Disaster strikes

With a settled high pressure and beautiful Autumn weather, it seemed a good idea to use up three days of holiday and get some biking in. First on the agenda was a return to the classic Cross Fell loop I’d done close to a year ago. This time the plan was to extend the loop north over Cross Fell and descend the coffin road to Garrigill.

When I set out, I knew this would be a big day out, but a good day out. As it was to turn out, the day was much longer and harder than I’d anticipated…

Across the Pennines to Dufton

Parking up at Cow Green Reservoir the fog was starting to clear, but it was still decidedly chilly. I rode down to the edge of the reservoir, but Caludron Snout just beyond was still wreathed in mist, so no photo opportunity.

The morning started foggy, but with promised of the wall-to-wall sunshine we’ve become accustomed to.
The morning started foggy, but with promise of the wall-to-wall sunshine we’ve become accustomed to.
Looking back to the Cow Green Reservoir
Looking back to the Cow Green Reservoir

Past the farm, there is now a gravel path along the moor. Last year there was clearly construction work up the hill, as the bridge had been augmented by a ford. Nice to see that now the work is over, they’ve banked the ford up and it’s back to a small bubbling stream. Rather than take the small footbridge, the water was low enough I could pick my way across the stones.

On The Pennine Way heading for Maize Beck
On The Pennine Way heading for Maize Beck
Fog yet to lift behind
Fog yet to lift behind

Leaving the gravel path, there is a boggy descent to Maize Beck, then a picky technical section towards the footbridge, which only at the last kilometer turns into easy riding.

Nice riding approaching the bridge over Maize Beck
Nice riding approaching the bridge over Maize Beck
Looking back along the Beck
Looking back along the Beck
River crossing
River crossing

Across the bridge, more bogs and rocks, but then a sustained section of riding that is a delight. Wide open, short grass, the odd (optional) rocky section or hump to add fun, and then before you know it, you arrive at High Cup. If you haven’t been here before, it’s well worth a visit, and shows the Whin Sill off rather well.

Approaching High Cup Nick
Approaching High Cup Nick
Atmospheric surroundings
Atmospheric surroundings
Obligatory bike at High Cup photo
Obligatory bike at High Cup photo

After appreciating the scenery (after all, it takes quite a bit of work to get here, whichever side you start on), I head down. Before long the track turns into a fast, sustained descent to Dufton which is great fun.

The only downside is I arrive in Dufton at 11:30, with half an hour to pass before the pub opens. The sunshine is beautiful, so I spend that time relaxing. Once the pub lets me in, there is no food on, as the barman has broken his arm in a trials bike accident. So a couple of bags of crisps to go with the beer, and then back on the bike.

Climb up to Cross Fell

The forks and rear shock are locked, and I embark on a classic road climb, done a couple of weeks previously on a far more appropriate bike. The big 36 tooth sprocket on the cassette in no way makes up for the draggy knobbly tyres and weight of all the (now locked out) suspension. I wind my way up the road.

The climb up from Knock to the Radar Station
The climb up from Knock to the Radar Station

At the first gate, I meet another cyclist heading down. He’s on a Brompton! Turns out he’d even taken it on the Marmotte. After a few minutes of nice chat and rest, back to the grind…

Getting higher
Getting higher
The view back over the Eden Valley
The view back over the Eden Valley
Almost in touching distance
Almost in touching distance
A road bike is the ideal tool for getting up here
A road bike is the ideal tool for getting up here

When I eventually arrive at the summit, I head around the back of the radar station to find the Pennine Way. It’s a little bit naughty riding this, as it’s strictly a footpath, but the bulk of it is flagged, so my conscience is clear!

View of Great Dun Fell from the path to Little Dun Fell
View of Great Dun Fell from the path to Little Dun Fell
On Little Dun Fell
On Little Dun Fell
Looking back from Cross Fell
Looking back from Cross Fell

Arriving at the summit shelter was a beautiful cycle, feeling like being on top of the world. That is, until the last 50 metres when a bunch of dogs sprint out from the shelter to bark and generally harass me. The owners give a half-hearted attempt to stop them. At that point I hadn’t seen a soul all day.

