The Yorkshire Dales are a series of predominantly east-west rivers in Northern England separated by high fells of dramatic limestone crags and moorland often covered in purple heather.
The lower levels of the Dales are divided up into arable fields by dry-stone walls, some of which date back to Anglo-Saxon times.
Gushing springs spew torrents of clear water from the karst limestone. These form becks (streams) that are quickly turned golden brown as they flow through the peat on their way to the rivers below.
Old, old villages, in some instances dating back a thousand years or more, remain clustered on the rivers.
It was the stark beauty of the Dales, and the steep climbs that separate them, that attracted the Tour de France to the area for Le Grand Depart in 2014.
Some remnants of Yorkshire’s enthusiasm for the tour remain.
A year later, I fulfilled one of my “bucket list” goals and spent a couple of weeks in the northern Dales (primarily Wensleydale, Wharfedale and Swaledale) revisiting Stage One of the tour …. on a bike, of course. Sharon and I rented a house in Middleham, where the Castle, built in 1170, had been the childhood home of Richard III.
This then, was the base from which my nephew Nick and I set off on our two-wheeled adventures.
Of course, cycling up and down the valleys is not too difficult but to cross from one valley to another involved climbs that are not unusually 25% and, on the corners, can be even steeper. In some instances, these gradients are configured in spectacular hair-pin bends; super-challenging to climb and scary to descend.
I had rented a bike from a shop near Richmond. It was a reasonable quality carbon Bianchi but alas, equipped with woefully unsuitable gearing. Ideally one would have a 34/32 as the low gear for this terrain but my machine had only a 36/25. One of my more embarrassing moments of the trip was on one notorious hill when I simply could not turn the pedals. It was a case of get off or fall off.
The other awkward incident was on a descent in wet weather when the brakes simply could not bring the bike down to a safe speed. That resulted in an unfortunate encounter with a bridge at the bottom where the turn was just too sharp. The medieval structure won but thankfully only bruised knuckles resulted.
Rural Yorkshire is a very bicycle-friendly part of the world. Even in years long past, establishments welcomed cyclists as witnessed by this old CTC sign.
Of course, morning coffee with delicious “elevenses” is an essential part of a bike ride and many cafes go the extra mile for customers who arrive on two wheels. For example, Zarina's cafe in Kettlewell has a 10% discount for cyclists, good inventory of maps, several bike racks, floor pump etc. etc. Most importantly, try their delicious scones with clotted cream and strawberry jam. Five star.
Yorkshire is having to replace a livestock-based economy with tourism though a few remnants of the traditional way of life remain. This grim manifestation of English rural life was a surprise: the results of the local mole catcher's efforts. The use of traps had died out with the introduction of poison. However when strychnine was outlawed in 2006, the traditional method of mole-slaughter returned.
Of course, recreation in the evenings usually centered around one of England's greatest institutions.