Ride of the Week - Kettlewell
The Yorkshire Dales are one of my favourite places to visit and I was back there this week to take on one of the hardest rides I have ever encountered. My thighs were cramping by the end of it and my calves were tight, but it took in some truly breath-taking scenery and was well worth the exertion.
1) Driving up to Kettlewell to begin this ride was a treat in itself and after I’d parked up behind the quaint local garage I was soon pedalling towards Buckden. From there, instead of tackling the Côte de Cray as I have done many times before, I followed signs towards Hubberholme and then on to Oughtershaw. This five-mile stretch loosely follows the River Wharfe and rises gradually along the way. I soaked in in the stunning backdrop as I rode, but no sooner had I exited Oughtershaw than I encountered Fleet Moss – one of Britain’s most infamous climbs. The gradient on its exposed face averaged 8% for the next 1.8 miles and an agonising ramp of 17% came just before the summit. It was torture from beginning to end and only later did I find out it features the highest road in the county – topping out at a lofty 601m!
2) The descent off it was even steeper and with no significant bends I could absolutely fly. I smashed my fastest-ever speed on a bike and only my nerves kept me from going even quicker. Exhilarating doesn’t even begin to describe it, and the experience almost made the preceding climb worthwhile. By the time I’d made it to Hawes I was buzzing and it took the long, flat section to West Witton which followed to regain my composure. I’d taken some food and drink on by the point as well which meant I was ready to face my next ascent up Witton Steeps. As the name suggests this is another tricky test with sections in excess of 30%, but I was able to grind my way up it in my smallest gear and the pain was over relatively quickly.
3) When I’d dropped into Melmerby I followed Cam Gill Road up through Coverdale and passed a procession of tiny villages which punctuated the picturesque farmland around me. The road rose more than it fell during this six-mile section and I was feeling the effects of my cumulative exertions even before I began my final climb of the day. That came as soon as I’d crossed the River Cover and proceeded for the next 2.5 miles or so. After scaling a steep initial ramp I was distracted by several Aberdeen Angus lying in my path, but fortunately they barely raised an eyebrow and I was able to pick my way through them with no further dramas. The climb then proceeded to chop and change in gradient all the way to the summit and that lack of consistency made it a really tough challenge. I was on my limit as I reached the marker stone at the top and hugely relieved that the vast majority of the ascending was now behind me.
4) The road temporarily plateaued as I crossed back into Wharfedale and it was when I was pushing on a bit here that those dreaded twinges of cramp first emerged. They temporarily rescinded on the descent which followed, which included another super-fast upper section before I dropped down the notorious Park Rash. There were signs urging caution about the steep gradients to come and I’m glad I took heed as one particularly perilous s-bend could easily have caught me off guard. After that only one short rise stood between me and home. No sooner had I got out of the saddle to tackle it though than the cramping returned and I was left reluctantly glued to my seat. Fortunately this climb proved a mere bump in the road compared to the beasts that had come before it and I was soon over its peak. One final short and technical descent into Kettlewell followed and I was back at my car with over 4000 feet of climbing in my legs, weary but with a sense of satisfaction that I’m sure many other cyclists will know.
Difficulty Rating: 5 stars
Time: 3 Hours (at 14mph average speed)
Distance: 42 miles (68km)
Parking: Car park behind Kettlewell Garage. Grid Ref: SD 96835 72295
Toilets: Located in the car park (see above)