Haworth to Aysgarth
Sunday was the first full day of my trip The morning was brighter than the previous evening but still wet and windy. The landscape around Haworth, inspiration for the Bronte novels, is hard work for cycling, rugged terrain with plenty of short steep hills diving down into small valleys only to haul straight back up an equally steep climb. By contrast the limestone terrain I was to cover further north tends towards much easier gradients and a few big hills rather than many small ones.
So I laboured on, facing fierce headwinds from time to time when the road turned west. I stopped for a break and sat in the lee of a drystone wall to shelter from the rain and wind but found my back assaulted by sharp cold draughts finding gaps in the wall. This may help the walls survive winter gales that would blow down a more solid barrier but it didn’t give me a comfortable rest so I was soon back on my bike.
Eventually the road descended into the gentler landscape of Airedale and I found a more sheltered spot for a rest outside the village shop at Cononley, watching passing churchgoers and others seeking the more transient insights found in Sunday newspapers. I even had a few minutes sunshine although a burst of rain soon chased me into the bus shelter. From there my route followed country lanes along the valley bottom to the market town of Skipton.
Skipton on a Sunday is full of people looking for ways to pass time and spend money. I found a very comfortable place for lunch in a stylish coffee shop with an open fire and big sofa. They probably didn’t get too many wet men in tights but nobody batted an eyelid and I spent a relaxed hour eating, drinking coffee and reading.
From Skipton the route headed into the heart of the Yorkshire Dales. first climbing over from Airedale into Wharfedale. As I spent my teenage years in this part of the world, learning to drive in my mother’s mini and visiting the pre-breathalyser country pubs of Wharfedale, the whole area is very familiar and I had quite a few nostalgic moments. I was disappointed in Grassington to find that the old fish and chip shop – oil fired and smelling evocatively of fried fish and ship’s engine rooms – had disappeared and been replaced by an outdoor clothing boutique. At least the Sunday trippers could buy a decent anorak or boots but that wasn’t much comfort to a chilled cyclist on a rainy day.
From Grassington northwards Wharfedale becomes quieter, more remote and the hills on each side close in. Kettlewell on a fine day would be a good place to stop by the river for a while but when it’s wet and chilly it feels better to keep going. At Buckden there is a teashop behind the village shop and I stoked up with toasted teacakes and a pot of tea looking up the valley at the successive waves of rain coming towards me and wondering how to time my departure.
On leaving, reasonably dry inside and out, I had a brief conversation with an older man who had just come down from walking on the heights to the west where the wind was very fierce indeed. I made a comment about the rain cover on my Brooks leather saddle (I usually put a blue spotted shower cap over it when parked in the rain) and he made some typical Yorkshire remark about being “soft”. So I rode off musing on the nature of people who would rather ruin their kit than look daft.
It wasn’t long, on the climb up the long pass past Cray into Bishopdale, before the rain returned. My spirits were still good and the road took me past some fine waterfalls as well as a spot where, one summer, I had bought an excellent whole farmhouse Wensleydale cheese, reminding me of a British real food triumph. Factory Wensleydale is OK, white, crumbly and salty like Lancashire cheese, but the dairy industry moved production away from its traditional home in the town of Hawes in Wensleydale to an anonymous modern factory somewhere miles from its roots. The locals fought back, took over the old factory and now produce the only “real” Wensleydale cheese which is much superior and a commercial success. The only thing to be preferred is the home-made version still produced by local farmers which has a distinctly creamy quality compared to the mass-produced stuff.
Once over the pass the road raced down Bishopdale in a well-surfaced 10-mile downhill towards Aysgarth in Wensleydale itself. I had considered camping in Newbiggin but, as the weather did not seem to be improving, and I was getting near the home of some old friends, I phoned to see if they were open to a surprise visitor.
Davis and Iris Plumb live close by Aysgarth Falls. David is a distinguished typographic designer who has had his studio in the outbuildings of the house for the past 15 years since fax and then email made it practical to live in the country and continue to work for clients in London and around the country. One big attraction is that he can almost cast a fishing line into the River Ure from his studio seat.
They gave me a warm welcome, a hot bath, a substantial meal and a comfortable bed for the night, what more could a cyclist ask? After dinner we reminisced and laughed hysterically about the news that the Typography Dept at Reading University were sending somebody up to Yorkshire to interview David about his experience and typographic developments earlier in his career. Clearly they imagined that he was some old fogey and likely to die off at any minute and were a little surprised that he was still in business. Many of his contemporaries had made their pile and retired early but David could not imagine stopping work when there were so many new and interesting things still to do.