Autumnal cycling in north-west England

I love the weather in north-west England, and the last two weekends I’ve been lucky enough to experience it in all its magnificent diversity.

Last Saturday, following the brilliant (he says immodestly) Bicycle Politics workshop, I rode across to Kettlewell in the Yorkshire Dales, to join up with Colin, Jim and John, who’d been there since Thursday, getting lots of quality miles in. They’d enjoyed a couple of dry and sunny days, but on Saturday the weather changed, so that when I met up with them outside the youth hostel at 6pm, we were all pretty soggy. Sunday was forecast to be wet, and indeed it was – it started damp and drizzly, and got wetter, and wetter, and wetter from there …

But not once during that long wet day did I feel miserable. It helped that it was relatively warm; it’s when wet combines with cold that I sometimes really start to question the wisdom of being out on the road. And it helped that I was in such fine company; riding roads with people who also love to ride those roads, and who recognise themselves as similarly privileged in being able to do so – that’s real privilege!  Although there is banter and piss-taking in other regards, when during one or other of our rides one or other of us pauses to reflect on our intensely good fortune, he is never met with macho scorn and ridicule, but always with a shared sense that we must indeed be the luckiest men in the world … there is no price for what we experience out there on our region’s roads …

Last Sunday we rode from Wharfedale over to Bishopdale and then west through Wensleydale for coffee in Bainbridge. We crossed the valley to Askrigg and climbed over Cross Top to Muker in Swaledale. North-west from there, over Birkdale Common and then the long descent into Nateby, for a generous welcome and lunch at the Black Bull Inn, where Jim showed me how to dry your track mitts by treading them into a carpet, and where I hope no one had to sit where we sat for a good few hours after … South up the ever-beautiful Mallerstang, then fast west down the always-pleasureable Garsdale into Sedbergh, where, having checked the cafe’s seats were wooden and immune to saturation by our sodden clothes, we enjoyed afternoon tea. Down Garsdale the rain had become much heavier, and it continued as we rode south along the west side of our Lune towards Kirkby Lonsdale, and on for tea at the Bridge Inn. There the four of us squeezed into the gents’ toilets, and emerged in dry clothes like new men to devour our tea and drink our beer before, late into the night, setting off again to get one final drenching along flooded roads on our way back home to our beds. 90 miles, a couple of thousand metres of climbing, huge amounts of rain – the kind of day which makes me glad to be alive and able to enjoy that kind of day.

If I’d been at home last Sunday, I’d have probably on several occasions looked out the window and failed to find the motivation to get outside. No matter how exhilarating cycling through difficult conditions can be, it’s still hard to force yourself out there to do it. Comfort too often, too easily, wins out over the potential to feel exhilarated.

This weekend was different. The forecast was dry for Saturday, and – with Bobby and Flo happily off with Sue, Paddy, Ben and Rachel for the weekend – Sue and I pedalled north through the Yealands, over the River Kent, around Whitbarrow and up the gorgeous Winster valley, to drop down to Bowness-on-Windermere a few very happy hours later.

Yesterday we took the ferry across Windermere and rode up through the Sawreys and down to Esthwaite Water, before riding south into another little south lakeland gem of a valley, the Rusland. The sun continued to shine, and we arrived home after 2 days and 100 miles pedalling through north-west September England as dry as we had left. The dryness of the weekend was all the more enjoyable because of the previous weekend’s damp, and the dampness of that weekend stands out because such dampness is not entirely typical. Here in autumnal north-west England there is no typical, and the uneven climate combines with the uneven topography to produce an extra-special slice of the cycling universe.

So here’s my little thought for the next time you’re thinking about making a cycling journey, and you check the forecast or look outside, and you realise that if you go by bike then you’re in for a soaking – go for it anyway. Experiences do not stand alone; they speak to, and so importantly make, each other. And of course, in making each other, they are also making us …

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3 Responses to “Autumnal cycling in north-west England”

  1. Gareth Says:

    I was out on the same wet Sunday, riding the middle day of the C2C somewhat to the North of you. Like you, if I had been at home it would have taken wild horses to get me out of the house. In the event the North Pennines were deserted, once you are wet it doesn’t get any worse, so I ended up thoroughly enjoying the day.

    It remains to be seen whether I can apply this new found insight in the future however 🙂

  2. Dave Says:

    It was also wet in South Manchester. I decided to check out how many and who would show up for the clubrun (Seamons if you’re interested!) and rode down to Altrincham; amazingly there were about 40 of us ready for one or other of the 4/5 runs scheduled that day. I joined the novices/social ride and we notched up about 50 miles to a caff beyond Middlewich and back. Nice mix of 13 to 16 year-old lads; dads; Darren and I leading, navigating etc. No moans; no complaints; all up for doing it again. So: the social component to me is crucial – I knew my mates would be going out and we would enjoy ourselves; and: there’s a big pay-off from getting out on a ‘bad’ day; you really appreciate the good days; yesterday (Thursday) was a belter; and the company was great!

  3. John the Monkey Says:

    see lots of Seamons riders out and about – friendly bunch (or at least the ones I’ve met so far).

    Don’t mind the rain if it starts once I’ve got going, but it drains my motivation if I look out the window and see it pelting down!

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