Saturday 23rd March – Reeth and Reeth High Moor

The weather had been amazing prior to this month’s C.R.A.S.H. lookout. Craig and I managed to sneak a ride in from Reeth on Thursday when the sun had already dried the trails setting us up for a good ride at the weekend. I couldn’t wait to come back today.

Setting away from home at 07:30 we arrived on the hour into Reeth on its cobbled market place come car park opposite the large green. The fog had seriously cut down the viewing pleasure on the drive but by the time we arrived we could feel the rising temperature beginning to burn the fog away leaving a sunny haze that frankly was out of character for March.

My riding pals today were Tinkering Mick who hadn’t been seen out for months but is still riding to work on his Spesh Rockhopper and itching to get out on some proper trails. Keith, bringing the heat from Dubai returning to Sunderland has been looking forward to getting out for a while now, and obviously still acclimatising to the UK cooler air setting off in his wind shell.

Climb from Bleaberry Gill after Keith's face plant.

We head west along the B6270 to warm up the legs before turning right into a very steep ascent at the little village of Healaugh. The scene is very picturesque at this early hour, mist still hanging low across the Swale valley you can begin to make out the mass of Harkerside across the river and point out where I had been riding just a couple of days ago. It’s nice to take view on a fell side and think, I was up there, always seeming a bit more impressive from a distance. That’s the thing with Swaledale, you’re never to far away from somewhere you’ve ridden before or new trails you have yet to ride. But they are already highlighted on the OS Map OL 30 Yorkshire Dales Central and Northern Areas. It’s a huge crisscrossing network of fantastic bridleways. And there’s something for everyone, beginners as well as the more experienced will all find somewhere to ride off road.

But there are so many trails it can be problematic for some like myself who is well known for not paying much attention to the land in front at least from a navigational perspective I’ll miss the trail that peels off to the right because I prefer to the one I’m on and this get get us a little wayward at times, and I submit to calling out the map for everyone to gather around. Collectively we tend to have bit of an idea where we are. This was the case when as I realised the trail seemed to take a downward approach a little too soon. We weren’t far off and picked up the bridleway but were still not far enough up the fell. This came as a relief for some.

We rolled gently to Bleaberry Gill which on first impressions looked like a doable crossing. Mick took step stone precautionary method while Keith fancied a ride though which he did until the very last squared off river stone at the edge to stop him dead and throw him clean over the bars. He dismounted stylishly over the top to land very unstylishly on his face at the water’s edge covered in soft river verge brown stuff.

With the first CRASH out of way we set off steeply up to climb to Great Pinseat reached along a broad double track with vast views across Swaledale to the south and Arkengarthdale to the north. Grouse were everywhere I don’t like to think we spooked them but they are easily freaked out by anyone that gets within 50 meters of them, they make that distinctive raucous noise, which sounds a bit like a hyperactive child shaking one of those cow cans that you tip over to make a moo sound. I like grouse though, they remind my I’m somewhere remote and somehow they make me feel privileged to share the moors with them. Though they always do a better job of spooking me and often cause a bike wobble when I least need one. We pressed on at a nice leisurely pace swapping places occasionally and stopping for a couple of photos and just taking our time to the height of Great Pinseat. Topping out at 583 meters where you don’t quite expect the terrain to change so dramatically from lush heather to a moonscape with giant mounds of gravel. Keith’s suggestion of hiring a helicopter carrying tonnes of cement dust and dropping it before rainstorm was a genius idea of how we could turn it into our own Yorkshire version of Moab.

Great! A pin and a seat. It's obvious really.

We took the obligatory photos at the cairn and scoffed our personal biking bites then set off for the open descent to Level House bridge and then through the Old Gang Smelting mills. The smelt mill at Old Gang was built in the early years of the 19th century. Click here: This section was the highlight of the day. It’s not at all a techy trail but a wide open big ring bonanza of a track where you cover ground so quickly you find the ride is almost at its end and all over too soon. We bounded over the drain pipes spaced nicely apart, with speed and timing you have a great time practicing compressing your bike for long jumps, and without any concern for bends or corners. Even a couple of walkers could see us in plenty of time to step aside and give us cheery smiles as we zipped along in single file.

