A 250km ride in the Yorkshire Dales, inspired by the ‘Transcontinental’ Cycle Race.
The Transcontinental Race, an unsupported solo bike race of around 4,000 km crossing Europe from west to east, grabbed my attention when I first heard of this a couple of years ago. Since then the race has fired my imagination and the idea of competing in this unique and epic adventure-cum-race has slowly crept under my skin. The solo cycling journeys I documented in my previous posts, ‘Celtic Cadence’ and ‘Two Lighthouses; Two Roses; Two Days’, were in part a quiet test of my fitness and resolve to make an application to participate in the fifth edition of the Transcontinental (hashtag – #TCRNo5), which is to take place in the summer of 2017. These long distance and lightly laden forays on the bike that I made in Scotland and Northern England didn’t dampen my fascination and curiosity about the Transcontinental and only reaffirmed some of the things I love about solo long-distance adventure on a bicycle. So, when the route for the Transcontinental No. 5 was announced in November 2016, my curiosity as a fascinated spectator was coupled with a sense of excitement about the thought (a dream, perhaps…) of actually taking part in this epic cycle race. Transcontinental Race Director (and noted ultra-distance cyclist), Mike Hall unveiled the route, during a presentation in Italy on 4 November, as follows:
Start – Geraardsbergen, Belgium (28.07.17)
CP1 – Schloss Lichtenstein, Germany
CP2 – Monte Grappa, Italy
CP3 – High Tatras Mountains, Slovakia
CP4 – Transfagarasan Highway, Romania
Finish – Meteora, Greece
When I saw that Transcontinental was also running a competition, requiring a 250km ride and a short accompanying video, to win a place in the 2017 race, I thought …well nothing to lose. I will have the challenge and pleasure of a long bike ride and the (probably even greater) challenge of trying to make my first video. So, three things that I like doing (riding my bike; a challenge; & doing something creative) and it probably can’t do my prospects of securing a place in the race any harm.
Link to above Tweet & video explaining the ‘#171 Competition’ – https://twitter.com/transconrace/status/804368099495514112
From this starting point, of a 250km cycle journey against a backdrop for a potential video, my bike ride was conceived.
I’m very fortunate in living close to the beautiful landscape of the Yorkshire Dales National Park, and its always a pleasure to ride the roads and lanes of the Dales at any time of year. The Yorkshire Dales has a plethora of iconic sights and locations, associated with its physical landscape and the human interaction with that landscape – perhaps I could link some of these places in a way that might echo (albeit on a much smaller scale) the route of the forthcoming Transcontinental Race.
Sunday 4 December 2016: ‘Castle; Refuge; High Place; High(rail)way
An early start, pedalling north and east from my home in Otley in darkness. I follow familiar local roads by the light of my bright ‘Exposure’ front lamp and with a creeping greyness of dawn to my right. The route undulates across the grain of the country, crossing river and stream valleys that drain off the eastern fringes of the Dales uplands. It’s light by the time I descend into the valley of the River Ure, near Jervaulx Abbey, so I can admire long distance views across the flatter land to the east and to the plateau of the North Yorkshire Moors beyond.
After a short detour to the west, to cross the Ure where it tumbles over the triple flight of Aysgarth Falls, I arrive at my first ‘checkpoint’ at the 14th-century Bolton Castle, set magnificently on the green northerly slope of Wensleydale. This provides a proxy for the, probably even more striking and spectacular, ‘Fairy tale castle of Wurttemberg’ (Schloss Lichtenstein – Checkpoint No. 1 of #TCNo5), which perches on a rock in the Swabian Jura of southern Germany.
My Yorkshire ‘schloss’ is a popular tourist attraction, offering Bird of Prey Displays, Archery Demonstrations and Wild Boar Feeding (!!!) as well as visits to the castle building and its grounds. On a Sunday morning in December, I almost have the whole place to myself as I make a brief stop to take photographs and admire the building and countryside.
The second checkpoint of the 2017 Transcontinental Race is to be located at Rifugio Bassano, a mountain refuge hut now serving as a restuarant on Monte Grappa, a 1,775 m mountain in the Venetian Prealps of northern Italy. My equivalent today will be the isolated Tan Hill Inn, the highest inn in the British Isles at 528 m and at the northern extreme of the Yorkshire Dales National Park. From Bolton Castle to Tan Hill is approaching 20 miles of riding; across the moors to the north into Swaledale and, after passing through the village of Reeth, north-west along Arkengarthdale, a pretty valley even if its slopes are pock-marked by signs of a lead mining past. I pass the ‘CB’ (or ‘Charles Bathurst) Inn, which serves as a reminder of the local mining legacy. The lead-mining in Arkengarthdale was dominated by the CB (Charles Bathhurst) Company which was founded in 1656 when a Dr. Bathhurst purchased from the Crown the right to mine in the area. His Company continued until 1911 when the lead-mining industry in Yorkshire collapsed due to the slump in the price of lead.
From the CB Inn, the country becomes more wild in character and a beautiful unfenced road climbs slowly up the valley and over exposed open moorland for about eight miles to Tan Hill.
