By Eddy Smyth
It was dry and cool when we loaded the bikes and set off for Malham Cove just after breakfast. We retraced our steps from the day before on the A65 until the narrow road for Malham to our left took us up and into twisting lanes along dry stone walls, remote farmsteads and hills all around us that obliterated any trace of modern civilization. This is what we aimed for: no traffic signals, tailbacks, speed traps or towns. Freedom.
A left here, a right turn there and Malham village invites you to park alongside campervans and family cars and walk along an avenue of craft cum cafes, pretty though they are to the gateway to the Cove itself.
We chose to ride up the hill where parking for cars is all but impossible due to the single track road and once we reached the vantage point of looking directly across to this wonderful limestone cliff face we dropped anchor and leaned on a gate to snap away without enduring a long walk in waterproof biking gear.
It really is an impressive sight. I once walked the Pennine Way and clamoured up the side of this jewel in the countryside crown. I was most impressed then but this trip somehow bettered it because that is what motorcycling does. The journey to Malham Tarn on foot would take another 45 minutes I guess. For us, we took in more vistas and twisting roads and parked amongst curious cattle in a makeshift parking area and walked to the waters’ edge in 10 minutes or so. Another great photo opportunity.
Now we took the advice of our local tourist information guide of the night before and rode along undulating, single track, surprisingly well maintained roads, across spectacular, if more immediately adjacent vistas towards Arncliffe.
Sheep occasionally line the roadside which always invokes caution but hump back bridges are often sandwiched between hairpin bends, in and out so don’t let that throttle control you or allow the beaming smile under your helmet distract you from these dangers. Always keep in mind, dry stone walls are tantalizingly attractive but very unforgiving.
Weaving into Arncliffe was almost a let-down, only because the previous bit of road was so awesome. I want to do it again back and forth. However, our guide said these roads get better if we follow his advice. He was right. We eventually reached a wider stretch of road, thankfully, because traffic did begin to come from the other direction occasionally and we then turned left onto the B6160 and headed north to Aysgarth.
Unfortunately being twisty and surrounded by great hills and dales this road can be quite busy. Large vehicles slow progress to a crawl and camper vans are almost impossible to pass without calculating the inevitable risk. We were also looking for find a place for refreshment but the village cafes had yet to open and the pubs in these parts seemed restricted to the old licensing laws. Frustration crept in as an HGV with a crane on the back could hardly squeeze between the sharp corners of cottages in the hamlets and camper vans behind that were reluctant to give way to us. I got by on one occasion but the gap had closed before Gareth could follow. It made this stretch of our journey disappointing for the ride and we had less time to really enjoy the scenery, which was still lovely. We had to keep our eyes on the road and the tangle of traffic in front of us.
However, in my inimitable style, when things seem to become somewhat boring I inadvertently livened it up for us. Gareth was following nicely as we tried to put some distance between us and the grindingly slow traffic we had finally managed to both overtake. I had strapped my sleeping bag, wrapped in a black bin liner on the pillion between my back and the bike rack. It was to afford some resting point for my back. I felt it move.
The bungee straps had wriggled out of position and the rolled up bag began to tilt. I didn’t want to stop riding because the long queue we’d just escaped from would be upon us and we’d have to start the game again. So, I reached behind to check if it would stay or, if not, grab the bag and rest it between my groin and the fuel tank until we could stop somewhere bett than here and re-tie it.
No deal, the bag jolted between my fingers and slipped from the bike. It hit the deck and bounced like a bouncing bomb back towards Gareth. Cue the Dam Buster’s theme tune.
Gareth had spotted it and was a safe distance behind but a bouncing bag bounding towards your front wheel is not part of the fun we’d anticipated on this ride. Brakes on, handlebars gripped tightly. Gareth came to a halt as the bag stopped bouncing and rolled apologetically to a halt at his right foot.
By the time I walked back to pick it up the massive queue of traffic appeared from behind Gareth and slipped past us. Fortunately, we had parked off the road and I added several more straps and ties to the black bag to ensure this won’t happen again. You can never have enough bungee straps eh?
Humiliation hidden under my visor I apologised and we set off once more. Luckily the queue soon took the fork left towards Hawes while we took the right fork towards Aysgarth alongside Bishopsdale Beck. This was a great road all the way if it were not for the hold ups and bomb drop. The villages we passed through looked great but we did not see a café that was open for business. Thirst was beginning to niggle. To add to my bad karma I almost dropped the bike as I stopped at one point to check if a café was open. I leaned to my left and the bike followed as the ground underfoot was soft and I sunk down slightly. The fully laden Bulldog followed my motion. I ended up pressed against a wall with the weight pressing ever harder on my thigh. It took a few ‘f’ words and that moment of adrenalin rush to pick it back up. This was not my day so far.
Fortunately, Aysgarth proved worthy of inclusion on our itinerary. The falls added to our collection of photographs and old mill by the stream had a café. We rested a while and chuckled at the incidents. Big troubles averted by a little luck make for a more memorable trip.
We now headed on to Hawes. I noted by the side of the road several giant hay bales, the rolled up kind, wrapped in plastic with Wensleydale cheese labels pasted to the ends. 8 foot wide cheeses. Nice touch. Hawes is lovely. In 1984 it took me two days from Malham to walk here. We made it on the bikes by lunchtime. And the views are just as impressive from the narrow roads.
