Thursday afternoon was warm and sunny, as I drew into the farm at Brompton on Swale which housed the bunkbarn I’d booked into.
My bunkbarn accommodation was in a small converted barn with kitchen and lounge downstairs and bedrooms upstairs. I found it in the Independent Hostel Guide. Copies of this guide are available for free during lock down, so if you would like to have a look through order your own copy here. A tray of tea and biscuits was provided by my host on arrival and was most welcome. I brought my luggage in and prepared the bike for a small exploration and leg stretch after the long drive. The climb to Richmond fitted the bill and I spent some time wandering around this beautiful little market town nestling in the dales. I coasted downhill back to the hostel and enjoyed chatting with my two bunkbarn companions.
Friday was cloudy and I explored Catterick Bridge, sad to see the hotel closed and derelict. The Racecourse was closed today too. I turned northwards from here to Scotch Corner intrigued by its appearance on signposts. I was disappointed to find a lonesome fifties built hotel at J55 of the A1 with not even a hamlet in evidence. Holiday traffic swished through a heavy shower and I headed back onto quiet lanes to Barton and west to Aldbrough St John, Forcett and Caldwell. Here I witnessed traffic chaos as a horsebox, having met two tractors on a narrow lane had to reverse back onto the main road, nearly knocking down a father and two sons in the process, one on a bike, the other on a horse. The traffic negotiated the hold-ups patiently and peace returned as I continued to Barnard Castle, stopping briefly to admire the impressive Bowes Museum.
I tucked into my picnic lunch in this bustling town before descending to the single file bridge over the river in the shadow of the castle ruins. The sun had come out now and I was getting quite hot! It was past five o’ clock when I climbed southwards and after a few yards on the busy A66 I turned turning south again and started the long climb into the forest. I was able to admire the fine views northwards when I stopped to rest. Some parts of the woodland had been cleared for logging and looked bare and desolate. At last I reached the final stretch onto the moors before an enormous descent into Arkengarthdale and, on what was now a fine sunny evening, a more gradual descent to Reeth. The pub on the green was busy with drinkers enjoying the start of the weekend. Tiring now, the ride along the valley was quiet as there was little traffic, and after a pizza stop in Richmond I enjoyed a dusky descent to Brompton and my bunkbarn for a well earned night’s sleep.
Saturday was bright and breezy and I spied a ride to Brough and Kirby Stephen with a return along the dales. Alas this meant going via Barnard Castle again with its lure of bakeries and ice cream shops. The climb from Richmond felt like a mountain as the exertions of the previous day caught up with me. An ambulance raced past, lights and siren blazing. I came across it two miles later as it attended an unfortunate injured cyclist on the verge at the bottom of a short descent. Various picturesque villages came and went, (Gayles, Dalton, Barningham among others) and, my ambitious plans forgotten, I stopped and picked blackberries while watching a combine harvester in the field below. My journey took me through Greta Bridge, (the pretty humped back bridge deserted since the A66 had bypassed the village some years ago) and onto Barnard Castle for a great pasty followed by an enormous ice cream. Then on to Bowes where I was surprised by the lack of of a shop or cafe in what was just a hamlet. After a stroll round the castle I returned back to Brompton through the same charming villages. The sound of leather on willow featured as a crowd applauded the efforts of some local cricket players.
Sunday started wet but I togged up into waterproofs and climbed to Richmond, this time staying on the north side of Swaledale. The rain cleared and sun had broken through by the time I stopped in Reeth for a tea break. I couldn’t help but overhear the owner tell another customer his sell up and move to the Dales to run a tea shop story. However he said he’d be closing for winter this year so can’t be a bad trade to be in. As I supped my tea several hundred other cyclists pass through on an organised ride (run by Wiggle, a large internet trader). I continued on through the intriguingly named villages of Gunnerside and Muker then tackled the long climb over Buttertubs Pass, with frequent stops to admire the views.
Eventually I reached the crevices that gave the pass its name. The farmers in bygone times used them to store butter on their way to market. Then there was a lovely long descent into Hawes which was bustling with tourists. Although this was not as busy as usual according to the ice cream seller. I followed the main road to Leyburn before turning northwards through the sprawling Catterick camp to arrive back at the hostel just before dark.
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