Riding The Eastern Dales
Last week we took a trip to Hawes and rode the wild and rugged beauty of the western Dales. It only seems sensible then to give you an opportunity for a getaway weekend in this historic market town, by providing you with ample suggestions for further exploratory rides - this time heading eastwards. Here goes then - an introduction to the eastern Dales. Easily accessible from the A1, the great north road, the eastern Dales are magnificent; and, from Hawes it’s simply a case of facing north and turning right to ride majestic roads that twist and turn and climb and fall, with flowing blankets of meadows on either side. The eastern Dales are full of promise and history, with quirky names for many of the rides that link the hidden valleys.
Yes, when an area has riding elements named ‘The Devil’s Elbow’ and ‘Chicken Corner’, it has to be worth a visit. Added to this, when the local highways authority refuse to sign anything below 12 percent, you can expect some epic riding ... with lots of hills. The eastern edges of Nidderdale and Lower Wensleydale in North Yorkshire are away from the main tourism locations in this Mecca for cycling, but provide some of the finest and the toughest of trails and tarmac.
The Devil’s Elbow itself, whilst short in distance twists itself to 20% at the crux, and the flowing descent to Chicken Corner, lined by dry stone walls, waits for the uninitiated and nervous handler. It’s a tough outing on both road and mountain bike, where the Rapha brigade are rarely seen, where riders wear gear because it performs and not because of its name or connections elsewhere. Yes, reputations are easily ruined, or made in this hidden corner of Yorkshire. Hills and farmland landscaped since the time of the great monasteries provide sublime views for the visiting rider, whilst the great abbeys of Fountains and Jervaulx serve coffee and cake for the weary. Irony is not in short supply, as one of the best Cafe stops, Toft Gate Farm is just below the summit of the legendary Greenhow Hill, meaning that riders are forced to climb to the summit after replenishing lost energy with some of the finest of Yorkshire fare.
As summer moves towards onwards and towards autumn, riders will still flock to the roads used for the 2019 UCI road championships which graced these hills and lanes, testing the very best and providing the world of cycling with worthy champions. And, local riders such as Lizzie and Philip Deignan, and the Brownlee brothers, will continue to train daily on these mesmerising roads, whilst hardened mountain bikers will let the gravel and stone crunch beneath their wheels as they descend the technical trails in all weathers. Nearby, in terms of Dales driving time, the ancient cathedral city of Ripon provides a welcome break and easy access to these hills for the hardy local cyclists who enjoy the challenge that the eastern edges of the Yorkshire Dales provide, before taking coffee and cake at Jonny Baghdad’s Cafe in the Dales market town of Masham, home of the Black Sheep Brewery.
And at nearby Chicken Corner, the hens and cockerels sit on the wall and watch the bikes of all comers race by, hopefully taking the tight bends safely, and raising their voices when a rider fails the test. Yes, it’s a cyclists dream to ride these roads, but it’s a dream you have to earn, where challenges lie around every bend - especially the corner where the chickens sing!
The route we’ve chosen can be accessed from Hawes by cycling east on the A684 through Aysgarth, picking up the detailed Pedalnorth.com
route at Temple Bank, turning right and heading towards West Burton. Now, simply follow the route guide, which takes in the 25% climb of Park Rash as it climbs to Coverdale and sublime isolation. When completed, head back along the A684 to Hawes and celebrate a great Dales cycling weekend.
1. Take the A684 west out of West Witton. This is a great road but can be a little busy on occasions, especially in the summer with tourists travelling around.
2. Take the left turn towards West Burton on the B6160. This road starts out reasonably flat but has a sting in it. At West Burton cross the bridge and follow the road through the village, keeping right and on towards Grassington.
The road will steadily climb, rising from around 200m to 425m. Take a break at the top and take in some of the waterfalls you can see from the roadside.
3. The road descends through alpine style scenery and bends in the road, into the hamlet of Cray. Pub on the right if you need a drink.
4. The road continues to descend all the way into the village of Buckden, then onto Starbotton before landing at Kettlewell.
5. Plenty of refreshments holes and a shop in Kettlewell. This village I spent some time working on the film Calender Girls so I know it pretty well. Keep left through the village leaving on Middle Lane and out of the village on Cam Gill Road.
6. Having refreshed yourself you should be in the mood for some serious riding, and believe me when I say the next stretch is serious. A long steep section on Cam Gill Road elevating to around 500m. If you’re like me you may want to have the camera at hand ready for a photo of the stunning views back down the valley.
7. Once you reach the cattle grid you’ve cracked it. Well done. Have a drink. Now the payoff is the fast route down the other side into Coverdale. The views are simply spectacular.
8. Pass through hidden hamlets of Woodale, Braidley and Horsehouse (the Thwaite Arms on the right).
At Braidley if you look up to your right you may see ‘Dead Man’s Hill’. A ghostly bump which comes with a Dales ghostly story.
In the 1700’s, three merchants were found at the hill beheaded. People thought a local landlady and her daughter were responsible, but this was never proven. Their descendants may still live nearby…
9. Continue on to Carlton and when through the village take the left fork towards Melmerby. At the outskirts of Melmerby, the route turns left and continues through the village. This is the last steep section of the road but nothing like what you have already suffered.
10. This road continues up the hill with Middleham High Moor (race horse training ride) on your right and Penhill Park on your left.
11. Drop over the other side and fast decent into West Witton to put a final smile on your face.