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4 February, 2007

Cycle ride: Lancaster-Great Stone of Fourstones-Cross of Greet-Lancaster

I thought I'd try something simple for my first real ride of 2007.  Simple, but not short, as it turned out....

The plan had been to catch the train to High Bentham, cycle the short distance to the Great Stone of Fourstones on Tatham Fell, then return to Wray via Lowgill and the rural lanes east of Roeburndale. After that easy, mainly downhill section, the ride back along the Lune Valley to Lancaster would be flat, discounting minor undulations.

The slight problem was that under the winter timetable the first train of the Sunday service to Bentham was scheduled to depart Lancaster after 16:00, leaving me with mere minutes of daylight. Somewhat impractical, so I decided to complete the whole trip by bike.

Leaving home at 12:30, I took a shortcut along the canal towpath to Caton Road then followed the main roads virtually non-stop to High Bentham, sustaining 20-22 mph for extended periods, though I deliberately avoided tiring too quickly – this was merely the necessary lead-in. I did make one diversion, to Tatham, as I wanted to improve on photos I took of the church a while ago.

The Great Stone was nearer High Bentham than I'd thought; if you're tempted, it'd be an easy walk from the railway station. When I passed this way last September, I went on to Slaidburn without visiting the Stone itself, as I could see from ~100 m away that there were several people already clambering all over it; that's largely why I'd returned, and in February. I noticed two people already on the Stone as I arrived and locked my bike to a fence (front wheel in Lancashire, back wheel in North Yorkshire), but by the time I'd crossed the moor, a young family was approaching too, and I struggled to ignore the squeals of delight of three little Tarquins & Cressidas for quarter of an hour or so as I sat on the Stone admiring the view. Okay; that's overstating my annoyance, and once they'd left, I really appreciated the location on such a crisp, clear day. Highly recommended. See the accompanying photos for annotated views and more about the Great Stone itself.

Having rested for almost an hour, I was tempted by the relatively short distance to the top of the Bentham-Slaidburn pass at Cross of Greet, so I made that diversion rather than head straight back. It wasn't an easy ride, even refreshed, but I did manage the extremely steep final climb to the Cross without pausing; on previous visits I hadn't so much stopped as simply run out of momentum and stalled.
Incidentally, I'm glad no-one was around when I returned to my bike after leaving the Great Stone, as I jumped backwards and forwards across the county boundary at least twenty times, giggling wildly, simply because I could.

The view south-east from the Cross was good too, but as the photos show, I particularly enjoyed looking north across the Yorkshire Dales, Lune Valley and Lake District, as if from the top of the world, an impression increased by low cloud in the distant valleys. Wonderful.

From past experience, I knew this left me almost exactly 31 km (19 miles) from home, though at least my tyres were fully inflated and I was sufficiently clear-headed to avoid returning to Lancaster via Slaidburn and the Trough of Bowland. For once, the ride back from the Cross was as straightforward as I'd planned today to be. Pleasantly tired, though not exhausted, I was home by dusk, at 17:15.

I'd been out for 4¾ hours, of which the bike had been moving for 3 hours 10 mins and had covered 67 km (41.6 miles). So much for a gentle first ride of the year.
My average speed was 21.1 km/h (13.1 mph); rather faster for ~80% of the trip, but diminished by the steep and hence slow ride up to the Cross of Greet. Coming back down, though, I'd reached 48.8 km/h (30.3 mph) on the winding road.

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