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24 May, 2008

Walk/Cycle ride: Clapham-Crummackdale-Ribblesdale-Settle-Lancaster

As is fairly usual, I wasn't entirely sure where I was going today: I caught the early train (08:12 from Lancaster) to Clapham and the Yorkshire Dales, but it wasn't until I was in my seat that I studied the map and made a rough plan.  I'd visit the Norber Erratics well before other Bank Holiday day trippers arrived, return to my bike, go on to the Ribblehead Viaduct, then reconsider the options.

The main obstacle of the day hit me as soon as I left Clapham station. Given the sunny weather, I'd come out in a T-shirt and walking leggings (if I hadn't anticipated crossing rough grassland inhabited by sheep ticks, I'd have worn shorts), merely carrying my lightest fleece as some slight protection against showers – a strong, cold headwind was a nasty surprise.

First, I went into Clapham village seeking photo opportunities; since I was already there and was planning to park on the hill above Austwick, I got the climb out of the way immediately by following the unsurfaced Thwaite Lane from behind Clapham Church (passing as the clock struck 09:00). I'd been that way before, and hadn't been inclined to repeat the experience, but the surface was smoother and the ride hence less slow than I recalled. I still wouldn't recommend it to riders of 'racer'-type road bikes.

After locking my bike to a convenient yet unobtrusive bench, I was soon amongst the boulders at Norber, without a single picnicker or young family in sight. Unfortunately, the famous 'Norber Erratics' (large sandstone boulders perched, apparently precariously, on disproportionately narrow limestone pedestals) were about as scarce. Publicity and visitors' photos might suggest they're everywhere, but last year I struggled to find even one – there were dozens, even hundreds of boulders lying on/in the grass, but not raised on limestone pillars. This time I kept looking, and did find a few photogenic examples (hint: try towards the top of the area, rather than amongst the greatest density of boulders on the mid-slope).

In theory, the next stage was to return to my bike, but I didn't want to simply retrace my steps, and planned to complete a streamlined version of the route I'd followed last year. My only hesitation was that the sunny weather was deteriorating, with broken clouds increasingly obscuring direct sunlight and haze diminishing long-range visibility. I completed the route anyway (north along the eastern side of Thwaite to Long Scar, north-east to Thieves Moss, then returning via Beggar's Stile and the floor of Crummackdale), but walked quickly, knowing I wouldn't be able to improve on last years photos. I think I was back at the bike by ~11:30, having walked 9.5 km (5.9 miles) and having encountered only one other person.
That was slightly surprising, as there were plenty of people around: I'd noticed several busy campsites around Clapham and, cycling from Austwick towards Helwith Bridge, passed two completely full campsites which I'd never seen occupied at all before.

So far, so good, but the moment I reached the head of the pass at Swarth Moor, entering the wide-open Ribblesdale, my plan was blown away. The final kilometre of the road to Helwith Bridge took about as long as the foregoing four, as I was battling into a powerful north-easterly wind. The next 3 km north to Horton were even worse, as the gusty crosswind alternately tried to throw me off the road or into traffic.

Horton was as busy as I've ever seen it, with campsites full and closed to all but pre-booked visitors – bear that in mind if you ever wish to visit at peak times. Road traffic was fairly heavy too, so I made a diversion towards High Birkwith, up a ~4 km cul-de-sac on the opposite side of the valley to the main Ribblehead road. My intention was to explore some of the named potholes (or at least their entrances in sink holes, anyway), so I parked halfway along the road and headed onto the edge of Horton Moor on foot. Penyghent Long Churn was surprisingly easy to find, as was Red Moss Pot (I actually managed to go underground there, but retreated after stepping in – yes, in – a very dead sheep) but the highlight was Jackdaw Hole, a huge tree-lined, well, hole. In my enthusiasm, I could easily have got into serious trouble, so again, I took my photos then went back to my bike. I subsequently calculated that I'd walked ~3.75 km, or 2.3 miles, but that ignores the steeply-stepped limestone topography.

I'd considered following ~3 km of bridleway from High Birkwith to rejoin the main road just short of Ribblehead, but that route was temporarily closed, so I'd need to cycle 4 km south to Horton only to cycle ~6 km north-west again to the viaduct. That'd have been a minor annoyance normally, but in high wind it wasn't a serious option.
Instead, I returned to Horton and continued south (assisted by the wind) to Settle. I'd never visited before, and didn't take the time to properly explore today, merely glancing at the main street long enough to find a decent (if expensive) fish & chip shop and the road home. I should really have investigated Giggleswick station too, for a future trip, not least because joining the A65 there would have saved me the effort expended on the road I inadvertently chose, over Giggleswick Scar – an avoidable 166 m ascent wasn't the best start to my long ride home via Clapham, Bentham, Wennington and Hornby.
Incidentally, passing Hornby Castle at ~17:20, I noticed an open day had ended at 16:00. Not to worry; it's open tomorrow & Monday too, so I think I know where I'll be cycling next....

I reached home at 18:07, over ten hours after I'd left. Though my torso and limbs had been thoroughly covered against the wind, my nose was alarmingly red; if I'd taken longer, I think I'd have experienced my first sunburn in years.
In addition to (at least) 13¼ km on foot, I covered 83.1 km (51.6 miles) by bike, which was in motion for 4 hours (and 4 minutes) at an average speed of 20.4 km/h (12.7 mph) and attaining 54.9 km/h (34.1 mph) at least once.

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