 2 nights of wild camping. 

The Moor to Sea Cycle Network was established a few years ago by the NYM National Park and comprises 11 stages of between 8 and 19 miles in length.  It runs along forest tracks, disused railway tracks, minor roads and bridleways, the latter of which can either be an immense pleasure or a gnarly, frustrating bother to ride. 

I set out from Sheffield early on the Saturday morning and as I drove through a heavy rainstorm past York, I began to doubt the wisdom of this project and came close to turning the car round.  Perhaps a weekend at home would be a sensible after all - I had a ton of jobs to do.  But sensible is deadly dull and in any case, the further east I got, the more the weather improved and by the time I reached Pickering, it was bright and sunny. 

Pickering to Langdale End (starting from Thornton-le-Dale)
The start of my Saturday route was the Pickering to Langdale End stage of the Moor to Sea but to cut out 2 miles of back roads, I decided to start from Thornton-Le-Dale.  This is a pleasant village nestling under the southern edge of the Moors and spoilt by having the A170 to Scarborough cut through it.  On the main street is a garage which has a small museum of vintage and classic cars and other motoring memorabilia (and if some of these haven't appeared in Heartbeat, you can call me Pennine Ranger).  An old charabanc was waiting at the bus stop and the spontaneous explosion of one of its tyres provided a few moments of confusion and excitement.

I called in at the cafe on the main road and ordered what turned out to be the most enormous breakfast (and that was after declining the eggs).  The National Park's car park didn't allow overnight parking, which was both a surprise and annoyance, so I asked in the cafe if there was anywhere I could leave the car overnight and was pointed in the direction of the lane up near the cemetery.

I'd had to dismantle the bike and trailer to pack them in the back of the car, so after a load of faffing around reassembling everything, it was getting towards 11 before I actually set off.  I'd barely left the car out of sight before the bike's rear suspension started creaking in the sort of way which says, "you better not ignore me, chap" and looking down, I noticed a lot of sideways play in the bottom pivot.  Towing a trailer full of camping gear perhaps isn't good for a full suss bike.  I spent 15 minutes doing some fettling, relieved that my emergency toolkit had the right sized Allan keys for the job, and set off again.  Take 2...

From almost everywhere round the edge it is a steep pull up onto the moors proper. The road out of the village, past the church, was no exception.  It usually takes me a couple of miles before my heart and lungs get used to the idea that they will have to do some work and I generally prefer to go through this pain barrier out of the public gaze.  Being bank holiday weekend, the lane was full of families milling around.  By the time the road up Thornton Dale had levelled out and I'd started to get my breathing under control, I'd left everyone behind.  Pride is a cruel mistress, as is age, though having two mistresses ought to be every old bloke's dream.  At the top of Thornton Dale is Low Dalby, home to the visitor centre and start of the extensive Dalby Forest bike trails.  Hilary and I had cycled around half of the 23 mile red route on new year's day 2012.

After the breakfast I'd scoffed in the village, the Dalby cafe offered no temptation and in any case, all I really wanted to do was get away from the crowds and up onto the high moors.  I had another stop to re-adjust the main suspension axle, after which I picked up the road leading to Langdale End, past the amusingly named Jerry Noddle and a somewhat incongruous collection of crosses in trees and buildings which belonged to a Coptic Christian retreat.  The NY Moors has, over the centuries, been home to a number of religious orders whose abbeys, most notably Rievaulx and Byland, were destroyed during the reformation.  Ampleforth, is still standing or has been rebuilt.  I'm not sure which and Wikipedia is disappointingly uninformative on the subject.  The Coptic Christians are an interesting bunch and I'm not sure how they ended up here, but of the 18 million of them, only 14 million live in Egypt, which I suppose leaves enough for a few to rock up in an isolated valley, in an often cold and wet, north-east corner of Yorkshire and pursue a monastic lifestyle in the manner of earlier generations.

