Exploring Upper Nidderdale – With Lee Williams (Orbea Bike, U.K. Marketing Lead)
There are no days that are too cold are too damp to ride – skin is waterproof and it’s simply a question of having good kit. Coming from a climbing background, I’ll often wrap up in winter and head into the hills; and so, when Lee decided to head up to Yorkshire in late November, then I had just the right ride waiting for him. Rising early, we set off for the small and remote hamlet of Dallowgill, whose residents are mainly moorland sheep and few small farms and interspersed cottages. The road itself heads nowhere other than Dallowgilll, eventually ending and literally becoming a track that climbs onto the moorland.
Taking the Road to Nowhere
Parking the van at the start of what is known locally as ‘the Mosaic Trail’, bikes were chosen, with Lee taking the Orbea Rise E-MTB, and me taking the Orbea Oiz Cross Country bike, kitted out with a Shimano XTR groupset – perfect for the slick changes and swift and subtle braking that would be required on today’s technical trails. The initial rocky double track rose towards the ridge line, giving us a chance to chat and take in the solitude of the valley. Whilst the clouds were low, they lifted themselves just above the valley, framing it and causing our eyes to focus deeply on the sublimity. We soon reached the gate at the top of the moorland, and as we closed it behind us, it was time for me to let Lee loose on one the best all year around natural descents in Europe, and one that we’d managed to extend by starting at Dallowgill – local knowledge coming good.
In truth, the main reason that we ride up hills, is to enjoy racing down them with the shingle and rocks causing the tyres to dance. That feeling of freedom and controlled danger, as our reflexes and skills are tested; where line choice and focus, speed of thought and the quickness of our reflexes are all that stands between us two wheeled catastrophes. Watching Lee fly down the steep and technical trail, I simply tried to keep him in view as he leapt the small rocky elements that gave the opportunity for air, landing skilfully on the loose surface and continuing downward at pace, with the placement of one or two gated walls being the only thing to slow his dynamic progress. The Orbea Rise was as at home in this terrain as the nearby sheep… only moving far faster.
Approaching Ramsgill itself, the trail becomes more technical, and bravery and luck are required in equal measure for the average rider. However, Lee is no average rider, having a background in racing these trails at the highest level, and he was revelling in the technical elements and heading for Ramsgill faster than a Shephard’s sheep dog. His smile as we reached the gate at the trail bottom was wide and open, and his eyes alive with adrenaline:
‘Man, that was awesome!’ An apt description.
Over the Hills & Far Away
Having now joined the loop as it starts at Wath, he headed along the bridleway that climbs farmland and meadows between Ramsgill and Lofthouse. The track is easily followed, as it rises and falls, with a steep climb halfway along, taking you to a terrific viewpoint across the valley. Eventually, this pure XC trail descends and joins a walled track that twists its way to a steep cobbled descent that requires skilful control, before you join the narrow tarmac road and bridge at Studfold Farm, deep in Upper Nidderdale and definitely off the beaten track.
From here, due to wanting to share a geological surprise with Lee, we headed up the narrow lane to the cafe at How Stean Gorge, for coffee and cake and views. The limestone river bed has cut and carved its way narrowly through the valley here, creating a superb rocky feature that can be explored as a climb and river gorge adventure under the right supervision. However, for us on this day, we needed the dry of the cafe, the views through the specially gutted glass floor to the river and gorge… and cake.
Once refreshed and Lee having seen the dramatic limestone gorge, cave entrances etc, it was time to saddle up again, and take on the imposing road climb to the village of Middlesmoor. With a 25% section near the top, this was no easy task, but it did bring us directly onto the superb bridleway that climbs through the valley, before overlooking the reservoirs at the valley head.
Scar House Descent & Onwards to the Ridge
The relentless climbing from Middlesmoor led us further and further away from settlements, as the long sweeping Yorkshire Dales hills lay before us, with epic views in all directions. With the cloud hanging low and a dampness to the air, it all seemed even more dramatic than usual, with the colours of nature more vibrant too. Once we’d closed the gate to the Middlesmoor track behind us, it was time again to let Lee loose and ride ahead, tackling the superb descent to Scar House.
