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These notes describe rides made during Easter 2009, when we stayed near Hawes. We paid a return visit in Easter 2010 but stayed in Austwick and experienced different weather.

Abbotside Common

A great rideable traverse of Abbotside Common above the high Eden valley.

We couldn’t find an entirely offroad circuit taking in the track so we had to start the ride with 10 miles along the A684 then the B6259. The track isn’t hard to find. It’s wide and well surfaced to start, and there’s a big red sign saying Road Closed, which fortunately does not apply to us. It begins with a steady climb, all rideable and very pleasant.

A large pair of figures high on the crest intrigues us; they’re too large and still to be people, and turn out to be a sculpture: “Stream Cut”, one of 10 in the Eden valley. It’s a simple block, cut in two with a curving line, through which you can see the bends of the river below. The sculpture’s at the high point, and once up there we can ride easily and immerse ourselves in being in high country. This is our first roughstuff ride of the year in properly grand hills, and I feel like jumping for joy except I’m trying to ride a bike at the time.

This northwest end of the Dales is wilder, remoter and lonelier than the attractively sculpted landscapes of the central and southern Dales with their precise barns and trimmed pastures; here it is harsher and perhaps even forlorn. The cloudy weather may have had something to do with how we saw it, but we had certainly passed a number of ruined farms.

At Hell Gill there’s a junction, shown on the map as being exactly at the stream. In fact it’s a little way beyond but there is no problem finding it; our route is the higher and it is well-trodden. There are many stream crossings, but they’re no real problem either. The track narrows to more the usual sort of bridleway and bends round to the high steep slopes above the Ure. After the final crag, steep zigzags and entertaining grassy slope, then a stony and rather loose narrow path take us towards the road, ending with a flourish with a mini rollercoaster.

The roughstuff is from 783004 to 842921, and is on OL19.

Cotterdale and Stags Fell

We rode to Hardraw to the pub for lunch and it’s worth the detour. Then a couple of short loops for the afternoon.

Back up the A684 and then the dead-end road to Cotterdale, a pretty hamlet. Here we took the wrong way, across the ford, over the locked gate and into deep ruts, oozy mud and felled trees and forestry debris. If we’d stayed on the other side of the river we’d have had a bridge and a clear run; this is what comes of hanging onto old maps (or perhaps, not looking where you’re going). It was a tough climb on loose hardcore through the forest, not all of which we rode, but once we were out of the trees we were more or less at the top and riding on grass. The long descent is a stretch of the Pennine Way, which seems to get everwhere. As usual with Dales tracks, the track becomes stonier and steeper near the bottom.

As we weren’t dead yet we rode up the Buttertubs road to take a bridleway above the crags on Stags Fell. Steep to start, and then narrow between rabbit-mined lumps, it was a good laugh, and despite the obscuring ground, not impossible to navigate as there are signposts and we found tyremarks. There are strange birds up here that sounded like aliens landing. Our bikes joined in with a Tardis-materialising sound emanating from the chains which had lost all their lube in some watery encounter or another. The bridleway merged with an access track, which isn’t really marked on the map, and you have the choice of following that down to Sedbusk, or the bridleway proper. The track’s the easier and since it had just started to rain that’s the way we went.

The first off-road stretch is from 832943 to Hardraw; the second from 866937 via 884924 and 887925 to 888915 and then Sedbusk. Again OL19.

Great Knoutberry to Ribblehead

The same A-road start as the previous ride, but this time in glorious spring sunshine. Fresh and bouncy lambs, improbably clean; leafbuds on the trees catching the light like chandeliers. A momentum-sapping sharp left before the Horrorclimb to Garsdale Station and higher, and yet even higher beyond. Colin asks whether the plan is to gain all this height, immediately lose it and have to claw it all back; I respond had he not noticed by now this is the general plan for all days. Anyway the climbing has at least earned us magnificent views over the rugged west Dales and the Howgills, and then a couple of miles on excellent track traversing Knoutberry, on a steep hillside above Dentdale; the dale a magical storybook sight with the railway below in the tight valley.

Here it gets interesting. The map shows that the route continues with a black path which later turns back into bridleway, but we can’t see any trace of a route, and if there was a route, it would have to cross a bog and stream source which doesn’t look terribly inviting. We have what we think was a reasonable look for it before giving up and plummetting down the cleft of Artengill, which is fun. Partway down we meet two walkers and asked them about the path – which they assured us did exist. And we end up doing it with them. It is indeed there: you follow the east or upper side of the boundary wall, and you will find footprints and even tyremarks. It is well worth the effort. The path clears to some Yorkshire’s most delightful grass, and once over the crest you’re suddenly presented with a stunning panorama of Pen-y-Ghent and Ingleborough; if ever the Dales look like a true mountainscape, it is from here.