Langdale End to Whitby (as far as Sneaton Low Moor, then road to Middlewood Farm camp site at Fylingthorpe)

Just before the village of Langdale End, I took the road north, which led into Langdale Forest.  Sorry, I have no pictures of this but just imagine your typical coniferous forest and you'll be right. I was now on the Langdale End to Whitby stage of the Moor to Sea.  The track through Langdale Forest goes past the hamlet of Langdale End but this is different to the eponymous village back down the hill and I imagine confuses the hell out of the Ocado delivery man. 

When I was a boy, we used to drive out to Langdale End sometimes during holidays up in Scarborough, where my grandparents had a big house on the cliff top in the South Bay.  I never knew why we used to go there - I think my Granny must have known someone.  She seemed to know a lot of people. She came from Bishop Wilton, on the Wolds above the Vale of York, and is buried there and there used to be a lot of her side of the family scattered across the East Riding.  She had quite a presence, always liked to make an impression (think Hyacinth Bucket) and enjoyed entertaining and visiting folk. But I'm going off topic...

There had been a car rally in the forest just prior to my visit and there was a sign saying that the tracks were being repaired.  These repairs looked like they'd been done by the local council highways people and took the form of filling up holes in the dirt track with tarmacadam, which looked completely out of place and would most likely break up after a few weeks.  A few other things about the Moor to Sea that were starting to bug me.  The signage, whilst being quite frequent and at all the important junctions, was very hard to spot.  When the branding for the route was designed, someone had decided it was a good idea to use pastel shades of green and blue, presumably to reflect the colours of the heather moorlands and the North Sea.  These discs were mounted on metre high wooden  posts, often with direction arrows carved into at them and painted white.  After a few years in the sun, thee discs and arrows had faded and become almost invisible from more than a few yards away.  Quite a lot of the posts were hidden by undergrowth.

Faded Moor To Sea signpost


The trail through Langdale Forest passes some places on the map with intriguing names such as Little Grain Noddle and the High and Low Woof Howes.  I've already mentioned Little Grain's elder brother, Jerry, and there is also Noddle End Windy Pit.  But windy pits are a whole other topic for another time.  The whole place has a sense of being very, very old.  That howes are old Norse for burial mounds is well known but I'm not sure about the meaning or origins of noddle and Wikipedia has once again been of little assistance.

 After a long but gradual climb, the track breaks out of the trees onto Fylingdales Moor, in sight of the early warning station.  When I was a boy coming up here, this was of course the site of the three "golf balls" that was supposed to give the country a four minute warning of nuclear missile attack from Russia.  I remember taking a picture of these on my Kodak Brownie and when the prints came back from the chemist, the one of the golf balls was missing, along with the negative.  How conspiracy theory is that?  This would be around 1963. 

RAF Fylingdales as it is now

The golf balls have since been replaced by a kind of pyramid affair, which whilst being no less unobtrusive  doesn't have the same iconic feel.  Up on the hill, looking down on the pyramid, is Lilla Cross, or the cross on Lilla Howe, and is said to the the oldest Christian monument on the Moors.  It marks the grave of Lilla, who saved the life of King Edwin of Northumbria in 625 AD.  I've passed it a few times on the Lyke Wake Walk and remember sitting in a tea tent on the moor here in the early hours of a Sunday morning in 1978 (?), completely buggered and with another 15 or so miles of the 54 mile Crosses Walk still to complete.  I love this place on the moors but it always seems to be cold, even on a sunny day, and I was in no mind to make the short detour to stand by Lilla on this occasion.

From Louven Howe, it's pretty much downhill through the forest on Sneaton High Moor to Old May Beck.  I passed a drilling site on the north side of the forest, which I have a feeling might be associated with exploration for potential fracking sites.  At the car park by Falling Foss, I stopped for a protein and carb and sugar fix and looked at the map.  I had made a reservation on a camp site a couple of miles up the road but when I'd rung up she had apologised that there were no hot showers.  Right now, I really wanted to get clean and warm and decided to take the risk and head for the site at Fylingthorpe, which I'd stayed at a few times before.  I would also get me a few miles further on.  This meant cycling a short distance on the A171 Whitby-Scarborough road, which is always busy.  The light levels were down and it was misty, so I switched on the bike and trailer lights, plus the one on my hat and back of my jacket.  I wanted those cars drivers to see me before they ran me off the road.

