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Get your kicks on the A66

These notes describe rides made during Easter 2011, when we stayed at the Rose and Crown at Romaldkirk. This Easter was late and came after a very dry spell so we had good conditions on the moorland bridleways.

Crossthwaite Common

Moorland bridleway with some steep grassy descents

There’s a cycle/footpath along and old railway trail from Romaldkirk to Mickleton which takes you grandly above the road on a fine viaduct. Then it’s a quiet B-road to Thringarth, a little beyond which there’s a track to Wythes Hill farm. From here it’s left after the farm onto moorland track featuring a few rickety gates, a boggy stream crossing, then some energy-destroying grassy climbs before it comes to an access track. This stony track takes you as far as a gate, beyond which it reverts to moorland track. The track visibly makes a beeline for the summit of Green fell though this is not actually where you want to go. The fell is an open access area which is why people have beaten a path to the top. The old b-way proper keeps below the summit, and the route is signposted. It continues nice and grassy with the odd concealed rock interest, before veering right and sometimes steeply down and up slopes. It eases off and is indicated by a line of cairns but the track becomes quite indistinct near a gate when it gets near the top of Holwock Scars. We followed what we thought was the correct route through the gate but here the path is narrow and becomes impossibly steep and rough and then drops through a gap in the crags. Maybe there is an easier way to the left which joins up with the going-nowhere b-way. Too bad if we didn’t find it. Return to Romaldkirk via the railway track.

OS92

Hamsterly epic

The day we overdid it.

Roads to Eggleston and Hill Top (there is something not absolutely truthful in the name) then the track signposted Hamsterly Forest. It’s a standard gravel access track as far as a gate, thence moorland track through heathery grouse moors. There are plenty of grouse and lapwings that sound like aliens landing. There’s a steep drop and stony crossing of Quarter Burn, and the challenges of the track following are those of deep ruts and stones.

Enter the forest and ride on wide forest track. We spotted a red-route sign and followed it to where there is a mast and very red warning saying “is this for you?” with all sorts of warnings about the required expertise and quality of bike. We reckoned ourselves and our shopping bikes unsuitable for the advertised challenges and set forth. There followed a longish stretch of singletrack with all sorts of entertainments – little bridges and rock steps and berm-hurls. You then cross over a forest road and into the woods for some more fun in and out of trees, which is a little tamer than the fully made up trail. There’s not much more other than a short section of steep narrow drop before the Grove car park.

This isn’t the main visitor centre area. We saw some downhill action taking place. We asked a couple of guys where the red route was; they said to follow the road and pick it up, which we did. Forest roads and tracks took us back to where we’d first entered the forest from the moors, but here the red-route follows a nice narrow climb along the forest edge for 500m. Then it’s main forest roads until we wind up at the masts and seconds of the feast.

We made our way from the Grove car park to the main visitor centre probably the wrong way, ending up on the red route in the wrong direction. Here we found plenty more people and a tea-room with basic snacks.

Having made easy work of the red route, Colin was keen to try the black route, advertised with even stronger warnings. It proved to be challenging and good fun. It was more “natural” than the red route, relying on steep rooty ascents and naturally steep sections in the woods though there have been large rocks placed to ride over, and planks.

Since we weren’t dead yet we rode north towards Weardale and took a b-way towards Carr’s farm. It’s a bit indistinct, and maybe taking the white road from a little higher up would have been easier, but you end up in the same place, by a copse. Now it’s a decent track for a couple of miles but you fork left after a lone clump of trees onto a steep track. Soon after a wood there’s a b-way to the right but it’s not signposted. There may have been a stump of a post. It’s not too hard to find the right way – follow the trail through the wood and through the obvious gate, down to a stream and across it. The way is less distinct now but we picked up some sort of trail. It looks as though if you follow the natural line it will take you to the old quarries before Bollihope, the true b-way at some point heads straight down to a large whitewashed farm, and joins a track that turns remarkably rough for a track that goes to someone’s house. Follow the track which crosses the river – though it may well be possible to stick on the same side and end up in the quarries – which have clear signs of downhill exploitation.

Sadly the white-road from Bollihope above Howden Burn is a private grouse estate access road and it is clearly indicated that cyclists are not welcome. You have a long B-road slog instead.

Allenheads

We drove to Allenheads and slogged up the hill myseriously into a headwind towards Coalcleugh. This road’s on the C2C cycle route and it was great to see more cyclists than cars (2 versus 0) and normal-looking people on bikes too. This first part of he ride was road climb followed by roughstuff descent. Moorland BW with great blank views. The last section becomes a loose hardcore sort of track and not much fun really. Then lanes to Allendale town, a small but handsome place at the top of an evil little climb from the river. There is a remarkable high density of pubs here but we ate outside a cafe in a modern building shared with an art gallery. They do a generous soup.

