Saturday, 27 April 2013

Deepest, remote Wales

Nine miles from its nearest town, down the single track, twisty, steep mountain roads through the woods, we eventually found Dolgoch Hostel.  We took some wrong turns when the GPS gave up on any signal & no mobile reception meant we couldnt phone anyone to check - we asked for directions & were sent off down the wrong road, so we got more directions to finally get on the correct road - the Abergwesyn Mountain Road with the infamous Devil's Staircase along its route.  It was pitch black when we got there. We went to the common room, into a semi-darkness; our fellow Rough Stuff Fellowship riders sporting various headlamps and torches as they made their way to the electricity free bunk rooms.

The morning sun was bright & after ten minutes of peddling, we could see the lone hostel where we had cycled from.

The first day's ride (gpx file) was 30 miles round forest tracks & quiet lanes as we made a big loop around Llyn Brianne, the curiously spidery shaped reservoir that covered over a number of houses when it was originally made.

It was a fairly undulating ride with just over 5k feet of ascent in all.

We climbed the Tywi forest tracks and then descended to the Towy River where we soaked up the sunshine as we ate outside the Towy Bridge Inn & sampled some locally brewed beer.
beer and bicycles

.After warming into the latter half of the ride, I got a spurt of energy and powered the last fiveish miles back to the hostel, whizzing past my fellow riders & relishing the sun on my back & the warm breeze in my hair.
I was chef for the evening... I'd expected to cook for at most eight, but it ended up being spaghetti for 18! Thankfully there was just enough to go around & I think it was enjoyed. Steve made a lovely fruit salad followed by a local history lesson about the hostel and the area.

Day two (gpx file) started damp & it just got wetter. Most riders peddled over the Devil's Staircase, but since S & I would be driving home after the ride - we parked up over the other side (after 4 days of solid cycling, I think Stephen was glad of the small reprive).
A shorter, slightly less hilly ride today; through Trallwm Forest to Beulah via some off road bridleways.

It was lovely to meet different members of the Rough Stuff Fellowship who reside far south from where I'm based. Nice to hear different stories, see different bikes and ride at a different pace. Since this area is so devoid of cars, there was a bit more riding on lanes than we tend to do in the industrialised areas up north (& no cobbles!).

Monday, 22 April 2013

Challenging Lake District trip. 80 miles, 10k feet of ascent, plenty of off-road. Heaven.

A blustery Tuesday morning, fourteen riders set off from the remote bunkhouse at Tranearth to traverse the shoulder of a mountain as Brian led his 'Three Colls' ride starting with the the tough ascent to Walna Scar Road.


A handful of walkers passed us by, probably wondering what sort of people push their bikes over this rocky pass into the Duddon Valley (it felt like a journey to Mordor). Many of us wondered the same as the wind stopped us in our tracks repeatedly as we slowly made our way the few short miles to the summit.

The descent was slightly easier, although the wind so fierce that peddling hard was required - gravity was not sufficient! I could hardly see anything as my eyes streamed with the biting wind, tho I managed to see the remnants of snow and avoided blowing off the edge of the track.  A fun technical and rocky track all the way to the lunch stop at Seathwaite. We had only come three miles and it had taken all morning.

Brian seemed a-feared for the evening, wondering how Judith might take her revenge with the available cutlery at base.

The second of the three colls was over Broughton Moor. A much easier ascent that was thankfully mostly rideable and had some easy smooth lanes on the other side.  We climbed a beautiful lane towards Wallenrigg Farm; behind us views of the sea opened up and infront stretched the tops of various Lake District passes. Geoff suffered a broken chain, but managed to fettle it enough to carry on and we headed for the opposite side of the valley.

A grassy bridleway took us up the last coll of the day to Yew Bank. Judith spurred on Hilary & myself as we led the ascent ("girly power" apparently), but gate-holding duties stopped the ladies winning the climb. The bridleway turned into a lane that took us all the way back to Torver, straight into The Church Inn (where Geoff and Cary were stopping rather than at the bunk house) where beers and coffees were enjoyed.

Day Two and despite the forecast for rain, four more members turned up. Tim rode over from Hawkshead to join us with his company for the day.  A heavy drizzle remained with us all morning as we climbed the slopes of Bethecar Moor to the east of Lake Coniston. Again, there was much pushing over rocks and boulders until we reached the tops where we negotiated deep puddles over the peat moorland. Stephen had a slight mishap when his wheel sunk all the way down to the forks. From this point is was downhill all the way through the woods into Grizedale Forest with plenty of technical singletrack that put all our brake-blocks to use all the way to Satterthwaite and onto the lunchstop at the vistor centre in Grizedale.
Geoff's picture of the group
As we climbed more forest tracks the rain really set in and those with raincapes donned them for the afternoon. By the time we got to the cafe in Coniston village, we were all ringing wet and we certainly steamed up the windows. From the cafe we followed the track beside Coniston and through the caravan sites all the way back to Torver. The track to Tranearth was awash in places and the river, torrential.  As Wednesday evening proceeded, the howling wind turned into gales and the rain thrashed down, I'd expected that the bikes would be blown away through the night.

7am Thursday morning; The bikes were all still in place, and the wind had died down.  By the time we were ready to set off, the rain had stopped.
We took the meandering woodland track alongside the Ambleside Road before joining tarmac to climb towards High Tiberthwaite, once more onto rough tracks we headed to Elterwater where a couple on bicycles warned us of the flooded paths by the riverside.

