For non-residents of the Pennine Hills of the North of England the term Moss in a place name refers to the glacially flattened boggy hill tops of the local fells. These are the quiet unpopulated moorland places beloved of bike riders, ramblers and squawky ginger game birds and the people who shoot them, unknown to the wider world until the helicopters of the global media filmed the Tour de France taking in a couple of these fells during it’s emotionally received two day northern excursion away from it’s continental comfort zone the weekend before last and probably forgotten by the same world as soon as the race crossed the Channel.
Sitting by the roadside on the moor waiting for the bike race that weekend and between nattering with other bike fans, taking photos of gorrillas on bianchis and pushing small children out of the way to grab the free Haribo I couldn’t help mentally wandering off up some of the other routes you can see from up there and in particular up this one which climbs high above the moor after talking a right turn as you climb out of the village, after the cattle grid but just before where a big arrow pointing to Paris remains chalked on the tarmac.
In someways the Moss would have made a more worthy Tour climb, being that little bit higher, that little bit steeper, and the road staying up high for longer. It would only have added a few kilometres to the route but it always seems to be viewed as the poor relation of its shorter neighbour, a bit of a backwater. Perhaps this is because it doesn’t function as the through route that the moor to the east is for normal traffic, perhaps because those few extra metres of height make a surprising difference to the amount of snow and ice on the road in winter, perhaps it’s just not sexy enough but the Moss just doesn’t get the appreciation it deserves, and that includes from me.
I am not a very frequent blog updater this time of year; summer is short and time outdoors precious and spent riding my bike rather than writing about riding it but it’s worth taking the time to give a mention to the backwaters and the bypassed, the unglamorous and the unclassified, the road less travelled because that’s a big part of what I at least ride for in the first place.
A big blue TV camera crane sits raised off its wheels at the top of the hill with the engine running to keep the driver, presumably stuck on top of the moor in his lorry cab until Saturday, in heating and phone charges and kettle re-boils, men in pick up trucks are putting up fencing and tape and signs, blue portaloos cluster like penguins against the wind on roadside gravel hardstandings, a caravan of estate cars with bike laden roofracks winds its way laboriously up the dale toward fields hastily rebranded as campsites and graffiti, some already fading from the weather after only a few days, marks out the road surface as somewhere where something big is going happen but the moor is still somewhere I can head to when the day is nearly done and feel a kind of peace I don’t find in many other places and the Tour de France Yorkshire Grand Départ local organisers’ estimate of 25,000 people, a number you’d have to go quite a long way to gather from the permanent population, who’ll be on the moor on Saturday only makes the quietness of this evening all the more pronounced, almost touchable, so even amongst all the many moments I’ve passed up here this was a particularly special one.
There still exists in english common law the ancient offence of takingitmuchtooseriously however as is the case with the law about practising archery at weekends it is little prosecuted in today’s po-faced world but with the Tour de France only a few weeks away never has there been so much of this kind of thing around; Schools which plan to close on Friday due to a bike race which starts on Saturday because ‘the roads will be busy’ although not too busy for the teachers to drive to the airport for a long weekend no doubt, people who retired to villages sometimes inaccessible for days in winter writing letters to the local press about running out of Viagra on Saturday lunchtime and not being able to go for more out until after tea, and earnest looking men, brows furrowed beneath dark glass and plastic hats with proper shoes and everything riding the parcours and looking disapprovingly at local riders out for a spin and going the wrong way over the Côte de Somethingorother. Thank goodness then for the makers of this video who would not be found guilty by any court of takingitmuchtooseriously although they might get issued a ticket for shamelesslytakingthepiss out of something we’re all to supposed to be approaching as if it’s a natural disaster rather than a brilliant day out watching a bike race.
Last weekend I went for a ride outside of my local patch and despite riding a fair few metres of hills which by reason of being gone up had to be gone down as well my humble Cateye only managed to recall a maximum speed all day of little more than the pace at which I glide down my own valley on a gentle summer evening spin because the roads were too wet and knackered to go down at a much quicker rate than they’d been gone up at and despite heading out in, and keeping on all day, winter kit of long sleeves, long legs, long fingers, and waterproof everything I was still cold and wet right through to my very bones by the end. I love riding through the winter for the most part. I love the empty roads, the snow on the heather, the dark skies, the clarity of the light, the low sun, the long shadows causing my own head and shoulders to ride abreast of me along the stone walls on the far side of the road, riding out of and above a valley mist, the feeling returning to my fingers from grasping a warm coffee with both cold hands and returning to my toes in a warm shower. Spring brings with it tourists unable to negotiate anything with a bend sharper than the curve of the London ringroad motorway in their ugly oversized cars with oversized roofrack suitcase box things screwed to the top, agressive moorland birds nervous for their chicks, skittish ewes convinced, not entirely unreasonably as they’ll find out a bit later in the year, that someone wants to take their lambs, flat dull light on a landscape that can look as ill at ease exposed to the sunshine as some its inhabitants, this inhabitant here included, the weight of an extra water bottle on the bike, other riders in garish and luminous kit who look at me kind of strange because I’m not, by reason of not being on a building site, riding my bike in building site regulation protective gear, and bugs, lots of bugs, and then some more bugs after that. But heck, despite how at this time of year everything, human and animal, needs to calm down a bit and despite the appeal of, or maybe just habituation to, the dark months it is quite nice, like today, to go out and be on home turf, and be warm, and go fast down a hill every now and again isn’t it?