We climbed out on a dead-end road onto Hexhamshire Common and did a rather zig-zag route messing about on bridleways, turning right above Rowley Burn then left at the next crossroads. It’s the usual state of affairs with ruts to negotiate and steep stony drops to becks and just-impossible climbs out. There is a section of access track then another later going over the top of Green Hill. I climbed to the trig point but Colin thought I was silly. The best bit is where the BW abandons the track on the descent and becomes steep grassy fun.

Cow Green and High Cup Nick

I am not a number, I am a free man

From Cow Green car park there’s a narrow road with footpath status to the dam. Then decent gravel track to Birkdale farm after which it’s still track but rougher and stonier, up to some old mine works. A red army flag was flying very conspicuously here, but our route doesn’t go through the firing ranges, which one would hope for a section of the Pennine Bridleway. Beyond the old mines, the way is over moorland. The path must be usually very boggy; it is clear erosion is a problem as there are obvious measures to ameliorate it. There are runs of a sort of netting stuff and there are sections laid with stone slabs. There are little wooden bridges over streams, which may be mountable if you have front suspension but too hard for us.

It’s great open country here. You slowly climb then drop towards a big bridge over Maize Beck, the path gets narrower stonier and more technical. Beware of giant balloons. Over the bridge there’s more tricky stony stuff before it tops out in some lovely short sheep-cropped grass and an awful lot of molehills.

High Cup Nick looms, you can see the edge below Narrowgate beacon. You keep following the obvious path (there are stone markers) and the Nick comes into view – it’s pretty amazing, a perfect half-pipe, elemental in its huge scale and the clean perfection of its shape. The path drops steeply to cross the beck. Here I abandoned poor Colin who had had an unfortunate run-in with a Chicken Tikka pasty yesterday; he made his way back to the car slowly, but I did leave him with the dried fruit rations.

To descend follow the path along the northern edge. There’s a steepish uphill section quite soo and this is the right way, though I took a lower route thinking the uphill must lead to the nearby summit; I got onto narrower and wronger tracks before muddling my way back. It’s tough going, it’s pretty rocky at times but there are easier grassy sections. The path appears to have slight variations. Eventually it turns into a vehicle-width track but still steep and rocky and sometimes loose; I wasn’t exactly looking forward to all of the ascent. It finishes up with a fast section to Dufton. There’s a pub here but I rode to Appleby for some easily guaranteed calories.

This side of the pennines, the Eden valley is markedly different in building style from the Dales and the Durham hills. In the hills the rock is a limestone – it the Dales it’s grey and in the Durham hills it can be speckledy with browns and reds but often the farms are whitewashed. The field barns are tall and narrow, even more so in the Durham hills than in the Dales. But the Eden valley is very different – the rock is red and the buildings more massive and heavier set, often with distictive round arch doorways.

The ride up wasn’t quite as impossible as I’d feared, in fact most of it was manageable, if predictably hard. There were plenty of walkers to show off to but surprisingly no other cyclists.

The Stang and Hurst Moor

Actually in the Dales

We parked at the top of the Stang Forest, failed to find any trace of the BW that is claimed to start above the forest and instead took the first right into the woods somewhere in the middle of them. Usual forest track which runs into the BW above East Hope. Follow the signs, you’re on the edge of a clearing, then soon after the clearing the BW is posted right and it is 2 lovely deep ruts. Out of the wood finally and you can see it heading uphill, it’s mostly rideable with the odd impossibly steep bank. Then it more or less vanishes, meaning we lost it. We knew we had to make our way up to the gap between High Band and How Tallow but the hills are so rounded you can’t see the lie of the land. This is one big rabbit warren not that this is relevant. Amazingly, we found the track again, and I have to say it was quite magical that we did this given how small a track is compared with the vastness of the moor. There was something magical about the track in itself, in its smooth green perfection and the unexpectedness of finding it.

We crossed from sheep pasture into heathery grouse moors and the track ultimately beomes a farm track not quite along the true BW route. Road for a bit, climbing, with views towards the Dales and isolated farms. Then narrow BW across more moor, again indistinct and we suspect in practice riders use the vehicle track that starts a little further on. The track leads to Kexwith, a large farmhouse in startling isolation in its hidden valley. Here it crosses a ford and climbs strenuously out, and at some point meets a track from the right. We missed the junction and felt a bit confused. We saw two walkers and asked them directions. We had wanted to take the BW over Moresdale ridge but the chap seemed to think it was more important for us to get to our destination than to take the route we thought we fancied and said he saw lots of cyclists on the route through Hurst. He implied that the Moresdale ridge was a gravel track all the way; it lost its appeal; we went the Hurst way instead. Hurst is a former mine hamlet and I guess at least some of the houses are holiday homes. The track over the top was rather nice and we saw plenty of walkers.

The best bit was the descent into Arkendale. Starts smooth and grassy then winds steeply through a quarry finishing with some fabulously steep grass, then a cute litle track along the valley into Langthwaite. This is a tiny huddled stone hamlet, the door frames massive blocks of stone. The pub is one from a lost time.

We rode out again up the road to Booze (it doesn’t have a signpost, shame), eye-popping steep and just before the houses left onto the BW. There’s an impossibly steep section that somehow I managed to ride.

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