Yorkshire Dales

Cycling in the Yorkshire Dales

We spent the half-term holiday in the Yorkshire Dales. We began by taking the train to Giggleswick near Settle. Travelling off-peak with children we hoped we’d get all four bikes onto one train and we did, both ways (though the uncertainties involved in train travel with bikes really aren’t conducive to cycling’s promotion).

Bikes on train

We’ve done lots of cycle-touring as a family, but this was the first time each of us rode our own bike for more than a day trip in Britain. We wanted to see how it’d go.

It didn’t start well. A car approached from behind on the short stretch into Settle. I was riding at the back. We were getting close to a blind bend so I moved further out to deter the driver from overtaking, but he kept coming, so I kept moving out. He overtook at the bend’s apex, on completely the other side of the road as a car came towards us from the other direction. Rather than stop the overtaking driver moved back in on us, getting uncomfortably close to Sue and Bobby at the front. He must have seen the horror on the faces of the people in the oncoming car, and he should certainly have heard what I had to say, but still he wound his window down in order to tell us that cyclists oughtn’t to be in the middle of the road. Unfortunately we encountered similar recklessness towards our well-being and a similarly over-inflated sense of entitlement to Yorkshire’s rural roads amongst motorists again that day.

I wonder whether local authorities in Yorkshire have started to think about driver/cyclist interactions ahead of next year’s Tour de France which will inevitably see cyclists flocking to this part of the world in advance of the pro peloton thundering its way through?

I usually shrug off drivers’ aggression when I’m cycling alone or with my peers but when I’m with kids I’m incensed by it; it also seems more common then, perhaps because we’re riding more slowly and (the adults at least) defensively.

That wasn’t at all what I meant to write here but I suppose it’s an important and consequential part of our half-term cycling story, and more significantly part of British cycling’s collective story. The Yorkshire Dales is tremendous cycling country, but for who? This was my own children’s introduction to it, and an antagonistic one which they’ll remember. Do we want the Tour’s coming here to encourage children’s cycling? If so, we need to take action. A start would be signs on the roads and in the media requesting motorists to slow down, give space – and if necessary give way – to cyclists. Awareness campaigns – perhaps with Dales’ school children who might most effectively influence adults’ driving – should start now.

Climbing out of Langcliffe

Playing in the snow

Malham Cove

We went over to Malham from Ribblesdale. The climb out of Langcliffe is brutal; the road rises sharply and steeply off the valley floor. Bobby and I were on mountain bikes. Sue rode her town bike, and carried all our gear – I’d feel guilty if I didn’t know how hard she is! I doubted little Flo could make it up, but she did. She never seemed tempted to get off and push, despite (or perhaps because of) my repeatedly telling her there’s no shame in doing so.

As usual we mixed cycling with walking. (What do families who do neither actually do?) But Bobby and I had taken mountain bikes in order to do an off-road ride, so on Wednesday we rode into a bitterly cold wind east from Malhamdale over to Wharfedale.

I’m already excited by the thought that next July the world’s best bike riders will be riding here. Past The Tennant Arms – the pub in Kilnsey where we stopped for bowls of chips and to warm ourselves beside the fire – they’ll scorch so fast it’ll barely register as a blur.

From the pub we rode north a little way into Littondale, then back over a route high enough for snow still deep in places.

Leaving Wharfedale

Riding higher

Through water

Snow drift

Grassy riding

All up of course it’s great to introduce to our kids, and see again for ourselves, parts of the world we know and love, via the two modes of mobility – walking and cycling – which make that world so precious and special. But both Sue and I were struck last week by how hard British cycle-touring as a family might prove to be: it’s not that our kids aren’t competent riders – they are; we’re just unsure whether the stress of shepherding them along roads on which so many anti-cycling motorists drive is conducive to relaxation. I’d thought our continental cycle-touring of the past decade would make way for more domestic cycle-touring over the next, but I’m now less sure.

