Pack up and leave Harrogate by about 9am, after I buy some much needed groceries and water. My friend Randy tells me that I should not miss the Yorkshire Dale’s, so I make changes to my route which had been headed towards Newcastle upon Tyne. This next part is wee bit embarrassing, but a good lesson and I will share it with all of you. I don’t think I had ridden 5. Miles out and the rain came hard out of the north, along with a cutting cold wind. I was cycling thru an RAF Military Base, and was riding past a dense stand of trees. I actually rold off the road into the trees, I began by getting my full rain suit on….rubber pants that will hold 5 gallons of water per leg and most of that is sweat. A second shirt to cut the wind, a full rain jacket and a pair of seal skin rubber gloves……..you guessed it, I am already drenched and wondering the wisdom of it all. While I stood there, partially sheltered by the dense stand of trees, I seriously thought of throwing up my tent till the rain quit?? Right then, not but 10 feet from me……..two riders pass, bare legged, no rain gear, just wind proof anoraks on. They were busy talking back and forth and didn’t even see me.
That’s it, what the heck if two kids on bikes can pedal thru this rain as if it’s not there, surely I am either as tuff of dumb as them……I mean ain’t I. Out I go, suited up and chasing them down. But the little buggers just seem to have vanished in the rain screen ahead of me. Up, down, right turn, left turn, another lane junction and still nothing. Ah, what the heck they must have pulled over and put their tent up I bet. Nope, about 3 maybe 4 miles ahead, I make a tight turn left and downhill on yet another tiny lane, and passing thru a corpse of small trees, there they are standing fully exposed to wind and rain, smiling and eating fold-whiches. Those are the type of sandwich that a lazy person makes, slam in a slice of cheese and bologna, fold the slice over and gett’er down in 2 bites. That’s exactly what they were doing. SORRY, I FORGOT TO TAKE A PICTURE. Anyways, they were almost same age as me, a man and a woman, bare legged, walking shorts and a singlet and an anorak is all…….and I am standing there freezing. As we briefly visit, we figure out we are all basically headed in the same direction, me fully loaded, and them not loaded. I left before they were done, and about 5 miles later as I grunted my way up a hill, they passed me…YES, on the dang hill. EMBARRASING, may have to send my man card back.
Caves, cafe and tea the sign reads and I roll in like its magnetic. First things first, ask if they have a bathroom and I am praying they have one with those blower dryers. God is good, they do. 45 minutes later, I have a dry jacket, pants, and both shirts, all dried nicely under that blower……not sure if the blower is still working today? I head upstairs, dried out, and warmed up, have a hot tea and a soda biscuit. As I sit, it rains hard, so I drink slower, as it lightens up, I got ready to leave but dressed differently this time. Shorts only, unzipped sleeves on my rain jacket and I headed out in wind and rain to ride further.There were much bigger hills ahead, and it didn’t take long to get heated up. The outer edges and tops of the Dale’s area is pretty sparse with any sort of trees, and the wind is really howling strait out of the north and more often than not it is directly in my face. My little tent needs some wind protection to make a stand thru the night. I need a grove of trees, or the protection of a rock wall for instance, and that’s is what I am on the hunt for as I ride.
The following day was heavily overcast, the weather report had said rain for the next 6 to 7 days. I rode without expectation of sunshine that day, and fully expecting to get soaked again. But God indeed had different plans for me. Rode up a ton of short but real steep little hills. It’s not just that the hill is pitched at say 15%, it’s that you hit a literally 90 degree corner then the climb so all momentum is lost, you are frantically shifting down and the chain is wondering which cog it is actually supposed to stay on…..would you please make up your mind. All total that day, we done 6 hills at 16%, one at 20% and I can’t remember how many at less than that……I was pooped. Riding along and it’s about 6afterish PM and I am thinking of a place to camp. Wow, look at that, right beside the road, a 2 story rock barn, rock fences and a 12 foot gate totally swung back leaving an open entry. Checked it out and it looked perfect, found some flat ground tucked in behind the rock fence and set up my tent……even sat down in the door of the tent and ate a simple cold supper. My mistake I think, was getting up to walk out and enjoy the beautiful sunshine that had poked thru the clouds.
Mere minutes later a car rolls up and a young fella jumps out. He is on the prod, and it’s not hard to tell, he is just waiting for me to pop off, ……he tells me to get the F off the place…..NOW. So, I pack it all up, and get on my way again. But by now heavy rain clouds had built up right out in front of me, and I thought oh crap, there goes my dry camp for the night. Rode hard for the next 2 miles, and spotted a cricket pitch and set my tent up right there. Had a quick visit with a fisherman who was walking back to his car. Lots of nice Browns and Rainbows, best to just use worms when the water is this high he tells me. Do that and you will go home with fish he says.
The following day could not have been more glorious, huge puffy white cumulus clouds greeted the morning sun, and brilliant blue sky enveloped the expanse above. The angling rays of morning sun added depth and character to the rugged landscape, bleating sheep with lambs in tow grazed around lazily, song birds and wild blossoms adding to the natural tapestry of the Dale’s. There were eye hurting greens, and purest of whites, broken by absolute miles of hand stacked rock walls and Laiths. If you pay close attention, and start counting there are thousands of simple 2 story barns, which are called “laiths” by the locals. These act as protection from severe weather for the sheep, but also they are for hay storage in the worse seasons. It would be very common for these barns to be 16 by 30 feet in dimension, and all dry stacked rock meaning no mortar.
