Monday, 18 August 2014

Back on my bike

Tom arrived back from Ecuador in July without Lucy, who was delayed by visa bureaucracy, and one of his first tasks was to buy a motorcycle.
He bought another Suzuki (his fourth). The first was called Suzy, the second Suzy 2, the third didn't really get a name (he didn't have it that long), but this one was immediately named Suzy Quattro.
We bought it from a Polish guy in St Neots, who had ridden it very little, but had clearly looked after it quite well.
Suzy Quattro needed a good run for bonding purposes and so, on August 18, Tom and I decided that we'd head into Yorkshire for a couple of days.
We set off via Matlock and Bakewell (both really busy) and then headed across the Peak National Park towards Chesterfield and picked up the Snake Pass. When I was younger, before the M62 was built, this was one of the main routes across the Pennines from Manchester to Sheffield. It seems ridiculous nowadays that this narrow, winding A-road could cope with what a three and four-lane motorway struggles to carry these days, but it did.
Oddly, I've never been across the Snake Pass before (we always took a more northerly route (the Penistone Pass) when we were travelling to Yorkshire to see Uncle Dick or Aunt Margaret and I'd always wanted to see what the 'Snake' was like. I guessed it must be steep, remote and wild because it always seemed the first of the trans-Pennine routes to be closed in winter.
On this August day, there was no chance of snow and the road was pretty quiet. All the lorries use the M62, of course, so the only traffic consisted of a few cars pootling along admiring the view and we blasted past those very easily. The sun had come out and the hills were covered with purple heather looking quite beautiful.
Coming down, we turned east and joined the Woodhead Pass and then turned off to head up Holme Moss. By chance, we found ourselves riding (backwards) the route of the Tour de France Grand Depart (which had used Yorkshire as its starting point for 2014). There were slogans spray-painted all over the road, many of them for Chris Froome and coming down from Holme Moss, I was really quite surprised how steep the road was. I certainly wouldn't have fancied riding up it on a bicycle.
We stayed overnight in a pub just outside Hebden Bridge. We weren't able to get a room in the town because there was some kind of lesbian poetry festival, but our room was pretty good, we could park the bikes and there was a decent meal in the evening. There was Timothy Taylor Landlord on tap, so things were looking pretty chipper, but about 9pm, the bar filled with locals and they were a coarse lot. They swore for no good reason except it was part of their regular talk. I don't mind profane language used for effect, but 'fucking' wasn't an adjective or verb for them, it was scattered here there and everywhere.
Next day, they screwed up breakfast for Tom (no veggie option) but Tom got his own back by riding off with the room keys in his pocket (he has a knack for that) and took a week or more to remember to send them back.
We headed first for Keighley, via Haworth (home to the Brontes) and then on to Skipton at the head of the Dales. Skipton Castle was the scene for one of the longest sieges in English warfare (during the Civil War) and I would have liked to stop and have a nosey, but there was no time. From there we headed to Grassington and then down Nidderdale to Fountains Abbey. This was the route of the Tour de France and there were lots of lycra-clad cyclists recreating the ride. They are annoying to cars, but no problem for motorcycles, we can give them room and blast past in an instant when the road is clear.
It was a nice run to Fountains Abbey where we had agreed to stop for a look around. It's an amazing place. The Cistercians built it as their mother abbey in England. They were an extreme order of monks, who felt that other orders had gone a bit soft (the Taliban of their day) and being hard core, they prospered in their piety until they'd built a network of abbeys and Fountains had become a magnificent place to rival any in Europe.
Henry VIII did for them, of course, and the place is now a splendid ruin. In the car park, we were engaged by a chap very keen to talk to us about motorcycles. He knew about Triumphs, but I don't think he'd ever had a bike. The cyclists were annoying him ... all over the road ... can't get past them!




From Fountains, it was on to Ripon, where we thought we'd have a look around the Minster. First we grabbed some lunch in a cafe and two couples, seeing our bike gear, engaged us in conversation. One of the chaps had a poster showing a girl with an umbrella advertising a Seeley Triumph. Not only did he have the poster, he also had the very umbrella she was carrying. I asked if the girl with the brolly was his wife (to general hilarity) and eventually we were able to edge to the door and escape.
Interestingly, they normally engage Tom in conversation (he must look the most approachable) but it is me who is nice to them.
Ripon Minster was a bit of a disappointment, but did have a couple of highlights. One was the mediaeval carvings underneath the seats in the choir, where there are all kinds of strange beasts, including a rabbit being chased down a hole. Lewis Carroll's father was a canon at the minster for some year and this carving is claimed to be the inspiration for Alice in Wonderland. I think it's stretching credibility a bit, but there you go.
Best bit was the ancient crypt, which is the surviving part of a Saxon church. It's one of the oldest surviving buildings in Britain (Google it, it's in the top 10) and is reached by two narrow passages. One has a window-like opening into the crypt and there's a story that women would be passed through the opening on the eve of their wedding to check their chastity. A pregnant bride wouldn't be able to wriggle through. It wouldn't be a very useful test these days, I think that 50 per cent of modern girls (maidens or not) would fail the test - cheap chocolate and McDonalds have seen to that! I certainly wouldn’t wriggle through.
From Ripon, we picked up the A1M, M18, M180, then back on the Roman road (now the A15) to Peterborough via Lincoln. We had a stop in Lincoln for coffee and a glimpse at the magnificent cathedral. Once past Sleaford, the A15 is a wonderful sinuous road, great for bikes and with little traffic at this time in the evening.