The Wettest Day on Two Wheels
Despite a very comfortable bed in a lovely room, the sound of the rain outside the window of the Golden Lion had been creeping into my sleep throughout the night. It was still sounding heavy when my alarm went off.
I got dressed into my cycling gear, half loaded the bags and headed downstairs for an excellent full breakfast. It was probably too much to have just before heading out into the hills that were going to be immediately in front of me. It was very good though.
I went back upstairs, finished getting myself ready, listened to the rain a bit more, and braced myself to head out into the wet and onto the hills.
As anticipated, it wasn’t long before I started climbing. I had pulled out of the Golden Lion, taken a couple of right turns around the town square, and was on the edge of the hills within about 1/4 mile. There was no gentle start. The gradient quickly headed into double figures and to add to the fun there is a nice stretch of cobbles as the road rises.
The cobbles soon gave way, but the hill just got steeper. There would be about 750 feet of climbing ahead of me in around two miles. That would be tough in any situation but add in
- A heavy bike
- Laden panniers
- A massive breakfast
- Unrelenting rain
- A strong headwind
and it wasn’t going to be easy. When touring I try not to beat myself up too much if I have to get off and walk at any point, but it would have been nice for that to happen a little bit further into the day. The first 2.5 miles would end up taking me 35 minutes – not much faster than walking pace. I was in the saddle more often than I was pushing, but probably not by much.
Eventually the road levelled out and I knew that the next 5 or 6 miles would be largely downhill. It was a huge relief but it was still wet and windy and the views from the tops were not as stunning today as I imagine they can often be. Coming down was lovely riding to start with, but as things levelled off again, the roads got wetter and wetter with puddles crossing ever further across the width of the carriageway.
Not long past the small village of Calton things got wetter still. A short downhill section led me with little warning to a completely flooded section of road. With a long enough days riding ahead of me; not wanting to have to double back to add even more miles to the ride; having already got to the point of wet that a little more probably wouldn’t hurt; and with just a little bit of gung ho/sod it in me, I powered on and kept pedalling through, hoping that there wouldn’t be any hidden rocks or potholes, and praying I could keep going to avoid having to get off and wade. I made it. A car at the other end of the flooding had watched my progress and elected to make a u-turn.
Shortly afterwards I came to the hamlet of Winterburn. That’s Winterburn. Presumably named for the river that normally only shows itself in the winter months. Yet here it was in early August and the burn was not merely visible, but close to bursting its banks.
The way continued through Hetton and Cracoe, into ever narrowing lanes and into Thorpe before heading down towards Burnsall and a beautiful bridge crossing the River Wharfe.
Crossing one of the major rivers of the Yorkshire Dales could only mean one thing. Time to start climbing hills again.
The climb from Burnsall up to Greenhow Hill takes you to the highest point on the Way of the Roses route. The difference in elevation between summit and river valley is greater than the climb out of Settle; however it occurs over almost twice the distance.
It’s not without some very steep sections but it was nothing like as brutal and has plenty of easier stretches of road allowing for recovery between the sharpest sections.
It was a long slog though, and for the last mile or thereabouts the route joins the B6265. It’s not a particularly busy road, but much more so than any point in the ride up to this point.
The final drag up takes you past Stump Cross Caverns. It might have been nice to be able to stop and go caving, but I was still only a fraction of the day done and quite well behind where I would have liked to have been by this time so I carried on. The hill continues, albeit it a much reduced gradient, a short way further to the watershed between Wharfdale and Nidderdale.
I bet there are some lovely views from here. But for me all I could see was the cloud I was riding in. It was a relief to see the start of the downhill, although that soon tempered as the descent gets steeper and steeper. I was having to balance between keeping the brakes on to slow the descent, whilst preventing the blocks from overheating.
At the bottom of the hill, on the western edge of Pately Bridge I pulled over by a bakery and a garage for a short break. I climbed off the bike, squelching as I did so. I looked back up the hill. I was glad not be heading up it. I dragged my soggy carcass into the bakery for a decent slab of flapjack, and then filled up my water bottles at the garage next door. I didn’t fancy starting to get cold, and the garage forecourt was not the prettiest so I pulled my right leg back over the crossbar and headed back on my way.
The main part of Pately Bridge looked to be a rather pretty market town. However it was also busy with traffic, narrow, and climbed up away from the river valley with enough of a gradient to allow me such that I could feel the growl of the impatient cars behind me. I kept on as quickly as I could manage.
It was nice therefore, approximately a mile beyond the town centre, to see the signs pointing me back onto some quiet country lanes.
There was more climbing to do, but other than one short stretch at Smelthouses where the legs complained and forced a short walk, it was routine enough riding up the hill, then hang a left, and head towards the next (and final) summit by Brimham Rocks.
Brimham Rocks is a beautiful and wonderful (National Trust) site of stunning natural rock formations. I’ve been on a few occasions but not for over 20 years. On a better day I would have risked adding a further delay to proceedings but the weather was grim again and the low clouds would only have damaged my fond memories of the site. On. On.
At least I had now all but completed the climbing for the day and I had a largely downhill run in to Ripon where I was planning to stop for lunch.
