Tuesday, 21 February 2012

Winter Biking Blast

The North Yorkshire Moors are my forgotten National Park, less than an hour away yet constantly overlooked for the more precipitous vistas of the Dales, Lakes, Snowdonia, or the crowded gritstone edges of the Peak District.

A track and a horizon

It really shouldn't be the case though, every time I visit the Moors I'm struck by the the beauty of the place, not so rugged or savage as its other northern neighbours, but an open barren beauty; the sky feels bigger here than anywhere else in the UK with no large features to draw the eye; and below the bright azure blue of a crisp winter day there are few better place to put miles under the wheels of your bike.

Its cold here despite the lack of winter snow, puddles covered with a thin film of ice which crunches satisfactorily under the tread of the tyres; mud frozen into ruts, and bumps ready to kick your wheels and bounce the unwary sideways. 

Last year when I was up here there was snow on the ground, this year winter has failed to really get a grip of the land, stories from last year of huge snowdrifts cut off valleys appear from a different time. The colours are somber a pallet awash with the yellows and greens in the valley blending into the browns of the vast heather moorland.

 Looking east over the valley to the remains of the East Mines and the old kilns

The valley was not always this quite, the clues are everywhere, on the far hillside ruins blending in against the winter colours, a thin scar running almost horizontally across the far moor, and most of all the way the track I'm following contours smoothly around the hillside. 

I'm cycling along the course of the old Rosedale Railway built in the nineteenth century to take iorn ore from the mines over the top of the Moor and down to the furnaces in Teeside. Between 1856 and 1926 the valley was a centre of iron ore production and rang to the sound of hammers, and the clank of train wagons.

The old railway makes an excellent easy surface to ride along, picking it's way round the hillside, little is left of the infrastructure it once served a chimney here, a wall there, its window now looking neither out or in. Then the mine itself a huge yawning shaft in the ground from which the whine of the wind wails and cries.

 A Room with a view

Round the head of the valley the line of the railway fades out twisted, broken, and buried by a series of landslips over the last eighty years; nature slowly reclaiming the landscape for it's self, sculpting away the hand of man. Here the biking becomes a bit more technical, a narrow trail, with mud and water, the telling sign as to why the land here has changed so much in the life time of a man.

Later I cycle over a couple of large embankments steep drops on either side, still proud markers of the hand of man. The railway ends just after the east mines, now little more than  a jumble of walls which once housed the men who toiled below ground, other walls mark the old workshops, coal stores, and pumping house. By far the largest structure is the brick kiln supports 20m high an built into the hillside, two of the three have collapsed sending a cascade of brick fanning out below them.

 The line of the railway cuts through the landscape

The remains of the east mines, miners cottages are on the left and the great supports of the calcining kilns on the right.

Somehow I'm quite struck by the idea of this moorland railway, the thought of a trail of white steam, and grey smoke against the pastel colours of the moor, the audacity of the Victorians for building it. There is a melancholy nature to the ruins a sadness of times passed that fits in with the barren beauty of the moor. Thats what made it such an enjoyable ride, the feeling of peeling back the history of the landscape and painting pictures of what might have been.

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