Saturday, August 17, 2013

A Magnificent Day's Riding: Lancaster to Kirkby Stephen

Saturday the 15 June, 2013

Hilly bits - Anne Mustoe, inspiration to cyclists - Along the Lune to Caton -  England's pastoral paradise - Up and up the hill and some glorious gliding down

Hilly bits

Hills are OK.
  1. If they are steep you get off and push.
  2. You mostly always get a good view on the way up, and a more fleeting one on the descent.
  3. No hill goes up and up forever. They all have a summit.
  4. If you are lucky, the glide downhill can be the next best thing to flying.
I mention the above because, for the first time in the LEJOG description, Lonely Planet provides a route profile for today's ride. Had the route not been steep enough till now to warrant a similar profile? Were we moving onto a new level of pain? Should I be worried?

Today's route profile. The ascent from Cowgill definitely had me worried!

Anne Mustoe –  inspiration to cyclists

In fact the day was a total delight, one I would have travelled round the world for, the sort of cycling experience that might have prompted Anne Mustoe to write: “ I discovered that cycling was a perfect way to travel. It was faster than walking but slow enough to appreciate all the sights and scents of the countryside.”

In the late 1980s, Anne, in her middle-50s and a private school principal, left her job and cycled round the world, solo and unsupported, in 15 months. She has since cycled thousands more miles, written several fascinating accounts of her trips and is an inspiration to many. She certainly is to me. Please try to get hold of and read any of her books if you haven't already had that pleasure.

Along the Lune to Caton

At 8, the the bike delivered to me from the hotel board-room, and full of an anticipation fuelled by the exuberant guide-book description, I slid downhill to the 10 km Lune Cycle track and headed upriver, the weather sultry, the wind friendly, conditions which were clearly encouraging for others; I had to keep sharp eyes as I dodged walkers and riders and dogs and prams but as long as I didn't actually collide with them, most fellow track users were cheery and friendly. A perfect start.
Togged out and ready to ride.

The route was flat, through bush, on the banks of a sizeable river and after 5 kms passed under the truly imposing Lune Aquaduct, 664' long, 60' above the river and carrying the Lancaster Canal; completed in 1797, it is still in top working condition today.

The Lune Aquaduct, in perfect working order 216 years after construction.

After 10 kms and with no village in sight, I stopped and asked a walker:

” Excuse me, can you tell me where Caton is?”

You're in it. “ (where had I heard this before?)

He wasn't interested in pointing out my pathetic powers of observation, however. This man had a passion for vapour trails....and for asking questions without needing to wait for answers.

Look up there. See the vapour trails? ( in fact there were many). They're mucking up the cloud system. I've studied them for years and there's no doubt that the cloud patterns have changed and, I'm pretty sure, the weather as a result. I've contact the airlines, and the met office but they didn't even get back to me. “

And so on. I must have been a good audience. He gave me a friendly tap on the arm with his umbrella as I rode off.

England's pastoral paradise

I followed the A 683 up the Lune valley through Kirkby Londsale. If I mention that the famous English painters Constable and Turner, spent time here because of the appeal of the landscape, you will get some idea of its allure. I rode along the flanks of rolly hills above a plain of rich pasture softened by clumps of mature trees, patterned with dry stone walls, dotted with contented cattle.

1130 and I had to make a choice. From Sederburgh, the A road climbed over the hill 12 miles to Kirkby Stephen - the direct and easy route. Or I could swing round 25 miles through Dentdale, over the 1700' Great Knoutberry Hill. Mmmm. I thought back to other busy A roads, decided that I didn't want to be number one target in the bicycle shooting gallery today and so put my trust in Lonely Planet that their lavish descriptions would justify the extra distance.

Dentdale - I loved the contrast between the high, bare dales
and the pastoral richness of the valley.

Next to having David along to put me on track and buy me mince pies for lunch, it was the best decision of the trip. The ride through Dentdale this afternoon was captivating. Here's why:
  • Dentdale is a self-contained valley of stone houses, charming bridges, lush pasture with the bare, muscular slopes of the Yorkshire Dales rising high on both sides of the River Dee.
  • The village of Dent, apart from the jarring presence of a caravan camp on the outskirts, is small and uncrowded, its streets of cobbles and cemented pebbles, the buildings stone, some painted white, all well-cared-for. I had the impression that this is just how it might have looked a couple of centuries ago.

    The village of Dent, cobbled streets, lovingly cared-for and free from 'improvements'.

  • I met Sarah and her daughter coming into the village from their nearby farmhouse. Mistaking the flag, she told me she was off to Australia in December for a wedding. She was from Birmingham and had married a farmer who had been brought up here. “I honestly can't believe my luck. I live in paradise here.”
  • At 2, having dawdled up the gently rising lanes of the valley to Cowgill, I looked at the slopes of the Knoutberry Hill and laughed.
Up the hill and some glorious gliding down.....

The slope up this hill, and we had 1000' to climb, was 12% for the first 3 miles. That's why I laughed. It would be an effort just to push up this incline.  I was amazed that the ashphalt surface wasn't sliding off!

Then I noticed the sheep. They were all facing the same way. I will tell you why – they are bred to have long legs on one side of their body and short on the other. Otherwise they would fall down the hills. 
The incredible sheep of the Great Knoutberry Hill,
specially bred to cope with the slopes and winds of the terrain.
I pushed the first bit then was able to ride when the slope became less severe and at a height of 1150' turned 50 m off the road to the Dent Station on the Settle – Carlisle Track and the highest station in Britain, built in 1871, closed in 1970 and re-opened in 1986. I lingered for half an hour, hoping for a train to come steaming in. I love railways. I especially love cycle tracks on abandoned railway lines. I thought of the Granite Line, the Camel Trail on this trip and of the wonderful rail trails in New Zealand – the 160 km Central Otago Trail, the 30 km Rimutuka Incline Trail. Rail trails are never too steep, have no snarling traffic and all the sharper slopes have been ironed out. Perfect!

Dent Station, 4 miles uphill from the village, and on the Settle-Carlisle line:
 there are 20 viaducts and 14 tunnels on its 71 mile length!

I had made the old mistake of thinking I was at the top of the hill at the station but I had to climb a further 600 ' up a less sharp incline and so rideable. On top, it was very cold, very bleak despite the sun and I would hesitate to cross this moor on a winter day with a north wind howling.

Looking back down the Knoutberry Hill towards Dentdale from the station.

The downhill to Garfield Station was a brake-screecher. Onto the A 684. Turn left at the Moorcock Inn. Steep ups and downs beside the railway line. Then.... a dreamy glide for 8 kms of almost pedal-free pleasure down the Mallerstang Vale into Kirkby Stephen. I had been on the road for 8 hours and I would never forget Lancaster, Dentdale and the Great Knoutberry Hill. Ever!

Pendragon Castle, a few miles from Kirkby Stephen, 12th century and
reputed to be founded by Uther Pendragon, the father of King Arthur.

Weather – mostly fine and with a good tail wind. Slower speed is because of the hills.

Distance Today Average Speed Max Speed Riding Time Trip Odometer
84.6 15.9 59 5h 18m 860.7

The B 6259 runs through the Vale of Mallerstang to Kirkby Stephen, just a mile or so from here.

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