Sunday, 28 October 2012

NY Moors Mountain Biking

It's always a surprise to get away for a weekend and find that not only is the weather better than forecast but it's actually fabulous.  So it was last weekend which was bookended by rain the previous week and dense fog the following.

Saturday: Swainby and Whorlton Moor

Because of work commitments, we didn't leave Sheffield until Saturday morning with three routes programmed into the GPS, all based around Osmotherley.  This is a village which nestles in a cliched kind of way under the western edge of the North York Moors.  Yellow sandstone buildings with terracotta pantiled roofs and woodsmoke rising from their chimneys, lining narrow streets full of parked cars, all contribute to the impression that this biscuit tin lid of a village is now a haven for tourists and second home owners.  I've made a few visits here in the late 70s, always at night, on my way to Sheepwash Car Park and the start of the Lyke Wake Walk.  This time we headed up a different hill to a different car park, at the curiously named 'Square Corner' below Black Hambleton, whose northern aspect is indeed dark and a little bit brooding in the Autumn light.


Black Hambleton from Square Corner

We had a choice of two routes, one from the book and one I'd made up, which looked like it might be a bit shorter and less hilly.  So we did the latter (and it turned out to be longer and more hilly).  After a short road section we got onto a mile of doubletrack heading north, which increased in gradient and technicality until finally forcing a brief walk down some rock steps (because we are lightweights and can't do jumps).  Then after spitting us out onto the road at Scarth Nick there was more, even faster descent down into Swainby.  Hmmm, I mused to myself, we seem to have lost quite a bit more height than I had envisaged.


The castle between Swainby and Whorlton

Out from Swainby, we passed Whorlton Castle (or maybe it's Swainby castle - it's a bit of an early infill between the two villages) before striking out onto a bridleway mainly comprising hostile vegetation and  glutinous mud.  Clarty is the word used in this part of the world to describe these conditions.  Pedalling just spun the back wheels deeper into the ruts and it quickly became a GOAP (Get Off And Push).  We had been warned by some locals but of course we chose to ignore them in favour of adventure, jammed chains and a puncture.  We then enjoyed a brief section of the LWW down to Huthwaite Green (enjoyable that is apart from an encounter with two large horses that left me covered in burrs and ill-tempered) before making a small navigational cock up and missing the intended bridleway through the forest, instead riding a nicely graded, firm, wide track up onto Whorlton Moor. 

At this point we hit Open Access land and a notice scratched on a metal plate, saying No Bikes.  We took this to mean motor bikes (since any alternative interpretation would have required a descent and re-ascent of a few hundred feet each way) and followed some other mountain bike tyre tracks on the LRT which thread across the moor.  The sun was starting to drop and it was getting a bit chilly but the views were expansive and the surroundings utterly silent and devoid of life save for us and a lot of grouse.


Shooting Hut on Whorlton Moor

After a brief snack stop at the Shooting House, it was an easy ride south(ish) along the continuing LRT over the moor back to Square Corner, the whole thing coming in at 13.5 miles and 1600' of uppityness



Back at Square Corner


Sunday: Black Hambleton and Hawnby

Sunday was a day of sun and this route was straight out of the book, promising lots of off road across open moorland - and that's what we got.

Starting from Square Corner again (it's such a fab name, I think I shall start all my routes from there from now on) a broad track climbs steadily over the western shoulder of Black Hambleton.


Track over Black Hambleton - looking back northwards

It's all ridable but gets a bit steep towards the top, forcing old blokes like me to have a rest (or maybe two) on the way up.  But the effort is rewarded by spledid views north and west with autumnal colours which my camera has completely failed to capture.


Looking west from top of Black Hambleton - moors, forests and fields

From here the fun just never stops, with a fast, wide track under a massive, sun-filled sky and only a couple of gates to break the momentum.

Fast riding on flat, wide tracks

If you're only into MTB technical stuff, this route probably isn't for you.  I go mountain biking as a way of moving through the landscape, off-road, to reach more remote areas more quickly and it seems to me, this is a 'must tick' ride.

Arden Great Moor - looking back along our route

At the edge of Arden Great Moor there is a confluence of routes and the feeling that a follow up visit is going to be needed to explore all of them.  On this ocassion, the book made the choice for us and after the initial climb up, we now had the promise of losing all that height - and it was just a huge amount of fun with the gradient (and speed) increasing as we dropped lower into the valley. 

The NY Moors are frequently a contrast between fun, easy riding high up on the moors and poorly maintained, muddy bridleways down in the valley, often with challenging navigation. And so it was here, starting with a GOAP up a steep muddy slope, followed by three attempts to find the gate into a wood - including finding the right wood but that was partly my fault for (mis)reading from my MemoryMap GPS instead of doing it 'Old School' and getting out the paper version and a compass from my rucksack.  It was worth the effort though and the dappled light filtering through the trees, the smells of autumnal vegitation and a brief encounter with a Roe Deer, which ran out in front of me, made up for having to dismount a push past a few boggy sections. 

There is just so much stuff to kill around here.  Apart from the deer, we saw braces of Red Partridge, pheasants and grouse and probably all the rabbits on the world.  You could easily grow fat on game pie all year round up there, unless of course you're a vegetarian in which case you might look to move to somewhere more suited to the cultivation of cereal and root crops since the bilberry season is quite brief.  Also, the farmers are all friendly and even the off-roaders on trail bikes held a gate open for us with a cheery hello - it's so difficult to maintain a grumpy old bigot stance towards these folk in the face of such friendliness - dammit.

In Hawnby, we stopped at the tea shop, which had a rather too shady tea garden and rather to soggy scone before a steep pull up the road up onto Bilsdale Moor.  We were heading for the Bilsdale West transmitter, not because we had any special desire to see a 1000' mast close up, (though it was interesting for me - my Dad did a lot of work in the 50s installing microwave links in the north of England and up through Scotland as far as the Orkneys) but rather, there was a stonking great track which went north past the mast for a few miles before doing a U turn and returning us to Square Corner


Bilsdale West transmitter from the north

We arrived at the mast, after a light lunch and short siesta in the sunshine and realised that the OS 1:50,000 didn't quite line up with what was on the ground.  This is another problem with the Moors - tracks disappears.  The book wanted to take us off the LRT onto a bridleway but it no longer exists as far as we could see.  We found something which fitted the description but in a different place - and it was a foorpath.  So instead of thrashing through heathery singletrack, we were forced to carry along the wide, fast and fun route, which got even more fun as we turned south and started dropping furiously into a valley and back to farms and the road.  A final thrash along yet another poorly maintained bridleway got us back to Square square box, errr Corner.  A total of 21.5 miles and 2700' of up (and down)


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