Where do I start with this beauty? Back in October 2021 after a wing foil session at Hunstanton. ( well mine was more a trying to get on the board session)
This is where Dub (Matthew Davies) first mentioned about doing this thing called the Dales Divide. 600km mostly off road, coast to coast and back again, sleeping wild, self supported and totally above our experience level . I was in 👍🏻 in fact I couldn’t stop thinking about it. Training started and so did bike prepping and the kit buying. Minefield! So many different options and opinions. I had a few bits already, so I gathered it together and made a plan. Needed to buy a light weight sleeping bag check 👍🏻. Some extra tubes check👍🏻. I already had a waterproof seat bag thing, so just needed some front loaders and a frame bag. Mad Jack kindly had some bar bags he donated to me and I bought a cheap frame bag. Sounds like I’m on top of things, right?
I only went and got the Covid late January, after a boozy weekend in Skeggy Butlins. Webbo’s stag do, 80’s weekender. Was a great weekend though, so kind of worth it 🍻👍🏻. It wasn’t great that it hit me hard though . Stuck in bed for two days and 2 weeks off work. Another 2-3 weeks with low energy and even when I could do anything, it was like I had a restrictor on my body. Dub had had it over Xmas, so wasn’t up to fitness either. Beginning of March we decided to knock it on the head. Then strangely we both started feeling better from then, week by week (maybe a subconscious thing)and started getting fitter too. Long story short, we both decided to give it a go literally the Friday before the start.
So 1 week to get ready, mentally, physically and equipment set up. Luckily I had most of the week off. Was bloody crapping it all week though, it was all I could think about. It was doing my head in and I bet that wasn’t much fun for Babs either.
Thursday the 14th of April. Travel day. We traveled up separately and I arrived first. Arnside is lovely, set right along the bay and with a steady flow of people. I drove to the next village Sandside, to check the overnight parking we’d been advised to use. This was perfect, waterside and peaceful. A few other DD riders are parked up but I don’t approach, I’m a shy person really and a bit of a loner. Dub arrived, we catch up over a couple of beers then off to get our heads down. Think it was around 9:30pm.
DD day! up most of the night but officially at 6:05am for some breakfast (porridge and some fruit), cup of tea and a wash. Chatted to a couple of the other riders then got ready and we rode the 3 miles to the start. Arnside pier.
Alex (one of the organisers) gathered everyone to the end of the pier, to go through the route, safety, the countryside code of conduct, trackers and to wish everyone a good ride. Pam Hall (the mum of the legendary late Mike Hall, look him up if you don’t know) gave a nice talk and wished us well. She said when anybody asked Mike what he does if he gets lost, his answer would be “I get un lost” I love this. BE MORE MIKE! Pro endurance rider Emily Chappell also talked about Mike and gave advice and motivational words. 8am time to go…..
It was a slow departure, we all knew what was ahead of us, well kind of ha ha. Well we all knew the route at least, some better than others. Everyone was happy and chatty as we climbed out of Arnside. Chat soon stopped as it got steeper though and we stopped to take a few layers off, we’d planned this. We didn’t want to get sucked into riding harder than we needed. Take it easy, play the long game. We both was unsure of our fitness and ability levels to take this on. We’re both tough cookies and it’s not our first big challenge or test. We like to live full lives and enjoy trying new sports and pushing the limits. Anyway back to the ride…
It was rolling roads for the first few miles, with some gravel tracks through woodland to be frown in. It was like this for around 20 miles, chatting to different people as we pass, or they pass. We spot at a shop with a coffee sign outside and we weren’t the only cyclists to stop. We weren’t desperate to stop but was definitely ready for a coffee, so took the opportunity to grab snacks and top ups. Plus I felt slightly famous standing near the sign.
Then some nice tracks near Ingleton and leading towards the back of Wherside. In my head I think we’re heading over to a lovely farm road that flows along the valley ( I know this area pretty well ) but no… we head up a steep zip zap bridleway which I knew all too well! I ran up it a year or 2 back. I say ran in the loosest of terms, bloody hard work I tell ya and pushing that bike for the first time was a big eye opener. Heavy!!!
Over the top was tough too, a bit boggy but dryish, single bumpy track weaving through long moorland grass. We stopped to try and help a rider, he was with friends but needed a certain tool. Neither of us had it either, so off we went and they kind of followed. Downhill now to a lovely track that took us to the stunning Ribblehead Viaduct.
