The weather forecast this morning was for the rain to clear to the east. I was heading west. So far so good. Unfortunately the same forecast showed Northernbike Global Headquarters as not amongst the places where the satellite reported it was still raining, not by some distance. The satellite had not phoned to check this. The weather satellite and I don’t see eye to eye. We don’t talk much. It was still raining. It was not though cold, nor windy, and if I didn’t get out on bike soon I would probably need to widen my front door and install one of those lifts over the bath as I would be too big to get in normally so I went out anyway. It was raining when I left and it rained for the next three quarters of an hour, the clouds sliding down the sides of the valley so they could rain from closer range and make sure they didn’t miss anything. Then it stopped raining and that subtle change in the light that indicates to those out of doors that the cloud cover might be about to lift above shoulder height occurred. When that happens it’s like passing through a watercolour which is still being painted. Featureless grey wash being overlaid with a swish of colour as the grey-green-brown of the dormant grass, dead bracken, burnt off heather and limestone of the fellside breaks though the cloud, then a horizon is added, next even the clouds themselves acquire definition and shape and individual identity, then the finer details are deftly painted in; a sheep, a snow pole, a squawking grouse, and a road going endlessly upwards ahead with no concession to a post christmas, post new year flu, post being fed up with January with more than a week still to go, post riding a bike any kind of distance for about two months bike rider. Finally to the picture was added a big bright shiny thing in the sky; I have emailed Professor Brian Cox to find out what that was; good thing I took some pictured before it disappeared.
Anyway, the hill, despite being, I sometimes feel, a ride more of religious pilgrimage for local bike riders than one of recreation, folks looking back through their diaries, realising they haven’t ridden up here for a few months and feeling that vague feeling of guilt that they should have been doing this when instead they were frittering away their life working, spending time with their family and watching DVD box sets; all of these things essential to life but lacking that certain quality of getting really wet and cold and tired which for northern europeans of protestant background remains a key part of a fulfilling existance, still has quite a lot going for it. It is one of the longest stretches of high exposed moorland road in the area, there are three ways to the top, four if you count the seen-better-days-but-still-I-think-offically-a-road track coming from the north, and situated on the very edge of the gap in the Pennines through which ancient peoples, then the Romans, then caravaners heading for their car park holiday in the Lakes have travelled between east and west for generations you can see for miles and miles and miles to the north (kilometres and kilometres and kilometres for overseas readers), well, sometimes you can. There is even a pub at the top, relic of a long vanished mining community in which nowadays the jersies with the pockets on the back of bike riders mix with the trousers tucked into socks of ramblers, the sweaty all over leathers of motorcyclists and the elasticted waistbands and shoes with L and R written on them of 4×4 enthusiasts; an explosive mix for a place where customers have been known to be snowed in for days but the lack of chairs flying through the windows on any occasion I have passed by or stopped here perhaps providing evidence that the vaguely attributed spiritual qualities of the hill are not as imaginary as you might first think.