At Surrender Bridge we checked over the map to consider the option of the road ride back into Reeth or climb north again to pick up a moorland track traversing the steep scar across to Cringley Bottom. Agreeing it was a no brainer we turned our back on the tarmac. This is the only ‘not doable’ part of the ride forcing one to shoulder your bike cautiously down a narrow footpath

Time to G.O.A.P, a ride wouldn't be a ride without a bit where you don't ride! Now referred to as Dismounting Biking.

to cross the beck up to the wall to rejoin a grassy track. A little soft going from here made hard work on the legs.

Mick was feeling it and dropped himself into the heather under the sun now at its warmest; it could have been a midsummer’s day in July.

Mick CRASHed in the heather

This is what we’d all been waiting for. Just to see the dust smoking off Mick and Keith’s tires earlier immediately transports me deep into summer. It’s one of those mind shots you remember for ages, and nothing beats it for the UK mountain biker. I’ve continued to persevere with the worst of the winter. It’s not been a bad winter but it’s been long. Next year I figure it’ll seem longer unless I forget the imagery of sunny days in the dales. I always come out of the simmer fitter than I went in. It’s too easy to sack a winter ride in favour of something else that’s not so much of a hassle really. It’s not that I don’t enjoy riding in the winter; I’d still rather ride in the rain and snow than do anything else at all other than ride in the sunshine of course. I think it’s the gear, thick gloves, biblongs, water-proof trousers and jackets, balaclavas and glasses that steam up in the rain and the wet muddy clothes. Being told off for trailing trail though the house on the way to the bathroom for that wee you’ve held in all-day. It’s the constant cleaning your bike while you stand with the hose in the back garden shivering because you’re not moving anymore and now you want to be warm, not pampered, just warm with a brew on. Today is what we want, every day we ride, just wearing shorts, t-shirts and shades.

When Keith caught up we all jumped into the heather, arched belly up wearing our camelbaks. We can make beds from this heather we thought, it’s that comfortable, even luxurious. Most people would pay well to have their quilts at home smell like Yorkshire heather too, I’m sure my misses would go for it. Something like it will be on sale in Boundary Mills I’m sure.

We chose well to pick the off road return to Reeth. A good variation of terrain, a grassy single track to double track to gravel track to grassy no track to stony boulder trail impersonating a stream track finally spitting us out onto the B6270 exactly where we started. Mick picked up a slow pinch flat on the very last 50 yards before hitting the road into Reeth. This offered him a fantastic opportunity to tinker for a bit and by the time we were sitting down outside the Black Bull with a pint of Sheep his tire was flat. Brilliant! Back home for 14:00.

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Haystacks and Fleetwith Pike – Buttermere – Sunday 18th March – Week 4

S.M.A.S.H. Pay Tribute to Wainwright’s favourite mountain.

It’s not often I admit that one of the lasting memories of this particular outing was formed in the car on the way. The Lakes are home to some fine passes. Kirkstone,  Hardknott. I wasn’t expecting such a scene as we turned into the Butteremere on the Honister Pass. Wedged between Dale Head and Fleetwith Pike we rolled down the steep ribbon of road to Gatesgarth. The enormous fells either side and the view in the valley is a mixture of claustrophobia shared with the immense space that opens out before you. I’d have been satisfied with that view alone.

I’d never been to this valley. I’ve climbed to Dale Head a few years back and only searched back through old photos to see if I’d shot any of Buttermere from there or maybe Hindsgarth. If I’d known just how stunning this valley was I’d have come here well before now.

Fleetwith Pike

Today my walking buddies are S.M.A.S.H’s founding father Abs of course, bringing a fine selection of shades under his Aussie hat. A welcome return of John last out on Latrigg in October bringing a suitable wide lens this time. Nicole, obviously impressed from the last walk up Wansfell and Baytones, up for another challenge bringing a dry boot. Then there’s a full Bowen squad. Lesley (my wife), with her pockets full of trepidation and the small people Jack and Emily bringing chaos, entertainment and mountains of energy.