After passing under it we head over to the burger van. Which was busy busy busy and the lady serving was slow slow slow. We nearly gave up and set off again but decided we needed food and more drink as we wasn’t sure when our next chance would be. It was filth and maybe not worth the wait but it went down a dream…
Although looking at the times on the pics maybe we weren’t waiting as long as we thought 🤔
We gathered our stuff oh yeah! I almost forgot the ice cream. I got an ice cream from the other van, very very nice 👌 I do love an ice cream. So we head off on Blea moor rd for about a mile, then turn right off the road up this gentle gravel climb. That burger nearly came back up ha ha
A mix of gravel, rocky, grassy tracks now for what seemed miles and miles. Weaving through the dales with the mighty Ingleborough one side and the ever looming Pen-y-Ghent the other. We were both getting tired now and the gates were getting harder and less fun to open and close. A few more hard bits pushing our bikes on this section. The sun was strong now too, more fluids needed as our drinks supply was low. We were so happy to see this place.
We thought about getting food but a bloke with his family said to wait, as Chris Ellison’s (the main man) farm was up the road and his wife has put food and drinks out. So opted to stock up there instead, looking back that was a mistake, there was only snacks (obviously)at the farm and we didn’t want to be greedy and take too much.
So for now, beautiful trails and stunning views as we passed Malham tarn and through the rolling hills north of Skipton. After what seemed like ages of stunning riding,we ran out of water again, low on food, tired and unsure of when we can next top up (should have eaten at the cafe or stocked up more at the farm, or maybe we should of left the route to find food and water earlier) Bolton Addey was the first chance on route to top up on water and this seems a long time coming. Dub and a lad we were riding with at this point needed persuading the route goes through the Abbey, as they disagree with me and nearly ride past. The tiredness was setting in. Topped up with water from the outside tap, used the loo and eat some nuts, as the place was closed so no food.
The lad left before us as we were needing a longer rest. More flowing trails from here and beautiful countryside. Although we wasn’t really taking it in now, we weren’t in a good place. We needed food, the realisation had sunk in that we weren’t gonna make it to York tonight. Still so far to go. Dub was definitely doing the 450km route now and I was struggling to accept it. I felt by not getting to Scarborough I’d failed. I thought and said it in a slightly sulking manner.
-“We might as well sleep now and ride to York in the morning and get the train back.”
“-let’s ride to Scarborough and get the train back.”
Then it sank in, this was our adventure, we were doing our best and we stick together. We can do the 450km which is still massive achievement and we don’t fail. So I said it out load. “I’m in for the 450 mate, you’re right, let do what we can tonight and then get our heads down.”
Summerbridge was really our last hope of getting any food we thought. Although we didn’t know what was there, it just sounded like it would have something. It was dark now and we hit some bog, It’s horrible! I mean really horrible and mostly un rideable, then we realise we’re off course. We scale a 5ft stone wall and pass our heavy bikes over to get back on the right trail. It’s still no better. It’s dark which doesn’t help and we’re both really fed up now, this isn’t fun. Then boom! I go over the bars, hit the ground hard but luckily I’m ok, me and my gear totally miss the water and mud, a stroke of luck. I could of easy gave up at this point, we wasn’t talking much as we both wadded threw boggy water, shin deep. Wet before bed, perfect! We finally got to a road and ride for a few cold miles. Then “PUB!” “There’s a pub” I shouted. “No it’s not” he said. “It bloody is,look!” 3 other riders come out. “Hey how you doing?” I say. “Yeah good thanks, there’s no food left and the clientele don’t like cyclists, just to warn you”
For some reason I found this funny. We had a chat, discussing our rides so far, the bog and the choices on the cut through after York. They were thinking the same, which was reassuring. Then they left and I go inside the pub. I felt awkward and there definitely was a bad group in there, one bloke mainly though. I was too tired and too hungry to even care, so I ignored his stupid comments. Ordered 2 pints of coke, 4 packets of nuts and 2 packets of crisps. Then they left shouting some jibber jabber about cyclists, looking pleased with their stupid comments as they left. I was made to feel more welcome then. I called Dub in and we sat down, drank the coke and ate our snacks, was feeling it now, was ready for some sleep or at least a decent rest.
We’d warmed up in the pub and the cold hit us quickly when we got outside. This made us keen to get moving and get on our bikes. We soon got to Summerbridge, still cold but ok. Nothing open so a good choice to stop at the pub. On a grassy trail I mention about camping up but Dub wasn’t keen, i was tired and ready to stop, I thought it looked perfect but maybe not. After getting back on the road and not really knowing what a good spot to camp was, we made a decision. Next grassy area off the road we stop. This came literally 400 yards up the next bridleway.
