Exploring Weardale Moorland

What a contrast to yesterday: where there was stillness, now there was bluster. A local ride out of Hamsterley Forest, and a bit of a “what’s it like riding the fat bike for long(ish) distances over hilly terrain” kind of study. Hamsterley Forest was full of the usual trail centre bikers, families, walkers and so on, but five minutes of spinning sees all that left behind as I head along Euden Beck. I wouldn’t see anyone else all day (except a farmer shouting about how draughty it was as I zipped by in a (rare) tail wind).

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The climb out of the forest was OK: steep-but-manageable, sheltered by the trees, and on a good surface.

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On leaving the forest, all that changed: still uphill, but now Sharnberry Gill makes a good wind tunnel, and everytime I’ve been here there seems to be a headwind that is either unpleasant, or downright impossible. Today is was somewhere inbetween, and only the old mine workings and the gravel in front of the tyre add interest to keep things going.

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On reaching the Eggleston to Stanhope road, the route turns right, and the headwind becomes a side wind. New to me was the effect this has on massive fat bike tyres: I zig-zagged up the road. At the top there was still some old snow from weeks ago hanging around. IMG_0683.jpg

It’s then “chocks away” as the road heads down to Bollihope. The fat bike can get up some real speed, and at speed the fat wheels seemed to be trying to resist the side-wind.

At the bottom, I turned right towards Bollihope quarry, and now had a full-on tail wind. It was at this point that the farmer and son were building a wall, and shouted their greeting about the weather. Even the climb up the road to Hill End was easy with wind assistance.

But all good things must come to an end. I turned right to White Kirkley, and the steep dead-end road towards the moor top and the Elephant Trees on the skyline. The climb was a mixture of pushing and riding, but surprisingly the last grassy steep ramp to the moor was ridden. On the way up, the views were spectacular over Weardale.

The section along the moor top is one of my favourites, and in this direction it was slightly downhill and with a tail wind. Does it get any better? Rocky enough to add interest, but never too hard.

At the end, another short road section, steeply down then, yes, steeply back up to Doctors Gate. Here there has been much publicity about the 4×4 brigade (this part of the route is a Byway Open To All Traffic) who have conspired to destroy this beautiful route. I thought I might be able to ride it, but the couple of kilometers down across the moor were all walked in thick mud. Plenty of recently added signs have been added, showing “no entry,” “this way” to the off-roaders, and “please keep to the track” (which was mostly bottomless mud, or bottomless puddles/lakes). The final rocky section was rideable, and I quickly regained Hamsterley Forest for a quick spin back to the car (with clods of mud launching themselves from the bike).

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