Sunday night, if ever there was a night to avoid the telly its got to be Sunday, and as is my way I am listening to music and staring at maps. Maps that are kept at the caravan and are specific to this area.
These maps have green covers and were known as pathfinders, and as far as I know they are no longer in production other than in guide books. I wish I’d bought more, two and a half inch to the mile gives plenty of detail to pour over. I was a little shocked to discover a bridle way that I had highlighted over twenty years ago but never got round to exploring, I decided that would be my target for Monday.
Monday arrived full of promise, cold and fresh, blue skies and a slight breeze that would be in my favour on the return leg. Breakfast devoured, shopping chores done, flask of coffee and a ham and cheese butty wrapped in tin foil ( by the way, tin foil should always be used to wrap butties, never cling film, ever) packed into the frame bag and off I set, avoiding the main road by taking the back lanes as much as possible until I get to the Glasson Dock trail. Up into Lancaster and out towards my quarry, once again stopping at the bridge, expecting to but not seeing any kingfishers today, nonetheless the view was magnificent as the leaves have started to change into their autumnal colours.
A quick map check reminds me that the bridle way was likely to be well hidden, and in fact I did actually ride right past it, a quick U turn and there it was, the sun doing a sterling job in illuminating the trees, immediately it went up, steeply, as per the contour lines on the map. Pretty much straight away the surface deteriorated from leaf covered tarmac to leaf covered rubble.
Judging by the leaf cover this lane sees very few motor vehicles, hence why the wintertime damage hasn’t been repaired, and still it was going up until a brief break from the constant tree cover to get a fabulous view of Ingleborough over there in the dales. And then back to it, upwards and feeling grateful for the mountain bike tyres, and more especially for the mountain bike gears I’m using today. I get so far up before eventually loosing grip and falling to the side laughing to myself at the stupidity of what I’m doing.
There follows a slippery push for a hundred yards or so until the climb eases a little from what looks like about one in three to about one in ten and I can get going again. Towards the top and my breathing and heart rate are letting me know just how unfit I am right now, but finally the gradient relents and I can take time to look at the map again, I’ve reached a point where it isn’t at all obvious which way to go….and this is where I make a huge mistake, bearing in mind that I’ve climbed over three hundred meters of ascent in the last few miles.
I take the most obvious route according to what’s on the ground rather than the map, the other way is marked as private and I can definitely hear dogs up there !.
The track starts well enough, quite steeply heading downwards, its dry and for a hundred yards or so its fine, but then it gets really steep, and really really muddy, mud made of clay created by earth moving machinery, deep ruts full of red soupy water, and stupidly I carry on, and on until I reach a locked gate. At this point I realise that yes I have definitely come down the wrong track, and now I have a bike whose wheels wont go round, a bike that now weighs about twice what it did ten minutes ago, and I’m going to have to carry and push it back up the track.
Twenty five minutes of grunting and swearing and I’m back at the top, a second more focused look at the map proves that yes I am stupid and yes I should trust the Ordnance Survey people from all those years ago.
However, the correct track is still marked as private, and I can still hear the dogs barking, and the track is still heading up.
Waiting for my heart rate to recover I sit and look around at the views over to the dales, a cup off coffee and a kit-kat later and I decide to retrace my route back down the broken lane, I’ll leave the final ascent for another day. Dropping back in and with clay flinging from my tyres this track would be considered a classic mtb descent if it was in the lakes or the peaks, I’m even more glad of the mountain bike esque bike I’m on today, especially the disc brakes.
Words & pictures – Steve Makin.