In the last week we seem to have jumped straight from early Spring to early Summer. When the sun comes out and the shadows turn darker a long ride is no longer a battle against the elements, but instead becomes a much more light hearted and less demanding experience.
The climb from Kendal over the hill to Sedbergh is always hard work for legs which haven’t had the chance to warm up, and even today was no exception. Blue skies and crystal clear air are wonderful motivators though and we were soon riding through Sedbergh. Kendal is regarded as the gateway to the Lake District, but Sedbergh is very much part of the Yorkshire Dales. It is in the anomolous position of being in both Cumbria and the Yorkshire Dales National Park.
Our first destination was Nateby near Kirkby Stephen. To reach here involves a steady but long climb on a road which divides the rolling Howgill Fells to the West from the craggy Wild Boar Fell and sprawling Baugh Fell to the East. After passing the high dramatic waterfall of Cautley Spout the road flattens out and drops towards Kirkby Stephen and the edge of the Vale of Eden. On the edge of Kirkby Stephen we headed off the main road towards Nateby where the real business of the day began.
Let battle commence
The name Lamps Moss doesn’t tend to inspire fear and dread in the British cyclist in the way that Hardknott Pass or the Coal Road might. It’s visited by several sportives amongst them the ‘Etape du Dales’ and the ‘Richmond Five Dales’, but they all seem to approach it from the East where it is a long draggy climb with a wonderful moment of revelation when the top is reached and half of Cumbria comes in to view.
From the West it ramps up quite early on with a 20% ramp followed by a long grinding ascent of the hillside. The final part is again fairly uncompromising with a long ramp which is visible from some distance. It’s always a relief to reach the top of what is arguably one of the 5 or 6 most difficult ascents in the Dales.
The top of the climb debouches on to a vast area of high open moorland where the only soundss are the calls of curlews and lapwings.
Far away to our right was a plume of smoke where someone was burning off bracken or heather. For a while we rode across a rolling sea of bracken covered hills until the road started its steady, then steep descent to upper Swaledale. As we descended I was immediately conscious of the number of small barns, seemingly one in each field. This feature is unique to Swaledale and is a relic of formerly distinct local farming practices. I wonder if they will still be there 50 years from now as maintenance is a major problem for hard pushed hill farmers.
I always seem to arrive in Swaledale when the sun shines, so for me it has always seemed a welcoming place with warm stone houses reflecting the bright green of limestone pastures.
Just before we were about to start the ‘Buttertubs’ climb we found a tea room with tables set out in a perfect sun trap. Tea cakes, brownies, coffee and biscuits were immediately ordered and this provided the perfect opportunity to delay the start of the next bout of pain.
Although a more famous climb than Lamps Moss, Buttertubs isn’t nearly as hard. It starts with a series of short ramps as it twists and turns upwards. There is a long sweeping bend which takes you up to what appears to the skyline. You then find yourself riding to the right of a deep valley before the road steepens for the final time and you arrive at the top. The pass takes its name from a series of deep vertical potholes which can be found alongside the upper sections of the road. Whether their name comes from their perceived resemblance to buttertubs or from some connection with the storage of butter I’ve never been sure.
The views to the South from the top of the pass feature Upper Wensleydale and the Three Peaks of Yorkshire, with Ingleborough prominent in the middle ground.
I couldn’t resist the opportunity to pose in my Cervo Rosso kit as this was the first long ride of the year where shorts were a viable option.
The descent is fast and sweeping and is over far too soon. We headed through Hardraw and then set off through Garsdale , to Sedbergh.
After this we rode back over Black Horse Hill to Kendal. Anyone who cycles regularly with me will know that this hill is my ‘Bete Noir’.It’s usually encountered at the end of a long hilly ride and it’s unremarkable appearance as it rises through trees and then over bare moorland, belies its effect. It’s not very steep and it’s not very long but it just crops up in the wrong place for a weary Kendal bound cyclist. I am always glad to reach the top, cross the motorway and tick off the miles till I get home.
This was another good day to be a cyclist. As I arrived back in Kendal, I was happy to reflect on my good fortune in having such exciting terrain within a few miles of home.