It’s 8.15am and I am ready to leave the house when my friend, Rod, from the Trail Riders arrives. We need to get to Masham for 9am to hook up with the other riders who are on this 4-day trip.
Two of them were already there when we arrived, both as wet as we were. But then I spotted John approaching the café. He did his usual nifty one leg over the bike dismount and walked in looking somehow unlike us. He’d driven up in his van and was completely dry. Our destination was a village near Stanhope in Weardale but we were planning on taking in a few lanes en route.
Overcooking it on a small ford
I was familiar with all the trails as far as Hawes which is usually the furthest point. Beyond that, it was all new. The Lady Ann Highway, now a considerably shortened version of its previous self since the NERC Act of 2005, felt remote and exciting. Three of our party took off at speed on this section. I rode more slowly with Rod following a short way behind. As a result, he was treated to the sight of me overcooking it on a small ford, swerving violently to the right, then to the left before laying the bike down on the trail. Well, at least it had stopped raining although all of us were soaking wet from the groundwater.
The next highlight was a loose rocky track leading up to the splendidly situated Hartside café which overlooks the distant Solway Firth. As we approached our B&B we took in the highest UCR (unclassified road) in England known as Grasshill Causeway. This loose, rocky climb required speed and confidence to get up it smoothly. I set off and the boys whizzed past one by one.
All of us were delighted to get to our excellent pub accommodation and get showered before having a beer and some good food.
We headed north over some excellent farm and moorland tracks and had lunch in Bellingham in a café based in the old workhouse which is surprisingly large and gives an indication of how much rural poverty there must have been in this part of the world. None of the trails presented any technical difficulty today and it was a chance to relax and enjoy the edges of Kielder Forest and Hadrian’s Wall. Today was one of the best days of trail riding I have ever done. Nothing is more exhilarating and fun.
On day 3 we headed west into Cumbria
The tracks were varied; fast and undulating, loose and rocky, slippery, sloppy and rutted with a few stream crossings thrown in. Limestone Brae was a challenge. I avoided but the lads took it on confidently. Descending a steep hairpin track to a tricky stream crossing and climbing abruptly out the other side. This was another great day with the added bonus of ladies’ darts night in the pub that evening which made for some jolly banter.
It’s tough for the rider doing three consecutive days but I have to say the good old Honda CRF250L stood up to it really well. It gives stability for the road work and is pretty much bomb-proof on the trail. So good in fact that my very experienced and skilful friend sold his KTM EXC and bought one too!