We are baffled by the next challenge: the path completely vanishes at a wall. It is like one of those optical illusion puzzles. If you stare at the wall long enough you will see that it turns its features into a stile: a stone in the wall is step poking out halfway up, and the wall is crowned with a section of pipe instead of barbed wire. Thence to the road.

To end the morning, a short traverse of Gayle Moor. Narrow, stony and wet but pleasantly challenging.

779881–793862–792861–794857–795853–792859–790835–786836–789811. OL2.

Ribblehead to Hawes

To return to Hawes we took the main road – and by main road I mean the Pennine Way, of course. We joined it from the Horton road. There’s a track via Nether Lodge though strictly this is a footpath and there are signs saying No right of way to cycle, even No Cycling. After the Lodge there’s a section through fields, leading to the main Pennine Way track. On our map this is also shown as only footpath but cycling seems tolerated, and as it’s a well-surfaced wide track, it can’t be doing any harm. At times it barely counts as roughstuff as you can ride without having to look where you’re going. We saw more walkers than cyclists, but it make more sense as a ride than a walk.

There’s a short stretch of tar at the top, then the route continues as a whiteroad towards Hawes, but this is generally rocky and rutty and not that easy as the way we had come up. We’d done this in ascent some years ago and I well remember not liking it so we gambled on the bridleway alternative, which turned out to be intermittently rideable and a bit wet.

777781–793778–802770–804774–802805–830834–843868–865889. OL2.

Horton to Langstrothdale via Pennine Way

Climb slowly up steep track. If you have just had lunch at Horton (pie and chips yum) this may be a challenge. Generally a stony track. Some grassy and boggy and slithery bits. I think this route is trickier than the other one. Just before you enter the plantation there is a ford and this can be deep – we had to jump the stream a few yards further up. The forest road is easy but you then have to crawl up to Fleet Moss on the road. We have to mention it snowed. Descended partway on the Roman road then to Hawes (we can recommend the Chaste Cafe).

A ride up and down Wensleydale

From Burtersett, a decent but steep track becomes wet and stony and sometimes grassy bridleway. Some zigzags take you up a steeper section. There should be a left fork towards the Roman road but we missed it and found ourselves doing a somewhat pointless circuit of Drumaldrace. Parts of it were ok. The Roman road’s straight and bumpy, and we’d done it a million times, so we left it soon after the top onto a lovely grassy path with great views over Raydale. There’s a steepish section dropping below a crag which I found a bit skiddy, then somewhere, and I can’t remember quite where, you’re rewarded with fabulous views of Semer Water. Last time we were here Ivan said something about it which we have since forgotten; maybe that it’s a real lake. A steep road descent and steep ascent payback on the other side. Good track up towards Stake moss and hypnotic views of the nothingness that is Cragdale Moor.

We’d done this part of the route with Ivan, Sarka and Suska when the meet was at Reeth, but I couldn’t remember much of it. The downhill is a long, gradual descent on grass, starting in high from sheep pasture and dropping through cow fields and into tamer scenery than the high hills of the west. The lower slopes can be a bit wet but I think it was drier this year than the previous time. The final stretch is a steep and bumpy track to Thoralby where the pub offers a decent chilli.

If you study the map closely you will manage to piece together a roughstuff route back to Hawes on the lower slopes on the north side of the valley: from Carperby to Heugh and then to Helm. It’s not a high route nor in any way challenging; there are plenty of walkers, but it is a very pleasant ride and there are grand views of the Dale and a wealth of attractive field barns. The bit via Leas House we managed to muck up completely, following the footpath to the left of the house rather than the bridleway to the right, and punished for our carelessness with a teensy narrow bridge and even teensier pair of stiles. This just about finished us off. There looks to be a track going from Skell Gill through Shaw Cote, it’s a footpath but cycling may be tolerated but we’d had enough and finished with a few miles of road.

891893–883875–871870–873865–886872–912878, then 919861–935840–938847–998867, then 005896–001902–963917–954922–949917–942918–934916. OL30.

A côté de chez Whernside

This route is described by Ian Donohoe in his informative website. We drove to Ingleton and parked the car there.

Take the tiny road opposite the viaduct – there’s no sign, but you may find a helpful local. Climb up through woods then there’s a left fork with a gate. At the farmhouse at the top take the track left, then the bridleway trending steeply up. Once you’re up, it’s grassy, flat and fabulous, and peppered with a few interesting rocky bits. This is Scales moor, featuring great expanses of limestone pavement and sinister-looking swallowholes that look as they eat cyclists for breakfast. We followed what was the most obvious route, following tyre marks and footprints, but found ourselves trending away from the true destination of the path, the farm at Ellerbeck, and took a sort of path at a sort of crossroads to head in the right direction. It does not seem to matter much.

In 2010 we did find the correct path. After a section of flat boggy ground where some gravel had been laid to stem erosion, there is a fork though the (correct) left hand path looks slightly less convincing than the right. The path appears to peter out into sheep tracks but once through a line of rock you can see a distinct path between the flat ground and the curve upwards of the flank of Whernside.

