Monday, 4 June 2012

Pennine Bridleway Northern Section - Bank Holiday Weekend Bivvy Ride

Ready to roll for some Bank Holiday fun 
Two weeks ago I rode, and completed, the "Pennine Bridleway Double", a 195mile route, into and across the Peak District and then back again. As I wrote up my experience I discovered that as I typed, the finishing touches were being put to the first major northern section of the route and that this section stretched from Calderdale, into the Yorkshire Dales National Park and out  of the northern edge to Kikby Stephen. I'd enjoyed the southern section so much it took me but an instant to decide that I had to finish my ride and complete the northern section too, that would open in June, just a couple of weeks away!

Still feeling a wee bit tired from my 26hr ride 2 weeks before, and with BristolBikeFest a week away, I decided a bank holiday treat was in order and a packed the bag for a luxuriously paced outing, with my luggage including a selection of movies for the evening and a cooked breakfast!

Both quite a long way and quite a lot of hills, essential ingredients
for what proved to be a fantastic bank holiday weekend of riding
So, on Saturday morning, I headed north in the car with my bike, strapped my mixture of Revelate Designs and Jandd luggage on my Highball, captured my one photo at the off and headed out from Calderdale, towards the Yorkshire Dales with the intention of popping out the northern end :-) No photos for this ride. Partly as it was raining and partly as I was so busy having a nice time I didn't want to be faffing around getting my phone or camera in and out of my bag and a waterproof pouch when I just wanted to look at the amazing views, of which there were many, with my eyes not through a digital lens!

Saturday started bright, but soon the clouds took over and it was a bright but overcast day for my ride. No matter, this no doubt contributed to me passing just one other person all day as I span away gently on the pedals. Bliss.

I dropped into one town en route for an obligatory pie and cake stop, to make this as a "definitely not a race" ride and quickly headed back out into the hills. And boy was there a lot of hills on this ride, for which I was rewarded with constantly huge landscape views. 

The rain stayed away for most of the afternoon and I was interrupted by just one puncture. Stupidly I forgot to check my tyres before I set off and a bone dry tubeless front tyre meant no self healing so I was delayed briefly (after inflating several times over a couple of hours while I tried t ignore my obvious error, hoping the tyre would heal by magic!) when I conceded defeat and stopped to pop a tube in, for which I rewarded myself with the pie and cake I'd purchased earlier for a job well done.

By early evening the skies were looking ominous and I was up high. Spotting some trees on the horizon, I took stock of the clouds, was forced to admit rain was on the way and made a push for the trees. Fortunately the rain held off until after I'd dropped off the top of the hill. it was a close run thing; by the time I'd reached the bottom the hilltops were long since hidden by dark black crowds and it was definitely raining! I headed for the trees, made my bed for the night before the rain got too heavy and then made myself meatballs and dumplings to refuel after what had turned out to be 9 hours in the saddle on far too little food. Oops. This did mean I didn't feel guilty having my second slice of cake of the day for pudding, washed down by a pint of hot chocolate. Well, I'd carried it all day so I think I deserved it :-)

And with that I hunkered into my bivvy as the rain started to fall got out the ipod and lost myself in the escapism that was a silly action movie and a good night's sleep. This was camping deluxe.

I woke up after a sound 8hrs of sleep and was a little miffed to find it hadn't stopped raining, if anything it was raining more heavily. Sausage, beans and omelette for breakfast soon fixed that, washed down by a pint (yes, an actual pint) of coffee to kickstart me up the first big hill of the day, which I had foolishly camped near the base of. 

20minutes later and with breakfast inside me and my bed packed up I was ready to go. Except I wasn't. My front tyre had gone down overnight. Drat. With the rain coming down hard, and in an exposed spot, I then learned the hard way just how hard it is to get a patch to stick to a tube when the surface is damp. Out with the second tube then and off I went with just two patches left in my bag.

The second, northernmost section of the route was fantastic. the rain kept not just the crowds, but seemingly everybody away, and fewer, bigger hills and extended riding along the tops and ridges really gave the route a "big outdoors" feeling. Without a town or village in sight I really felt like I was on top of the world.

Pssshhhh! Damn, another thorn meant yet another flat, unfortunately this happened on a rocky descent, splitting and ruining the innertube. Carefully I patched my punctured tube, then repeated when it failed to heal on the damp tube and off I went. Very carefully.... I was now out of both tubes AND patches. Gulp!

The final miles were over far too quickly and it was with a huge grin on my face after a massive sweeping final descent that I rolled towards the Fat Lamb Inn, above Kirkby Stephen, the official end of the Pennine Bridleway as it exists today. 87miles and 10'500ft of climbing had made for a grand adventure. Without tubes or patches, although I was on schedule to get back to the start for my planned Monday morning return, a deadline I could not miss, the ride back to the car was now out of the question without any puncture repair kit remaining. This proved to be a doubly wise call as, in the final road miles to the station I had to stop to inflate my tyre several times as I had picked up yet another thorn.
Pennine Bridleway Yorkshire Dales Section - Lots of big hills, but big rewards too 
When I arrived at Kirkby Stephen Station, a wonderfully restored station on the Settle-Carlisle Railway, I was relieved to find that I would be able to catch one of the two trains running that day, phew! the jouney back to the car, although it took 3 hours by train and another hour and a half to walk from the station back to my car with a now totally flat tyre, passed in what seemed like 5 minutes as I re-ran my ride in my head. I couldn't believe what an amazing route, with great trails, great views and a feeling of isolation and having the outdoors all to myself I'd never experienced in the UK outside of the Scottish Highlands in winter weather!

Overall I was surprised and delighted at the current northern most section of the Pennine Bridleway from the Mary Townley loop to Cumbria. There were a few unfinished bits of trail, and a few where there was no signs yet (but I have a map, so what's to worry about?!). The people that made this route have done a grand job and what was already good will only get better as the final finishing touches are made. 

I hope the funding for the final section, The Northern Extension from Cumbria to Byrness, Northumberland, which has been approved by the Secretary of State and will add 141 miles to the distance giving a total of 347 miles to this wonderful resource manages to secure the funding it needs for work to begin sooner, rather than later.

Now, all that remains is to find a gap in my calendar to ride the whole trail; from Middleton Top to Kirkby Stephen (or vice-versa) in one go. This jaunt just got added to the (ever growing) to-do list and is currently floating pretty near the top.


  1. well done Rob
    I have been waiting for this northern section of the Pennine bridleway to open your well described feedback is most welcome, hopefully I don’t get a puncture? Iam riding a horse at 67yr, good luck in your travels. Sandra

    1. Thanks! Hope you enjoy your ride and your adventure as much as I did mine :-)