By Eddie Smyth
The following morning we wiped the night dew from the seats on the bike and set off once more. A clear, crisp sky, full bellies from the cooked breakfast and the anticipation of another great day’s rising in these amazing dales. Our first target was the pub at Tan Hill. Not for a drink as it won’t be open but since it’s the highest sited boozer in England is deserves a visit. We ventured, on advice, up the Buttertub pass. Do it. Whatever vehicle you can get, just do this road if you attempt no other from this trip.
We stopped at a summit to photograph countless miles of views. In all directions. But that’s not even the pass itself. This road clings like a shelf along the almost summit of the hill to our left.
Once you reach a certain point the view ahead takes your breath away. You can see the road ahead, twist and dip and disappear then emerge farther along like a beckoning finger from an adulterous sorceress. You cannot resist. You want to stop and photograph it but you can’t. You are drawn to keep going to retain the sheer magic of the ride. It’s torture but of the most pleasurable kind you can get on two wheels. We dipped and wheeled in and out of the curves of the hillside that is part of Great Shunner Fell, then up a bit and over and snaked down as the dales across to Melbecks Moor come into view. It could have been 100 miles along this road, it still would not have been long enough. We finally slowed to a halt at the junction for Thwaite or Muker. This time we need Thwaite, we shall be coming back to Muker after.
Just after Thwaite is a signpost pointing right to Tan Hill. A hump back bridge and then three nasty hair pins upwards. Left, right left.
If I thought yesterday’s bouncing bomb incident was my nemesis I was wrong. I completed the first hairpin and noted the second was so sharp the tarmac at the acute edge was actually a sheer drop. Scrapes and gouges in the surface meant others had found this a difficult bend. I dropped into first gear and took it as wide as possible. But too wide meant gravel edges. I turned in a bit to avoid that hazard and my front wheel found a groove I did not want to follow. The bike had other ideas and the front turned in sharper bending the bike like a snake trying to coil back on itself. With my right wrist now forced back towards my body the throttle closed and the engine stalled. The lean was now too far over to control and the bike toppled.
I had only one escape route; let it go and roll free or my leg might be crunched underneath. Like a ninja through treacle I managed to roll free as the bike hit the deck. It lay there for a second or two, motionless, the handlebars were not even touching the road because of the steep gradient. The tank did though and after that fateful second the bike started to slide down the slope. The screeching scraping sound of my paintwork getting skimmed and the tank dented was deafening. It slid for about three whole inches.
Gareth was behind me and was now trying to find a level surface where he could put his footrest down. He could not find one, it was too steep. I stood up to grab a hold of the bike but there was no way I would be able to pick it up lying at this angle. Fuel trickled from underneath.
He finally found a spot and came to help. We got it on its rubber side down and wheeled it to a place capable of taking a foot rest. Angry, with myself, my stupidity and no one else but me. Bad words spilled from my mouth like a Tourette’s sufferer on helium. My beautiful bike had two finger length dents and scratches on one side of the fuel tank. The rest of the bike was undamaged. Pegs, levers and everything else, bar a ‘shoved out of place’ wing mirror was unscathed. I began to breathe more easily at last.
I took a few moments to regain my composure before re-mounting and getting on with the job at hand. It can’t be that bad. I got two out of three hairpins right, does that count as a success?
We reached Tan Hill and took photographs. I drank plenty of bottled water and the day returned to normal.
Heading back the same way, I recalled in Thwaite that I had sat on the very bench that is still there in the centre (it’s such a small village it has no outskirts, just a centre) in 1984 next to an old fellow for a photograph. He was not there today but I could probably replace him now as the old man in a flat cap watching struggling hikers huffing and puffing past as I repose without a care in the world. I wonder if the job is vacant.
We scampered through Muker along the route of the Tour De France once again. In fact we’d followed several miles of their route from the English section of the race since Skipton. This section was narrow, delightfully attractive through forests and along meadows but with few passing opportunities as four wheeled vehicles trundled painfully along due to the bends and dips. Bainbridge was a pretty place but Reeth is fabulous.
A large green dominates. A row of small shops flanked one edge, a hotel another and a post office and chapel the third and the southern edge drops away to show wonderful hills behind the church and the proof that you’d be an idiot not to stop a while and savour English country life at it’s very best. We took coffee from a sweet shop where the rather attractive lady boiled a kettle located behind the counter and spooned the ingredients into paper cups. We sat outside and soaked up the mellow sunshine and mellow ambience. Gareth’s eye was taken by another attractive beauty: An original, exquisitely maintained E type jag. With as many subtle curves as the lady who served our coffee.
Leaving this village was a telling moment because after the next part of the journey up and over the hills where an army firing range (beware of tanks pointing turrets at you) flanked both sides we descended into more populated districts that included Leyburn, Masham and then a sharp left towards Thirsk. Good roads again but they lacked the remote charm of the previous two days’ riding.
We lunched in Thirsk before heading to York for a bit of exploration of a different kind. The A19 is such a straight road. It’s better than a boring motorway but the miles seemed to stretch out further as each roundabout was approached.
This was Gareth’s first visit to the ancient city. We wandered and had coffee by the river before deciding that stopping in York overnight might be too expensive and fruitless because he’d seen all he felt he wanted to, so we escaped from this congested city and motored to Lincoln. What a horrible journey that proved to be. We wanted to avoid motorways but light will fade soon. We wanted somewhere decent to sleep and a place to eat.
We stopped at Selby for all of 15 minutes just in case we decided to stay here for the night. I needed a toilet break and a very kind girl in a deserted hairdressers allowed us to use their toilet and she also watched over our laden bikes as we took a couple of photographs in the town centre before changing our minds about staying and setting off for Lincoln.
Lincoln did not appeal either. The one way systems and plethora of chain hotels seems to have killed off the B&B’s and the charm. It now resembles a city divided: The cathedral looks remote up there while the homogenous shopping centre takes all the glamour away down in the valley.
We headed for Newark in the dusk and eventually tracked down a great little hotel for the night. The Chinese restaurant opposite did a good turn despite a loud mouthed Geordie at a nearby table boring his companions and us with utter drivel. The lassie at the bar in the hotel however, chatted away and entertained us with her life story as we supped a night cap or two before bed. It rained terribly in the night.