Somebody bought me the book about the PBW and it seemed like a good way to get to the Manchester area to see my dad. Vague plans began to form then I had a chance to ride down to Sale while Sarah and the boys were further South and meet them before a family holiday.
University holidays meant I could set off on the Wednesday afternoon. Inevitably I was later getting away than expected but it was a lovely day. The PBW starts at Kirkby Stephen or thereabouts so I had to get there first. A few nights poring over maps had found me a suitable route which went over Hexhamshire Common to start with. I thought High Cup Nick would be a good place to stop for the night but I was prepared to stop anywhere if I made good progress.
The first ten miles or so were over minor roads, generally up, so it was good to finally leave the tarmac and start on the bridleway known as ‘The Broadway’. A mile later I was not so happy – trail bikes have chewed up the path and created a deep rut which was difficult, if not impossible to cycle along. I stopped for a photo then realised my sleeping mat had fallen off. It’s bright yellow so I could see it wasn’t far away but I wasn’t planning a run as well as a cycle.
The mat slipped off a few more times before I worked out how to secure it properly. This was getting frustrating……then I relaxed. It was a clear, sunny day; I could see big swathes of Northumberland and Tyneside laid out before me; I’d been looking forward to this for weeks or months; there was no hurry so I just enjoyed it.
The track improved and soon I bounced down some lovely single track to the road just before Allenheads. It usually takes 1.5 hours to cycle here by the road – it had taken me 3 hours… Over to Weardale then a skirting minor road, past a reservoir and over the next hill by a byway.
The whitewashed houses indicated I’d arrived in Teesdale (painted to assist the landowner navigate in the mist apparently) and soon I was passing the end of Cowgreen Reservoir and looking for the Pennine Way path to High Cup Nick.
Whilst not super technical mountain biking this was on the edge of what I could ride easily on The Reiver, especially loaded up, but it was fun enough. Even though I’d seen plenty of pictures of High Cup Nick it’s still stunning when you approach from the East – it just suddenly appears and the head of the Nick is basically the top of a cliff. Conveniently the wind direction made the edge of the cliff the most sheltered spot so I rigged up my tarp and sorted out some tea before dark.
A chap on the internet suggested there is a bridleway that runs south from HCN over Murton Fell but it wasn’t marked on my map and unfortunately it was misty in the morning so I decided to just follow the Pennine Way down to Dufton instead. Once out of the mist the morning was fine but I knew the forecast was poor for the rest of the day. Following the roads towards Kirkby Stephen I realised I’d missed turning and instead was close to Appleby but off the edge of my map. Instead of turning round and going back I decided to follow a suitable looking bridleway but this was a big mistake. After battling through some fields with long wet grass in I discovered a ford, or rather a river crossing I was supposed to make but it looked about waist deep! Bleeding time I went back to the nearest farm, apologising profusely for not being on the path I asked the farmer how to get to Kirkby Stephen. I’d hoped to be there for breakfast and I was ready for it by the time I got there late at about 10am.
By now it was raining so I decided to follow the road instead of taking the first bit of the PBW. Cheating I know but I was intending to get to Hebden Bridge and spend the night with Brant and Yvonne and that was a long way away. I picked up the PBW at the Moorcock Inn and followed it all the way to Horton in Ribblesdale. It’s well signed and well surfaced and just right for the Reiver.
I covered the most remote, moorlandy bits which was great, despite, or maybe because of, the weather. I was glad to get to Horton for a late lunch though. Again I was well behind schedule so decided to follow the road to Brant’s instead. The PBW would have to wait.
Progress was much quicker, even with 650bx2.1 tyres. Then I got knocked off in Colne! A car turning right hadn’t seen me even though I thought I’d eyeballed him and he’d slowed down as if he had. I’m 6’3″ and I had a bright flashing light on but still. Luckily I was fine bar a few scrapes and a bruise on my thigh and more importantly the bike was fine. I’d had the surgeon’s words in my head all day – the answer to the question of whether I could ride my bike again – “Yes, but don’t fall off”. I’d been so careful all day on the offroad sections then some twerp knocks me off. What was most shocking was that nobody stopped and actually getting to the roadside when I’d established I was ok was really hard because nobody in their little boxes wanted to let me across the road. There’s something incredibly de-humanising about being in a car. Awful. Fortunately the rain soon stopped and the sun came back out and the road over to Hebden Bridge was delightful, if hilly. After 90 miles Brant educated me about the beer in the pub and we had a good nosh and a natter and all was well.
Next day we had some trouser duties then Brant showed me the way onward over pack horse trails and his local tracks.
The canal towpath is a sustrans route all the way through Manchester and makes an easy and remarkably pleasant way to Sale. Brant had only intended to go with me to Littleborough but he got carried away and went all the way to Sale. We had a pause to take a picture of the two pactbikes at the watershed.
Canal life is interesting. Some canada geese gave an impressive display of formation flying and landing. A heron decided to fly along with us. Naughty motorcyclists blasted past us as did a lad on a tweaked e-bike. And fishermen – were they really all fishing or was it just a cover for some nefarious activity? We sat on the pavement outside Greggs in Newton Heath and ate pasties and cakes and Brant let out a shout as another pair of trousers were sold. Some local lads thought he’d caught a Pokemon but were still impressed by his level!
So we rolled into Sale safe and sound. Brant obviously hadn’t brought a change of clothing so had to borrow some from my dad – that’s what uncles are for isn’t it? I reflected on a mostly off-road trip through the North of England – I need to go back and do the bits I missed but what a great journey. More please.