Now a stretch though farms and fields and plenty of gates. The ever-impressive Ribblehead viaduct. After Winterscales farm there’s a well made rubbly track alongside the railway, lots of walkers heading for Whernside summit, at least there will be on a fine Bank Holiday. The path leaves the railway and climbs steeply, with steps. We did not ride this bit. The summit of the bridleway route is good grassy fun, a little rutted but I think all rideable. Then stony track between walls to descend to Dentdale. A walker called out, you’ll need suspension! I replied that suspension was for softies, but we kept to the grassy sides whenever it was possible.

Dent has a brewery.

If we’d had time we would have taken the roughstuff high road above the Dale but I think this is the one reputed to be rutted and cut up. In any case we had a long drive home, so took the road, which wasn’t exactly a picnic. We took the track back past Twistleton again. There is some sort of GrockleHole here and there were loads of families strolling to the GrockleHole, whatever is down there, a waterfall I think. They looked to be having a nice holiday. We were suffering. We did not go to see the waterfall as Colin said we had already seen one. We have eaten ice creams many times before but I didn’t think that was a reason not to have one in Ingleton and this time Colin agreed. Anyway I had the car-key.

701752–761817–724857 then 692780–701751. OL2.

Selside - Long Scar - Crummack - Austwick

This is all grassy and nice. A first a steep good track, fork right (SP) then just before the farms, fork left. It doesn't look terribly convincing at first but I think there are BW signs. Bear left uphill, the path splits and we took the easier but slightly wrong right fork, but keep left and it meets the true path. Gentle climb up the ridge. I don't think the turn down to Crummack is signposted but the route left and downhill is obvious.

Crummack - Long Scar - Clapham

We did part of the route in reverse. Before Crummack Farm we took a left and uphil, hoping to take the "black path". It's a bit steep - the correct BW may be more rideable. It wasn't quite obvious how the path corresponded with the map but if you follow the wide path you get onto the ridge. This is all grassy. There's a wide path on the ridge and a sharp left to the obvious cairn. Then descend, and onto stony track which is straight and involves a short sharp uphill. We then turned left on the track to Austwick.

This and that around Austwick

Pennine BW to Feizor - well maintained path between walls. Feizor - Bark Houses, good track. Wharfe - Crummack. Narrow and interesting BW. Some smooth rocks and tree roots, and uphill. Ford on the way with stone FB (rideable in reverse but there's a step in this direction). All of this is good fun.

Settle - Grizedales - Malham

Settle is a handsome town but we never pay it much attention because we are trying to find some sick way out of it. Today's route sort of follows the road SP Kirby Malham but forks right just out of the town (no through road sign). Keep left and onto a good track between walls, slithery when wet, SP Pennine BW I think. Watch the hard roadies on the way to and from Malham. We are going R then L, onto tar and still on tar for a while. Crags and black cows that look like yaks. The tar is replaced by liberal helping of mud before Stockdale farm but the track continues in a goodish stony manner beyond. Mostly rideable but some bits too steep and rocky for us. Levels off to grass and a false summit, then more steep rock before the true top. A fork now. We have done the RH BW on a previous occasion, this time we took the left and gently down some grassy/boggy stuff. Meet a track going east-westish - seems to be a BOAT and is a bit cut up but not too bad. Descend toward the Malham road. Then steep descent on which it is impossible to maintain mature behaviour.

Malham - Bordley - Malham Moor - Kilnsey

Road at first. Past attractive scenic cove with many tourists and ice-cream vans. Ignore their siren-calls and concentrate on the task of climbing. At the big farm you can take the obvious continuation of the track but fork left through a gate at the top of the rise. Past barns. This is pretty muddy. Track kinks into and out of small valley, then climbs and descends to Bordley.

Now it is tar again and more uphill. After the summit, watch for the BW going across (it's not hard to spot). Take the right. Keep to the blue BW posts - don't follow the track to the right. It climbs then descends in a fun way on lumpy grass. Some sort of farmyard where you meet Mastiles lane. Hurtle down pubwards and watch others suffer going uphill.

The Tennant Arms at Kilnsey does decent baguettes with salad and chips.

Litton - Dawson Close - Dale Head - Helwith Bridge

There is a way onto this track in the village but it involves a ford. There is a bridge a little way out of town which you may prefer. The track veers uphill at a taxing gradient. It is mostly stony. Eventually eases off and becomes mostly grassy or one of those ones with two ruts. If it has been wet this is all quite slippery, but once on the flat it is rideable enough. Good views of Pen y Ghent. A nice long track, this.

The black path Rainscar-Rough Close appears to be private - the gate is locked.

P Way, decent track past Dale Head and yet another uphill (sigh). Fork left at impressive hole in the ground then descend on mostly stony track to Helwith Bridge.

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