Tagged: moor

Heather

It is said the British Isles account for three quarters of the world’s heather moorland so although not unique to these islands if there is a landscape that really has a ‘made in Britain’ stamp on it then this is it (because it is of course a ‘made’ ecology as most of the country was once wooded and wild and heather is very much a managed affair). I don’t know, therefore, why as a nation we don’t celebrate the flowering of the heather in August more, in the way perhaps that the japanese venerate the cherry blossom or even as folks here will exitedly announce their first snowdrop of late winter or bluebell of spring. Maybe we could get some of those hippy new age druid types up from Stonehenge to do a chant or something. I suppose it’s because the heather presages the coming of autumn, a great big fat purple reminder that summer’s over folks so better get sorting out your sweater drawer, and then there is the whole grouse shooting thing of course, but it is a real shame heather suffers from associations we make for it which are beyond its control, just being a woody shrub and all, because to me it’s a special time of the year even if nobody else feels the same.

The Fleak

There is no other name I can call the Fleak. Once upon a time it was Fleak Moss but somewhere along the line the Ordnance Survey adopted the name everyone knows it by and it became just the Fleak. If this becomes a trend we could see some interesting future map revisions for one or two other locations talked about less affectionately than this road is. Of all the high roads between my valley and the next one this is the one I often go to in my mind when I can’t get out to them on the bike and this is one where I go to on the bike when the falling number of degrees centigrade and number of hours of daylight left leave the opportunity of doing something longer firmly in the missed category. When I’ve been to a flatter bit of England and have missed the hills and when I’ve been going out and coming home in the dark all week and have missed the sky this is also where I head to. The Fleak is where I go to as well if I just haven’t been there for a while and have missed The Fleak.

The Road on the north side takes an uncharacteristically for this area oblique route up the side of valley making its three hundred and fifty vertical metres a joy of changing views, alternating steep and gentle gradients and varying road surface gravelly leafy mucky slippinesses. This side in fact also has a little brother, an unmade fork that comes up from the valley further west, well known to mountain bikers, shooters and motorists caught up in the great Crackpot bad GPS directions incident of 2006. From the cattle grid at the top can be seen the Dales’ only significant natural lake to the South, limestone not being great for water features, the far side of the valley you’ve just left to the North, the Cleveland hills to the East, and some heather and stuff to the West, or completely bugger all in any direction if you didn’t pick a very good day.

The road down the other side is a nastiness of steep uneven narrow lanes, tight turns and an almost permanently wet surface. On the plus side it does lead to a café with one of those old metal winged wheel badges on the wall where they still like bike riders. The sublime goingupness of the northern end of this road and the horrible brakegripping 25%ness of the southern section mean the best thing to do would surely be to go back down the way you came up but there must be some inner fear of terrible divine consequences because I can never do that. If the cycling press reports a North Yorkshire cyclist struck down by lightning on an otherwise fine day whilst crossing Low Whita Bridge the wrong way you’ll know who it was, and why.

Grouse

The unmistakable croaky cry of the red grouse is as much a natural accompaniment to my bike rides as the sound of whirring tyres on a wet road, the clanking of fluffed gear changes, and the reassurances of ewes to their lambs that it’s alright pet, it’s only a cyclist, it’s them ramblers you mustn’t turn your back to. Grouse seem unperturbed by bike riders and perhaps that is because we have so much in common. Like bike riders, grouse can be found on the high moors in all weathers when sensible folks are huddled by their fireside, like bike riders the grouse’s legs get hairier in winter, and like bike riders, wealthy executives, for the price of a few grand in lawyers’ shooting fees can kill them at weekends with no stain on their conscience, criminal record or overall loveliness as a human being. I’ve never really understood why some people have it in for the grouse. They just hang out on the fells chilling, chewing the heather and living off the image rights royalties from those whisky labels, which is another thing which links us as I confess to an occasional dram after a winter ride to try and restore feeling to my fingers and toes. In this I share something with the shooting fraternity as they also like a sneaky slug of the hard stuff but in their case it is to try and surpress their feelings of being human rather than restore them. I don’t know how grouse became the term for an exclamation of complaint or discomfort, as in those simply hilarious duck or grouse signs found on low beams in olde worlde pubs but I sometimes wish the grouse would stand up for themselves a bit more; perhaps tie a hand grenade to those big hairy hobbit feet of theirs’ or inter-breed with golden eagles or something. The grouse is definitely a bird that needs to kick ass more and quit being such a heather-smoking hippy. I wouldn’t love them any less and their relationship with the people who think blowing a turkey-sized semi-flightless ginger vegetarian bird out of the sky at short range with a powerful shotgun resting on a prepared position to which the birds are driven by people waving big sticks and blowing whistles makes them feel better about themselves and about the people they’ve just spent the working week screwing surely couldn’t get any worse.

The Moor

The north side of the moor is the steep way up. This is the way the proper bike riders of the world tour, proper bike riders with hard hats and the right shoes and everything who ride in a different place every weekend, will cross the moor next summer. It might be harder going up from the north but going down to the south is much the more satisfying; gentler and straighter and wider. Going down the north side is made slow in winter by swatches of ice, the frozen run off across the road from the moor, slow to thaw as the sun only reaches the far side of the valley and in summer by motoring visitors from certain flatter-wider-straighter-roaded parts of the country, prodding their sat navs, pointing at sheep and realising with wonder that the large round wheel type thing stuck on their dashboard in front of them is not some vistigial appendix from the days before motorways but does still have a use in some undeveloped parts like this. In late spring bike riders are buzzed by ground nesting curlews and lapwings alarmed for their chicks and by retired schoolteachers in urban 4x4s speeding between the chamber music recitals and wildflower walks of the local arts festival. In the winter the snow lies higher than can be seen over from the saddle of a bike.

For a glorious moment at the very end of summer and the very beginning of autumn however, when the birds have raised their families, when the grey civil servants in their grey tonka toys have migrated back south to Surrey, when the grouse shooters have got bored, or the grouse smarter, and the army have fired all of their practice budget for the financial year, when the big westerly depressions haven’t got properly going yet and the bitter easterlies still await beyond the change in the clocks but the breeze has that lung loving freshness once again, when the fell is still a place of life but the bugs of the warmer months have called it a day, when the heather is at its finest and the burning season is yet to start, in that period between the schools being closed because it’s summer and being closed because it’s winter, when the road repair works weather window has closed but the winter pot holes haven’t opened up yet, for this moor, ridden at times this year jersey unzipped bare chested, ridden at times wearing every single item of bike gear I own plus anything else I could find that might help finish the ride with all the fingers and toes I started it with, for that magic moment, that sweet spot, that grand day, that is so not too hot and not too cold that Goldilocks herself, caught at a bad time in the month, with her roots showing and got out of the shower to answer the door, could only but pronounce it just about f****g perfect, there is nowhere else in the world I would rather be but here, nothing else I would rather be doing but riding my bike.