Fountains Abbey is another fantastic National Trust property and in this instance the route passes straight through the estate. I had been here a few weeks earlier and had revelled in the beautiful landscapes. Today it was all just grey.
A herd of deer were sitting, disconsolately but appropriately, by the road in the Deer Park. I pulled over to take a picture, but on taking my phone out of my pocket it was so wet I couldn’t persuade the touchscreen to work to take a picture. I had to rely on using the GoPro instead.
The phone situation made me realise just how wet I had now become so pressed on through the final few miles into Ripon.
Arriving in the town centre I forsook looking around for a nice local coffee shop but headed straight for the Caffe Nero I could see in front of me.
I found a table (and a leather sofa which would be comfortable but probably wouldn’t appreciate how wet I was) and got a hot sandwich, a massive coffee, and a big slab of something cakeish.
It was good to get warm and be out of the increasingly hard rain for a bit. I wasn’t going to get dry, but I wasn’t getting any wetter. Though eventually I knew I’d have to get moving again.
From here though I was onto the edge of the Vale of York and it would be all level riding for the rest of the day.
First I had to get out of Ripon. Navigation was easy enough, but at one point the route follows an older, largely abandoned road which has been cut in two by a more recent bypass.
As well as dividing the houses either side of the main road, it’s other purpose was apparently to cause flooding on the old way.
Much like the earlier section, I came upon the flood water with no notice and decided to push on. This time though something underwater did knock me off stride enough for me to lose balance and put one foot down straight into the water.
It did demonstrate that I was right in thinking I couldn’t get any wetter though as there didn’t really appear to be any difference between my fully submerged right foot and the rest of me.
Despite the extra watering I was still enjoying the riding and though the rain was still a constant, the wind had eased off by now and with the flatter roads of the Vale the miles started finally to tick off at a decent pace.
On the way to Boroughbridge there were two points of note:
1. The route passed a couple of times underneath bridges of a disused railway line. Unlike the majority of closed lines which tended to be smaller services, the Leeds to Thirsk line was clearly a much more major route with big old solid bridges remaining.
2. I had now got so wet that every time I shifted in the saddle there was not only an unpleasant squelching noise but a channel of water would run off the Lycra and down my leg.
Crossing the A1 and passing through Boroughbridge would see a change in direction toward York which lay to the South East. In the pretty village of Aldborough I initially rode past the signs to the site of the Roman Town. After a hundred yards or so of passing the sign however I thought that I should probably actually get off the bike and go and see something as so far I had just kept riding. I turned around, doubled back, and rode up the hill on the west of the village to the English Heritage site. It was shut. Despite the opening hours sign which suggested otherwise. I guess the custodian had decided that nobody was coming out to see it in that weather. I can’t really blame them if that was the case, but it was a bit of a shame. I shall just crack on then.
Although the change in direction, and coming off the Dales and into the Vale had made it feel like I was almost done, I still had 20 miles to go.
The next few miles I was also taking a bit of a gamble. I was aware that the toll bridge at Aldwark was closed for major repairs. The semi official diversion would add an extra five miles which I could do without. I had spotted an alternative foot bridge not far upstream from the toll bridge which could be reached by a path along the side of a golf course. If it didn’t work out however, the five mile diversion would become 10 or more.
Fortunately as I squelched my way towards the closed bridge, I found the path and followed it along the river. It is on the grounds of the golf course and cycling was probably frowned on. However I confess that I made an equation:
Too wet and wanting to just keep moving + (evidence that the path had been used by golf buggies x nobody foolish enough to be outside playing golf to stop me) = I cycled to the bridge
Crossing the Ouse felt like I was getting close to York at last and was on a (long) homeward straight.
The remaining miles were quite uneventful and went quickly. Through Beninbrough Park (another National Trust site), past the Edinburgh 200 Miles sign on the East Coast Mainline, and finally onto the riverside cycle/footpath that would lead me the final few miles into the City of York.
It was great to be on familiar territory and to be so close to done for the day. To see the Museum Gardens to my left and then be crossing Lendal Bridge and onto Tanners Moat. I was done. The 75 wettest miles I’ve ever ridden.
Home for the night was to the place that to me will always be The Viking Hotel. Nowadays it’s the Radisson, but for my three university years in the city my local pub was across the road so it was a familiar site that I never went into. Something I could finally put right.
The staff guided me to the staff car park where I could lock the bike up, and then I checked in and made my way to my room. I had a splendid room on the 8th floor overlooking the south side of the city across the part of the town that I had known so well for those years. I had a shower and used the hangers to hang up my cycling gear in the large shower cubicle. I doubted that they would be dry in the morning, but they had a fighting chance at least.
Warm and dry and in dry clothing I made my way into the City to meet up with one of best and loveliest friends Nicky, who had remained living in York after we graduated in 1994. We had a lovely evening having some great food in Marzano’s grill, sandwiched with a couple of visits (and probably one pint too many) in the Blue Bell Inn.
At the end of the evening, with the world put to rights and a liberal dosing of reminiscing I said farewell to Nicky and headed back to the hotel and a good night’s sleep.
- Distance: 76.44 Miles
- Ride Time: 6 Hours 28 minutes and 18 seconds
- Average Speed: 11.8 mph
- Ascent: 5,177 feet
- Strava: https://www.strava.com/activities/9569792197