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The Big (Hot) Day Off

A scorching day in the North Pennines with (lots of) friends!

We've had a few Big Days Off this year just to test the legs and ride some roads and fells that have been on the to-do-list for a while. One such route was a lap of Cross Fell in the North Pennines. And if you're doing that, you might as well do the annual Hillgrimage too!

So we did the usual things: planned a bike ride, took the day off and checked on socials to see if anyone fancied it. To our shock though, there was a group of 20+ riders waiting for us at the start in Brough. Maybe it was the time of year and the prolonged heatwave? Maybe it was the pull of the Big Hill? Who knows, but it was a welcome surprise!

The Route was relatively simple - straight into the North Pennines AONB from Brough heading counter-clockwise around the Cross Fell ridge with an ascent of Britain's highest road after nearly 100km - totalling 130km and nearly ^3000m - it was always going to be a big day.

We packed plenty of snacks and set off into the steady Easterly winds and rising temperatures. The profile showed a sharp climb to start followed by a long gradual ascent and another sharp climb before lunch in the Eden Valley - then on to the day's biggest test.


Shot Moss and Yad Moss

The first ascent - Shot Moss from Brough itself - was never outrageously steep, but into a headwind and with cold limbs it dragged on as the group took stock of each other and their various abilities.

It was clear that a large peloton would form with faster riders stretching their legs ahead and slower riders tapping away to the summit with a big regrouping there. Thankfully this was a group that had heard loud and clear that we weren't expecting any heroes or heroines on this ride. We may concertina around the route, but we'd stick together in the main.

From the summit of Shot Moss we descended swiftly into Middleton and approached County Durham before making a left turn to pick up a welcome hearty tail wind for the very long (15km!) ascent of Yad Moss.

Again, the group split and reformed rhythmically along the road, but had regathered by the summit for the very fast descent into Garrigill - here we took water from the old tap on the bridge and collected our legs before the steep back-road ascents joining the North side of Hartside Fell and the glorious descent of the metronomic South side of the Fell to Melmerby and lunch.

We were well looked after in #LocafKnowledge favourite The Old Village Bakery and enjoyed sitting in the shade of the orchard whilst we prepared for the ominous test ahead.


The Big Hill

After Lunch, and a suddenly less chatty roll along the upper Eden Valley, we arrived at Knock and began the fearsome ascent of Great Dun Fell.

An annual "hillgrimage" to the highest road in Britain means its slopes are familiar after numerous previous ascents. But the savage Easterly headwind and unusual 30 degree heat were not experiences that we could call on to help climb this Pennine monster.

Those gradual earlier climbs suddenly felt heavy on the legs - the hazy golf ball in the distance further than usual. The brutal, brilliant, awful and awesome section up past the farm at the bottom was more sapping than usual, the middle section up to the gully like a furnace and then, that steep ramp after the gully was suddenly unrideable when cresting the brow and taking the full force of the wind. Foot down. Walking. No shame.

After remounting and finishing the last 1.5km of more steep ramps to the top, it was awesome to be greeted by those that had completed their ascents faster - several riders had given up and turned for home mid-climb - friends lay resplendent, warmed by the sun enough even to enjoy the chill of the gale at the summit. Waiting patiently.

We laughed off the pains we'd endured and descended, perhaps more gingerly than normal in the gusting winds. Onwards to the Old Post Box in Dufton, and a much needed refill of our bidons, just as they were closing.

The final 30km rolled through the Eden Valley to Appleby and then along quiet undulating lanes back to Brough where we enjoyed a pint and set off for home.

A simply brilliant way to spend a big (hot) day off.

Here's a gallery of the day's ride:

You can find the Route here:

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