Category: The Pass

The Pass (Part 4)

Following a bad winter, not a great spring and missing half of the summer completely I’ve been desperately trying to get back in shape lately because if I don’t hit the cold dark days to come with some miles in my legs and enthusiasm in my heart my riding risks going downhill over winter so much that I don’t do enough to enjoy next summer and end up the year after that like one of those folks in documentaries who’ve become so enormous they need to widen the front door to even leave the house and it takes five burly nurses and a winch just to get them into their baggy shorts and on to their mountain bike. This sense of urgency means I’ve been in real danger of committing the ancient common law crime of takingitmuchtooseriously however coming down my side of Buttertubs Pass this weekend the late summer sun was warm, the wind in my hair was cool and the fella who was coming up the other way on the steepest bit when I passed him was smiling, well, he might have been grimacing at having run out of gears with a way to go before the top, or at the noise my brakes were making, but I like to think he was smiling, and that was a all a very welcome reminder that this is supposed to be fun, apparently.

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The Pass (Part 3)

A few months ago I was driving home from work one Friday night and the pass, an unclassified lane between two small villages lying near the upper ends of their respective vallies, was signposted from the motorway exit. There was some bike race or something going on that weekend if I recall correctly and the photograph of the competitors merging with the crowd filling what seemed like every inch of the roadside and much of the actual road as they raced up that little steep bit before the cattle grid just by the muddy lay-by where you can stop and look back over the dale and on a very still day hear the purposeful breathing of riders struggling up the road that heads over the fells in the opposite direction a couple of kilometres line of sight across the river meandering gently across the flat valley floor became perhaps the defining shot of the very very many taken over those two days that the race was in Yorkshire. There isn’t much sign that anything ever even happened now; bunting has been taken down, commemorative parcours-marking road signs have found their way to souvenir-hunters and internet auction sites and road surface graffiti has been pressure-washed or tarmaced from the historical record. The only man-made features remaining on the southern climb up the pass now are the new snow poles, standing incongruously vertical with their blingy shiny new paint in mounds of still damp earth where lie buried the memories of that weekend in July.

Today things were a bit quieter in fact I didn’t pass another person on a bike in a ride of several hours. It was quite windy today it must be said and riding into a stiffish breeze can be discouraging but getting up over that cattle grid, its elevated position in the pantheon of bike racing iconography surely secure and its listing as a historic monument cetainly only a matter of doing the paperwork, and catching the full force of a gale travelling in more or less the same direction as you are is more than consolation for the grind in getting there. I think other than sailors bike riders must go on about the wind more than anyone else. The strategy, tactics and etiquette of riding when the air is anything other than millpond still must fill thousands of pages of books and gazillions of whatever the units of verbiosity for the internet are. Sometimes, after an hour or two battling a headwind the direction in which leaves, rain or snow is blowing, which way livestock is facing and which side of the field they are huddled against the wall, the destination of clouds sailing above you, the massed grassblades bowing down below you begins to make you feel like you can almost see the air currents, as migratory birds can see the earth’s magnetic field, and somewhere unseen a windtunnel operator fella with a white coat and GCSEs is leaning on a big lever turning up the turbine speed and feeding coloured smoke into the airflow whilst laughing manaically. Rainy days and Mondays do always get me down because whatever you do to try and make it better it’s still raining and it’s still Monday but windy ones, where the simple act of turning a corner transforms your whole day, I can deal with.

The Pass (Part 2)

It seems like it’s been a long winter, cold and wet and full of non-cycling stresses and diversions but Buttertubs has waited for me and today was the reunion. Three months it’s been. I promised I wouldn’t stay away so long next time. One of us has seen other hills while we’ve been apart, one of us other cyclists but we didn’t talk about that. Neither of us has changed much although there is a big orange banner at the bottom erected by the parish council to welcome the bike race which I have probably already mentioned is visiting these parts in July. It’s not like a tattoo or something though, not permanent, and will be gone in time, well before July I would expect. In terrible shape I may be, and the wind still has a bite to it but winter has yet to run its course and today was a gift of sunshine and dry roads so to stay indoors would have been a terrible thing, being all warm, by the fire, with a mug of tea, watching DVDs, all snug on the sofa, yes, terrible…

The Pass

Once upon a time the pass used to have a bike race go over it. Every September it was. The Olympics put a stop to that as British Cycling put their resources into London as that was more important to them. We get our own back next year though as another bike race will go over the pass, much to BC’s chagrin as they wanted it to go to Edinburgh. Riding the pass on a blustery autumn day with nothing but the sound of the tensioned cables of the crash barrier singing in the wind for company it’s hard to imagine how many folks will be up there next summer watching the race and then all going down to order coffees in the quiet little hotel in the small village near the bottom. I probably should have reserved my table on the terrace for July when I was there yesterday but I’m sure I’ll be in there again before then.

The pass is the only road in my neck of the woods with pass in its name. It’s not the highest road in the area in absolute terms, which honour goes to its near southern sister, nor in the difference between the top and the bottom, which is claimed by another sibling to the east, but it feels higher because of the very steep drop down to the east side of the road. It certainly feels high in winter when the snow is blowing horizontally across the fell, the tarmac is icy, and the road home, which you can see from the top snaking down the valley below, seems a heck of a long way down.

From the south the climb is a few steep bits followed by a long moorland drag up to the top. From the north its just steep and some more steep then a bit of steep. The weather is often terrible. The pass is sometimes closed for days although of all the high roads between the two valleys this one allegedly has the first claim on any action to clear it. In March this year from the northern foot of the pass the only clue to the existance of a road at all was the ‘road closed’ sign erected on top of the drifts. In summer the pass forms part of a traditional loop followed by old folks driving around with tartan rugs on their laps and slighty less old folks on very powerful motorcycles so I prefer the pass in winter; snow, ice, wind and fear of going up there and not coming back down included.

Strength-sapping climbs, vertiginous descents, precipitous drops, snow and ice, gales, nutters on motorbikes and idiots in sports cars, a couple of treacherous cattle grids, and nearby competition from some of the best roads you’ll ever ride on a bike in the country, I love riding over the pass. I love riding it from both ends and if I haven’t ridden it for a while I start to dream about it. They might have to bury me up there although they probably won’t have to carry me far as in all probability that is where I will have expired anyway, although I hope it will have been because of the elements and not because I was balancing on my bike in the middle of the road taking pictures for the blog as I can be quite hard to see in black and white.