Sunday 26th February 2012 – The Upper Rawthey Valley from Sedbergh

A healthy turn out this month from the C.R.A.S.H lads bolstered by another new face on the scene. Rob (Gary’s brother-in-law) who claims to have not ridden since before bike were invented, so is getting used to his Trek Fuel borrowed from his son. Nice one Rob.

So the crew line up is as follows: The neighbours, Alex and Craig, then Gary who’s nearly 50 and Rob who isn’t and yours truly.

Alex piled in with Gary and Rob to catch up on some needed shut eye, while Craig and I lead the way over to Sedbergh, England’s book town at the foot of the Howgills Fells and the Upper Rawthey Valley. You’ll find the area on the Ordnance Survey Map OL 19. We set off from Washington at 07:30 and arrived there around 09:30 and parked up behind the well kept public toilet in the main street.

A quick blast back along the A683 we peel off left down a narrow country lane heading to Thursgill Farm where the climbing starts as the road turns to a well surfaced stony track. Barely giving you much of a warm up we cross our first beck that inevitably drops steeply followed by an equally stiff climb. Gear management was set to be the order of the day as much of this side of the ride at least would see us traverse many waterfalls and becks on this east side of the Howgills.

Rob into Hobdale Beck

From here we all search for the granny ring up Fawcett Bank making every effort to bag the climb on fresh legs.

The weather here was nowhere near as clear as we had left it in the North East. There had been some serious downfalls from the looks of it and we were about to find out how this would shape up the ride.

The trails were drenched. On a technical incline we were all dabbing, searching for traction from the little that was on offer. A series of soggy dabs and false starts, trying  to get some momentum going to be taken out by a wet angled stone or a devilish root, it was bordering frustration. But the frustration soon began to look like a test that we all eventually came to accept as a path for the course for this ride in slippery February conditions.

Alex keeping together in the mud

This whole section was a lesson on riding off-camber mud and Alex was about to show me how to stop spectacularly on wet grass. An innocent 180° skid turned into a cartwheel for Alex and a backflip for his bike leaving them both laid out on the grass. Unfortunately I only saw it but didn’t capture his acrobats in quality HD video for your viewing pleasure. I left without the Go Pro today. It would have been off to Harry Hill like a shot. I think only Alex and I were laughing while all others were busy studying the ground for any morsals of grip.

Craig's crazy off-camber cappers.

The trail did eventually open out into some cracking flowy single track albeit in short bursts into dips and troughs.

Nice singletrack for Alex

 Despite the low cloud there was enough to see that we were in fine surroundings as we bunched up at the plains below Cautley Spout. Crossing the footbridge looking out for the stone trails hugging the River Rawthey I was just pleased to be out. The damp air took nothing away from the enjoyment of messing around and larking about on our bikes getting filthy dirty.

Alex, Gary and Rob cross the footbridge at Cautley Beck

Everytime Gary even looks at water he threatens to just get in. This was a regular  occurrence last year in Morzine. Today he stood up on the footbridge, arms aloft looking as if he’d throw himself into the beck. On a slightly more temperate day he’d have been in there for sure.

We crossed to the River Rawthey onto the A683 again at the Cross Keys and proceed on tarmac on the look out for a bridle-way on the left. To cut a long story short, neither of us could locate a bridle-way squeezed between the road and the river because on closer inspection there was no bridle way. The dashed line that seemed to be in the river was in fact a boundary and not a bridle-way. Needless to say we got a bit off the intended route and pressed onwards up steeply to Murthwaite. This steep push a bit ride a bit trail was a good excuse to break out the Soreen and my recent trail snack of choice Banana and Peanut butter wrap.  No one was keen to share it. I wasn’t complaining. Our (my) navigational mishap, meant we had to find some way back down onto the road again. The only option was a quick shoot  down a footpath to pick up a BW part way down that would spit us out on the road. With no real trail to make out it was each to their own on how they got down. Bums hanging out back to avoid any over the bar bailouts was the obvious approach.

Gary (who's nearly 50) free-riding off Murthwaite Rigg

We’re spat out onto the A683 finally and look up the road for a BW. However we first negotiate a fast flowing Sally Beck. I think we all managed to get across with relatively dry feet. Though the faintest BW was in such a soft and boggy state this would soon change that. A G.O.A.P stint followed, where I nearly lost a leg in the mud. Alex also to a dive and got an arm full of mud. Gary likened him to Cockle picker,It took me a while to suss the full extent of his humorous observation. Onto the lane leading us to Udale House there was nothing in front of us but the vastness of Baugh Fell. Another short BW signposted Bluecaster (very soft) which looked like a good downhill blast, forced me to make a rapid dismount or risk being buried in the squelchy mulch track.