The descent into Fylingthorpe has a couple of single arrows on the 1:50,000 and with the trailer behind me, the brakes on the bike had to work hard to keep the speed down to something controllable.  The camp site was busy but they found me a patch of grass and I had the Akto up in no time and was lying inside polishing off the snacks I'd not found time to eat during the day.  The shower hit the spot as did the freeze dried.  I didn't know until the next morning that there was a van on the site selling burgers and chips and the like.  Doh!
 It rained heavily from about 8pm that evening throughout the night but had stopped by the time I got up around 7 the next morning.  I'd left the big yellow bag (or BYB) outside the tent and obviously hadn't closed it up well enough, as it had a small pool of water inside it.  It's so much better than a rucksack for packing gear into.  You can just open it up and lob gear into it.  You don't have to worry about packing it for comfort, althogh it is a good idea to leave the waterproofs and bike spares at the top.

Whitby to Ravenscar (from Fylingthorpe)

I was away before 10.  The Whitby to Ravenscar stage runs just behind the camp site.  It's 700' of  climb over 4 miles up to Ravenscar, so it's a reasonable gradient to tackle with the trailer, as it should be, being part of the old Whitby - Scarborough railway.  The views out across the North Sea reminded me of childhood holidays in Scarborough, where my grandparents had a house looking over the South Bay and the happy times watching the boats and more excitingly, the electrical storms as night with great forks of lightening piercing the blackness of the water.



Looking towards Robin Hoods Bay from near Ravenscar on the Moor to Sea

I stopped for a coffee at the NY Moors Information Centre at the top of the track - worthy of mention only because I spent a few moments searching the coffee machine for a slot to insert my 60p in coins before asking the chap behind the counter.  "You give them to me and I give you a cup."  Now is it just me, or is that weird?  I took my coffee outside to avoid further embarrassment.

Ravenscar to Highwood Brow

The next stage of the route follows the road out of the village, the endless one you trudge down at the end of the Lyke Wake Walk, and dives of onto a green lane, which starts out as a pleasant, firm track before turning through 90 degrees to become a morass of deeps ruts and lakes.


Moor to Sea: Green lane between Moorland House and Smugglers Rock Guest House

Granted, there had been a lot of water falling out of the sky the previous night but this had the appearance of having been around for a while and in places smelled like a stagnant ditch.

Moor to Sea: Green lane out of Ravenscar looking south-east

The morass continued for about half a mile and I managed to submerge most of the BoB and BYB a couple of times.  You can plough through water up to a certain depth beyond which the back force from the bow wave brings one to an abrupt stop - and very wet feet.  I just had to hope that I'd made a good job of closing up the BYB before I set off.

Back at the end of the summer, when I did this ride, the Introduction on the Moor to Sea website said,  "The route has been developed to be suitable for family cycling".  I know this because I quoted it in an email I sent to the NY Moors National Park, which I've just looked back at.  And I've just been back to the website and it no longer says this. This is interesting but like a good Scandinavian detective novel, you'll have to hang in there while this plot unfolds (though I'll tell you now that nobody dies).  Suffice to say at this stage, I was starting to feel a bit of a rant coming one.

Things picked up after this section though and I was soon back on good forest trails going through Harwood Dale where, distracted by some walkers warning me to look out for their dog, which was lost in the heather, I missed one of the hard to spot signposts and went a short distance down the wrong track.  It soon became increasingly difficult to cycle, especially with BoB, and the GPS confirmed the cock up.  Of course it meant a push back up the hill. There was another short road push up onto Surgate Brow - I sort of lost the interest in trying to cycle it - before picking up a pretty, tree lined bridleway, following the northern edge of Broxa forest.  At least, it started out pretty but fairly quickly turned into another section of ruts and lakes, this time decorated with pond weed, so also not likely to be just the result of the previous night's rain.


Moor to Sea: bridleway after Surgate Brow, edge of Broxa Forest


Moor to Sea: the same bridleway in Broxa Forest looking in the other direction


Another half kilometre of pushing, paddling, pedalling and grumbling ensued before reaching and crossing the road onto a better forest track and then rejoining the road down to Langdale End.  That's the first Langdale End not the second.  Still no sight of the Ocado van.