It’s a shame to think the roads through the magnificent countryside of northern England might be off-limits to my kids, that they might be denied the pleasures of rural cycling. But then many of the roads round town, within a stone’s throw of home, are off-limits too. Whichever’s the greater, both seem like crimes to me. And then I think how the thousands of children lining Yorkshire’s roads to cheer two hundred cyclists next July don’t have the chance to travel their own backyard on two wheels, to experience this magnificent world from the seat of a bicycle, and it seems not a crime but a tragedy.

Leaving Malham, following the River Aire towards Gargrave, we took a stretch of National Cycle Network Route 68. On her little road bike Flo again coped magnificently, this time with mud, puddles, rocks and stones. But what sort of alternative to being harassed by cars is this? I’d hazard one more likely to drive most nine-year olds to tears than to a love of cycling.

Sorry to be bleak. We had a fantastic holiday! I guess I’m just sharing the realisation that the Tour de France coming to Yorkshire next year will be great for cycle sport and great for Yorkshire’s tourist industry but, unless we get our acts together, it’s unlikely to be great something that matters far more, cycling.

National Cycle Network Route 68

Tough riding

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20 Responses to “Yorkshire Dales”

  1. Ian Says:

    I suspect it’s too late to “get our act together”, unless that involves the police somehow becoming persuaded to enforce relevant parts of the Highway Code. I’m not sure that the “pretendy wee bike paths” we endure in the UK do us any favours in this respect – I think they encourage the view that cycling is a marginal, leisure time only, activity that has no place on the road, especially the road they want to be on.

  2. Geoff Says:

    My children are now 20 and 22, and we have cycled together from when they were young. This has included C2C, LeJog, and most memorably some alpine touring to watch the Tour de France. The majority of rides in the UK seemed to involve some dangerous and threatening behaviour from motorists, and all I have tried to do is help my children to understand how to cope with this and stay safe. They both still cycle now for utility and enjoyment, and I do have a nagging fear for their welfare.

    I think it is futile to use cycle sport as a tool to encourage everyday cycling. A big cycle race comprises a huge collection of vehicles and motorcycles, driven pretty aggressively, ahead of and amongst some cyclists who are forced by economic pressures to make some pretty unpleasant moral decisions. A bit like my commute then. With more spectators.

    In times of austerity I am unconvinced that Local Authorities should be promoting this, and am uncertain that their economic benefits are fairly explained. It seems to me to be more like a rush hour train that might be profitable at certain times of the day, but is then sitting around losing money. Furthermore, any rational observer can see that cycle sport is a busted flush in terms of a valuable inspiration for the spirit of fair play. In today’s world I believe we need much more fair play, and much less “screw you and win at all costs”. We need a fairer and more civilized society. More pleasant cycling and walking would follow from this.

    • Dave Horton Says:

      Thanks Geoff – very thoughtful and eloquent stuff; much appreciated. (And very good to hear of people who’ve ‘come out the other side’ of raising kids who continue to ride.)

      On the ‘fairer and more civilized society’ I’m with you all the way, BUT we can’t magic this out of thin air. Creating such a society requires work, and pushing cycling (and walking) is I think an important part of that work. In other words, surely cycling is important in the making of a better society, rather than somehow being merely a recipient of it?

      Following from that, I guess I see the processes of social, political and cultural change proceeding chaotically and unpredictably; and progressive change needs to find opportunities whenever and wherever it can. Sure there are problems with professional cycle sport – some seemingly more inherent (the connections with corporate capitalism) than others (drugs)? But in the context of promoting everyday cycling in Britain the Tour de France coming here is ‘a brief moment’, ‘a disruption’, and one which we should try to take advantage of. Of course much will stay the same, but it provides the opportunity too for some things to change, and it’s seizing those opportunities – with progressive social change towards a better society as the end (if always moving) goal – which matters, isn’t it?

      I hope to watch the Tour come through Yorkshire as a fan of cycle sport, but much of the thrill of doing so will come from the potential this ‘once-in-a-lifetime’ opportunity offers to shift things, if only ever-so-slightly, in the direction of more everyday cycling, and a better, fairer, greener society. Come on, it’s happening anyway – let’s take advantage of it!

