Having signed up for this trip one evening in the cosy comfort of my living room the weekend approached with rising trepidation as the weatherman came on the radio and told me that all kinds of horrible weather was expected at any time of the day, anywhere in the country. The prospect was biting wind, freezing temperatures and, take your pick, rain, sleet or snow. I set off for Gary’s, as the rain began to fall, with that nagging doubt; had I brought everything I needed. My mind ran through the list time and time again as I raced through the wet streets; helmet, gloves, inner gloves, new inner inner gloves, inner socks, middle socks, seal skin socks, winter shoes, over shoes,... wallet, helmet cam, mobile with all the routes and maps on it, laptop with all the routes and maps on it, Garmin with all the ...etc, and a bag full of cables.
It wasn’t until I reached Gary’s house it came to me. The flat cap! I’d forgotten my flat cap – when am I ever going to wear that bloody thing!
Gary and I set off oop North on a drive that can take anywhere from four and a half hours to seven. It was Friday evening, rush hour, and we weren’t lucky - we arrived at 10pm. James, Hila, and Russ had set off together earlier in the day. They stopped off for a ride from the Ladybower in the Peak district and by all accounts met all of the weatherman’s predictions on what turned out to be a tough ride.
We were booked into the ‘Dump’ in the hills behind Horton in Ribblesdale, part of the local caving clubhouse. A large party of cavers had beaten us to the master bedroom (sleeps 17 on one long bench) but Gary had managed to get us into a shed in the garden. Not bad, it was made of stone and was only £5 a night, but bring your own breakfast.
Having got there earlier, and having spent the afternoon riding through horizontal sleet, Russ, Hila and James decided to upgrade to the local pub. They kindly left the heater on for us.... nice thought, but sadly it was on a two hour timer.
Gary and I decided to go straight to the pub, which was very lively, and the upgraded party had obviously been there for some time. Food was very good and the Theakston’s went down a treat. When I felt I had drunk enough to be able to face my first night in the shed it was time for bed.
We woke to a beautiful sunny day and the stunning scenery of the Dales countryside with clear views down the valley and of the hills around. It was going to be a good day.
We’d chosen a ride to Malham Tarn which starts just below Settle with an 8km climb of 380m to the top of Kirkby Fell along stone track bridleways. For those of you on the Black Mountains ride, that assent was 360m so it was a relief to find that this slope was completely rideable. The weather couldn’t have been more perfect for this kind of riding too. Wrapped up warm we didn’t get hot from the climb and the ground was frozen enough to make the going a lot easier than it should have been. The climb took far longer than it should because of Russ and James’ mincing like a couple of Southern Pooftas all the way up. James suffered several technical hitches with his drive train and attempted to stay focused on the problem while Russ stood over him discussing Lycra colour combinations and bike bling. Gary was keeping his distance from those two following their attempt to force him into a ditch, and Hila and I rode ahead to try to keep the pace up.
As we finally approached the top past, Rye Loaf Hill and Kirkby Fell, we hit snow which had formed in drifts against the stone walls and forced us to walk. Conversation immediately turned, of course, to tyre choice and no punches were pulled. My 2.1 Trailrakers, ridiculed at the start of the ascent, got me a good 18 inches further across the snow than James’s mandatory tractor thingy’s, and he ended on his back like some monstrous beetle still clipped into the bike above him. He cried for help but we, in true Summit style, just rushed for our cameras.
The sun was still shining, we weren’t cold and what followed can only be described as exhilarating, and probably one of the best descents I’ve enjoyed as we raced down the grassy fields along narrow sheep walks for 2.5km to the road above Malham Cove . We took the road 4km across the top of Malham Moor, Russ and I doing silly roadie slipstream racing to pass the time. We left the road and climbed through a short stretch of woods, through which we could see the lake on our right. It was beautiful and became spectacular as we raced down another speedy descent and burst out of the woods to emerge along its south bank. The lake was frozen into a vast opaque milky sheet of ice with a hint of mist softening the light on its surface. It looked very out-of-this-world, a sight I’d never seen before.
Having circled the lake we crossed back over our route and headed west for home. The final descent into Settle promised more exhilaration but the sun had melted the ice and turned the mud as slippery as potter’s slick and slowed us down to walking pace in parts. After much unclipping of cleats we reached the end of 30km, the centre of Settle, and the welcoming arms of Ye Olde Naked Man for coffee and cake.