So spring has sprung and the sun shone between massive white clouds. When it dipped behind them you were reminded that it’s still early and a slight chill lingers about you.

We leave Gatesgarth and it’s dairy cows and head straight down the BW to Peggys Bridge and stop to take in the beauty of this valley from the pasture so green and set against the painted blue sky evoking a real feeling of summer. Short sleeves, shades and packing light jackets in case winter decides to make a surprise return, it was good to be up and outside.

To Peggy's Bridge under High Crag

There’s an added silence to this valley that was apparent from the other walks.  Warnscale beck was even respectful enough too by just keeping the noise down and not rushing to fast as to interupt the peace but just babling along gently.

Sshh..Haystacks over Warnscale Beck

It was becoming clear to me that Wainwright’s favourite mountain; Haystacks was not necessarily just about the mountain, but probably because it was so quiet, ideal for a loner like him who would give a greater appreciation for the silence and lack of visitors. Only that now because he made it his favourite, Haystacks ironically sees more than its share of walkers as we step aside to let a few gents overtake us onto Buttermere fell.

Buttermere from the Fell reflecting Goat Crag

From Buttermere fell we aim for Scarth Gap easily visable. Getting there though was not so easy. We negotiate the wet boulder garden where the path fades and you just tend to step up onto anything that looks like it won’t roll away. This is where the small people excel. Their low centre of gravity lends well to scampering over this type of terrain and before long they are out of sight. We don’t see them again until we reach the gap.

Making the most of his size, Jack enjoyed the climb to Scarth Gap.

Most of us adults kind of flop down on the short grass mounds that make up  the various view points at Scarth gap where as Emily seems to get charged from any summit. She’s not a valley person, her mood dips in the lowlands, but once she feels the breeze and the openness of a pinnicle she’s all full of energy and constant chat. She knows what it is to celebrate on a summit.

Will Emily be as enthusiastic later on Fleetwith Pike seen behind?

Lesley asked “where now”? It’s fair to say this is all new to Lesley and she’s still scoping out this fell walking malarky, constantly assessing her mood and how she feels about exerting herself on the fells for pleasure.  I think we’ve all been at that place where you kind of wonder what there is that’s so enjoyable when the effort required to get to a peak does not outweigh the satisfaction from standing on one. She openly admits to not enjoy the climbing but understands it’s an unavoidable part of what we’re here for, so talks herself to accepting that she must push on but unfortunately upwards. I point over to Big Stack on Haystacks, not playing it down but setting the expectation. I say “it’s right up there, over that crag”. A wall of rock somehow to be walked over. She looks at it thinking ropes must be required at some point.  We set off, the small people lead the way and again out of sight dashing towards the rock section onto Haystacks. This is where having the kids lead is somewhat encouraging to Lesley. She can see they are enjoying themselves and making it look easy too. She want’s to see them show her mum which way to go. The stand high up on the side of Haystacks shouting down to the rest of us. “Come on”. We smile, thinking, cheeky little so and so’s. It’s encouraging though and we put or hands on the rock and take more consideration to each step.

Buttermere and Crummock Water, climbing of Haystacks

On the peak we gather together for the big arms photo.

Haystacks - SMASHed!

With the photo session out of the way we search out  the south side of Haystacks for somewhere out of the breeze. There’s some nice little alcoves to sit in facing the sun looking over to Great Gable or Pillar and you can get a good view of Ennerdale too. During lunch all call everyone together and ask for some quiet.

Lesley on Haystacks - High Crag and Ennerdale forming the backdrop

Some of us know of Alfred Wainwright, may cropped up in conversation during past walks but I thought if fitting to bring with me a eulogy of the great man and tell my walking companions about him and how he lived his life for the love of the fells. A tribute then to AW on his favourite mountain where his ashes were scattered as was his wish. So pay respect he said to that piece of grit in your boot it may be me.
After a half hour break we set off down to Innominate Tarn. The small people took off early with a GPS to find a Geocache that was placed near the tarn.  When we got there we could just make them out in the crag and

Innominate Tarn - Pillar on the left and the back of Haystacks on the right.

