A big blue TV camera crane sits raised off its wheels at the top of the hill with the engine running to keep the driver, presumably stuck on top of the moor in his lorry cab until Saturday, in heating and phone charges and kettle re-boils, men in pick up trucks are putting up fencing and tape and signs, blue portaloos cluster like penguins against the wind on roadside gravel hardstandings, a caravan of estate cars with bike laden roofracks winds its way laboriously up the dale toward fields hastily rebranded as campsites and graffiti, some already fading from the weather after only a few days, marks out the road surface as somewhere where something big is going happen but the moor is still somewhere I can head to when the day is nearly done and feel a kind of peace I don’t find in many other places and the Tour de France Yorkshire Grand Départ local organisers’ estimate of 25,000 people, a number you’d have to go quite a long way to gather from the permanent population, who’ll be on the moor on Saturday only makes the quietness of this evening all the more pronounced, almost touchable, so even amongst all the many moments I’ve passed up here this was a particularly special one.
Last weekend I went for a ride outside of my local patch and despite riding a fair few metres of hills which by reason of being gone up had to be gone down as well my humble Cateye only managed to recall a maximum speed all day of little more than the pace at which I glide down my own valley on a gentle summer evening spin because the roads were too wet and knackered to go down at a much quicker rate than they’d been gone up at and despite heading out in, and keeping on all day, winter kit of long sleeves, long legs, long fingers, and waterproof everything I was still cold and wet right through to my very bones by the end. I love riding through the winter for the most part. I love the empty roads, the snow on the heather, the dark skies, the clarity of the light, the low sun, the long shadows causing my own head and shoulders to ride abreast of me along the stone walls on the far side of the road, riding out of and above a valley mist, the feeling returning to my fingers from grasping a warm coffee with both cold hands and returning to my toes in a warm shower. Spring brings with it tourists unable to negotiate anything with a bend sharper than the curve of the London ringroad motorway in their ugly oversized cars with oversized roofrack suitcase box things screwed to the top, agressive moorland birds nervous for their chicks, skittish ewes convinced, not entirely unreasonably as they’ll find out a bit later in the year, that someone wants to take their lambs, flat dull light on a landscape that can look as ill at ease exposed to the sunshine as some its inhabitants, this inhabitant here included, the weight of an extra water bottle on the bike, other riders in garish and luminous kit who look at me kind of strange because I’m not, by reason of not being on a building site, riding my bike in building site regulation protective gear, and bugs, lots of bugs, and then some more bugs after that. But heck, despite how at this time of year everything, human and animal, needs to calm down a bit and despite the appeal of, or maybe just habituation to, the dark months it is quite nice, like today, to go out and be on home turf, and be warm, and go fast down a hill every now and again isn’t it?
It is possible, at this time of year, to travel through time on a bike. Riding uphill for an hour or so takes you back a week or two earlier in the spring; the trees are a little barer, the lambs a wee bit younger, the air a couple of degrees cooler. Then, riding over the fells, the sun, when it appears, diffused by the Pennine haze; that indefinable stuff that is not quite fog, not quite mist, not quite low cloud, it can be easy to lose track of where you are in the day; a lunchtime spin can feel more like a dawn or dusk outing. It’s not just time of day that gets blurry; Is it really January before last, dark outside and snow on the ground, that at least one bike rider was bouncing off the walls of their workplace on discovering the biggest bike race in the world was coming through their local patch, is it really that long since the latest deadine passed, is it really a month since anything last got posted on this blog? It would be good if the seasonal time travelling abilities of the bike could be finessed a little to go back and relive some moments, avoid others, and try not to get so behind with some stuff. It would be good if on Monday when this photo was taken I could have gone back in time a few minutes to when Marcel Kittel and his Giant-Shimano team mates passed over the moor in the other direction just after me during their Easter Yorkshire reconnaisance trip, racing to the coffee shop in Harrogate. Still, Kittel will be back here in July and in the meantime the ‘I don’t care where I am or what time of day or year it is or about relativity or anything else while I’m doing this’ qualities of riding a bike around the countryside are still good enough for me.
The main road along the lower ten miles of the valley has begun a three month programme of closures to try and deal with the subsidence it suffers by reason of being built half way up a river bank. The aim is to try to prevent it disappearing into the river altogether. There have been multiple sets of temporary traffic lights on this route for over a year now and everyone is fed up with them and increasingly ignoring them which is a cause of concern for those of us not quite as equipped as some to meet a red light running 4×4 driven by a stout woman in tweeds on equal terms. You would think that folks would welcome the road finally getting fixed but the retired military types and civil servants who at a time in the past not fully pinpointed by the historical record replaced the earlier norse inhabitants of the dale have been up in arms, although fortunately their access to actual arms is limited nowadays, because they might have to drive a different way to resupply on viagra and Guns and Ammo magazine. You’d think they were putting landmines under the road rather than underpinning. It’s quite ironic really as the folks moaning most about their villages being cut off are the ones who moved there in the first place because it was quiet, out of the way and remote. There’s no pleasing some people.
There is a parallel road to the falling down one, a road which runs along the top of the valley. This is the old road, from the times when our ancestors kept to the high ground whilst travelling, avoiding the valley bottoms which were boggy, wooded, devoid of landmarks and full of locals whose first reaction to a stranger passing through their patch was not necessarily to put the kettle on and invite them in for a brew. The ancient tradition of walking the ridgeways is still to be found on this route as coast to coast ramblers spill onto the tarmac for a short stretch, wooden staffs nowadays replaced by those telescopic pointy sticks hikers often swing ineffectually by the wrist straps as they rustle along the road singing The Happy Wanderer. The high road has a bit of a climb at both ends, and also in the middle, but we’re not talking the Gotthard Pass here. The diversion is however a double edged sword for those on bikes as well as it takes away the default bad weather wimp-out option of going up and down the valley avoiding anything steep which might be icy or anything high which might be a bit windy for two wheels but the views can be terrific and let’s face it some of us need the workout.
On a day like today though, with gales and rain adding to closures and diversions and causing the extra effort to make the keenest rider wonder why they should even get out of bed, good reasons are needed to go out the door. Fortunately for those of us not chasing marginal gains and podium places, even if we have the spring classics marked up in our diary as if we were actually competing in them, rainbows can be reasons enough.