A Breath of Fresh Air

How I'm getting back out into the countryside whilst living with MS

Archive for the tag “Mountain bike”

On Top of the World

The North York Moors always feel like a slightly forgotten area of the country. It really shouldn’t be! It’s an area of beautiful open moorland where your eye can wander for miles, getting lost in the heather or soaring high with the curlews into wide open skies.

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North York Moors

Pete has had a plan for some time to get us back there with the tandem and, now that we had our invaluable bike rack, we had finally made it! There’s an old railway track that cuts high across the moors, above Rosedale and skirting round Farndale. That was our cycle route for the day.

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old railway track, above Farndale

We parked close to the Lion Inn at Blakey, which sits high and lonely, looking across Rosedale, a lone building in a sometimes unforgiving landscape (it’s often cut off by snow in winter). We had tried to stay overnight there but were told that it was booked up until September, weekdays and weekends alike! – it’s right on the Coast to Coast footpath and is a popular stop for tired walkers (we can vouch for its charms after a long day’s walk!).

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looking across Farndale

Enjoying memories of aching feet, limbs, hips … everything (!), we set the bike upright, with panniers slightly fuller than usual, and headed off on a new adventure amongst the moors. Since we were travelling a little further than usual (17 miles there and back) and were in a more isolated landscape than usual, we had packed a very small lightweight tent for emergencies – in case Pete had to leave me and go for assistance. I’m pleased to say there were no emergencies!

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sheep on the track

As we cycled along, the odd grouse bustled out of the heather, looked at us in a startled way, then scuttled off across the path and back into the heather. Above us a group of skylarks swooped and twirled in high spirits. There were layers of moors as far as the eye could see; and the cry of a curlew and the distinctive silhouette of lapwings overhead confirmed that we were definitely out in the wilds.

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western edge of the North York Moors

Our destination was the Ingleby Incline at the western edge of the North York Moors, where the Moors drop away down to the Cleveland Plain. We stopped at Ingleby Top, where the railway line took a steep drop down to the valley below. The line was used from the 1860s to the 1920s to carry locally mined iron ore to the furnaces of Middlesbrough. As wagons containing the iron ore descended the Incline, they pulled up empty wagons, using a wire cable wound round a large drum.

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Ingleby Top

Now nothing of this huge operation remains, save for a few foundations, hidden by nettles, and, of course, the track which is now a bridleway and open to cyclists to use!

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nettles taking over!

We did meet a few cyclists – including one who had just cycled up the Incline! However, the overwhelming feeling was of having these wonderful moors to ourselves. And it was the tandem that got me there, so far from the built-up world; I could nestle amongst the heather and watch the scraggy sheep with their wool coats hanging half on, half off, who stared back at me in a slightly disinterested way. This is living!

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towards Westerdale

Up, Up on to the Moors!

The weather promised dry and clear, so we simply abandoned the house and all those tedious jobs to escape to the hills. It felt long overdue. Mind you, it wasn’t quite so simple for Pete who had to pedal the heavy tandem up steep paths to get there, even with the help of the electric wheel. Respect!

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steep start over tricky terrain

Our journey up through Crimsworth Dean took us through woods flecked with bluebells, and trees stretching skywards out of the steep valley. We climbed steadily until suddenly we could spy the hills up ahead. They were still above us but gradually the path’s gradient eased a little.

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bluebell haze

As Pete toiled in front of me I took time to appreciate just how lucky I was to be able to be travelling like this through the heart of the woods and beyond. I felt like I was in a modern day sedan chair, gliding along above the path, able to take in the woodland flowers, the smells, the sounds; even more so, now that the crank shaft has been adjusted so that my legs move round minimally.

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looking up towards the hills

Then we were beyond the tree line and out on to open fields, empty except for the odd flock of hardy sheep. I heard a curlew and knew we were out in the wild. Magic.

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collecting spring water

We had travelled as lightly as possible – even excluding water – as there was a spring where we could fill our bottle to be able to make some tea using our portable stove (of course that was an essential item!).

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suitably rugged-looking tandem!

We sat sipping our brews and enjoying the views oh, for ages! There was an occasional plaintive cry from a sheep. The curlew circled above, and the sun lit up different parts of the hillside as the clouds came and went.

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enjoying the views

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and in this direction!

Eventually we got back on the tandem and took the now descending, stone-strewn path over what cyclists call a ‘technical’ section. Very hairy, more like! The tyres slipped and slid over the loose stones and we very nearly came a cropper at one point. A bit too exciting!

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escaping sheep!

We stopped at the bottom by Grain’s Bridge to enjoy a last tranquil stop and look back over the route we had travelled. A couple of lambs stared at us from a safe distance but hurried off behind their mother when we (Pete!) made a sudden movement. We had the place to ourselves again. The only sound was the water flowing below as we dangled our feet over the bridge. Contentment!

