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The Yorkshire Dales

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September ’06

My original plan was to try to make it to Ireland for a quickie tour. However, a poor weather forecast and the airline losing my luggage forced me to drop back and punt. Instead, I decided to focus on three National Parks in the north of England. The Peak District, the Yorkshire Dales and the North York Moors National Parks.

Starting out from Nottingham, I headed to Matlock Bath on the southern edge of the Peak District. Matlock Bath has been a tourist site since warm springs were discovered there. Nowadays, it’s a major Sunday biking destination seeing close to 1000 bikers on summer weekends.

Colorful hotel near Matlock Bath.

Staying on the backroads, I zig-zagged my way north through the Peak District. Apparently, the Peak District isn’t named for its terrain but for its former inhabitants, the Picts. The last time I passed this way, it had been pouring rain so, it was nice to see it in a different light.

Winnat’s Pass

Heading north through the rolling terrain of the Peak district.

The Snake Pass through the northern Peak District has been rated one of the best motorcycling roads in the U.K. and rightly so. Just put your lips together and make vroom-vroom Triumph noises and imagine yourself disappearing over the rise 🙂

Continuing north, I left the Peak District and headed for the Yorkshire Dales. Although the skies were threatening, there was no rain in the forecast. After being in Arabia, where the skies are eternally cloudless, it’s a bit of a welcome sight to see the ever changing skies of England. There’s something about the northern light and the effervescent skies that combine to create an swirling palette of colours.

The southern Yorkshire Dales holds desolate yet beautiful wild heather moors. Again, the ever changing skies provide an almost surreal beauty to the landscape.

Deeper into the dales, the terrain becomes lusher and greener. The omnipresent drystone walls, built by sheep farmers in days gone by, seem to blend into the natural beauty of the terrain.

I stopped in Grassington for fuel. Unlike in the U.S. where gas stations seem to be on every corner, in the north of England you have to search them out. Most locals are amiable types who are more than happy to give directions to the “petrol” pump.

The residents of the Yorkshire Dales are a hearty, hard-working lot as evidenced by all the stone walls. This area produced some of the world’s best trials riders including the Lampkin brothers, famous for drinking their opponents under the table on Saturday nights then going out the next morning and kicking their butts on the trials course.

I picked up the A684 which cuts across northern England from east to west and is another fine motorcycling road. Just keep your speeds in check as the stone walls are rather unforgiving. I head east, leaving the Dales behind, heading for the North York Moors.

A quiet stream near the North York Moors boundary.

The British are known for being masters of the understatement as this road sign will attest to. Why post “Steep Hill Ahead” when a subtle “I say old boy, give your brakes a go” will do?

I find a hotel in Helsmsley and then have a great Italian meal at a restaurant run by real Italians. The next morning dawns with bright, blue skies!

Early morning on a quiet country lane near Rievaulx Abbey

The B1257 north from Helmsley is known to the local riders as the Helmsley TT. I don’t think any more description is needed 🙂 Keep an eye out for the rozzers though, as the road has gained a bad reputation in the press.

Another view of the Helmsley TT

Leaving the B1257 at Stokesley, I head deeper into the moors via the narrow backroads. The sheep are everywhere. Thankfully, they usually stay put when you pass. They even come into town for a pint or two.

The Triumph is well-suited to these backroads. The torquey twin seems to have just the right amount of power and torque. It’s no wonder they continued building them for so long before succumbing to U.S. market pressure for more powerful engines.

Bucolic countryside in the North York Moors.

I continue eastward until I arrive at the coast near Whitby, home of Captain James Cook. I came across this odd looking church. I’m not sure of of its age. The North Sea lies in the background.

The star of this show, the torquey, twin mill. What a little jewel of an engine. Only 65 some horsepower but it more than makes up for it in torque and aural effects. Kudos to John Bloor for bringing it back.

South of Whitby on the coast lies Robin Hood’s Bay. This village was once a smuggler’s haven but its the village’s labrynth of tight, alleyways climbing the cliffside that make it really unique. To say it’s quaint would be an understatement.

Robin Hood’s Bay

I tried to get a picture capturing the essence of the narrow alleys but this was all I could capture before it started to rain.

I rode through a squall for about 30 minutes before I found a pub in the village of Castleton that had rooms to let so I grabbed a room and dried off. A dinner of Yorkshire pudding stuffed with veggies and sausage along with a pint of local ale finished me off.

Saturday was to be my last day and fortunately, the previous day’s showers had blown out into the North Sea and the day started with bright, blue skies. I began to head south towards Nottingham again. I still had a little time to explore the North York Moors though. These moors are a little more harsh and desolate than the Yorkshire Dales but the stark terrain has its own beauty.

Heading toward Egton Bridge, not a car in sight.

An abandoned farm house is all that breaks up the terrain. The narrowness of the road is typical of the backroads in the moors.

More vast expanse of moors.

A scenic bridge near Egton Bridge.

Stopping for a cuppa in the village of Rosedale.

It’s scenes like this that make the North of England seem a world away from the busy south. With the tiny villages seemingly unchanged for decades, it’s all too easy to imagine that I’m a young officer in the service in the 1940s much like my father was, trundling across the countryside on a trusty Triumph (albeit without Lucas electrics).

Reluctantly, I make my way south towards Nottingham. I stick to the backroads and though the roads are still pleasantly twisty, the traffic increases and the views become more modern and industrial. I dodge one last afternoon shower before arriving at my friend’s house and dropping off the bike. The bike performed flawlessly throughout the trip.

A short train ride takes me to Birmingham and I spend the last day of my trip touring the British National Motorcycle Museum.

I couldn’t have asked for better English weather in September. In 4 days, I only encountered about 30 minutes of rain. The temperatures varied from around 70° F/20° C in the sun and down to the upper 40s F/ 15 C when it threatened to rain. While the north of England is no match for Scotland’s beauty, there is still a rustic, timeless charm to the place that I find very appealing.