I hadn't got plans for the Bank holiday weekend. The run up to, during and after York Open Studios was non stop. Most of my friends were busy or going away. I'd not had time to think about it, let alone organise anything. All I'd got in my head was enjoying the glorious sunshine in my garden.
I’d just had a couple of graphics jobs go back out on proof to the client and my printmaking work could be juggled to any day. So I spent the Saturday and Sunday in my print studio (with a big dollop of gardening) to free up my Monday and Tuesday.
I felt like I really needed to connect with nature and wide-open spaces. Taking part in York Open Studios had been a wonderful experience but I needed a bit of down time and some time offline.
The Yorkshire Dales it had to be! Definitely one of my favourite places for inspiration for my prints, as well as me time of course.
On Saturday night I dug my maps out, had a play with routes on Strava, checked availably at Youth Hostels and a plan started to come together.
The Yorkshire Dales Cycleway leaflet had been on my ‘I’d love to do that’ but I don’t think I’ve got it in me list. That’s not just about self-doubt, which I do have to work on, but about my fitness. I cycle a lot for pleasure but I wouldn’t call myself a fitness fanatic or sporty. It’s about the journey and adventure or social rides with friends.
I battled with anxiety, the demons and what if’s…
What if I get a technical I can’t fix?
What if my legs don’t make it up all those hills?
What if I just don’t have it in me to get to the Youth Hostel?
What if I just don’t have the energy for day two?
What if I get lost? Yes, that's been known even with a paper map and GPS!
I’d kick myself if I didn’t make the most out of this weather. How often is the Dales dry and fairly wind free?
My friend Karl, had said I could try his Alpkit bikepacking seat bag. This meant I could take my lighter road bike, rather than my heavy touring bike but I would have to pack light! I have very hollow legs, so having enough food for being in the middle of nowhere is important.
I mapped a route and booked a night at the Malham Youth Hostel. Packing the car the night before, I’d leave York early at 6.30am, missing the Bank holiday traffic.
So here’s what I did and the photos I took along the way. Be warned there are many!
It’s been so totally inspiring and spectacular. I don’t think I’ve been able to capture it in the photos. There’s lots in my head too, so when I come to creating some new linocut designs, I hope it comes out in the prints I make.
Day 1: Hawes to Malham
I parked up and left the car at Hawes, to cycle back to the following evening.
From there I cycled east, along Wensleydale towards Leyburn, across to Askrigg and Wensley. It’s a quiet undulating road, dotted with villages, running almost parallel to the Hawes Leyburn main A road. Bolton Castle can be seen up on the hillside.
Then I headed south along Coverdale. Dotted with villages such as Gammersgill, the landscape opens out through the Dale. Tour de Yorkshire flags lined the route from day before race. I was doing the route they'd done backwards.
There’s a lovely stone bridge, which is typical of the Dales, at Tor Dike before you head up a sharp climb.
A long steep climb, with Great Whernside on my left, I headed up to the top for spectacular views all around.
Descending down Park Rash, a well-known cycling climb, brought me down into the valley again at the picturesque village of Kettlewell. Here it was time for a much needed tea and cake stop. After all I’d earned it!
After Kettlewell I cycled down to Grassington and then on for a paddle at Linton.
A shaded tree lined road led me a stray. I recognised the road and off I merrily carried on taking pictures as I went. It’s a road I’d cycled down before and loved it, so I didn’t think anything of it. Until I arrived in Burnsall that is. It was the wrong way! I was heading to York!!
Oh no, I was tired, I doubted making it to Malham, let alone adding more mileage on.
The sun was beating down on me and my pub tea treat seemed very very far away!!
So I tuned round and headed back. Luckily I’d taken so many photos, it felt like a long way. In reality it wasn’t too bad.
With heavy legs I peddled on towards Malham with pie and rhubarb cider in my sights. I can’t begin to explain my absolute delight and relief of seeing Malham Cove come into view!!!
Arriving in the village I was greeted by some lovely WI ladies, giving away the last sandwiches and drinks from the days sale. Never had squash tasted so good!
I’m not good at sitting still, so although tired, I wandered along the beck and then did a recce of the 20% climb I’d need to do first thing to get up to Malham Tarn.
It was a restless nights sleep. Very hot in the dorm and snoring roommates. Day two was going to be hard.
Day 1 facts and figures…
3,522ft of climbing
Av speed 9.2mph, not bad on those hills!
Ride time 6hr 7 min
Total time 9hr 28min, that’s me stopping and taking photos!
Day 2: Malham to Hawes
Up early, it looked like a promising day weather wise. I sat out under the blossom with my porridge, chatting to other cyclists and sharing our plans for the day.
I love still calmness at the end of a day but morning has to be my favourite. There’s something magical about the quality of light , freshness in the air and birds chattering.
I set off at 7.30am, just in a short sleeve cycling top, straight up that 20% hill. The reward was feeling on top of the world on my own. Just skylarks, the sheep and me.
