A quick blast around Swaledale

Not content with riding Land’s End to John O’Groats in September, I’m also doing another cross-country route in August, repeating the Scottish Coast-to-Coast by mountain bike that I rode last year. We’re going with Highlands & Islands, who are outstanding in terms of organization, support, and also just all-round good people. I’m doing this because my mate Iain, who saw the photos from last year, thought it was awesome, and persuaded me to go again!

On the shore of Loch na Sealga last year, before wading the river with bikes held above our heads!
On the shore of Loch na Sealga last year, before wading the river with bikes held above our heads!
Panorama - Arriving at the Causeway
Arriving at The Causeway last year, between Fionn Loch and Dubh Loch, Letterewe Forest

By way of training, this year I’ve been focusing on my road bike, and only really done one small mountain biking trip this year. Iain’s been getting worried I’m turning into a roadie, and fully expects me soon to be shaving my legs. Well, with Liz out for the day, the road bike in the shop for a service, I thought it well overdue to get some mountain bike miles under the belt.

Where to go? Locally to Hamsterley Forest, close by to the High Cup/Cross Fell North Pennine mega day, or down to Swaledale? I figured that Hamsterley would be a bit predictable (trail centre), the High Cup/Cross Fell would be great, but a bit full-on for my current level of mountain fitness, so off to Swaledale it was.

Rather than commit to a specific route, I decided to head up into the lead mining area north of Reeth, and make it up as I went along. Up Arkengarthdale on the road, and then onto nice easy bridleways north of Calver Hill, with a nice quick descent to Fore Gill Gate, a short road section (including ford scuppering my thoughts of staying dry), and then back onto bridleway up onto Surrender Moss. At the top there’s the amazing moonscape left behind from the lead mining that took place here during the industrial revolution (and before).

Moonscape near Great Pinseat
Moonscape near Great Pinseat

At this point I could have headed back down to Swaledale via Old Gang Beck, but was having such fun I decided another climb was in order, so headed over to Gunnderside via the Old Gang Mines. The bridleway that descends to Gunnerside gill is pretty “full on”. I had trouble walking down it with the bike, and have more usually been in such territory when out on rock climbing trips. However, it was clear some people had ridden the descent – they’re clearly better riders than me!

Gunnerside
In Gunnerside Gill, with the gully descent just left of centre.

From here I took the bridleway along the east side of Gunnerside Beck, but after the mines, this was a bit of a disappointment – narrow, lots of bracken, and often uphill! Eventually this is rewarded with a nice fast grassy descent to Whin Hall. Eventually the road is met, and a ridiculously steep descent to Gunnerside, which has the brake pads burning.

From here I follow the tracks along the south side of the River Swale, which are at this time of the year well overgrown with nettles, full of flies, but at least the rocky path gives me chance to show “speed is your friend” on such ground on a mountain bike. Just west of Healaugh, I bail onto the road (the last section I know, and would be best described as “nettle heaven”!) There’s plenty of roadies out on the Tour de France route, and the signage for next week is now in place.

One week to go...!
One week to go…!

Finally arrive in Reeth, and pop around to see Rich at Swaledale Outdoors and finalise our plans to meet-up at the Tour next weekend. Legs are aching – any illusions that I had that all my roadie training would transfer to mountain biking have been thoroughly removed!

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