Fat Lad’s Big Day In The Dales

I’ve never been one for New Year’s resolutions, why make up something to stick to and give up in January when I can have unfeasibly poor willpower all year round. So most of the Winter so far (august to present it would seem) I’ve been saying to any poor soul in riding earshot that I’m going to try and get one “big” ride in a month. Ackworth Dave with a pass out for the day suggested we have an attempt at his aborted route around Swaledale. Big hills, green pastures and the chocolate box cover scenery riddled with some of the finest bridleways in this land. Hell yeah I was in.

But, as always with anything involving my legendary organisational skills there had to be at least one feck up. liaising with Dave via text the day prior my numskull speed reading persona had determined that Dave was picking me up at Casa Fat Lad. Not true. He actually did tell me to meet him at his but I missed that tiny yet important bit of information. Dave made his way over to me and upon arrival he handed me a foil wrapped bacon buttie previously prepared for my anticipated landing at his place. Half hour later and from a completely different point of departure we were zooming north the big hills calling. The drive over was the usual affair, me talking too much and Dave being too polite to tell me to shut the feck up! Nearly at the set off point the red flags were up on the MOD tank firing range and I think poor Dave fed up of my voice may well have been praying for a shell to burst amongst the engine block and put him out of his aural misery.

Sat in the parish car par in Reeth the rain lashed against the windscreen and we dashed out quickly assembling bikes double time. Ian had said he might be joining us and we needed no further encouragement to wait in the car warmth for a few more minutes to give him chance to show. With enough time passed and the weather seemingly brightening we finalised the pre-ride faff and mounted up for the day ahead. The cold and constant drizzle accompanied by the ice toothed biting wind resumed it’s melancholy tune as we headed out on the tarmac. We jealously eyed the upcoming dirt during our metalled surface warm up. Green eye defeated we hit the trail following the undulating valley floor, skirting the river side over hard going soggy and soft ground. The high and wide river forced us to make a choices early on:

We were not the first to come up against this particular trail conundrum as the fallen drystone wall to our left demonstrated. We dropped into the even wetter farmers field trying our best not to ruin the ground further. Starting to gain a little height Dave attacked the short climb following the diagonal path across rise, his all rounder tyres ran out of grip before he ran out of legs and even with mud tyres I had the same results seconds later. We were leaving the valley bottom and the swollen river gaining height as we did, the rear wheel spray from our water logged green and pleasant land fields mesmerising in it’s graceful arcs. Another short run of tarmac behind us deposited us onto the possibly the grimmest section of trail I’ve experienced.

The path was narrow enough to stop us riding side by side for the most part but the ground had drained surprisingly well. Flanking us each side, high walls swapped occasionally with wire fence and trees to making us feel we were rolling down a trench. We passed comment on a dead rabbit on the trail and cranked on. A few yards later we spotted another expired bunny. A few yards more and another floppy ear had gone to meet it’s maker. Not too many pedal turns later and another flopsy had expired. The macabre discovery of yet another friend of Bugs as worm food was more than a little weird also. When we finally got out of Myxomatosis mile we had counted 28 (yes that’s twenty eight…) dead rabbits. Not too far from the end of carnage corridor we chatted with a group of red socks who warned us about ice. I mentioned I’d had an entertaining moment or two with ice still solid beneath some of the puddles and with that we left their knowing smiles behind.

More road shepherded us into Gunnerside village and I had to stop to check the rear brake. Sure enough I had no braking material left and for who knows how many miles metal had ground against metal at each pull of the lever. With a rounded bolt living firmly in the brake mount I couldn’t rearrange the caliper for the new and considerably thicker pads and setting off for the days biggest climb yet the speed sappers were dragging. Heading away from the meagre settlement of pubs and houses the road headed quite literally into the clouds. Following the shining black tarmac snake we were pedalling against a strong headwind granny ring engaged my little legs turning for all their worth. Glancing back another figure in the mist seemed to be following our wind swept path too. We hit dirt again turning our backs to the wind, I took the opportunity to finally engage my brain and sling my waterproof over my not quite quite wet jacket. The wind was pushing us up the hill but sadly not enough for us to stop pedalling.