The lunchstop today would be in Ambleside, yet at every signpost that said 'Ambleside' we took the opposite direction as we toured around the valley, eventually joining NCN Route 37 into the pretty town where we all made our own way to various food establishments.

We headed back to Elterwater by road where Brian informed us that the river levels had eased since the morning. There was a vote for 'road & traffic' or 'exploring the wet river path, possibly swimming & no traffic' - in true Rough Stuff fashion, everyone chose the latter option and we all enjoyed racing towards lengthy puddles, lifting our legs up from the peddles and hoping to make it to the other side upright and with dry feet, much to the amusement of some walkers.  Part of the path was completely immersed by the river, most of us traversed the muddy hill, but Ralph and Mike peddled through, undeterred by the deep waters.

Once again we climbed roads and stony tracks skirting Lingmoor Fell with stunning views of the fells reaching up into the thick clouds. The final significant climb of the day took us up to Hodge Close via Little Fell and the quarry by Holme Fell where Mike stopped to visit a friend. The rest of us enjoyed a fast descent all the way back to Coniston.  Judith bought some beers from the brewery in the village and after a coffee stop, we shared out the beers between bottle cages and panniers to get them back to her car in tact. Once more we followed the lakeside track and the sun came out for this final three mile stretch where some people said their goodbyes before the rain returned.

My thanks go to Brian & Mike for leading these brilliant & challenging rides (they came up the week before to try them out when there was still a lot of snow on the tops). It was the best Rough Stuff trip I've been on & I feel like I've achieved a heck of a lot in those three days. Brilliant company of course made it extra special.

When we tried leaving, the rains had been so heavy that my car was stuck in the mud, wheels spinning and digging down. It took Stephen 40 minutes of moving gravel and stones with me slowly edging the car backwards and forwards before we managed to set off driving. Stephen found that his best accomplishment of the week.

Sunday, 7 April 2013

That was an awesome week of riding!

152 miles of unadulterated FUN miles in the last week.

Regrouping after Silsden
It started with two days in North Yorkshire starting from Skipton for the Rough Stuff Fellowship AGM rides. We had members from Newcastle, Scotland (George Berwick), the distant south, Wales and of course a strong presence from northern members. We got pretty lucky with the snow, finding roads that had been cleared and since the snowdrifts hadn't yet started the big melt, it was mainly ice free.

Bolton Abbey

Day 1 (gpx file) was a lovely road ride onto the moors above Silsden to take us to Ilkley for lunch before returning via Bolton Abbey & Embsay steam railway. Lots of lovely hills to enjoy and stunning views.

Old LMS tourism adverts

All kinds of bikes do Rough Stuff riding

Day 2 (gpx file) took us to Airton via some brilliant off road tracks skirting Flasby Fell through Cragg Wood and lots of swooping up & down N Yorkshire roads through pretty Bell Busk, Gargave, Broughton & Carleton in Craven by a very churned up disused railway.  Seeing the little lambs with plastic ponchos on to stave off the cold weather was by far the highlight.
Bridleways are my ideal riding terrain

It was lovely to meet new faces, see members I dont get to meet with too often and also enjoy the brilliant food that Rendevous Hotel had to offer.

On Wednesday I did my first ever Audax - a total of 70 miles from Marple across Cheshire round the dairy farms beyond Tatton.
I'd planned on swapping the tyres on my hybrid for skinnies, but the night before saw one or two technical mishaps and I ended up taking my 60s tenspeed. I had thought 15kmph was a generous lower speed limit... until half way through.

A slow lunch, paired with a steel steed with unfavourable gearing meant I ended up spending much of the time riding solo and that  really hit my time. I spent some of the ride keeping up with one or two packs of road clubs, but I couldnt keep up with them comfortably. When riding solo, navigating really slowed me down; stopping at every junction to double check my route and keeping eyes open for the controls.
At 50 miles I was sure I wouldnt make the time limit, I was totally disheartened, alone and wondering just why I was doing this. By 60 miles and the last stretch being the off-road option, I was beaming away, flying along the lovely Middlewood Way, listening to the birds and giving it all I had, not for the time limit, but for the elation of flying along.

The last hill was hard, but the last checkpoint, the pub was at the top, which spurred me on. I made it with a minute to spare!!!
A kind gentleman offered me a drink and we spent the next hour chatting about audax rides and routes - he started last year and it was useful listening to his stories and enthusiasm. I didnt catch his name, but do hope he can make some rides out with RSF soon as he sounded keen. 
I've put some more rides in my calendar - ones with slightly more generous lower speeds (just to be on the safe side). Still undecided if I should swap the hybrid tyres and go on that.

Yesterday S & I got the tandem out to have some easy fun with the RSF Family group.  Young Theo is now showing some good progress on his new bike and our youngest member was busy sleeping away on the back of his mum's bike despite it being off road!

Today I headed for the Calderdale Hills with 15 other RSF riders from the Yorks & N Peak S Pennine groups. Calderdale borders on those two areas as well as Lancs. The area overshadowed by Britain's highest motorway, the M62. It was lovely to be led around an area I'm not very familiar with.
It was also nice that there was no biting NE wind that has been the bane of many rides for what has felt like months.
The impressive dam at Baitings Reservoir

Typical northern moorland views

Sowerby Bridge
Wainhouse Tower

Thanks to all those who have organised the rides I've tagged along to this week & the good company along the way. It's been brilliant.