out crops that surround this stunning body of water. I lent a hand to find the geocache, unfortunately it was one of those with nothing in bar the pads to log your visit with. Jack and Emily like geocaching for the small trinkets and cheap toys found in them. So a little disappointed this time.
Knowing that the next aim is to Fleetwith Pike the drop of around 100meters is welcoming but there’s that sense that the climb with be more challenging. There’s a good path down to Black Tarn which makes another good view point straight down the gully into Buttermere valley

Buttermere and Green Crag from Black Tarn

and behind offers a good view of Green and Great Gable which I pointed out SMASH would attempt in June. Seeing it so clearly, we were excited by the prospect.
The waters of Black tarn looked evermore inviting as the afternoon sun was about as high as it gets in March getting us all a little more than just hot under the collar excluding Jack and Emily lobbing stones into the water.

Jack at Black Tarn and a Green and Great Gable skyline.

Next we push on towards the manmade spoils of Dubs Quarry. A much contrasted landscape from the views so far. This quarry was closed in 1932 after it employed over 100 men producing 3000 tones a year in 1891.  Just over 100 year later the mines were reopened by Mark Weir in 1997 who developed the quarries into a thriving tourist attraction, and at the same time producing small quantities of roofing slate. Mark Weir was killed in a helicopter crash at the mine on the evening of 8th March 2011.

Push up the quarry Path towards Fleetwith Pike

This part of the walk required at least in my opinion to pick up the bridleway heading away from Fleetwith Pike in an attempt to even the climb. I was a little unsure if we could walk straight through the qaurry, this would have been tougher on tired legs. Emily was looking waked now but she was determined to keep walking. Looking around the group I sensed we were all a little quieter now and tried to lift the group by pointing out we were not that far from the Pike. It was later in the day now that I had anticipated but we had taken some time along the way to rest. We’d taken our time but a walk like this needs to be appreciated slowly and not rushed.
Through the quarry Lesley’s mood crashed a bit and Emily surrendered her legs to a shoulder carry from her dad. Carrying the back-back and Emily on my shoulders I put my head down and headed to Fleetwith Pike with steely determination accepting that maybe it was time to get this walk finished. Emily recounted one her songs she learned from Brownies to keep my occupied. It was lengthy enough to see me all the way to Fleetwith Pike. The remaining crew rocked up after about 10 mins to admire the spectacular view.

Family portrait on Fleetwith Pike

With spirits lifted once more the end and Gatesgarth was in sight but not before we clambered down Fleetwith Edge. Again Emily was energised on the summit and took off with her brother down through the channels and narrow paths on the edge.

Abs and Lesley easing down Fleetwith Edge

We all realised how tired our legs were, now trembling as we resisted the gravity of the drop.  Fairly soon Jack and Emily were nowhere to be seen. Occasionally appearing where the ground leveled clear of any technical features. John and Nicole dropped back. There must have been over a quarter of a mile between Jack and John.

John and Nicole pull off Big arms on Fleetwith Edge

Then I saw Abs running down a section of single track. Wondering if this was a burst of energy he’d acquired, was he inspired by the small people? Or was this an example of involuntary running because it was just easier to run than hold back any longer by walking. Lesley and I found it was just easier to let the forces of gravity take over as we giggled all the way down to Gategarth.

Jack and Em had sniffed out the Ice Cream van. Needless to say they got what we deserved

Haystacks, Ice Cream and rosy cheeks. SMASHed!

We dashed along to Buttermere village for a toilet break and a top up on coffee and cake before making the long journey home. The small people were asleep at Keswick. Little wonder! Well done everyone. A tough walk in such a short distance, but well worth it. Incredible views. I think I’ll come back sometime on two wheels to take in more of this area.
Loughrigg in April from Ambleside…. see you on the top.
P.S. I apologise for the late posting but as the weather has been improving there’s been so much more opportunity to get outside, I admit it’s a bit of a wrench to sit in front of a computer screen to get words down.  I have Saturday’s CRASH ride in Reeth to type up too. Coming soon.

