Heart of the Dales
Stats: 36.3 miles and 2988 feet of ascent
Horton is the start of the famous ‘Three Peaks’ walk, so there are ample facilities. Public toilets are at the side of the car park. A couple of good cafes are within hobbling distance, and the Crown Inn offers good B&B, as do numerous other places in the vicinity. Nearby is the town of Settle, with even more extensive facilities. Bainbridge offers refuelling opportunities at the Rose and Crown.
This is a fantastically varied ride through the heart of the Dales. It packs in five serious climbs and enough teeth-rattling descents to leave the keenest rider satisfied. It has every surface on the menu – solid stone, rubble, chippings, grass, water splashes, fire road and even a few stretches of tarmac. The route here will test your stamina, your map reading, and your bike! The climbs are hard, but the descents are superb, with views to last a lifetime.
1. From Horton, slip round the back of The Crown, on the right, where the road dinks left. The byway is signposted to Birkwith Moor. Climb steadily on a stony drove road, ignoring any left forks.
Enter coniferous forest and follow a good track through the trees until the landscape starts opening out again around High Green Field. Keep avoiding left turns. The road becomes tarmac and falls gently into Langstrothdale at Beckermonds.
2. Hang a left here at 319m and dig in for the road climb up Oughtershaw Side to 589m, the highest road in the Dales. It’ll test your legs and your mind, as you enter the realms of Dales mountain biking.
On a clear day, the views are stunning, including south west to the sea at Heysham and east as far as Carlton Bank – almost coast to coast. Wild Boar Fell looks pretty tasty, too.
3. Follow the road down through a L-R zigzag but, where it plummets diagonally left to Hawes, fork right onto the Roman Road (Cam Road). Soon, Semer Water appears on the right. You probably already know it’s one of only three natural lakes in Yorkshire; the other two being Malham Tarn and Gormire Lake. But you probably didn’t know that Semer Water is a rare sheet of inland salt water. Hydrologists have attributed this to the tears of joy from mountain bikers as the descent becomes apparent.
4. It’s almost as if the Romans had set out to create the perfect MTB trail, leading arrow-straight towards the delights of Bainbridge. Be ready to give way to the Burtersett-Countersett road but, otherwise, it’s a fast, direct run. Get some nourishment in Bainbridge because you’ve still got three climbs to look forward to.
5. Leave the village green on the Leyburn Road. then swing right onto the Stalling Busk road after the bridge. Climb on tarmac to a radio mast and turn left here, signposted to Carpley Green. Semer Water looks good, nestling in Raydale to your right while the romantic, Arthurian fortress of Addlebrough rises impressively on the left.
6. Pass through the farm then trundle south to Stake Allotments but don’t expect cloth-capped gaffers bent over leeks – this is a mixture of rough pasture and peat haggs. Keep going south – you’ll need to turn left at a junction of trails.
7. Plunge down a rattly descent into upper Wharfedale – resisting the temptation to make the trail any wider. After all, you don’t want your suspension to miss out on the fun, do you? At the road, turn right then accelerate to warp speed down the road to Cray. Keep your wits about you, though, as you’ll need to fork right down a beautiful, narrow lane to Hubberholme. Go over the bridge by the church and turn right at The George.
8. Follow the road as far as Raisgill and turn left by the side of a row of cottages (“No motor vehicles” sign on gate). Climb round the back of the cottages, past an incongruous summer house, onto bracken-clad slopes. This is Horse Head Moor which, if you’re tiring, will be as welcome as a present from the Mafia. Do not be ashamed to push for a bit – you need to save some juice for Foxup Moor. But no matter your weariness, you’re going to love reaching the gate on the unusually well-defined watershed. First, the views down into Littondale are crowned by a magnificent prospect of Pen-y-Ghent and Ingleborough. But, more, immediately, the descent is a gem – a heady mix of grassy ribbons, rutted swoops, rubble-rattles and stream-
9. At the road, turn your exhilarated arse right to Foxup farm. Keep an eye for the bridleway through the gate on the left (signposted Horton). Climb up grassy pasture then zag to the right a couple of times through gates. Just after a steep climb at 450m, contour right on a narrow, grassy path.
10. Keep contouring except where a signpost invites you slightly higher to a good track skirting Plover Hill. Descend to the Horton Moor path up Pen-y-Ghent. Dink left a few metres here and the descent path will be seen – initally sketchy but improving. With first Ingleborough, then Pendle Hill as your beacon, head down to the final, blistering descent into Horton. – accompanied by a fusillade of bouncing rocks.