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A Cycle on the Celtic Fringe … Part 16

There were three possibilities in the lads laughter and sending me on my way with the shout of “Good Luck!”

Did they intend some mischief upon me? One of them was astride a quad bike and a rather unfit fifty something on a bicycle might be a source of taunting fun higher up the slopes. Or even an easy way to fifty pounds. I would probably have given them that for a ride up on the quad bike.

Was there some hidden danger lurking in the fells and flanks of the pass? An unfenced cliff? An unchained bull? A landslide that has blocked the road a hundred metres from the top which forces me to re-trace two hours pushing?

Or were they just pleasant, friendly farm boys who knew just how long and steep the road is?

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It was this and no other. Dales folk are as honest and decent as anyone you can find and the more generations they’ve been in the dale, the more decent they seem to become. There are plenty of “quality of life” newcomers to the lower valley. Offcumdens, as they’re sometimes called. “Hello, we’re locals.” as they refer to themselves. This far up the valley it’s farms and farmers only. These are the true folk of the dale. The lads were quietly laughing at the silly old bugger with an over packed bike, waddling, red-faced on the nursery slopes, but, I’d bet last year’s salary that the same lads would drop everything and give over a morning if they thought I was in any real difficulty.

The road is simply one of the best roads in Britain. The river stays with you for quite a while before revealing itself to be a true specimen. A geographer’s delight. The higher you climb, the easier it is to understand the mysteries of the water  cycle. You just look at where everything is, what everything looks like an what everything is doing. Water flows downhill. At the bottom of this hill is a maturing river and everywhere else are streams, marshes, little pools and lakes, tiny tumbling falls, evidence of flooding and of drought. the clouds mass overhead and sometimes the rain is simply deposited on the ground without even having to fall from the cloud.

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This would be a superb road later on in the trip when I’ve grown the legs. To do the whole mountain in the saddle would be an achievement. I have no idea how easy this is. I didn’t have the legs or the bicycle, and not a single other cyclist went past me all the way to the top.

The valley becomes almost glacial, as in U shaped. The swallows who had made it this far seemed to have the very best of the English summer. I can’t see a swallow without feeling happier. The multitudes of them up here were a continuous pleasure.

A policeman calls on the last farm. There’s no sign of arrest or investigation. A cup of tea and a talk about stocking levels I’ll be bound.

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Near the top we start to get the false summits. It’s taking me an age but I’m as happy pushing a bicycle up this hill as I’d be doing anything else. The really steep bits are real stings in the tail but the eventual views are breathtaking. For the last half hour one of the three peaks has been looming closer and closer. I don’t know which one. By the time you reach the top, Wharfedale is gone and Wensleydale spreads its beauty from horizon to horizon.

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The decent is too good to waste. Cheese and dairies have made this valley famous and the dairy herds extend a long way up. Shippens and byres are found much higher than I expected. And they’re still in use. The smell of fresh cow manure attests to that. Around the farm gates it gives the tarmac a protective covering. Well, not that protective. There’s something in cow dung that levers the macadam from the road. the potholes that this causes keeps a cyclist like me honest.

It had taken me hours to gain the ascent and less than twenty minutes (without rushing) to drop down into Hawes. I’m revived and refreshed as I re-enter another town I got to know pretty well when I was so much younger and knew so much more than I do now. I padlock the bike to a rail and wander slowly round. It all seems so long ago and far away where Haworth and Kettlewell came back in a rush.

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It’s a tough as teak little town is Hawes. It’s resurrected itself from near economic disaster when one of the big dairies closed down the Wensleydale cheese factory. The locals bought it, opened it up again and in doing so almost single handedly resurrected the British cheese industry. We’ve always made good stilton and sold it around the world but our pride and joy were always the everyday cheeses, each of which is named after a geographical location, even though the cheese may be made anywhere but there. Stilton is such a cheese. It’s made In the Vale of Belvoir (pronounced Beaver). the best stilton was made in Hartington in Derbyshire but this plant has had a troubled recent history.

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The Hawes Dairy started making Wensleydale in the proper way. The big dairies care for profits and unit sales and having the name seems enough for them. In Hawes, the cheese makers restored the traditions that made Wensleydale one of the finest cheeses. The example was followed across the country and it is now possible to get really good Lancashire, Cheshire, Double Gloucester and Red Leicester cheeses as well as Cheddars to rank against anything other countries can produce. You can still get the mass produced versions of these and if you don’t shop around this is what you’ll end up with. Thanks to Hawes though, English cheese is once more on a high.