I think it may obliglatory under some rule somewhere to mention the winter solstice tomorrow when the up until now three or so minute daily loss of light reverses and we start clawing back our days from the greedy southern hemispherists who stole them. When eventually in a few weeks the difference becomes really noticable I certainly won’t miss the semi-nocturnal existance of going out and coming home in the dark all week but the seasonal version of Stockholm Syndrome which I have started to exhibit means I know that I will miss the long shadows of the lunchtime dusk and mid afternoon sunsets glimpsed during the working day. Also, at the end of a long bike ride or any day in fact I am sure I look much better under subdued light conditions. The weather forecast currently suggests that the star of the show is unlikely to show up for long on the big day itself tomorrow but I don’t want the bike blog police to knock on the door asking difficult questions about my attitude to marking diary dates in the outdoor calender because I’m already on the naughty list for not taking it seriously enough and not wearing a bike helmet when reading Rouleur
magazine so here is some of today’s sunlight from over the hill in Cumbria where it is worth extra credit in front of any jury by reason of how little they see of it over there on their slightly rainy west facing side of the Pennines. I suppose once upon a time the whole culture of these islands centred around the sun with huge monuments aligned with the sunrays as they fell on the summer and winter solstices and although we may like to think we’ve moved on a bit since then I’m not sure if we have really except nowadays instead of stone circles to bring us closer to the warmth and to the light we have Easyjet
and deep down we’re just as afraid of the dark as we have always been, and in fact as nobody had to face trying to get in a mid week evening bike ride in December whilst struggling against the cold, terrible roads, drunk drivers and the weight of their spare batteries exceeding that of the bike they were riding in the Stone Age, maybe even more now than then.
Today was quite cold, the first proper cold of the winter really, a cold which puts a hard white frost on the meadows of the valley floor, a cold which lays swatches of frozen run-off shining diagonally across moorland roads in the low sun, and a cold which forces bike riders to put on their thick top, their thick gloves, their thick hat which they think looks cool but everyone else, well, doesn’t, and their thick bottoms which, unused since February and reinforced against the wind have all the flexibility of a pair of wet levis left overnight on a Moscow January washing line, all to pursuade their legs to go outside the front door. Also a cold however which, early on a Saturday morning at least, clears the roads of anyone who doesn’t have a border collie and an expectant ewe on the backseat of their car, a cold which means a stop for coffee before the last leg home can be defended as essential to ensure that all ten toes remain attached to their respective feet when the salt splattered smurf shoes come off at the end of the ride free of the nervousness of being seen as the style-concious see-and-be-seen continental affectation of summer and a cold which at last brings the prospect, maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but some day, of snow on the fells and the hope that following a slightly off-key start weatherwise and despite all the unmeteorological stresses and strains it brings December will be magic again
I like to imagine that the road builders of old, working as two gangs heading north from Kettlewell and South from Carlton, met up at Park Rash, saw the difference in height between their two bits of newly laid turnpike and the angle of the steep head of the little valley which carries Park Gill Beck down to the Wharfe which they’d need to put a road down, muttered a collective resigned ‘Bugger’ and then ran around holding carrier pigeons above their heads trying to pick up some coverage so they could have a nice friendly chat with the surveyor. These days they would just have blasted have the hill away but what they left us with was the Dantesque descent from the plains of the moors high above Coverdale through several levels of slippy bendy steepness down to the village shop through whose door you would ride if you didn’t have quiet enough rubber left on your breaks when you crossed the cattle grid at the top.
The top of the hill, reached by the deserted winding lane rising up from Middleham, always seems close to heaven because it is so very quiet (there aren’t many houses to start with in the dale and half of those will be empty in the winter as their owners don’t live in them), it’s high and the fells either side don’t rise much higher so you feel elevated, the view south could be something from a John Martin painting and it always seems to be lost in a kind of ethereal gloom which makes for a calming feeling of distance from the worries of the mortal world but which is really crap for taking photos (which is probably why this beautiful bit of bicycling bonkersness hasn’t featured on here before). I would definitely think that if you hung around up here too long wearing cycling gear in winter then heaven wouldn’t take much time to get to at all.
So there you have it; the lovely Park Rash: ride up it if you have big lungs, ride down it if you have big, err, nerves. It can be a wee bit grey at this time of year but I love it anyway. The photos I took may have come out a little dull but I was damned if was going to spend all of this morning freezing my arse off on the bike and not get a blog post out of it. There are a limited number of opportunities, given the challenges presented by winter road conditions, shortage of daylight and surplus of weather and being unable to zip my jersey all the way up due to eating too many mince pies, between now and spring to get out for more than a couple of hours so the dieum had to be carped even if the route was photogenically uncooperative and I still can’t feel my toes. Let’s hope for some snow soon so I can lighten things up a bit.