Tuesday 6th March – South of Reeth onto Harkerside Moor

After taking the small people to school, unashamedly dressed ready to ride, I dashed home to gather my biking belongings into the car but not forgetting a healthy dose of Soreen of course and a newly ripped drum and base CD for company. I grabbed the map for the Yorkshire Dales,North and Central area, OL 6 and with a highlighter quickly traced the route. The sky was a promising blue and set the scene for a perfect day out for a ride out from Reeth. Today was a school day, so I was going solo.

The test of Fremington Edge and Marrick Moor from the village green in Reeth, I'm not going up there today though.

Reeth is where I normally think of when I have a bit more time than a quick blast out from the doors. A bit further to go than Hamsterly but not as far as the Lakes. I was thinking I could have a blast around the moors to the south of Reeth and still be home in time to get to work? It would be tight but doable. Still there was no need to worry about time constraints today. I was taking day off and going to make the most of the quiet trails, devoid of any weekend city folk. I arrived at Reeth with 3 tracks still unplayed. Not bad time despite the diversion at Richmond sending me north up on the moors. I wasn’t complaining though, it’s a great drive.

All you need and moor!

Reeth is a perfect spot to start a ride. It has every thing in proportion. 1 church, 1 post office, 1 newsagent, 1 craft shop, 2 tea shops, 3 pubs and an ice cream parlour all carefully laid out around a well kept village green and the smell of coal fires  and old ladies filled the air, adding to that country village ambiance. I was in two minds whether to take some tunes with me. I did and set off down to Grinton Bridge passing over the Swale at 10:45 aiming for the right hander just past the church sign posted Harkerside. I wanted to pick up the trail that runs alongside the River Swale.

I’d not ridden this part and figured it would make a nice meandering warm up for the ridiculously steep climb later.

You have to go through a medley of gates before the trail opens out and steers you close to the river past the mini suspension bridge across an open plain.

Parts of the trail near the river are obviously liable to be submerged after heavy rain so to keep from being washed away it’s been cobbled. I think I was following in the tire tracks of those weekend warriors long go now, I hadn’t seen another biker or walker or anyone for that matter. I was relishing the peace, bar the drum and base tunage in my ears. I know some will think I should have been happy enough to ride along to natures song, but sometimes I find I can keep a more upbeat pace with 127BPM. Try it!

Cobbled path, River Swale

At Stubbin farm the route climbs steep to the Yorkshire Dales Cycle Way and very quickly you begin to get some view of the Healaugh and Calver Hill across the valley. From here the trail swaps from narrow and muddy to wide and grassy as it turns to Low lane just past Scabba Wath Bridge. You gotta love the names that come out of Yorkshire. Wath means Ford, I have no idea what Scabba means.

Scabba Wath Bridge, a superb 3 arched construction let down buy a crazy name.

The Low Lane track takes you along a tree shaded trail that has your back end fish tailing all over the place ending at Low Houses and literally into Hollin’s Farm.

Low Lane to Low Houses

There’s a gorgeous Georgian house there with its own water falls.

Hollins Farm and Low Houses

From here I’d start a climb directly away from the river crossing the closest of contour lines on the map. I figured it would be steep but wasn’t counting on the climb being G.O.A.P (get off and push) steep and to make matters even more impossible the ground was soaking and bombed with mole hills. I was getting no purchase from either bike or shoes and resorted to side stepping  up the bank. I’d ridden down here years ago and don’t remember it being quite so steep. In fact I’m surprised I managed to ride down it in one piece without crashing into the farm.

Birks Gill Waterfalls

There must have been some sort of drainage problem here. Birks Gill is just yards away so all this water should have been in there. It took ages to get onto the tarmac of High Lane.  I was in a right state. I picked the mud from my SPD’s with a stick and scraped about 2 kilos of mud from the down tube.

On the slippery slope from Low Houses to Birks end. Felt like a birk for trying to push up it.

After the push to Birks End I felt a Soreen break was in order. From here you get a great view down through Gunnerside. There’s more great trails to ride there too. I was pleased to know that I’d be back over here an a couple of weeks with the some some pals and was sure they’d enjoy this area which I’ve always considered to be a mountain biking playground that offers good all year round riding.  From Birks end turn right along the lane for about 500m then a left where the trail opens up wide. It’s a steep granny ring grind, but this was sweet resistance compared to the earlier mud-fest.