Then the clouds came down and it was as if night had fallen. First, on with my windproof, then my waterproof, just to keep warm. Visibility closed right down and I was glad I’d brought my lights. It was quite eery up there on my own. I knew Settle wasn’t far but there wasn’t a view and I didn’t know what ups and downs lay ahead.
Down into Settle, I came down out of the cloud. Still no sun but a chance to pick up second breakfast. How could I resist 3 fresh samosa for £5 on the market! Grabbing a milkshake I headed on towards Clapham, stopping to a steam train on the roadside.
There’s a great café at the bunk barn in Clapham. Sadly for me it was shut on a Tuesday. I’d got an egg roll from the lovely WI ladies, so I sat on the banks of the river and tucked into that as my third breakfast!
I popped into the lovely local shop and met another cyclist. We got chatting. She was out for the day and so joined me on my ride over to Ingleton.
I stopped for coffee in Ingleton, apprehensive of what lay ahead, over the tops to Dent. Cloud still hung over the tops and I knew it was going to be a hard 11 miles.
Through Kingsdale I felt alone again, in a good way. Just me, my bike and the landscape. It reminded me of the time I traveled in Tibet. That sense of being so far away from materialism and technology. I need that!
It was hard but the rewards far outweighed everything my legs and head of ‘will I make it’ felt. I ate my second samosa of the day with views of Whernside.
Coming across the top, the the view opens out across a steep drop into Deepdale. I don’t quite have words and the pictures certainly don’t capture it. Just spectacular and breathtaking!!!
There I got chatting to someone with binoculars, looking out over the valley. He was looking out for Hen Harriers for Natural England.
At this point my wrist and arms where getting tired on the breaks. I broke my wrist in three places a year ago, so needed to treat it gently. I was walking down very steep descents and wandering if I’d ever make it back to Hawes.
Undulating roads led me into the cobbled streets of Dent for a late lunch. Rain was forecast at 3pm but I need to eat. The ladies at Meadowside Café where lovely. One had shuttled bags for friend’s doing the Yorkshire Dales Cycleway, so she gave me the heads up on the route ahead.
Bang on queue, it started to drizzle. It makes it harder to take photos and keep my camera dry but there’s something about the vibrancy of colour it brings to the landscape that I love.
Cycling along Dentdale I followed the river Dee to Cowgill, a fast flowing river over limestone terraces.
I stopped en-route to pop down a lane to view a viaduct.
From here it was pretty much down hill all the way into Hawes and back to the start of my journey. And for my drive home to York.
Day 2 facts and figures…
4,259ft of climbing
Av speed 8.5mph, the hills where bigger!
Ride time 5hr 51min
Total time 9hr 48min, yes more photo stops!
So there we have it, an absolutely amazing 2 days in the Yorkshire Dales. I did do it! AND I loved every minute of it!
106 miles, 7,781ft of climbing and hundreds of photos.
There were times when I had to dig really deep to find the energy and the self belief that I could make it. Messaging my mum and friends Sal and Angela along the way with my progress certainly helped.
I hope in some way that I've captured the spirit and the beauty of my microadventure.
I hope to go back to finish the rest of the Yorkshire Dales Cycleway route soon. The official route climbs hard out from Hawes up into Swaledale, Reeth and back down to Wensley.
When I set out on this journey of self employment in June 2016, I didn't realise that it would bring so many of things things I love together. My creative inspiration is born from exploring our beautiful countryside by bike or on foot and taking photographs. My passion for craft, my love of making things and working with colour all comes together in my printmaking.
I’ve mountains of inspiration to keep me busy with ideas for new linocut prints throughout the summer. I’d love to hear which photos are your favourite and which you’d like me to do.
I’d also love to hear about any of your favourite places.
Throughout the summer I’ve got a few weeks penciled in for exploring the UK, on foot or by bike, camping or Airbnb. Any ideas to add to my list would be very welcome.
Since writing this blog I completed the rest of the Yorkshire Dales Cycleway when I camped in Muker in Swaledale. Read more about my cycling and walking trip in my my Inspiration in Swaledale, Yorkshire Dales blog.
Route: Mainly on the Yorkshire Dales Cycleway.
Overnight: Malham Youth Hostel.
Pub tea: The Lister Arms, Malham
Bikepacking bag: Alpkit
About the author
Michelle Hughes is a North Yorkshire landscape artist. Much of her work depicts the Yorkshire landscape and Yorkshire coast, including the Yorkshire Dales and North York Moors.
Michelle loves exploring the British countryside by bike or on foot, camera in hand, capturing ideas for her next prints. Back in her garden studio, Michelle creates simple but stylised silhouettes based on her photographs, and hand carves these shapes into lino. She hand prints with an etching press, using oil-based inks to create tonal blocks of colour.
Michelle’s original linocut prints are limited editions.