      All the best
      Dave

  3. dexey Says:

    My girls used to cycle with me. They were great until they discovered boys!

    • Dave Horton Says:

      Ha! That’s when life gets even more interesting, I guess?

      I’ve a feeling we’re on limited time with Flo – she’s showing little interest in cycling beyond doing what she’s told, so that holidays (the time when we’re best able to dictate what we’re all doing and where) feel like they might become the last stronghold of family cycling. I asked her whether she enjoyed getting up 25% gradients in the Dales last week? “No.” Would you want to do it again? “No.” Were you pleased with yourself? “Yes.” Are you glad that you can do that kind of thing? “Yes.”

      Could go either way? (Though I’d put my money on less interest in cycling, at least for the (all being well) second half of her time with us.

  4. Dave Says:

    we’ve a long way to go before cycling in the National Parks is as normalised as cycling at Centre Parcs.

    • Dave Horton Says:

      Cheers Dave, I agree, but that’s what we should be aiming for, eh?

      I hope to live to see the day when my favourite National Park, the Lake District, becomes substantially (i.e. not necessarily totally; that could be difficult, especially for some of ‘the locals’ – though never say never) car-free.

      Thanks for reading and commenting. All the best, Dave

      • northernseawitch Says:

        The Dales is a working community in common with the Lakes; because of our transport infrastructure we have no option but to commute to work by car (we might live in a beautiful part of the world, but we can’t eat the view!) As you say Dave – getting around would be difficult for those who live here!! I would hazard (no pun intended) that cycling in a town is equally as fraught? I like to think I am a considerate driver towards cyclists – and with a 50 mile commute to work I get to pass a fair few everyday – because I cycle the Dales myself. I don’t think many here would argue with restricted access roads, with only resident vehicles allowed. Enjoy your stay at Askrigg – our local serves a good pint of Drovers :)

      • Dave Says:

        I agree that the National Parks are a working community, and that vehicles will be an important part of that economy (farms need tractors etc.) but if you have a 50mile commute are you perhaps part of a broader problem?

        Local workers often can’t afford to live in the National Parks because house prices have been inflated by a) tourism and b) commuters.

        How important are commuters to the local economy? Perhaps you’re spending your money (in local shops on local produce) or perhaps you’re clogging / polluting the lanes with your commute, pricing locals out of local property and contributing to urban deprivation – by taking your wages out of the city? (worth a think?)

        Dave

      • northernseawitch Says:

        I am a local Dave, and live in social housing because we can’t afford to buy or rent. And I commute that distance because that’s where the job is, so I am not on benefits raising my family. And in common with most locals I have two jobs, including pub work looking after tourists. If you look at the stats for this area the distance most folk travel to work is huge because opportunities for work are very limited.

      • Dave Stevens Says:

        http://www.sustrans.org.uk/lockedout

        of interest?

      • Dave Horton Says:

        Very interesting exchange guys, thanks very much. And thanks for the recommendation of a pint of Drovers, northernseawitch – I’ve made note! (And if all goes according to plan will toast you as it slides smoothly down after a superb day watching the world’s best riders battle their ways over Buttertubs!)

        Yes of course you’re right, that cycling in towns (even a town such as my own, Lancaster, which had the benefit of increased funding as a Cycling Demonstration Town, and which is seen as perhaps Lancashire’s most cycle-friendly place (not hard, you might well say!)) is just as fraught as cycling in the Dales, or anywhere else for that matter. And I would also stress that most drivers in the Dales, like elsewhere, are considerate, careful and sensible.

        I suppose I was trying (possibly not very well!) less to point to ‘a problem’ than to ‘an opportunity’ – with the Tour coming, and with many cyclists undoubtedly to descend on (well, probably ‘swamp’) the Dales, as well as the increasing importance of cycle-tourism (especially with the growth of the Coast-to-Coast cycle-tourism ‘industry’ – Sue, my better half, is currently battling her way over the Pennines and through the northern Dales into a strong westerly, having chosen to go east-to-west!) to the Dales’ economy – then isn’t it time ‘we’ tried a bit harder to ‘be nice to cyclists’? I completely respect people’s needs to get around (often over big distances), and Dave rightly points to the existence of something I’m sure you understand better than me – rural transport poverty (I do know quite a bit about urban transport poverty, but have never – alas – done research in rural areas of Britain) – but in the same way I want (and work towards) a different transport order (including for example slower speeds and greater recognition of cycling) in towns, I’d also like to see that in the country.

