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.
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.
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.