The number of miles of hand stacked rock is staggering, it would be a huge number for sure. To see it in person on a clear day, to see how far up into the moors ( moors are the top most country which is treeless and covered in a variety of weather that turns deep purple in the fall ) and upon how steep of ground the rock has been stacked is mi d boggling. Apart from all that, the sheer size of the base rocks is just frightening, given the time frame when this work was done, it leaves me wondering how did they actually manage the rocks themselves. The men must have been like iron for sure, as many walls are a full 8 foot height and of tapering thickness from several feet thick to about 18″ width at the top. As if that were not enough, there is often one faith per small fenced field, a field varies in size by seldom do you see one that would be over 50 acres in size. The Dale’s we first inhabited by the Vikings they think, Lord knows where they parked their boats???? So who stacked all this rock and does it still go on today, all God questions. Certainly the Vikings stacked some, but the bulk of the rock was stacked between 1600 and 1800 time period.
There are professional rock stackers today, of course they are universally known as stone masons. But dry stack, which is a Yorkshire trait, is a different breed from that of stacking brick and mortar. Dry stack requires careful thought and planning as small shim rocks are inserted in JUST THE RIGHT SPOT to aid it keeping a wall strait and level. It is the most time consuming method on one hand, but also the cheapest as it requires no mortar etc.i did see a brand new lrock house being erected all dry stack, and walls of a out 2 foot thickness, two story with huge wooden beams laid in place for second floor supports. The roof was just going up as I rode by, bare and naked with the heavy timber rafters exposed, left me the I impression that these were timbers cut green and framed up from that state, not a load of lumber from a yard.
While riding, I did not see one person walking with his trusty order collie companion, seen tones of “trekkers”, re recognizable in there brilliant colored gear, but not one old fellow walking with his heavy wool sweater and the iconic black and white dog we know and love. So who tends the sheep, and who repairs the walls. Obviously, many men today who may have been out walking the moors. y day in James Herriots day, have a town job somewhere, that would be my best guess. As to the walls, while they are very expensive to maintain, they are exceptionally expensive to build today. That cost is. ore in large part by an agreement with the EU Farming Protocol. To assure the continuation, and enhancement of a unique cultural region and experience, the maintainenece is in part shared thru the whole of the EU. To what extent, of that I am not sure, but the program does exist.
Well hello I say, as a fellow long haul cyclist and I meet on an incredibly steep hill. His name Terry, hails from New Zealand, also a world cyclist. Older than I, he being 73, you will find that the UK has some of the toughest cycling you can find he assures me. Barely a s ow capped peak, save for but a few further north. Here you can encounter five 20% climbs within a single mile in some areas, and then a long grade at 10-15% for as much as 2 miles. Terry is tall, rugged and fit for his age, causing me to ask what he done for a living before he retired. Well he says, do we simple workers ever really get to retire?? When life began I was a school teacher at the High School level, had a wife and all the rest. But the wife up and left, and the kids are more painful to deal with each day it seems. One day while sitting having tea in the comfort of my English home on a Saturday morning. I noticed an ad in the paper that read ” wanted, apple pickers in New Zealand”, that was in 1972. I have picked apples and other things every season since, I live quite simply on the west coast of the best island, that being the south island he says with a wink. Of yes, I do some substitute tea thing and fill ins at the Post Office when regulars goes on holidays. Basically, I try to make enough extra every year to simp,y escape the New Zealand winter, which is rain everyday for three months. I love to go to USA or Australia, get out I to the outback of OZ or into Nevada and Arizona. Just dry out a little he says with a smile. I love USA he claims, the rest of the world could use a little of your countries freedoms.
We part ways, me to the north and he to the south. I cycle thru Thwaite and have tea and reflect a little on the conversation with Terry. It reminds me of a similar talk I had with Chris and Jennifer just 2 days before while standing on a brilliant stone bridge in Bainbridge. I sure wish we had a flaming red headed Prime Minister says Chris. This country could use a swift kick in the economical pants, it’s just atrocious how these politicians run the country. Barry a one of me has ever worked out here where us stiffs make a go of it. Ah Chris, but he is so rude isn`t he says Jennifer, his wife. Yeah, I`all grant ya that gun. So, I ask them if they ever tire of political merry-go-round answers. Where they talk for 5 minutes but never answer the actual question. Of my God yes, we are both so sick of the verbal escape plan. So I says, when President Trump stands up and says XYZ without and extra fluff, why is he all of a sudden crude and uncouth? Well you have a point there says Jennifer……..maybe he could soften the tone just a tad says Chris. We have been to USA several times they tell me, just love it, especially southwest, like Cody and Sedona. I bought a hat and boots I was so impressed with cowboys, seen them all over on the streets of Cody, had ta have me a pair as well. Those boots, they make a person walk funny now don’t they. Did not have the heart to tell him that good boots don’t make you walk funny, and most of the cowboys he seen where other tourists who arrived the day before. None of that was important, the essense of what made America great to him was our apparent freedoms. Praise God above, for the greatest nation on earth JW added this.