        I get how car dependent the majority (?) of Dales’ residents are, but does that necessarily have to create problems for cycling’s promotion? (I’m asking; I genuinely don’t know!) I can see how promoting cycling to local school children who are unable to cycle comfortably/safely on local roads, and who because of geographical distance perhaps make most of their trips in their parents’ cars, could be problematic; and then perhaps that makes more difficult the promotion of greater courtesy towards cyclists, if cycling is predominantly seen as the leisure activity of affluent ‘outsiders’ who don’t understand/belong to the rural community, but just come to enjoy the views, and then disappear again, in the process turning the Dales ever more into a play area for the leisured elite?

        I don’t expect you to come back to me on any of this, but – thanks also to Dave’s ‘provocation’ – you’ve certainly created a few things to ponder! Thanks! And there’s so, so, so much more to say/be said about cycling when it comes to the urban/rural ‘divide’, isn’t there? (So many people prefer riding in ‘the country’, whilst the Government is ‘hard at work’ (or so the story goes!) getting them to ride in cities; when it comes to cycling I fear that we sometimes tend to treat ‘the (mythical) countryside’ as ‘an empty space for cycling’, and rather ignore the lives of those who live and work there, etc etc …)

        Cheers very much both, and maybe see you out on the roads/tracks (or in the pubs!) of the Dales!
        All the best
        Dave

  5. sensisuperstar Says:

    I cannot see much changing before or even soon after July 2014. I do the majority of my cycling on the rural roads of East Yorkshire, which is much flatter than North Yorkshire and the roads are in much better condition too, although the drivers are much the same, impatient and panicked when faced with having to make any decisions which involve using common sense. As a driver I tend to treat cyclists like horse riders, give them plenty of room and only pass when everybody’s safety is assured, however in my experience this is rarely replicated by other drivers. Stay Safe.

  6. John the Monkey Says:

    I live in Cheshire, pretty near to the well signed, and lovely (for the most part) Cheshire cycleway. We could be making a mint from cycle touring (and B&Bs, pubs &c along the route would coin it in) if the roads had a more pleasant “culture”, for want of a better word.

    That idiotic overtake, and complete disregard for the safety of mere cyclists (even children) is sadly all too familiar to me.

  7. radwagon1 Says:

    That side of the Dales is fantastic, altohugh I’ve not been there in decades. Great scenery and beautiful vistas, and that’s before you’ve got on the bike to do some exhilierating riding!

    I’ve got a series of blogs about the other side of the dales, namely Nidderdale. This will be the centre of all the Tour de France rides in 2014, and I’ve already booked my bed in Pateley Bridge!

    http://radwagon.blogspot.co.uk/search/label/Nidderdale

    • Dave Horton Says:

      Cheers radwagon, and thanks for the details on Nidderdale etc. We’ve already booked for the Tour too – staying in an outdoor education centre in Askrigg, bang on the route (we’ll probably head up Buttertubs to watch how the Tour riders tackle such a short, steep climb (I already know the answer of course, ‘unbelievably fast’!!). All the youth hostels (our normal indoor accommodation option) were already full. I look forward to the slow build up of anticipation and excitement over the next 16 months – kind of like Christmas for cycle-sport fans!
      Thanks for contributing.
      Best wishes
      Dave

  8. Anon Says:

    Large areas of Kent were made into car exclusion zones for the progress of the stage. I suspect that a similar detail may be developed as a traffic management tool, and that might well deliver a rural version of the fantastic ambience of London with so much motor traffic excluded for the day which has happened for le Tour in 2007 and a few other events, and each time reinforcing the comment that this is really a nice way to be in the City and “Let’s do this again”, each time proving that it can be done, and that retailers actually do more business, etc.