It was now just after 3pm, and I was only half way around. However, I knew the descent from Cross Fell to Garrigill was long and would be done in no time.

Disaster Strikes

Once off Cross Fell and onto the Corpse Road bridleway, the descent proper starts. However, just after Greg’s Hut bothy I hear a hissing sound from the back wheel. A quick look shows nothing obvious, and then I see it’s coming from one of the spokes. In fact the spoke is broken, and for whatever reason, the tubless setup has failed and all the air is coming out of here. I try to swish the bike around to see if the sealant can stop it, but no, the tyre is well and truly flat.

No problem, I have a spare tube, so get he wheel off and start with the levers.

It turns out the tube in my pack is also punctured: I must have picked it up from the “to be repaired” pile. I try to patch it, but now it’s covered in sealant, and the patches I have with me aren’t really big enough. Bummer.

At this point, all hope of fixing the tyre is abandoned. 3:30pm and 35 km of walking across rough ground ahead…
At this point, all hope of fixing the tyre is abandoned. 3:30pm and 35 km of walking across rough ground ahead…

The (supposedly) fast descent to Garrigill takes literally hours. The sun is now low is the sky, and the ride down here would have been amazing.

Next is a long slog along the road to cross the river at Tynehead and work my way up the byway. The byway has (as have many) been well-and-truly ruined by off road motorbikes, and as twilight fades to night, I finally have to switch on my helmet lamp (which is now attached to the shoulder strap of my rucksack, as there is no more riding to be done). Strava will eventually show that I obtain the eight best time in the ascent of the byway. This is probably more a reflection of how few people are stupid enough to traverse it.

I reach the Alston-Middleton road and have a kilometer along here to walk, before finding the track that will take me the last six kilometers across the moor to the car park.

There is no time for self-pity, and the stars are amazing. The fog is starting to swirl around, and the GPS shows 5°C. The odd grouse is startled by me and takes off (how can they land in the dark?) and a couple of sheep clearly weren’t expecting anyone around after dark.

Eventually a light from the sole camper van in the car park is visible in the distance, and eventually I am there. It takes some time to find the car in the dark, but this is eventually done, and the bike is stowed. A quick check to make sure I haven’t left anything on the ground, and then after a short interlude to defog the car and find the exit, I’m on my way home. It’s about 9:30pm, so I’ve been walking for six hours. That was something I hadn’t banked on!

I guess the key messages are:

  • Always take a light, even if you don’t expect to use it – I would have struggled to even stay on the roads without my light, and sticking to roads would have added a couple of hours to the walk.
  • I had ample warm clothes (OK, I had a spare fleece jumper). I’d worn this in the morning, but for the rest of the day I didn’t need it. On the walk back, I was on the edge of needing it, but keeping moving and having my windproof on was good enough. Another hour would have seen me putting this on.
  • I had some energy food. On the walk from Garrigill to Tyne Head I finished a whole packet of sweets. This gave a much-needed boost of energy, but after that all I had were three gels. These weren’t needed, but reassuring to know they were there.
  • I had a GPS with OS maps on (Edge 800). As all of the route I’d been on before (albeit some walking), I left the GPS on one of the non-map screens. I’ve seen the battery wear down quickly if the map display is left on. Hence, when I needed the map display, there was still power. This took much of the guesswork out of finding the locations of paths, and picking the right turn at junctions when it was pitch black.
  • I also had a paper map in the bag, and knew how to use it. I’m extremely glad I didn’t need to do that, but it would have made the last section possible without the GPS, rather than following the longer route on the road.

So my new resolution: never complain about the bit of weight these bits of safety kit take when putting the ruck sack on. Oh yes, and take more tubes!

Strava log: https://www.strava.com/activities/403754000

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