Moorland bridleway with some steep grassy descents
The day we overdid it.
Enter the forest and ride on wide forest track. We spotted a red-route sign and followed it to where there is a mast and very red warning saying “is this for you?” with all sorts of warnings about the required expertise and quality of bike. We reckoned ourselves and our shopping bikes unsuitable for the advertised challenges and set forth. There followed a longish stretch of singletrack with all sorts of entertainments – little bridges and rock steps and berm-hurls. You then cross over a forest road and into the woods for some more fun in and out of trees, which is a little tamer than the fully made up trail. There’s not much more other than a short section of steep narrow drop before the Grove car park.
This isn’t the main visitor centre area. We saw some downhill action taking place. We asked a couple of guys where the red route was; they said to follow the road and pick it up, which we did. Forest roads and tracks took us back to where we’d first entered the forest from the moors, but here the red-route follows a nice narrow climb along the forest edge for 500m. Then it’s main forest roads until we wind up at the masts and seconds of the feast.
We made our way from the Grove car park to the main visitor centre probably the wrong way, ending up on the red route in the wrong direction. Here we found plenty more people and a tea-room with basic snacks.
Having made easy work of the red route, Colin was keen to try the black route, advertised with even stronger warnings. It proved to be challenging and good fun. It was more “natural” than the red route, relying on steep rooty ascents and naturally steep sections in the woods though there have been large rocks placed to ride over, and planks.
Since we weren’t dead yet we rode north towards Weardale and took a b-way towards Carr’s farm. It’s a bit indistinct, and maybe taking the white road from a little higher up would have been easier, but you end up in the same place, by a copse. Now it’s a decent track for a couple of miles but you fork left after a lone clump of trees onto a steep track. Soon after a wood there’s a b-way to the right but it’s not signposted. There may have been a stump of a post. It’s not too hard to find the right way – follow the trail through the wood and through the obvious gate, down to a stream and across it. The way is less distinct now but we picked up some sort of trail. It looks as though if you follow the natural line it will take you to the old quarries before Bollihope, the true b-way at some point heads straight down to a large whitewashed farm, and joins a track that turns remarkably rough for a track that goes to someone’s house. Follow the track which crosses the river – though it may well be possible to stick on the same side and end up in the quarries – which have clear signs of downhill exploitation.
Sadly the white-road from Bollihope above Howden Burn is a private grouse estate access road and it is clearly indicated that cyclists are not welcome. You have a long B-road slog instead.
We climbed out on a dead-end road onto Hexhamshire Common and did a rather zig-zag route messing about on bridleways, turning right above Rowley Burn then left at the next crossroads. It’s the usual state of affairs with ruts to negotiate and steep stony drops to becks and just-impossible climbs out. There is a section of access track then another later going over the top of Green Hill. I climbed to the trig point but Colin thought I was silly. The best bit is where the BW abandons the track on the descent and becomes steep grassy fun.
Cow Green and High Cup Nick
It’s great open country here. You slowly climb then drop towards a big bridge over Maize Beck, the path gets narrower stonier and more technical. Beware of giant balloons. Over the bridge there’s more tricky stony stuff before it tops out in some lovely short sheep-cropped grass and an awful lot of molehills.
To descend follow the path along the northern edge. There’s a steepish uphill section quite soo and this is the right way, though I took a lower route thinking the uphill must lead to the nearby summit; I got onto narrower and wronger tracks before muddling my way back. It’s tough going, it’s pretty rocky at times but there are easier grassy sections. The path appears to have slight variations. Eventually it turns into a vehicle-width track but still steep and rocky and sometimes loose; I wasn’t exactly looking forward to all of the ascent. It finishes up with a fast section to Dufton. There’s a pub here but I rode to Appleby for some easily guaranteed calories.
This side of the pennines, the Eden valley is markedly different in building style from the Dales and the Durham hills. In the hills the rock is a limestone – it the Dales it’s grey and in the Durham hills it can be speckledy with browns and reds but often the farms are whitewashed. The field barns are tall and narrow, even more so in the Durham hills than in the Dales. But the Eden valley is very different – the rock is red and the buildings more massive and heavier set, often with distictive round arch doorways.
The ride up wasn’t quite as impossible as I’d feared, in fact most of it was manageable, if predictably hard. There were plenty of walkers to show off to but surprisingly no other cyclists.
The Stang and Hurst Moor
Actually in the Dales
We crossed from sheep pasture into heathery grouse moors and the track ultimately beomes a farm track not quite along the true BW route. Road for a bit, climbing, with views towards the Dales and isolated farms. Then narrow BW across more moor, again indistinct and we suspect in practice riders use the vehicle track that starts a little further on. The track leads to Kexwith, a large farmhouse in startling isolation in its hidden valley. Here it crosses a ford and climbs strenuously out, and at some point meets a track from the right. We missed the junction and felt a bit confused. We saw two walkers and asked them directions. We had wanted to take the BW over Moresdale ridge but the chap seemed to think it was more important for us to get to our destination than to take the route we thought we fancied and said he saw lots of cyclists on the route through Hurst. He implied that the Moresdale ridge was a gravel track all the way; it lost its appeal; we went the Hurst way instead. Hurst is a former mine hamlet and I guess at least some of the houses are holiday homes. The track over the top was rather nice and we saw plenty of walkers.
The best bit was the descent into Arkendale. Starts smooth and grassy then winds steeply through a quarry finishing with some fabulously steep grass, then a cute litle track along the valley into Langthwaite. This is a tiny huddled stone hamlet, the door frames massive blocks of stone. The pub is one from a lost time.
We rode out again up the road to Booze (it doesn’t have a signpost, shame), eye-popping steep and just before the houses left onto the BW. There’s an impossibly steep section that somehow I managed to ride.