There was a short flattish section of road before the contours bunched up to a topological feature known as Highwood Brow.  Before tackling that, I took the opportunity of stopping on a grassy verge and lying back in the sunshine for a few minutes. 

Moor to Sea: Looking across to Wykeham Forest

The bike and I were looking distinctly muddy by now.  I took a photo of my mud spattered legs for the record but in deference to the sensibilities of you, dear reader, I have refrained from including it here.  I basked in the sunshine and considered the contrast between my appearance and the images on the route card for this stage, which showed clean people on shiny bikes that looked like they had just come straight from a Halfords showroom.  I mused over scenes of families setting out for a pleasant Sunday bike ride and the day dissolving into a tense affair as children got their feet wet and their clothes muddy and dark words were uttered about whose stupid idea it was to come here rather than go to the beach at Scarborough, "...LIKE I'D SUGGESTED."

There seemed to be a discrepancy between the advertising and what was on the ground.   On the one hand the marketing appeared to be saying, "look, anyone can do these rides", whilst the terrain suggested that was far from the case. Worse still, nobody appeared to be riding the stages at all. Across the whole weekend, other than around the Dalby trails, I only saw two other pairs of mountain bikers.  This seemed a real pity because actually it's a great concept, which appeared to be spoilt in a few places by lack of upkeep, as if maybe it was put together with some initial capital funding but with no provision for long term sustainability.  It shouldn't be that hard to maintain the bridleways and it would cost very little to get someone to cycle the stages periodically to check the signage, replacing the faded disks and repainting in the arrows on the marker posts.  I was starting to feel a bit of rant coming on.

My reverie over, I got back to the job in hand and pedalled off into the forest.  The track was a car's width and lined by hedges and low hanging trees, which at some point snatched the yellow pennant from the BoB.  I guess I managed half of it before the gradient induced thigh burn became too much and I started pushing.  That was only slightly easier and I was pausing every few steps and holding the bike and trailers on the brakes whilst grabbing a few lungfuls of air.  Eventually, I saw some cars stopped up ahead and topped out.  It was then that I noticed an absence of flag.  "Bother", was what I said (of course).

I stowed the bike and BoB behinds some bushes, padlocked the rear wheel and set off on foot back down the track.  I retraced half the distance without finding it and concerned that I didn't lose the hole bike decided to give up.  Just as I got back tot he top, a group of cyclists were setting off down and I asked them to keep an eye out for it and leave it by the road.  And that was where I found it when I drove back there a few hours later, planted by the M2C marker post, .  In the unlikely event those who found it are reading this: thanks, I owe you one.

There were quite a lot of mountain bikers around Highwood Brow.  I assume they had come up from Dalby, maybe looking for a longer ride.  There was another flooded section, which was at least firm and without ruts.  A woman I'd passed said that it had been like a river there, late the previous night. 

Then as I dropped out of Wykeham forest to a car park marked on the map, whilst there was clear signage for the Tabular Hills Walk,  I could see nothing for the Moor to Sea.  I asked the NY Moors ranger, who was parked there, where the track went off from for the Moor to Sea.  He seemed a bit puzzled at first before getting out his 1:25000 and tried to convince me that I'd actually missed a turn a couple of miles back up the way I'd come.  I didn't think I had but anyway.  He then proceeded to describe an alternative that would get me back on route, starting from a gate hidden in some trees across the road, which in fact was the  Moor to Sea route.  The marker post was actually a few hundred yards beyond the gate, in a place that didn't really need one.  This was another frustrating, boggy section which, he warned me, had been chewed up by trails bikers. 

After Saturday, where the tracks had all been good, I'd encountered 3 lengthy unridable sections.  I was starting to get really annoyed with this.  Today's stages weren't suitable for family riding, the signage was frequently poor or missing where it was most needed and even the Park's rangers didn't seem to know the route.