    It simply will not be possible to let vast volumes of car traffic into the fine network of very small roads on the event days, and there will be options of a) cycling or b) using consolidated and managed transport by coach and train and then walking or cycling to the viewpoints.

    • Dave Horton Says:

      Exactly, exactly. This is what we need to play/build on. The temporary creation of a space in which things are otherwise. It’s a bit like Critical Mass, or carnival, or any kind of spatially and temporally delimited space within which reversals can occur and new experiences created. The creation of this temporary mobile space for cycling as a practice centred – however imperfectly – above driving represents an opportunity, which we must take advantage of before, during and after. The ‘before’ has started, so … Towards car-lite National Parks? Towards bike-centric rural space? Let’s go!
      Cheers Dave

  9. Michael Frearson (@mcfrearson) Says:

    It didn’t start well. A car approached from behind on the short stretch into Settle. I was riding at the back. We were getting close to a blind bend so I moved further out to deter the driver from overtaking, but he kept coming, so I kept moving out. He overtook at the bend’s apex, on completely the other side of the road as a car came towards us from the other direction. Rather than stop the overtaking driver moved back in on us, getting uncomfortably close to Sue and Bobby at the front. He must have seen the horror on the faces of the people in the oncoming car, and he should certainly have heard what I had to say, but still he wound his window down in order to tell us that cyclists oughtn’t to be in the middle of the road.

    In an ideal world we would not have to put up with reckless drivers. With better facilities situations like this would not arise, and cyclists and drivers would not have to negotiate so much shared road space. That world is going to take some time to build, and my children (8, 10, 12) are growing up fast. I really like cycling with them now, and I don’t want stop just because we sometimes find ourselves in hazardous situations. So what can you do?

    You can reduce the risk presented by drivers wanting to pass by limiting their options to a simple yes/no decision: do I stay or do I go? Cycling as a block of four (two-by-two, with more experienced cyclists on the outside) presents a simpler obstacle for drivers to negotiate than a line of four. Blocks are more compact and better for communication with the group, especially in hazardous situations. Lines can get strung out, especially when children are involved.

    The main thing is that a block presents drivers with a more readily comprehensible and substantial obstacle, and forces him to decide either to wait or go. It removes the risky grey zone, where they think maybe they might just be able to squeeze through even with oncoming traffic if only they could get those cyclists move over a bit more. Confronted with a block, a driver knows immediately that passing will mean crossing to the other side of the road, and this has big implications for him.

    This actually makes his decision easier for him and safer for you: by giving him two rather than three options, you are removing the most risky option for you. It also takes us less road distance to pass two rather than four cyclists and he will get around quicker. The key thing is to give him something substantial and unchanging to negotiate. Keeping moving out (as you did) while he kept coming shows that he had not yet comprehended the risk, something you may have contributed to by changing the obstacle he had to negotiate.

    So, perceive the hazard early, organise your block and keep it tight while you negotiate the hazard, and line out again (if you prefer, with parents fore and aft) once it has passed (but block cycling is much more sociable). And spare your breath for reminding the children what fun cycling really is: even in these situations, it is something they want to believe in.

    • Dave Horton Says:

      Cheers Michael, and sorry for the delay in responding. Your very good advice somehow got lost in a batch of comments to which I’ve not had enough time to respond. But I appreciate your suggestion, and will give it a go (it’s of course how I often ride when club or sportive cycling, but I hadn’t thought – why I don’t know – to ‘impose’ a similar discipline when cycling as a family). (Intuitively I feel happier riding as a block at 18 mph than at 9 mph, but you’re right that in this instance it would have sent a much clearer signal to the approaching driver about how much room he needed to give us.)

      Of course, as you know, we can’t altogether eliminate the risks which other road users expose us to (and I certainly think we should be careful not to ‘blame the victim’ when it comes to issues of road safety – though to be clear, I don’t think you are doing that). But as you suggest we can manage and perhaps moderate them.

      Thanks very much for the suggestion, and for reading.
      All the best
      Dave

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