“This’ll do!” I say as I turn off the trail into the slightly long grassy field. “Perfect I thought”
We pitched up, got our mats and bags out ( Dub got in his bivvy too) put some warmer clothes on and got in bed. Man the temperature has dropped, shivering a little but soon start to warm up. We say goodnight and get our heads down settle for the night with no plan but to wake up and go. I spot another rider heading along the trail, I wonder if we’ve passed people without knowing too. The moon was bright and it almost felt like it was getting light again, closed my eyes and sleep. Only to wake a couple of hours later shivering, wet, it had got misty. Idiot!!! Why didn’t I get in my bivvy? School boy error. I was a shivering mess as I get my emergency bivvy out and struggled getting everything in it, I soon started warming up again though and back off to sleep.
I woke again at just after 4am. Snacked on my remaining nuts and had a drink, I was ready to go. Dub was fast asleep still so I just lay there taking it all in. Caught up on my WhatsApp messages and checked the tracker page. Wow!!! 3 riders had been through Scarborough already, that blew my tired little mind. I must of made a noise as Dub woke up. Packed our wet stuff up and off we go. Not quite light yet but could feel it coming and it didn’t seem long before the sun got his hat on.
We were in good spirits now, both felt good for the rest but thinking about a hot drink and some warm food. We were making good ground and decided to divert slightly off course into Boroughbridge to find something open. Just after 7am and we found the perfect place, we were buzzing! I can’t remember the name of the place or the staff but they were awesome, so friendly and helpful. The coffee and the breakfast cob went down a dream 👌
After failing to buy some socks in the only other shop open (as ours were drenched) we head back on route, we pass a Morrisons store. A much needed toilet visit and new socks purchased. 2 happy riders.
To be honest the next section leading to York is a bit of a blur, we were happy and chatty, just enjoying the ride and experience I think. The breakfast sorted us out.
York started off lovely, along the river paths and sharing them with dog walkers. The Sun was out and we felt great. As soon as we got to the centre it was horrendous! People. Loads of people. Ignorant zombie like army’s of them, refusing to let us through and oblivious to us struggling to push our bikes past. The sooner we were out of there the better.
Once on the outskirts we could relax again and we found a little shop to stock up at. It wasn’t too long before we came to the turn for the cut through, which we take without even discussing. Through a bit of a pikey site and along a nice empty grassy bridleway. We stop to have lunch and dry our stuff out in the warm breeze and springtime sun.
The rest off this section was a lot of road, starting off busy and the getting more scenic as we rode. We had another top up stop at garage somewhere along here. I’m not sure where exactly but I remember the garage very well, mainly because I bought a big bag of cheesy wotsits type crisps from here and I used my bike lock for the first time. These crisps were my magic… I believe these fuelled me and made me feel great from this point on. I strapped them to my front bag and grazed on them till the end of the ride. We see the white horse dominantly carved into the hillside near Kilburn before coming across the brutal climb of high town bank road. That was tough!
Across more grassy bridleways until we get to one of my favourite parts of the ride. The gravels tracks up on the western edge of the North York Moors, this section was breathtaking. Fast and flowing with fantastic views. I wanted to ride these trails for the rest of the 130+ remaining miles. I was on my own ride at this point, just enjoying the trails, almost emotional. They do finish though unfortunately and we then follow the route on road to the lovely village of Osmotherly, where we have food at a local pub. We chatted to another couple of riders here, they were a bit more accustomed to wild camping and camped in a church doorway at Pooley bridge. They also managed to get food in the village too. Lesson learned.
With full bellies and a slight fuzzy head from the beer we head off. Stopping again and stocking up at Northallerton on our way through. The next thing I know we’re at weaving over the A1 and reach Catterick and we’re passing through the large military town, past the barracks and back off road through the training area. Man this place is massive, it goes on for what seems like miles and miles. Don’t get me wrong it’s lovely countryside and rolling trails but there’s always the thought in the back of my mind, is someone gonna jump out the bush with a gun, or will a tank appear, will we ride over a land mine (ok that one was stupid). I dropped a water bottle on a descent which stopped us and gave us the time to chill for a second, when another DD rider passed. Was he on the full route? Was he in front? was he on the same route as us and looking a lot fresher because he’s had a bed for the night? We’ll never know, although I do know now he wasn’t the winner now.
Dub was getting tired now and saying we need to find somewhere to sleep. It was dark and we were on the lumpy winding roads of the Yorkshire dales. I felt good still to be honest but was happy to go with the flow. So keep pointing out possible spots.