We checked into a B&B dumped our bags, and set off for some lunch. The Penny Garth café is a magnet for bikers.
We sat outside in the sunshine and chatted to a lovely old fellow out for a ride for the day. He had ridden 3 hours just for a sandwich and a ride along the Dales. He then confessed he had to omit the best part of his plans which was a ride along the road which we were destined for after lunch because he’d forgotten he had a blood test to attend in his home town later that afternoon. He was also riding a Suzuki GSX1250. Gareth was impressed. As he set off east, we set off south west towards the Ribblesdale viaduct. The B6255 is a road that’s difficult to describe with the same gloss that the ride along here actually gives you. It’s not gloss, it’s blindingly stunning. A large road sign warns of the dangers to bikers. 28 serious accidents since 2008 or something like that. OK, I’m listening. We will take care. But that got me thinking. This is a road of stupendous opportunity for us travellers of mild adventure. There are bikes traversing these hills every day. Hundreds, maybe even thousands in high summer. That equates to more bikers than I could envisage and in all those years, only 28 have come a cropper?
Yeah, we bikers are a pretty careful species when you compare that to other risky activities. I can accept those odds. Besides, there must be a handful of stupid participants per every hundred thousand active members so that increases the odds even further. I think I’ll risk this run, just this once.
It’s fantastic. Clear views for the most part. Undulations to keep you focused and a couple of hairpins over hump back bridges to test your nerve. The scenery might blur on occasion but the ride itself is awesome. Bikes passed us in both directions (not that many from behind but those that did – zoom).
By the time we reached the road side dirt parking that face the Ribblesdale viaduct we had enjoyed the ride to remember. No wonder that old fellow looked disappointed because he could not complete it today. As we removed our helmets the look on our faces said it all. What a fantastic reason to come to Yorkshire.
The reason for this section of the jaunt was not for the view from the bridge, above it or below from the water’s edge, nor was it for the ice cream from the van or the array of bikes and trikes that gather here each day. It was for the next stage of riding: The A683 to Sedbergh and then Kirkby Stephen was recommended as highly entertaining as the road we’d just rode down but for different reasons. This road is lined by high hedgerows rather than dry stone walls. It was twistier, more rural than remote but just as amazing to ride. We could gather some speed on stretches as well, not a car blocked our progress. We’d zipped along at a fair pace for some while until we reached a narrow bridge that required traffic control. Slowing down for the first time we hopped up and over the narrow hump. On the other side 3 motorcycle police officers were patiently waiting at the red signal. We waved or nodded because they did too. Phew.
Once that little obstacle was passed we returned to the fun of it all. Refuelling at Sedbergh and then a more open spaced ride up to Kirkby Stephen. Wow, the views over this bit are stunning too. This fun is never ending.
This is as far north as we wanted to venture. In Kirkby Stephen we made a right turn onto a narrow road that took us through more dales, to Outhgill on the B6259 and back towards Hawes.
On this major, wide road we could exercise our swiftness a little more, which we may not have done but for a boy racer in an Audi who seemed to goad Gareth, who was now leading. Over a crest and the open road ahead Gareth being very aware he had now run in his new bike, he was itching to give it a bit of ‘air’. The boy racer was slowing for bends and then zooming off in a low gear to prove his point of car, better than bike. For Gareth, the red mist came down. The Suzuki lifted its head like a race horse given a bit of the whip and horsed by the car on a clear downward slope. I noted the resulting change in speed of the car. On a very steep upslope the Bulldog rubbed the guy’s nose in it as I loudly roared by. I love my Beowulfs. The car driver was perplexed at being overtaken, not once but twice. I cannot think why. He did his best to keep up and we did our best to avoid that happening. On one bend I noticed Gareth bank the bike and pass by an old fellow on crutches, leaning over a wall (it might have been a bridge) When I passed him he only had one crutch. I hope he did not have two as we approached.
We glided into Hawes and my wing mirrors were now filled with the image of the boy racer’s car. It followed us all through the town and even down the snicket (a narrow lane which we were directed to when we first arrived that the woman called a snicket) which doubled us back to the B&B. The young wag slowed as we stopped to park up and then revved his engine before accelerating away back up the high street we came down. I believe his car was up for sale in the small ads the following day.
Huh, you’d never catch us being so childish. All that excitement and I don’t think we broke the speed limit once today.
What a stunning day’s ride. What a fantastic way to skim a few more millimetres tread from all connecting surfaces of your tyres. My Pirelli Angels proved perfect. I never once had my faith in them tested. We parked the bikes outside the B&B and headed out for supper.
Where Hawes was as busy as Euston station during lunchtime it was a void of life as Mars by the evening. Very spooky. Day trippers love coming here and ramblers do arrive by afternoon but they seem to grab tea by sundown and are tucked up in bed to ease their aching feet to be ready for another day’s torture tomorrow.
All we had was adrenalin, the dull ache in the thighs and maybe buttocks from covering 100 times more distance in the same time to calm down. A well-earned beer and large supper would sort that out. It did.