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at Grain’s Bridge

Camel Riding

start of Camel Tail, Padstow

start of Camel Tail, Padstow

… along the Camel Trail in Cornwall! We have just taken the tandem on its longest journey away from home yet. We were staying in Padstow, which is at the start of the cycle route along the Camel estuary.

low tide in the Camel estuary

low tide in the Camel estuary

We went on a ride from the beginning of the trail along to Wadebridge, following an ever-changing view as the tide gradually ebbed, revealing many levels of wet sand, and rivulets heading out to sea. We sat and watched oystercatchers foraging about in the shallow water, and even saw a little egret – we were very proud of that sighting!

little egret

little egret

The trail was popular, not only with cyclists of all ages, but walkers too, many of whom had their dogs scampering along beside them. And all along the route there were many primroses – more than I’ve ever seen before! I’m used to seeing the odd cluster half hiding under a larger bush, not banks of them splashing the grass bright yellow.

banks of primroses

banks of primroses

close-up!

close-up!

We supped a refreshing cuppa bought from ‘treats on trikes’, a portable bike kiosk by the side of the path. The weather was somewhat cooler than we had hoped that morning and the warming tea was most welcome!

It was five miles to Wadebridge and a good place for me to have a longer reviving stop. Unfortunately, the weather had deteriorated when we got back outside for the return journey.

'treats on trikes'

‘treats on trikes’

At this point, the electric wheel came into its own – Pete pushed the magic button and we whizzed back in double-quick time! The rain splashed sharply on my cheeks as we went along but it’s always a good way of knowing you are definitely outside!

The extra adjustment of the crank shaft was also noticeable, both in reducing the rotation of my legs so that I was using significantly less effort, and in the increase in comments that ‘hey, you’re not pedalling at the back!’. I used to think they were just jokes but now I’m beginning to think it’s a genuine cry when they see that my legs are moving so much less than Pete’s!

bridge at start of trail

bridge at start of trail

I should add that we had some lovely sunny days whilst we were in Cornwall too, and the views were glorious!

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high tide, in sunshine

A Perilous Mile!

Who would have thought that a journey of less than a mile could be so much fun! We decided to explore a stretch of footpath along Hebden Water which had recently been levelled and so was accessible by tandem. It was still a dirt path, but was more even than it had been.

packhorse bridge

packhorse bridge

First, we had to face the challenge of getting the tandem over the packhorse bridge – the same one I have to negotiate to get to the archery field. It was quite exciting(!) and the bike slipped over the worn stones as we descended over the brow of the deceptively steep bridge, but we maintained control and turned right on to the path itself.

at 'the beach'

at ‘the beach’

We used to live close by this spot and would often use it as our ‘back garden’, spending summer afternoons by the stream, and if the weather was particularly good, would bring our portable barbecue. It was lovely to be down there again and we stopped many times. Our first stop was at ‘the beach’, where the bend in the stream creates a bank of sandy stones. I didn’t want to move! It was so long since I had been there, and I didn’t think I’d be able to get down this way again – it would have taken a lot of effort to walk along the path, and many pauses. Yet again, I was grateful to the tandem.

enjoying the riverside wild flowers

enjoying the riverside wild flowers

the remains of the  uprooted tree

the remains of the uprooted tree

Eventually we moved on, but not far. Pete told me that the way ahead had been practically inaccessible for months as a huge tree had fallen across the path during the powerful winter storms. The route had now been cleared but the remains of the uprooted trunk lay beside the path, at the ‘booming bend’. Another stop was essential. The tree trunk with its exposed roots is quite magnificent and, again, it was wonderful to see another familiar spot once more. The stream twists round here too and the water, when in full flow, ‘booms’ around the corner.

booming bend

‘booming bend’

the excellently muddy path!

the excellently muddy path!

We continued on our way, being grateful for the fat mountain-bike tyres, as the track became very muddy. I love such sections as I know that I’m properly outdoors!

We passed the bowling green, tucked away behind a rough hedge, then negotiated a little bridge to continue our journey on foot for a short section, with me using the tandem as a steadying aid. The reason we couldn’t ride was that the path cut along a narrow raised route at that point with a ditch on one side and the rather fast-flowing Hebden Water on the other, both with something of an unappealing drop if you didn’t keep a perfectly straight line!

We were now passing along a part of the path that I had totally forgotten about, and it was magical to rediscover it and to have memories from 20 years ago (eek!) stirred. There was more to come – the sound of water thundering by told me that we were at the weir. Again, totally forgotten! How could that be?!

the narrow footpath with peril on either side!

the narrow footpath with peril on either side!

