My biking year … en retard.

December 31, 2012 § 1 Comment

I have almost forgotten that this blog was supposed to deal with whisky, hills and bikes in equal measure so here is my year-end attempt to redress the balance as the whisky-related posts have been much to the fore.

Saturday May 12th, 2012 at Tan Hill Inn.

Saturday May 12th, 2012 at Tan Hill Inn.

Over the past couple of years I have chummed up with my biking mates (some of whom have been mentioned in previous posts)  and we generally try to escape on weekend trips in the early, mid and late summer. One of us is accorded routemaster status on a daily basis while an accommodation supremo deals with the thorny problems of where to stay well in advance.

The early trip was from 11-13 May to the to the North of England with Nigel (BMW RGS1200) deciding that we should head for the Tan Hill Inn in North Yorks for the Friday night and I would decide the route there. My not inconsiderable skills on Google Earth would be put to good use as I had decided that come what may the chaps would never forget how we got there. All bike trips should be memorable, never forgettable. With that tenet in mind, I set to work. I decided we should approach Tan Hill in roughly this way. Down the A7 to Longtown, then on to Brampton (really simple this bit so no one would get lost), then to Alston, down Teesdale to Barnard Castle, then on to Bowes, crossing the A66 and up onto the moor leading to the Pennine Way where a clearly marked farm track leads¬† directly to Tan Hill. I called the inn to make sure we could approach along this route and was told it would be fine. In the true spirit of 2012, clearly ‘Not a problem’ then. I did however let the chaps know that this last 8 miles was adventure biking so it would be stand-up-in-the-stirrups country. As usual, no-one paid me a blind bit of notice.

We agreed to meet in Selkirk with the main group coming down from Edinburgh, myself from Moffat and Nigel crossing over from St Boswells. In total there were six of us: Nigel, Peter (Triumph Explorer 1200), myself (Honda VFR750), Ally (Honda Blackbird 1000), Neil (Triumph ST 955i), and Graham (BMW RGS1200 Adventure). They were late of course, except Ally, and we headed off to Langholm and Longtown with me leading, Ally next (team HRC) followed by the others. At Longtown, where there is a muckle sign stating: ‘Brampton A6071, 11 miles’ we all turned left. From here you meander though estuarine farmland, then through Smithfield to Irthing bridge where there are traffic lights. In Smithfield I checked to see that we were all in convoy, and at the bridge Ally pulled up beside me. We waited and went but it looked like the rest of the crew had got lost. By Brampton it was clear they had so Ally went back and I phoned Peter. ‘Neil, we don’t have a fecking clue where we are!’ Brilliant. Follow a main road for 11 miles and the ‘Adventure’ bikes go and get lost.

Most of us managed to eventually regroup on the A689 that took us to Alston where Neil and Graham were already esconced in the The Swan’s Head pub. With coffee ingested we needed to get a shift on as we had to get to Tan Hill before 9pm or we’d miss the food. The weather was foul now and the run over the top and down Teesdale was ruined by strong winds and lashing rain but we managed to get to the start of the moor road beyond Bowes by 8pm. Not far now.

Soon tarmac turned to rough track and than after passing a farm I noticed the shut gate ahead. A sign hanging on it stated ‘Road Ahead Not Suitable for Motorised Vehicles.’ There was only one thing for it … bluff it out. I swung the gate open and signalled the team through telling Nigel to stop at the fork a mile ahead. This was not quite going according to plan but I caught up with them and Nigel checked his satnav to show 4 miles to go. It was 8.20 and I lead off the up the track on full beam (it was May but bleakly dark up there) and I soon was up on the pegs guiding the VFR between runnels and potholes that cars would definitely have baulked at. Then I was hit with a bout of ‘hazard fixation’ as I trundled towards a washed out long section that appeared no wider than the bike and about a foot deep. I froze and was in it before I knew it then almost as quickly out of it. The Honda barely missed a beat and there was no contact with the ground. This, I felt, was the limit of my daily dose of luck so I went extra canny from then on.

After a mile, the lights disappeared in my mirrors so I stopped. Nobody was behind me. Shit. I started back and after 200 metres lights appeared over the hill. Graham pulled up. ‘Where are they? I asked. ‘Dunno. I lost them way back. I’ll go back and check.’ He then began a multi-point turn which on a tank like a RGS1200 Adventure ain’t easy. But Graham was not fazed … ‘It’s got traction control mate. It’s a dawdle … ‘ And so the longest turn in biking history commenced and the traction control wouldn’t work so muggins ended up behind the beast pushing it back up onto the track after Graham had reminded himself not to let the bike go back too far otherwise it might slip off the edge and … oh dear, what happened there, could you give me a wee push mate … You get the gist of this I am sure. I pushed and pushed, the BeeEm huffed and puffed and eventually 300kgs of bike and rider started off down the road again just as two pairs of headlights appeared over the horizon. The intelligence delivered by these two intrepid adventurers (Nigel and Pete) was that Neil had capsized the Triumph and Ally was helping him get back on the road. Oh and my name had been mentioned several times in the same sentence as a number of Anglo-Saxon sweary words and also the words ‘kill’ and ‘dead’.

I told the boys to head on to Tan Hill and secure our supper while I stayed back for Neil and Ally. I kept my helmet on. Soon they appeared and looked none the worse but the Triumph was burning some oil on the exhausts that had come out of a breather pipe when it was cowped. Fortunately, the bike had gone over onto heather and soft turf so there was no discernible damage and Neil did not attack me so things were on the up.

We all got in just in time before our host, Terry, assumed we had been slaughtered by the beast of Sleightholme Moor. By God, this place is as bleak as it gets. Mile after mile of unremitting black and grey heath and upland moor and not a soul in sight. But the inn is great.

A good time was had by all.

A good time was had by all.

We had an exceptional night in the bar, one that will not be forgotten soon. My highlight was Terry revealing that he used to be one of Alabama 3‘s roadies before the joys of running a bar at 528m in Yorkshire seduced him to draw ale for the walkers on the Pennine Way. Pubs like this are the future, although they are almost wholly resonant of the past.

The next part of the trip took us to a curious wee port on the east coast of Northumberland but more of that in the next few days as it is time for Hogmanay and I promise to make more regular posts next year … starting almost immediately!

Fred says Happy New Year from the Tan HIll Inn ... in May!!

Terry says Happy New Year from the Tan HIll Inn … in May!!

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