“No. Sheep in the field “
“No. Tank signs, I don’t want to get run over in my sleep “
Ha ha “ok let’s stick to the plan and get to the bothy?” I’ve never stayed in one and fancied the idea of it. “Come on we can do it mate”
“Ok but I’m not sure how far it is, let’s just keep going and see what happens “
“Good plan” I say and off we go and after what seemed like forever we turned off road onto a bridleway again. Proper bridleway, gravelly, flowing trail through moorland and nobody around (it was dark so only guessing)but us and the sheep. Snacking on my cheesy crisps I felt really happy and honestly felt like I could ride all night. Don’t get me wrong I was sore and aching in the expected areas as well as unexpected ones but felt in a good place. This ride was changing me and I could feel it happening. I really liked the pace of life it put me on. Eat when hungry, sleep when tired, go to loo whenever I needed (which wasn’t actually that much) and just take in everything around me. We live in a beautiful country, we just need to stop and take it in. I wonder why travel abroad.
Dub had dropping back a bit now, I’m guessing he’s not in the same head space as me. I spot the first bit of grass we’ve passed in ages. I stop, get off my bike, point at the grass and say “here, let’s set up here for the night. After a look over the area Dub spots the bothy below, hidden by a wall of moorland. Bonus and a massive stroke of luck.
We were the only ones there so we were buzzing. Got our beds set up ate some snacks and go straight to sleep (in bivvy and warm clothes, I’m not falling for that again) only to be awoke through the night by some front riders ,stopping for a quick power nap then back on their way. My ear buds stopped most of the noise but I was woken by Dub moaning about how noisy everyone was, while grumpily packing his kit away. I however slept ok ish but woke up absolutely soaking wet. I didn’t even think about the condensation, I was once again wet, shivering and cold ha ha. Character building and a steep lesson in wild camping, 2-0 to the night. We head off after a bit of faffing. My next favourite part of the route now and most of it riding above a cloud inversion. Fantastic trails and views on this part and maybe stay at or outside the 3rd bothy next time 👌
So once this rollercoaster of fun came to an end, we were back to roads. Flowing Yorkshire county roads though, so it wasn’t so bad and the miles started clocking off fast. We didn’t expect anywhere to be open so we didn’t even look, we had enough on us now, we’ve learnt that as least. We ride on some familiar roads now (we both did the Wendsleydale triathlon a few years ago in this area) passing near Semer water and going off road again up the ever giving, feels like the longest gravel climb ever. Cam high road! Never been up it? You should it’s fantastic, tough but very rideable. It’s on here where we both get caught short and have to dig a little hole, if you know what I’m saying 😜
We eventually reach the top and back on the road. Then back on a perfectly new tarmac surfaced cam high road again, skirting around the edge of Dod fell with the unmistakable Pen Y gent in the distance. We laughed that we were over there the other day, another secretly emotional moment for me. Tiredness has stolen or fogged my memory from here until we reach the quant village of Dent. With it’s village shop, we were pleased to see that it was open and have a rest while we topped up our bellies.
we spoke to one of the full routers as he passed through, he looked in a good place and left before us. We were chilling. I don’t remember much after this point. Well I remember riding my bike with my best mate, through stunning countryside, feeling exhausted but fantastic and strangely relaxed with life. Counting down the miles but not in a massive rush to finish. Roads, trails, gates, wind turbines, wildlife, mud, pain all over, laughing, silence, smiling, tearful and absolutely living the dream. The head wind along the estuary path was tough but kind of fitting. Riding past our parked up vehicles wasn’t even tempted to stop, even though we’d talking about it. The last couple of miles we never really spoke. We were both bursting with emotions and hiding it from the other. We realised this when talking later in the pub. Why do men hide their feelings so much, we’re getting better but still work to do. Anyway back to grand finale. Riding along the prom road and to the end of the pier. A few people cheer us in and some of them finishers of the full route, the full routers lose any respect and chat, once I say we did the cut through. Fair enough, I kind of understand that. We both spend a few minutes to soak it all in… we’ve finished…450km… beaten up but not broken… we call our wife’s
This ride is the best thing I’ve done for me personally so far. Maybe it’s the fact that we just did it without the stress of training. Or because we didn’t have high expectations and just rode to our abilities. Maybe it was the nature of it and the simplicity of just riding,eating, sleeping and so on. Living in the moment. Maybe it was the fantastic route and beautiful countryside. Maybe it’s because I, we managed it, together, relatively easier than maybe it should be. Maybe I’m built for endurance and I’ve found where my peace is at. Maybe it was the fact the experience was shared with my mate. Maybe it was all of these and more. All I know is I came out the other end stronger, calmer, more thoughtful and hungry for more.
I just need to go back and finish the full route now. Guess where I’ll be over Easter 2023?