WHAW! WHAT A CORKER: RIDING TO THE TAN HILL INN

“A wild and lonely spot,” Tan Hill makes an irresistible target for a day ride of moderate distance but significant challenge. Stephen Dyster set out from Richmond for a lunchtime pint at England’s  most elevated inn.

View or download his route at Route You

Leaving late, but with the sun on my back and the climb commencing in the town, Richmond was surprisingly rapidly left behind. The prospect of open country and the high moors of the Pennines stimulate sprightliness in the most sluggish legs.

Sunshine with periods of high-but-dry cloud was the forecast and cyclists were out and about making the most of it. I took the undulating country road towards Marske. The village could be reached along the A6108 Richmond-Leyburn road and a right turn. A flatter route, indeed; save that for the rainy day. This morning’s views across Swaledale were magnificent visions of pasture, wood and moor.

A cycling event produced long lines of mountain bikers churning away steadily up the ferocious Clapgate climb from Marske, before turning onto tracks across the hillsides. This is a beetling, winding lane. For the descender there was much to admire, not least the smiles on the faces of most of those coming the other way; more than I might have managed.

The radical undulations continued to Fremington.

Reeth

From Fremington it is “nowt but a cockstride” to Reeth. Late-morning and the village green, thronged by motorcyclists and day-trippers, did not tempt me. Reeth is a tourist trap; I am determined to get there at an early hour one day and see the village green empty, Mind you, were there not a horde of tourists there would not be such an array of cafes and pubs for tourists on bicycles.

There is little danger of getting lost in Reeth. Noting the names of a couple of attractive B&Bs for future reference, pointing the wheel up Arkengarthdale and looking forward to the wilder country to come, I set-to to deal with the long climb up the valley.

Tan Hill

The Tan Hill Inn came into sight much as an outpost fort in a western movie. Around it were gathered the “wagons” of the travellers across this wild country. The natives are friendly.

Dating back to the seventeenth century, the inn served local miners as well as travellers. At 1732 feet above sea level it is Britain highest public house - and, unsurprisingly, the highest pub to offer cycling breaks.

Securing bike and entering the cool of the inn, one was immediately struck by the friendliness of the bar-staff and their interesting brand of gentle and pleasant sarcasm. One can go a long way to receive this sort of welcome; perhaps it is the wildness of the surroundings that makes everyone who has travelled under their own steam an old acquaintance to be greeted as if one were an old friend.

Over The Stang

Heading back down the road to Whaw was not only much quicker than the ascent, it gave a clearer picture of the gradient, which appeared to be steeper going this way. At Langthwaite, I turned to head over The Stang, aiming for the valley of the River Greta. The climb from Arkengarthdale is very steep in places, but not unremitting. Nor, with considerable height already gained, is it the longest climb by any means. Grind it out, I thought, and enjoy the gentler sections. I did, cresting the pass to look over Teesdale as it slices north-west into the northern Pennines.

Coming up from the Greta would be an altogether tougher ride. The main issue with the long descent of this side are a couple of hair-pin bends and the odd switchback section which almost got me airborne. An area of forestry gave a “highland” feel, but had, as ever, as many areas of desolation as of tree-lined road. Needless to say the whole business of getting down was rapid, though not as speedy as some might make it. I am something of a cautious descender on narrow roads.

There was, in any case little traffic, and the flow diminished further along the winding back lane through Scargill, Barningham and other villages all the way to Kirby Hill and on to Richmond. After a day on the moors, this little road is a beauty; wooded dells, hay meadows, changing views, hardy stone villages looking north across Teesdale. This feels like an out of the way road, one which few people know of and where the tourists don’t go, though it is, of course, no secret and there were other privileged cyclists who shared it.

Kirby Hill has a sturdily built pub, but a good place for a break, if needed, was found on the hidden village green. Obscured for the road, away through a stone gateway, surrounded by delightful stone cottages and enclosed on one side by the church, a place to put up the feet for a few minutes and soak up a bit of sun before heading over the hill back to Swaledale and Richmond.

Information:

This would make a good mid-length trip for someone who wants to push themselves amongst fine scenery or a good day tour. For folk who like shorter days there is plenty of accommodation in the area.

Distance  : 49.5 miles (79 kilometres)

Total ascent : 5511 feet (1680 metres)

The route is almost entirely on OS 1 : 50 000 sheet 92, with just the section from Marske to slightly beyond Reeth on sheet 98, basically a right turn in Fremington (signposted Reeth ) and a right turn in the centre of Reeth.

Reeth has several cafes and pubs and there are others in several of the villages along the route, but opening hours vary considerably, so best keep stocked up with goodies and vital hydration. The Tan Hill Inn is equipped to deal with the needs of tourists and travellers.

Information about cycling from theTan Hill Inn http://tanhillinn.com/activities/cycling/breaks/

PUBLISHED JUNE 2017

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