This is going in the car!

I was about to hook up onto the balcony track at Whitaside Moor. Craig and I rode this excellent trail last May in ferosous wind. It was one of the best rides of the year and couldn’t wait to have another shot at it on the Santa Cruz, with the advantage of knowing what’s ahead should let me go for it and hope to leave off the brakes. At least that’s the intention.

Birks End

This portion of the ride is really why you would choose this route. Sure the river section is a nice relaxed affair and I dare say if you chose to you could just take your time along the skyline section too, but it’s a track that begs to be ridden fast so I gave it my best and immediately found myself grinning  at the first sign of a ‘downy bit’. I really nice kicker in the trail to compress off and clear about 12ft, it felt great and the Santa Cruz felt very at home too. This is what it was about and peddled as hard as I could to keep the speed high. The view up here is fantastic and as much as I was enjoying the blast I had to grab a shot for you the readers.

Gunnerside from somewhere between Whitaside Moor and Harkerside Moor

Then I remembered I had the Go Pro out so set that away. There’s a tidy Bothy along the trail on the left that’s got an overnight stay written all over it for a long epic weekend’s riding at some point. It’s well equipped too.

The balcony ride, – don’t mind the tunes, it’s what was listening to at the time and is in no way in keeping with the pace of the ride but merely added to drown out the sound of me wheezing on the ‘uppy bits’. So click here to watch in HD. It gets faster later at about 10 mins in.

At the road you do a steep right for about 500 yards to pick up another grassy single track has a really good mound in the trail. One that would be fitting on a BMX track. If you can see it early enough at hit it a speed you’ll get some airtime, I never knew it was there because Craig and I never rode this next section  on Hirst Ridge to Gogden the last time we came. As I rode away, it was hard to believe that jump was natural, a nice surprise. They don’t make them that good in the trail parks. I was going to go back do it again. I had the Go Pro turned off so missed it. I wish I had gone back now. I drop down to Gogden Gill then climb for a bit looking for a BW on the left to take be back to Grinton. I was just a head of this old guy out for the day on his bicycle. He took a breather on the Bridge and looked up the road with a face that said “I should have stayed home and sat in the garden an dosed off”. I paused at the gate and let him catch me just so I could give him some words of encouragement but could only say, ” you picked a good day to come out, he agreed the weather was fine but I think he wished he’d retired to Norfolk where it’s devoid of hills and valleys. Personally I couldn’t think of a worse place to live. Sorry if you are from there, but from a mountain bikers perspective I think I’d end up chucking myself in the Norfolk Broads, or take up kayaking or something.

Click here: On a broad track fast all the way back to Grinton with a nice ‘hold the line’ sweeping right through a gate which is a test of nerve as well as relief to find the gate open, otherwise I think I might have quartered myself. Then turn sharp left on a muddy track then through the farm at Cogden Hall. I short road ride in Grinton and a chance to stop at the

Dales Bike Centre to give my bike a bit of wash down because it was not fit to throw in the car and was smelling a bit nasty too. As old folk often say about their Grandkids, ” if they come home dirty then they’ve had a good time.” It was certainly true in my case, but the bike was dirtier than I was. I had a natter with a bloke at the Dales Bike Centre who had the best and most exaggerated Yorkshire accent I’ve ever heard. I actually thought he was doing an impression of someone from Yorkshire, you know how people do when they do accents? He kindly enquired as to where I’d been. I told him about the shitty push/ride up from Low Houses.

There are so many sheep around here, you just have to put them where you can. The roof of the Bridge Inn at Grinton.

His response was a screwed up face and sucking teeth. “Arrgh we don’t do it that way, we only come down that bit. It’s good fun coming down when it’s slippy”. But he agreed with the ride and knew of course where I’d been and could tell I was buzzing off it. He was living the dream of course, because his job is taking groups of mountain bikers on guided tours around the dales. But today he had to work, by that he meant he had to cut the grass. Nightmare!

Back into Reeth I did my bit for the local economy by taking a seat outside the King’s Head with a Theakstons trying to count how many school days were left until Christmas. I was home by 3pm. Bonus!