Wednesday, 8 May 2013

Great Motorcycling Roads - The Dales Circular

Circular. Err; not as such. The sky gave off a radiant blue with just a few hazy white bits drifting around, and the temperature was nudging sixteen. So to spend more time in the saddle I diverted from the route and ride I'd proposed to myself...let me explain.

The tourist honeypot of Hawes

There are a group of roads in the Yorkshire Dales National Park area that are well known and used by hundreds of riders. Two of the most pleasurable stretches are the B6479 running north from the small town of Settle and

joining the B6255 at the well known landmark of the Ribblehead Viaduct, that carries trains on the Settle to Carlisle route, one of the world's most picturesque and dramatic railway journeys. This road runs through to the tourist honey pot of Hawes, a very popular stop off and gathering place for motorcyclists throughout the year.

A shimmy through the fells


These roads are exciting, risky, and require concentration as they dip, twist, bend and shimmy through the remarkable fells landscape. Of course it's not necessary or compulsory to push the limits, and these roads are shared with walkers, cyclists, and car drivers/tourists who have all come to admire and be part of the same scenic grandeur. But on a motorcycle it's important to decide whether to cruise and view, or to scrub a millimetre or so off the brake pads. If you choose the faster option be careful, lest you want to have congruence with the sharp limestone dry walls that line many of the roads in the area...not recommended.

When a smiling 'Paul the Weatherman', a stalwart of the BBC Look North programme beamed his optimism over the next days weather chart. I knew I would have to wheel my Moto Guzzi Breva out of the garage, check the tyre pressures and burn some fossil fuel for my leisure and pleasure.

Such a perfect day

I intended to ease over to the town of Skipton, then follow a circle of roads to Settle, Hawes, Kettlewell, and back to Skipton before heading home to decide what beer to open. Lou Reed's song 'Perfect Day' came to mind.

Hitting the road

After 'struggling' through the urban traffic of Bradford/Keighley the bike and I were relieved to hit the bypass around Skipton. The big Guzzi is not a happy round town bike, and some seventy plus air through the cylinders was just what was required to get us both firing smoothly and onto the fifteen mile stretch of the A65 to Settle. Another popular riders' road running through to Kendall in the Lake District via the Devil's Bridge at Kirkby Lonsdale, where dozens of weekend riders park up at the cafe stands on the old stone bridge crossing the River Eden.


Turning right onto the Settle to Ribblehead road (B6479) I didn't really make up my mind how I wanted to ride, and at the first tight and tricky double bend, made a mess of braking and coming down the gears. I stopped at Horton in Ribblesdale, unloaded the camera and took a couple of shots against the backdrop of Pen-Y-Ghent one of three seven hundred plus metre hills that loom over the Ribble Valley, and are noted for the challenge to climb all three in one day – I climbed one last summer, and then headed for tea and cake shop.

Swallows skimming the road

As well as Horton there are a couple of other hamlets on the route. Which as well as being narrow between the few houses, require you to slow to a speed limit out of respect for those who have to live near to the road. By this time I'd made a decision to switch my head to cruise mode and enjoy a more relaxed ride. The weather was sublime to the point where swallows were skimming the road in their constant insect seeking, before soaring almost vertically back over the sheep paddocks. Does their instinct tell them something about warm and dry months to come with food aplenty for these remarkable little stunt flyers?

Time for tea

I made a diversion decision: to turn off the road to Hawes, and ride through Dentdale one of the prettiest and least visited in the National Park, and stop in the cobbled village of Dent and indulge in that most English of customs; afternoon tea. But before that happened there's an almost compulsory halt at the previously mentioned Ribblehead Viaduct, just to gaze for a few minutes at this remarkable construction built over four years from 1870-1874 by a thousand labourers who constructed shanty villages on the bleak isolated moorland and lived there with their families. The death and injury toll on the construction site and through epidemics in the camps was high.

The white road that drops steeply from the high moors into Dentdale has been ravaged by the more ferocious winters we've recently experienced, and rain water and snow and ice melt has undermined the surface and edges. Rider beware.

Good day sunshine

 Vee twin rumbling down the narrow miles into Dent, and feeling the temperature rise couple of degrees as the sun warmed the valley, was a riding pleasure beyond measure after the prolonged winter spell we've all endured. At the village car park one could almost sense the envy as a couple of car bound blokes glanced across at a bike being parked up in the late afternoon glow.

I had to retrace the route through the Dale to get back onto my planned route, the road to Hawes. There were other bikes galloping across the Tarmac, enjoying the dry conditions and very few cars to impede progress. Now time to switch to faster mode, focus on the shape of the road ahead, and chase down that bike you can see in the distance, before the next turn over stark and imposing high fells and narrow roads towards Kettlewell and a return to Skipton.

If you've never made this area your riding destination, me and dozens if not hundreds of motorcyclists would declare this one of the areas in the UK that can satisfy your every two wheel need - A roads, B roads, narrow twisty and turny roads, and even the road that leads to the highest pub in England, The Tan Hill.

Head for the Dales. Ride safe and enjoy your summer.

John Newman
for Wemoto News

1 comment:

  1. Mmmm those are some of my ideal roads, for a little extra skill thrill try the road from Kendal to Sedburgh and then Hawes, brilliant though my usual is Leeds thru Ripon to Leyburn, Manor Cafe there, Hawes, Penny Garth cafe there, Kirkby Lonsdale via Ingleton/Ribblehead, Devils Bridge Cafe there, Kendal, Sedburgh Hawes again and Settle via Horton in Ribblesdale and then home to Leeds. An old git, 68, on an old bike '86 VF1000, but we still motor well !! Great article... Roger C Leeds