We crossed a bridge over the source of the infant River Rawthey.  It was here we or I decided to get a group photo to send to Keith, our absent friend .

Rob - Gary - Craig - Alex

The next section was a moorland ride that skirts Bluecaster. A singletrack crossing dozens of gills.  A mix of boggy grass and wet trail that really did drain the legs in parts. This section felt more like a hard training session that I felt was about making it pay for those long summer rides we all have our sights on. Which ever way you look at it we were riding and that’s all that mattered.


Alex crossing another gill.

From here on we got our heads down and made our way down to the road where we would make a dash back to the carpark in Sedberg around 14:45. But before returning home we dropped into the ‘dry pub’ that is the Cross Keys with no beer, ridiculously low ceiling beams for a mid-afternoon lunch and a coffee next to an open fire served by a bloke nearly 7 foot tall. Suitably wiped out we slumped by the range fire. No one felt like moving, dispite the relatively short 16mile ride it felt like we had put in twice the effort.

In March we go to Reeth…

Saturday 14th January 2012 – Limestone Plateaux between Kirkby Stephen & Crosby Garrett

The best thing about starting out early in the winter is that you can  catch the Sunrise. The sky was glowing by the time I was heading past Bishop Auckland on the way to my first planned outing of 2012.

I arrived at the free carpark in Kirkby Stephen at 09:00 and into what looked like a scene from David Attenborough’s Frozen Planet. I geared up and found the news agent and stocked up on a couple of munchies and checked to map over for some vague idea of were I was heading.

Tarmac to Smardale Fell

I’ve never ridden in this neck of the woods known as the Upper Eden Valley which is neither in the Yorkshire Dales National park or the Lake District but that space before the Howgill Fells just off the A66. So I figured it was long overdue. Of course this time of year one would be wise to choose a route that didn’t swallow you whole in a muddy quagmire but one that had plenty of stoney tracks.

A lonely shadow of a bloke on a bike

Setting off then away from Kirkby Stephen climbing towards Smardale in a -3° face biting temperature I donned a balaclava to block the chill. My fingers were numb before I even got going. I was wondering if I would get cold to the core or worse still trampled by Alaskan buffalo. The scene was quite spectacular though, like a Christmas card. A robin perched in a frost covered bramble, and sheep being ushered across the field to pasture. Poor things, I hope they have gloves. But I was warming up as the climb stiffened past Waitby onto Smardale Fell offering up some fantastic panoramic views back towards the North York Dales, and over to the west the Howgills Fells. The Howgills are a very distinctive collection of hills immediately identifiable by their rounded layered appearance. Alfred Wainwright accurately described them as looking like a heard of sleeping elephants. Today they were lit perfect by the low winter sun and fronting a crisp blue sky.

'ave ye got owt t'eat?

Click here: I dropped down using a choice of lines that crossed and joined again, rising and bending down to Smardale Bridge where I found signs of what was clearly a Limestone Plateaux shared with Scandal Beck flowing over it. From here on the tracks were hard from the stone and very dry, so a good choice of route for sure. Of course any grassy or bog sections were solid due to the subzero temperatures that even after about 8 miles there wasn’t a spit of mud to be seen on me or the  bike. Bonus!

Looks like a Limestone Plateaux at Smardale bridge

This part of the route makes up the C2C. I was taking it only as far as Browber were I climbed again to Bent Hill but not before scoffing a refrigerated Snickers and mending a rear puncture. Normally this would have dampened the spirit but the sun shone so intensely it just made stopping for a bit a pleasure, a chance to take in the atmosphere .  I remember thinking this is the most enjoyable winter ride and in terms of the conditions and quality of the trails, perfect. Just the kind of day I’ve been longing for.

Passing through Bent Farm I was amused by the sheep being hearded into feed by the Farmer on his quad bike and two tireless black and white collies doing a stirling job of keeping them in a tight pack. Though at one point the farmer shouted some sheep dog type abuse at one who had what looked like it had deliberately left 2 sheep separated at the back of the pack. The dog  ran back and got behind the two sheep and harrassed them up towards the farm with the rest. Once they were clear of the trail I cracked on climbing up to Bent Hill where I passed the farmers son giving it the beans on his quad bike, chucking in some jumps and doing doughnuts. He was having blast, you could tell.  Must be great to have all that space to play on and an engine. I wanted a go!

Bringing the sheep home from Bent Hill

Click here: This descent was the second and last of the short ride into Crosby Garrett. Starting on a broad short grass track leading onto a fine stone double track that had some nice stone kickers and drops. Hopping and skipping over the frozen puddles I swerved under the viaduct and into the small hamlet of Crosby Garrett to catch my breath and check the map. One last quick climb up to the church and pick up the return lane back down to Kirkby Stephen at around 12:30.