Grinding away, the Christmas break started to manifest itself in my legs and I shouted Dave down for a breather. Slurping from my camelbak gulping lung fulls of air I was drinking in the view when our shadowy rider coalesced out of the mist. With rigger boots on his feet, leather motorbike mitts on his paws and a wooly beanie atop his brow, he rolled up to us on his “Supermarket Special” steam rising out of his thick waterproof kagool. Turns out our mystery cyclist had set off the next village over from our start point and was doing pretty much the same route we had. We invited him along to ride with us and smiling he readily agreed. Gaining altitude once more the ground ice became increasingly more frequent. The climb stretched ahead of us and even with the calories expending I wasn’t getting any drier or warmer. Dave stopped long enough looking back, waiting for his rotund mate to catch up as the mystery rider plowed on ahead. I rolled up to Dave and said to him breath heavy “Feck this mate let’s head back, I’ll shout you to a pub lunch.” Dave laughed and pulled out his soaked OS map plotting out our route back to the car and dry clothes…

The shortcut back to the car was still to be a cracking ride back losing all our height in adrenaline grin worthy downhills. Getting near to the summit the ground changed from loose sandstone and dirt to ice. Thick, solid, uncrackable sheet ice. The gods of balance claimed Dave twice and wisely all three of us decided walking this section might be the best idea.

The plan now was to descend to the gill (bit like a stream for those of us not from round here…) hop over the stepping stones and climb back up the the other side heading back. Descending down to the beck our hard work was not to be rewarded as the ice was so treacherous we had to walk our steeds into the valley bottom the slippery conditions claiming Dave’s balance twice. We reached the beck and as I heard Dave’s laughter my breath was taken away….

Described to me as gentle stream with stepping stones a plenty to navigate across the supposed trickle had been transformed into a raging torrent:

Roaring white water crashed and thundered down past us the noise nearly as intimidating as the thought of getting very wet indeed. Dave and I paced up and down the bank looking for any way across. As we hummed and ahhed about possible crossing points the mysterious rider flung his backpack to the opposite bank. Fearlessly/stupidly he jumped onto the only flat rock available in the fast flow. Ice cold water rushed past him up to his knees and with a grin he asked me to pass his bike over. Bending at the knees I hefted what must have been 50 pounds of cast iron and handed it over to our new friend. Grasping it firmly from my hands he twisted from the hips and flung the bike to join his backpack. Dave stopped dead in his pacing gave me a look of equal parts admiration and what the feck… “If we end up in that mate it’s big yellow helicopter time…” I sighed back. With nothing for it we shouted our good byes and good lucks and we headed back out of the valley the way we had just descended.

What we hadn’t realised on the way down was how stiff the wind had been at our backs. Climbing back up the ice sheets with it now burning our faces it was hard going and only the thoughts of hypothermia kept me pushing on. The peculiarities of geography presented us with an odd pocket of wind free bliss so we took the opportunity to force a sandwich down. As we set off I donated my spare buff to Dave from the depths of my Camelbak and we both covered our faces eyes glinting out; bike ninjas together we trudged back to the valley summit.

Away from the ice sheets and back on the bikes it was time for some pay back. We rocketed back down the wide paths glad of some guilt free well earned speed. Turning the penultimate corner the wind changed and in a pico second 10mph was knocked off my freewheeled crusing speed. With sad ineveitablitly we were soon back into Gunnerside and following the same back snake of tarmac back to the cars. The last few weary road miles were soon bagged and we got changed in the public toilets opposite. If nothing else if anyone had come in at the moment to find two blokes in wet lycra changing it would have raised an eyebrow…

All that was left was to have a fine fine cup of tea and a slice of cake in the local tea room come bakery and then it was time for the long drive home, endorphins melting away into then retreating hills…

Fat Lad


  1. ackworth dave
    Posted February 5, 2009 at 9:48 pm | Permalink

    superb write up mate!!

    Its strange though, during the ride nothing seemed that funny, but reading this has had me in fits of laughter.

    Top writing and an excellent account of the day…lets get planning the next

    I wonder if our mystery friend has made it back…perhaps he is still in the public toilets climbing out of all those layers he had chosen to put on that day?!

    Posted February 5, 2009 at 10:24 pm | Permalink

    That was a great Tale of the Dale, Al. By the time I finished reading, even I wanted a hot shower and a warm drink!

  3. Posted February 6, 2009 at 1:14 am | Permalink

    I’m still shivering from this story. I would rather ride in below zero weather than to face such cold and wet. Great write up Al!

  4. Posted February 6, 2009 at 1:36 am | Permalink

    Great write-up — LOVE the river-crossing part! I agree with Bigworm and Wheel: I need to put on a couple more layers just reading.

  5. Posted February 6, 2009 at 12:17 pm | Permalink

    Well Done, Those horrid, cold, wet frightening moments are always the funniest…. later…. much later.

  6. Posted February 6, 2009 at 12:34 pm | Permalink

    Jeez, you really should work on chatting so much…can’t stand people like that!
    Epic post Mate! When I got through reading, I had to ring my clothes out and stand by the fire. I wonder what happened to the guy that crossed the stream? Was he a ghost?

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