Ups and Downs in the Dales

I've spent so much time on the bike lately that it feels as though I owe my kayak an apology. I haven't even cleaned out the Lune estuary mud after a sticky exit back in November. Sorry about that. The thing is, the sea is all the way over there and the Dales are right here.
And, well, the simplicity of biking is simply more appealing just now.
Another long day in the Dales then - from Helwith Bridge, across to Littondale via Dawson Close and then over Haw Fell to Buckden before returning via another climb and fast descent to Arncliffe and then the long pull up Cote Gill and smooth descent to Malham Tarn. By which point it was dark and snowing - we cut the route short, taking tarmac to a last off-road descent to Stainforth and the end of a long day with more than it's share of ups and downs. 1222m or 4009 ft of ascent over 48km.
Pen-y-ghent. One of the big three.
Passing Pen-y-ghent for an icy descent to Dale Head - the first of the big three. On the outward leg at least. Three more for the way back.
Beautiful winter light and a distant view of Ingleborough.
Sheep. I don't normally 'do' sheep. Quite liked these little lot though. Must be a Yorkshire thing.
About to disappear - the delectable descent of Dawson Close.
A wee boot - which marked a good spot for lunch by the River Skirfare. I sensed we would need some calories for the climb from Litton Hall to Old Cote Moor Top (607m).
The gentle start...
...ends with a brutal finish.
Setting off from the top...
...for what was one of the best descents I've enjoyed in a while - Chris about to do the disappearing act again.
Though he was kind enough to wait to get this shot looking down into the head of Wharfedale...
...before finishing with a flourish. Flagstones, frozen gravel, icy ribbons streaking between grassy tracks - there was something of everything on the drop to Buckden which culminated in swooping hairpins on the last hundred feet.
But - what comes down must go up - and so we did - climbing through Fosse Wood above Starbotton.
A view across the classic U shaped glacial valley towards Great Whernside. All very pretty but the thing with these classic U shaped glacial valleys is that they're, well, U shaped. Which means, however you go about things, a stiff climb-push-carry... reach another ridge. Or rather, 4km south on the same ridge line we'd crossed a short while earlier.
And another fast-as-you-like and in places not-like-quite-so-much sort of drop into Arncliffe.
A brief respite to ease aching wrists - and a view into another dramatic valley above which sits Yew Cogar Scar - impeccable rock and steel fingers required. As the Yorkshire Limestone guide so succintly states: Some climbers have left with unfavourable impressions of the crag, due in part to expectations of safety...You need to like your E grades followed by the number 5 or more to enjoy climbing here.
Heading up onto the moors once moor, aiming now for Malham Tarn, we were clearly going to finish in the dark. Again.
Seven hours in the saddle and the last stiff climb. Chris: You're actually trying to break me aren't you...
But then the next bit of riding was one of those descents you never forget. What daylight we'd enjoyed on the climb had now gone, yet it was not quite dark. An eerie blue half light settled like the soft snow across which our wheels hissed, all other sound smothered as we rolled on and down the thick white slopes to Malham Tarn.
It was too good to last and as night fell and the snow thickened, we pushed the pace on tarmac, icy snow alternating with blinding sleet adding spice to our last miles on the road.
And then one final descent - smooth open tracks giving way to walled in rock gardens as we dropped the last few feet into Stainforth.
A U shaped classic.