Report: ‘Le Three Peaks’ Week-end Trip, 22-23 March, 2014.
Post date: Sep 11, 2014 8:37:3 PM
This trip was organised by Paul C, the idea being to cycle up the 3 main summits of Stage 1 of this year’s Tour de France: Kidstones, Buttertubs Pass and Grinton climb. Given the distance involved, we would stay overnight at a Youth Hostel called Grinton Lodge near Reeth.
Anyone unfamiliar with “youth hostelling” would be forgiven for thinking you had to be aged under 25 to stay overnight at one. Besides, our group’s average age was nearing 50 years. But Dave I‘an explained that Youth Hostels took off in the 1930s as a low cost way for anyone to travel around the UK and Europe (primarily for youngsters of limited means). So there was no age limit- we could look as old and knackered after a day’s cycling as we liked and still get a bed.
Day 1- York to Reeth- 82 miles. 1,700 metres of climbing.
The journey began by meeting at the Square at 8am, where we eyed the size of each other’s saddlebags. You see with many of us being novices to weekend hostelling, there was a balancing act between having a large saddlebag with everything for a comfortable overnight stay… yet still being small enough to enjoy the climbs.
Certainly a bit of creativity was needed whilst doing the packing into this 1950s saddlebag, such as squeezing 2 days of toothpaste into a polythene bag instead of taking the whole tube.
We set off to Tockwith and then travelled south of Harrogate and gradually ascended into the Dales. Passing the wind-swept Swinsty and Fewston Reservoirs, we reached our first feeding point- a farm shop café at Fewston. This marked the start not of our Tour de France, but instead of a gastro tour of some of the finest fried food stops in the Dales.
Next came an 8 mile ascent into a stiff headwind past Blubberhouses Moor, Menwith Hill and up Greenhow Hill. Like Tour riders, we rode as a tight group to preserve energy for the two day event. Nothing like adverse conditions to pull the team together- watching pedal strokes for tiredness, checking faces, bit of banter for the spirits, drafting back on any stragglers, giving turns on the front with a consistent effort.
At the top of the climb the real sense of adventure began. For those who’ve ridden many Clifton social rides, a 40-50 mile radius around York is familiar territory. That distance is roughly when you really need to turn back for home. Go past that boundary and it slowly dawns on you that the surroundings look very unfamiliar, as you venture into “week-end away” land. So we stopped to admire the new dramatic scenery of the true Dales: hills that are far bigger than our own Moors and Wolds, dusted sleet-white with craggy cliff faces perched over deep sided valleys.
Whilst admiring the sight, a few of us also sensed in an intuitive sort of way that comes from spending years outdoors that the weather was about to worsen. So we descended into the folds of the Wharfe valley and past Grassington. It proved to be a smart move, because soon we were sleeted and hailed upon until it made our cheeks glow. We warmed each other up with thoughts of hot soup at the next feed station- Kettlewell. After an hour there, we carefully peeled the neoprene gloves off the fire stove and set off again.
Soon we reached the first of our three peaks- the Tour de France’s categorised climb of Kidstones.
At the summit, we had no Tour fans handing us newspapers to shove up our jersey to keep us warm during the descent and instead our hands turned cold due to the windchill. So we stopped at a local store for plastic bags to put our hands inside, which did the trick very effectively.
At Aysgarth, the plan was to climb the renowned Buttertubs Pass. But general consensus, after battling headwinds in the morning and sleet and rain in the afternoon, was to save Buttertubs climb for another time.
So instead we went from Aysgarth up Bolton Castle climb. Although this second peak is not officially in the Tour, after 76 miles of cycling (when our social rides would be on the flatlands returning to York) it felt like an “hors categorie” to nicely get stuck into. It was a 3 mile long steady ascent past Bolton Castle with the sun setting on our backs, before descending to our accommodation near Reeth.
It was a perfect end to the day’s riding.
After 7 hours in the saddle the youth hostel was very welcoming. It had been an old shooting lodge looking over the rolling Dales landscape. With its laidback atmosphere, there was no need to dress up or feel awkward in cycling clothing. And the evening menu was the unpretentious sort where you could happily eat any of the dishes.
After dinner, we then walked to the pub in foam flip flops (very lightweight), down the pitch black narrow road in the middle of the countryside. Feeling nicely sedated after two pints of local ale, we then heading back to our bunk beds, which reminded of happy memories of overnight ferry trips and added to the whole “mucking in together” novelty of it all.
Day 2- Reeth to York – 56 miles. 500 metres of climbing.
Next day, breakfast was either healthy cereal or fried bacon and sausages. For consistency, many of us stayed with the bacon and sausages as with the day before. When you’re a high performance athlete, it is critical not to upset the digestive system with any foreign muck.
The bikes also needed looking after. To lubricate our chains from the grit and rain of the day before, the kitchen staff kindly poured some olive oil into a plastic bag. But you know that cycling has a drugs image problem with the general public, when you’re walking around the Youth hostel dressed in lycra and other residents look with astonishment at a see-through plastic bag containing what appears to be a urine sample. (Please don’t use olive oil on your chain- it dries onto the chain rings a day later and practically needs melting off to remove it).
This second day we took the shortest, least hilly route back to York. Quicker than a Garmin satnav, it took just 10 seconds for the deep experience of Kevin S and Paul C to agree: “Leyburn-Masham-Ripon-Boroughbridge-York.”
But this was not before we did the age old “tough climb immediately after a café/ night stop” trick and ascended our third peak of the weekend which was Grinton climb. 3 months later, the 9 Tour de France cyclists recording their rides on Strava.com were to scale that same climb in the fastest time out of 4511 other cyclists, naturally!:
A joke during long rides on the top of the North York Moors is to reassure novices with “it’s all downhill from here back to York” (it’s not really), but this time the profile showed it really was all downhill:
We pootled through quiet country lanes in the beautiful March weather. The sun shining through the yellow daffodils along the roadside, like little Tour de France supporters cheering us on.
At Masham, we took on some more protein and carbs (burger and chips with cake) and commented how we must do some cycling next week to lose this weight.
Then we were just reflecting on how lucky we’d been mechanically, with not even a puncture between 11 of us after a combined 1,400 miles, when dark grey clouds appeared and the Spring air suddenly dropped a few degrees. By Linton-on-Ouse, we had a hail storm like never before, bringing the occasional “ouch!” from the group as hailstones landed on our noses. Otherwise we were bone dry. And you’d think with the road being totally white with icy little ball bearings that the bicycle handling would be difficult, yet the road grip was unaffected. Tired but happy, by York ring road we all went our separate ways.
We had a wonderful time together, enjoying the beautiful Dales on some fine tarmac laid down especially for the Tour riders some months later.
Our explorers from left to right: Kevin S, Paul C (organiser), Paul S, Steph S, Steve M, Lisa B, Jez A, Karl M, Ginnie B, Mike H and Dave I.
If you’re interested in doing something similar, other Youth Hostels that would make an ideal week-end away from York include:
- Ingleton YHA and Malham YHA in the Dales,
- Whitby YHA and Robin Hood’s Bay YHA in the Moors.