Peak District - The UK "Best of Three"
It wouldn't surprise many people to learn that
riding a motorcycle in the UK's congested and
camera-ridden cities is about as much fun as
eating vegetarian food.
To get any real satisfaction or challenge from
your bike riding, you need to be out on the
open road, preferably in places with low traffic
density, twisty roads and fantastic scenery
thrown in for good measure.
Every year I cannot resist riding my favourite
520 mile circuit, which pulls in 3 UK National
Parks in three days. Situated in the Derbyshire
Peak District, the Victorian Spa Town of Matlock
Bath is my first port of call, to enjoy a bacon
butty at the traditional little café by the
lights in Cromford. Riding the sweeping, rising
bends through Via Gelia is sublime, especially
if the sun is glinting through the trees above,
and there's a whiff of wild, woodland garlic
in the air.
The road from Grangemill crossroads to Fenny
Bentley is taken with a pinch of caution due
to the presence of heavy quarry traffic, before
then leaving the traffic behind to pass Dovedale,
Ilam & Throwley. Gentle limestone dales, burbling
trout brooks and roads scarcely more than dirt
tracks typify this section.
Swifter riding soon follows, through Waterhouses,
Longnor, Tideswell, Peak Forest and Sparrowpit
to bring us to " a bit of the Alps" in Derbyshire.
The stunning, but diminutive Winnats Pass is
a hidden gem.
Lunch at Strines Inn, where peacocks will nibble
your salted nuts if you let them, is a good
stop off before heading North to reach the Yorkshire
Dales in time for dinner.
We leave the A65 at Gargrave to ride via Malham
Cove and rise up to the magnificent Karst landscape
before tacking the steep descent into Lancliffe.
My last ride there was a challenge to say the
least. A large truck had just struggled to make
the summit of this helter-skelter hill, and
the driver was gesticulating wildly to me. "Must
be the inbreeding" I thought, but then realised
his warning message was to alert me to the slippery
trail of, shall we say, "discharge" running
from the back of his cattle truck.
The pace then picks up for one of the nicest
sections in the Dales. Intense concentration
is required to thread the bike through the seemingly
endless, dry stone walls, undulating and winding
onwards to Ribble Head with, famous for its
curved viaduct carrying the Settle to Carlisle
Taking the long way round, via Ingleton, past
muddy Troglodytes emerging from the classic
caves in Kingsdale, we pass my favourite land
mark, a sign which reads "Tek care, lambs ont
rode". A tricky gated descent through Dentdale,
leads us to a tent, or rustic room at the Sun
Inn and several pints of locally-brewed Dent
In complete contrast, day 2 starts with a mug
of tea at Devils Bridge, Kirkby Lonsdale, then
a truly amazing circuit of the Lake District.
It's only 130 miles, but by the end, you know
you've done it. We take a less-obvious non-tourist
route to Windermere and Ambleside. Sadly, these
spots are spoiled by heavy congestion and crowds
of coach tourists whose sole mission in life
is to buy Peter Rabbit souvenirs and eat ice
cream. We do not dwell here. Luckily, 90% of
these folks are blissfully unaware that the
true beauty of the English Lake district can
be found only 7 or 8 miles away.
A quick detour via the Kirkstone Pass if time
& weather is on our side, is followed by lunch
at The Old Dungeon Ghyll in Great Langdale.
This is one of the finest Inns, set amidst one
of the most spectacular locations in the Lake
District. A must do.
What follows next is the hardest section of
road riding I have come across in the whole
of the UK.
Call yourself a biker?
You'll have ridden nothing like the Wrynose
and Hardknott Passes before. Rightly so, warning
signs advise against tackling these in "Winter
conditions". A series of very steep climbs,
with severe and sometimes off-camber bends will
test even the most experienced riders. Gravel,
sheep and occasional potholes can make this
a challenging ride even in the driest of conditions.
If it's tipping down with rain, like it was
the first time I ever rode these, on a heavily
laden FJ1200, then high levels of concentration
and skill are needed to avoid locking the wheels
under braking when coming down these extremely
steep and narrow roads.
A detour up to Wasdale Head and the deep blue
lake of Wastwater is worthwhile when the sun
is shining, before returning via Ulpha and Coniston,
to cross Lake Windermere by ferry! Tip - there
are big queues for the boat, but bikes can go
straight to the front of the queue, and are
loaded quickly into remaining gaps between cars.
Fairly deserted A & B roads take us back to
Dent via, Crook, Kendal & Sedbergh.
Leaving the classic "U-shaped" valleys, lakes
and glaciated features of Cumbria, day three
sees us back in the gentler but equally beautiful
limestone scenery of the Yorkshire Dales. A
ride via Kirkby Stephen, Nateby and Buttertubs
Pass is a great sheep-dodging warm up before
lunch at the Sunday biker hotspot of Hawes.
Here gathers the broad spectrum of the UK biking
scene, which in turn, also attracts a healthy
interest from Plod.
Weekend Warriors pose in matching leathers
alongside their shiny new sports bikes; some
fast, some slow - all too often, all show and
no go. Worthy IAM types with beards, and day-glo
jackets nod sagely over a cup of tea before
pottering off on their Pans & BMWs. Armour-plated
rugged types roll up on KTMs and CRFs; all knobblies,
mud and cow dung, before blat blat blatting
away again to take on some hidden rock-strewn
trail or treacherous peat bog that mere road
riders have absolutely no comprehension of.
Before leaving Hawes, it's compulsory to visit
the Creamery, to sample, and buy Wensleydale
cheese, made famous by Wallace & Grommit. One
more ride over the hills, via Gayle, drops you
into my favourite valley in the area - Langstrothdale.
Ride alongside the river Wharfe as it drops
over steps and limestome ledges and into swirling
pools. Maybe tarry awhile to take in the scenery
and a picnic perhaps?
Finally, pass Kettlewell and Grassington and
wave goodbye to the Yorkshire Dales before taking
the A1 homewards.
A great ride indeed; surely some of the best
that England can offer. It's also a good training
ground for those keen to extend their horizons
to the mountains of mainland Europe.
This story was kindly provided by Bike Tours
UK website, www.biketours-uk.com
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