We used to walk along this route when the children were little. It was varied and a good length for their small legs, and there was the promise of a teashop at journey’s end. I particularly remember snow-covered paths … (My daughter has just turned 18 (eek again!); maybe that’s what has set me off reminiscing!)

the weir

the weir

Back in the present, we were facing a possibly insurmountable obstacle. A wooden plank created a path over an old wall. The problem was that there was a right angle at either end: not great for a tandem, and with one member of the party having minimal strength and water gushing below. The wall was all that remained of an old mill that had used the weir, and was now covered in moss and was totally enveloped by the landscape.

We were contemplating Pete going back and finding another way round and meeting me a few yards further on, when we were rescued by another walker. He manhandled the bike with Pete and lifted it safely round.

a challenge too far?

a challenge too far?

We may have to do the alternative plan another time but I would definitely want to try somehow to do this route again. It had everything: peril, mud, beautiful scenery, and all beside a stream that skipped and twisted its way down to meet the river Calder. All in less than a mile!

New Year Bites

Hebden Water in Hardcastle Crags

Hebden Water in Hardcastle Crags

It wasn’t raining and it wasn’t blowing a gale … indeed, the sky was blue and tempting. It looked like I would be able to get out my new Christmas helmet and we could set off on the first expedition of the year. (Hooray!)

at Walsden

at Walshaw

We headed off for the woods of Hardcastle Crags, making good progress now that we were used to the bumps of the stony track. The sun slanted through the trees and I took full advantage of my non-steering back seat to look at the beautiful shapes made by the bare branches. Very happiness-inducing!

Fortified by soup at the cafe in the woods, we then headed up the steady incline, until we were above the trees (thanks, again, to the electric wheel!) Then we continued along a rough road, stopping in the isolated hamlet of Walshaw to enjoy the views in every direction and to peer into a barn of wintering sheep. We were rather envious of them –  stopping in this  exposed place made us realise just how cold it was, despite the sun!

towards Widdop

towards Widdop

We looked along the road as it disappeared over undulating moors to see where we might explore on another day, then turned back on ourselves. However, instead of heading back down into the woods, we kept our height and bounced along the top road. We passed a few walkers, all, like us, enjoying being able to get outside during this welcome break in the stormy Christmas weather.

peering in at the cosy sheep

peering in at the cosy sheep

As the sun lost some of its height, (too soon at this time of the year!) its light softened, creating beautiful yellowy oranges in the sky and in the fields below, whilst to the west the light was sharper and brighter, interspersed with long shadows cast by the hilltop houses. We stopped to take it all in but, despite our warm flask of coffee, (we remembered this time!) we had to hop back aboard the bike quite swiftly as the weather was definitely not getting any warmer!

The only problem with getting up on to the tops is the descent afterwards – it is quite steep and very bumpy, though I think I must be getting more used to it as I didn’t find it too bad this time. I am becoming an experienced (back-seat) rider!

looking west

looking west

A Grand Day Out

IMG_0909My patience has been rewarded! All those weeks of being sensible and saying no to bike rides have paid off: we had a proper off-road, hill-climbing, high-level, sun-kissed adventure at the weekend.

IMG_0908We cycled from the edge of Hardcastle Crags, near Hebden Bridge, through the wooded valley of Crimsworth Dean and up on to the open moorland above. This was truly a trip back out into the countryside. We were travelling along rutted pathways surrounded by gentle sloping hills.IMG_0891

It was a trip only really made possible through the power of the electric motor. There were steep climbs as we pedalled up on to the higher ground. I would have felt like a dead weight on the back without the motor and I don’t think Pete would have appreciated the ascent at all.

It was wonderful to be able to travel along the high-level track with open IMG_0910views all around, maintaining the height we had gained. We had several stops to fully appreciate our surroundings, and, as we had brought our own stove (the “pocket rocket”), we could have plenty of mugs of tea as we relaxed in the last rays of summer sun. When we ran out of water, there was a handy stream where we were able to top up our supply.

The mountain bike tyres and springy seat were also put through their paces – the descent was (a bit too) exciting! The bike bounced and slithered over rough stones whilst I gripped tightly on to the handlebars. I watched the ground intently and saw no countryside at this point.IMG_0905

At the bottom I gingerly dismounted and slowly uncurled my fingers from the handlebars. We had reached a bridge crossing a gently flowing stream and I flopped beside it. It was another perfect spot for a rest and we felt no need to move for quite some time.

Our journey finished with a terrifying ride down from Pecket Well to Hebden Bridge along next year’s Tour de France route. (The Yorkshire leg – honest!) Now I know just what Mark Cavendish and co will be experiencing!IMG_0915

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