Initially, the track is reasonably smooth, with some loose surface shingle. However, once it reaches the steeper terrain and it weaves itself into the hillside, rock drops and rock gardens line the way, as sharp turns also await. However, all I could hear was the movement of rocky debris under tyres, as Lee swept along and leapt airborne at every opportunity, taking the corners at speed as the Orbea Rise ate into the loose rock and gravelly tracks. My own decent on the Oiz was a far more restrained affair. It had tackled the long climb with ease, and it was definitely designed for this type of terrain – however, whilst it is local for me, too much time on the roads in recent years, meant that a degree of caution was required if I was to safely re-join Lee at the bottom of this sublime and technical descent. Thankfully, some latent skill and muscle memory came to the fore and I was soon down and joining Lee, already taking 8n the views across the open water towards the ethereal and picturesque arched causeway bridge that led our way across the water.
Climbing to the Ridge
At this point in proceedings, with so much climbing already done, being a good 17 years or so older than Lee and he being a former national XC champion, it was local knowledge and mental strength that was keeping me going. The valley was alive with vibrancy and winter colour, with the low cloud framing it, adding to the extraordinary beauty and feeling of remoteness. We were literally at the end of the road, where cars simply park up and unload hikers, before having to turn around to escape Nidderdale. The only routes ahead were the bridleways and hill tracks that led upwards and into other valleys, or along the ridge that skirts Nidderdale. It was this route that awaited us, with a long climb that only eased slightly after about 2km, before dropping us steeply down a loose and twisting track, crossing a small river bed before climbing a 30%+ slope to escape. Lee was in his element and his smile radiated across the valley, whilst I did my best to keep him in view.
The Orbea Oiz was in its natural terrain and ate up the incline, driving forward like a leashed hound. All I had to do was to get the right gear and smoothly turn the cranks to a rhythm that was almost musical in its fluidity. All around us lay a sublime tapestry of wild and remote hills, and for miles all we could see was the greenery and the stoic sheep, with their winter coats holding the weather at bay.
Eventually, the inclines turned again in our favour, allowing me to take on a gate opening duties once more. We reached the high point of the ridge and the track begin to swoop gently downwards in that style which allows you to play with the bike and simply be a kid again, enjoying the emptiness of the wild moorland, feeling the wind on your face as you pick up speed and dance over the rocks. We stopped by the shooting hut at Thorpe Edge, where on a different day, a 1-in-2 technical rock garden descent awaits the brave and skilled. Thankfully, we were heading towards the top of Lofthouse Bank, and crossing the tarmac road onto the last stretch of trails, with a speedy and exceptionally loose but fun trail to tackle before the final climb.
Along the Shooting Road
With numerous kilometres already under our belt, killer climbs and endless epic descents, I was keen for Lee to see this next trail section. The landowner has created a superb loose gravel and rocky double track that runs alongside the edge of the wild moorland, which is used for transporting high paying shooting parties from the nearby expensive manorial hotels. Every few hundred metres, the track is slowed (for 4 wd vehicles) by raised speed ramps, which work the opposite for mountain bikers, as they simply provide us with an opportunity to gain airtime on an already fast and descending track. DST of all, this track goes almost straight for approximately 3km too, meaning that the smiles live long. Lee was off like a frenzied hare, with the gravel crunching below the wheels of the Orbea Rise, and he dances lightly and skilfully, skidding for effect and flying off the ramps at every opportunity, landing with the skill of a pilot.
All too soon the speed was curtailed, as the track evened out, flowing alongside a small forestry area, before we reversed the initial descent, now climbing back up to the gated ridge that overlooks the remote hamlet of Dallowgill.
All Rides Should Finish Thus
With the final steep climb tackled, all that lay ahead was a fast and furious rocky trail down to Dallowgill once more. It was a well-deserved fast finish to a superb ride, as we swept along at speed, riding side by side on the loose double track, with the sound of crunching gravel as the orchestra playing our tune. All too soon the rocky track gave way to tarmac and we rolled back to the small grassy, isolated parking area and our transport home. We’d taken on the classic Nidderdale Loop i winter, adding our own Dallowgill twist to proceedings, and both Orbea bikes had loved it as much the riders had.
Once changed and looking slightly presently to normal society once more, we headed to nearby Masham and the famed ‘Johnny Baghdad’s’ cafe in the corner of the square, to refill our energy levels and to begin to relive the awesome adventure that we’d shared. As remote rides go, it had def even a classic, with steep climbs defiantly challenging both the Orbea Rise and the Oiz. However, in the battle of power and performance, Orbea had won the day and claimed the right to descend the sublime technical tracks of the Nidderdale valley.
We’d ticked off the first remote ride for our blog readers, and it had set a high standard for the routes that are to follow. The only question left to consider was – where to next!
Robert Thorpe, Pedalnorth Media & Lake Cycling Shoes Editor, with Lee Williams, Orbea Bikes