Tan Hill Inn, my ‘mountain refuge’, dates from the 17th century, and during the 18th century was used as a hostelry by workers digging coal pits. The building apparently used to be surrounded by miners’ cottages, but now stands in splendid isolation on an exposed crest of moorland. The pub now offers ‘hearty’ pub food and real ales (including a ‘Tan Hill Ewe Juice’, 5% and cask conditioned on the premises), but I forego such temptations as daylight and time are short for winter bike riding. I stop to take photographs and exchange a greeting with a group of walkers, who kindly take a picture for me. Although it’s a bright day I quickly feel the wind-chill at such an elevated and exposed location so, grabbing a pork pie from my top-bar bag to eat on the go, I set off on the delightful sweeping road that descends south from the inn into West Stones Dale and towards the village of Keld.
From Thwaite at the head of Swaledale, I engage a low gear as I begin the two-mile climb to Buttertubs Pass at 526 m. This will be my chosen ‘High Place’, in reference to checkpoint 3 of #TCRNo5 in the High Tatras Mountains of Northern Slovakia.
Buttertubs Pass was permanently etched into the annals of road cycling when, in July 2014, it was a Category 3 Climb in Stage One of the ‘Grand Depart’ of the Tour de France. Huge crowds of spectators lined the route, in scenes reminiscent of classic mountain stages of Le Tour in the Alps and Pyrenees, as the peloton tackled the climb from its south side in pursuit of a solo breakaway by the veteran German rider, Jens Voigt.
For me today, it’s a more lonely affair as I make a short stop near the top of the pass, before making the quick descent to the town of Hawes in upper Wensleydale.
From Hawes, my route takes me south-west on the steady climb to Widdale Head Moss, which marks the watershed between the River Ure and the River Ribble. The Yorkshire Ure flows east towards the North Sea, while the Ribble drains into Lancashire and west to the Irish Sea. From here the B6255 offers a long gentle descent on good tarmac towards the limestone massif of Ingleborough, the tallest of Yorkshire’s ‘Three Peaks’.
Between Ingleborough and the peak of Whernside to the north, is the low-lying expanse of Batty Moss (‘Moss’ being a Northern English/Yorkshire dialect term of old norse origin, meaning bog or marsh) where the Settle-Carlisle railway line crosses the iconic Ribblehead Viaduct. In its barren and almost tree-less setting, this giant, 400 metre long and 24-arched stone structure seems monolithic in proportions.
In common with the Transfăgărășan Highway in the Carpathian Mountains of Romania (Checkpoint 4 of #TCRNo5), Ribblehead Viaduct and the Settle-Carlisle Railway is a civil engineering project, built to traverse wild and inhospitable terrain, which was completed at considerable human cost and loss of life. During construction of the viaduct, between 1870 and 1874, around one thousand navvies worked on the structure, establishing shanty towns on the moors for themselves and their families. There were smallpox epidemics and deaths from industrial accidents. Around one hundred navvies were killed during the building of the viaduct and 200 burials of men, women, and children were made in the graveyard at nearby Chapel-le-Dale.
After a short stop for photography and to admire the structure of the viaduct from close quarters, I set off on the homeward leg of my journey. I strike up a conversation with a fellow cyclist, heading back to his home in Lancashire after a day’s riding in the Dales. We ride a little way together as we pedal south west into the glare of the sinking sun.
I still have more than 50 miles (around 80km) to go, to reach home and complete my 250km ride, and with sunset and darkness approaching I press on. I traverse around the limestone uplands of Ingleborough to the west and then head north east, passing Pen-y-Ghent, the third of the ‘Three Peaks’ on its south flank in the gathering dusk. It’s dark enough to need lights by the time I reach Halton Gill at the head of Littondale, and I’m starting to feel the chill of the December night. From here onwards my planned route follows familiar roads along Wharfedale back towards my home in Otley, but in order to maintain a good tempo and to restore body temperature I elect to alter my course to take more major roads that will be quicker and easier to negotiate in the dark.
It’s been a beautiful and satisfying day’s riding that has also fulfilled the requirement of a 250km ride for the Transcontinental Race competition. The idea of a ride that in some way mirrors and represents in miniature the #TCRNo5 and its checkpoints has been interesting in its execution; serving to focus the mind on an ambition and motivation to ride that unique race as well as to gather ideas and material to make a video around the experience. With daylight expired and the makings of my video (and this blog account) ‘in the can’, the last part of the ride is just about putting my head down, to maintain an efficient cadence on the pedals and sufficient speed to get safely home in the darkness and falling temperature.
Now to try to make a video………..
STOP PRESS 28 December 2016 – well I made my video and acquired a little bit of experience in the making and simple editing of films, in the process. I’m pleased that my video is included in a shortlist, which can be voted for at http://www.transcontinental.cc/171
The other good bit of news is that ‘The Transcontinental’ and ‘PEdAL ED (who are the main sponsors of the race) have, in a rather nice gesture, decided that all the #171 competition entrants will be offered a place in the finalised list of race contestants. So, provided my preparation and planning for #TCRNo5 proceed without mishap, I hope to be lining up at the start of the race at Muur Van Geraardsbergen on 28 July 2017.
UPDATE 05 January 2017 – Although my video did not win the cap#171 competition, I was very pleased to receive an honourable mention from The Transcontinental / PEdAL ED, when the competition result was announced! See Facebook post at https://t.co/KNsBqzM6wb
I look forward to documenting my road to the start of #TCRN05 through my blog writing and art, over the coming months.