I finally hit the top end of the Dalby trails and retraced the previous day's route but somehow managed to take a wrong turn and ended up cycling back uphill for about 10 minutes before twigging that something wasn't right.  It did give an enjoyable downhill ride but one I didn't really need.  I fought my way past the crowds at Go-Ape and the smoke filled air from barbecues and pulled in at the biker's cafe.  I ordered a large mug of tea and a posh sounding cheese and ham toasty and sat in the sun.  The toasty took ages to arrive and when it did I stared at it for a while longer, almost too tired to eat.  When I did eventually bite into it, I realised this was exactly what I needed and it was gone in a flash.  I found some chocolate and a chewy bar in the bottom of my day sack and furtively ate those at the table whilst pretending to finish off what was by then an empty mug of tea.

I'd convinced myself that the last 3 miles were all downhill as topographically that made sense.  The reality was that it was flat with some bits of uphill before a final steep descent into the village.  The Cateye was showing a bit over 30 miles for the day and my legs had had enough.  Relieved to find the car where I had left it, I just had to grapple with the mud to dismantle everything and pack it into the back of the car.


Bike and trailer at end of Moor to Sea ride

The stats

Saturday: Pickering to Langdale End (starting from Thornton-le-Dale) + Langdale End to Whitby (as far as Sneaton Low Moor, then road to Middlewood Farm camp site at Fylingthorpe.)  26 miles and 2600' ascent


Sunday: Whitby to Ravenscar (starting from camp site) + Ravenscar to Highwood Brow + Highwood Brow to Pickering (as far as Thornton-le-Dale.  30 miles and 3000' ascent

Sunday was the harder day by far.  Not only was it longer but the boggy sections made the riding tougher going.

Postscript

A few days after getting home that I sent an email to the N Y Moors National Park, with a series of the comments and suggestions about the Moor to Sea.  I didn't hear anything for about a month and then I got an email promising that a more complete response was to follow, which it did a week later.  And it was a very detailed, considered and positive response, the main points of which are shown below:

1. The section from Moorland House to Smugglers Rock is an unclassified road and although North Yorkshire highways have declined to carry out any repairs, we do have an offer from them of road-planings and so we plan to lay these into the wet holes next year, perhaps not over the whole width, but certainly wide enough to be cycle-able.

2. The bridleway around the scarp edge from Surgate Brow has had a vehicle barrier erected to prevent further damage by 4WDs and we plan to re-profile this to raise the centre, create effective drainage and fill the worst of the holes this autumn.

3. We are aware of the fading discs and are replacing them as necessary. The design was chosen for its muted colours to reflect the landscape including purple heather.

4. The moor to sea route does have its waymarking checked and faults remedied as soon as possible, but the Tabular Hills Walk waymarking has just had a decadal review so as you noticed is in prime condition. We will remind our Voluntary Rangers about the Moor to Sea route.

5. You have raised a very valid point about the unavailability of overnight parking in our car parks for Moor to Sea riders. Checking our Byelaws we can give permission for overnight parking, so having discussed it with our Car Park Manager we have agreed to make information available on the Moor to Sea website so that people can ask for overnight stays.

6. We set up the Moor to Sea cycle-route with partners Scarborough Borough Council, Ryedale District Council, Forestry Commission and North Yorkshire County Council to promote cycling and cycle-routes through our iconic landscapes and purposely developed the pack so that riders can choose how little of how much of the route to tackle. We like to think that some sections offer an easy taster, but then people can chose which ones to add on to make a more challenging ride. We would very much like more people to do as you have done and make overnight trips and I hope this can feature in our future marketing. 

We have just created a new post of Promotion and Tourism Officer and have a new member of staff who is herself a keen cyclist so I am sure we will be making more of the Moor to Sea Cycle-route in future.

I found this to be really encouraging, that came away with a feeling that there were people who wanted to develop and maintain the routes.

If you are the kind of mountain biker who is only into trail centres, it will probably seem a bit tame; there's very little by way of technical challenges.  However, if you want a multi-day ride on mixed on and off road terrain, the Moor to Sea Cycle Network has a lot to offer.  We're starting to plan a 3 day trip up there in the spring, as training for the Scottish ride in May and will definitely be taking in a few more stages.