Ales and Dales
Richard Croasdale takes out his bike and his finest outfit to explore The Yorkshire Dales
Saturday 08 May 2021
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The Yorkshire Dales are a road cyclist’s dream, with undulating hills and valleys providing an ever-shifting vista of greenery, alternating between leg-pumping effort and glorious descents. It’s such a distinctive landscape too, with its miles of criss-crossed dry stone walls and ramshackle farm buildings, punctuated with friendly village pubs and fellow lycra adventurers. The variety of rides on offer will suit everyone from the casual rider to those looking for more of a physical challenge to accompany the views, and it’s easy to plan a route from - or even between - the several craft breweries dotted around the National Park’s 841 square miles.
Even in the worst weather, it’s a pretty awe-inspiring place, which is just as well, because we’ve chosen to visit on a day where several of the main routes across the Dales are closed by flooding, there’s a heavy fog, and the wind is gusting up to 45mph. The 50-mile loop we’d planned - which included the notorious Buttertub Pass - has therefore been shelved in favour of a much shorter 20-mile loop from Wensleydale Creamery in Hawes to the beautiful Aysgarth falls, and back along the other side of the River Ure.
It’s a total ascent of around 800 ft, most of which is reasonably gentle, but does include several steep hills - most notably the climb to Newbiggin - to which battering side-winds add an extra element of challenge.
The views along the entire ride are absolutely worth it though, in particular the Aysgarth Falls themselves. Thanks to the extra rain, this famous series of dramatic waterfalls below the town of Aysgarth are in full, raging flow; their turbid waters churning and crashing against the banks and under bridges.
We stop for some photos and a well-earned donut, before tackling the 25% gradient back out onto the main road on wobbling legs.
The return leg is somewhat more sedate, though a steady kilometre-long climb into the wind, just before the pretty village of Buttersett, has me puffing and grateful for the subsequent descent back into the cobbled streets of Hawes for more donuts.
THE YORKSHIRE DALES CYCLEWAY
There are so many stunning routes you can take through and around the Yorkshire Dales. Cycle England has put together its perfect tour, taking in stunning views, picturesque villages, dramatic castles and examples of the National Park’s unique geography.
This dramatic set of waterfalls has inspired the likes of William Wordsworth, John Ruskin and JMW Turner, and continue to move all those who visit.
Often referred to as one of Yorkshire’s best day outs, you can explore the ruins of the Priory as well as the 30,000 acres of beautiful countryside it’s set in which boasts over 80 miles of riverside, woodland and moorland footpaths.
Another of England’s best-preserved medieval castles; originally built as one of the finest and most luxurious homes in the land for Lord Bolton, it bears the scars of over 600 years of fascinating history.
This huge, overhanging limestone cliff is an iconic Dales landmark. It was shaped by glaciers that once filled the valley and plucked away the sheer rock face thousands of years ago. It now draws rock climbers and tourists from far and wide.
A geographical marvel which comprises a huge curving amphitheatre standing 260 feet tall, naturally carved from a limestone pavement. It is a strange pattern rarely seen in England and has been attracting visitors for centuries.
This incredible feat of engineering appears out of nowhere on remote, open moorland and is undoubtedly the most impressive structure on the Settle-Carlisle railway line. It features 24 massive stone arches rising to 32 metres.
A 900-year-old fortress which is one of the most complete and best-preserved medieval castles in England. It withstood a three-year siege during the Civil War and was the last Royalist bastion in the North.
Enjoy a Taste of Yorkshire at Wensleydale Creamery Visitor Centre based at Hawes, in Wensleydale, in the heart of the Yorkshire Dales.
Today’s ride is made markedly more comfortable - and infinitely more stylish - by a smashing jersey from Yorkshire cycle brand Fat Lad at The Back. Founded in 2013 by husband and wife team Richard and Lynn Bye, it specialises in cycle-wear for larger gentlemen (and ladies), who are generally woefully under-served in this respect.
In all honesty though, I’d say their clothes are an excellent cut for anyone who’s not shaped like a rake. I’m a pretty normally proportioned chap (a “whippet”, in Fat Lad at The Back parlance) who enjoys the occasional pie with his beer, and had always accepted that cycle-wear would be tight in certain key places. This jersey is hands-down the most comfortable thing I’ve ever worn on a bike, and both the material and construction are excellent.
But that’s only half the story. Fat Lad at The Back has become the centre of a real community, helping make the sometimes intimidating world of sporting cycling more accessible for all. There’s a very active Facebook group, where people swap tips and share encouragement, as well as an annual sportive around the Dales.
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