What a winter. Four months of November weather. Unseasonably mild – but bleak, wet, and dreich. And that incessant stormy wind-blast.
Back in February, we had a rare couple of fine days. Bitterly cold. Clear Arctic blue skies. Sunshine. Thoughts of first snowdrops in hedgerows, the first stirrings of spring blood in the song birds, perhaps a bit of gorse? So why not explore a corner I had never ridden, a valley I had looked across on various trips last year.
The Washburn Valley is an extraordinarily beautiful dale, dominated by reservoirs supplying Leeds with water since the nineteenth century. Oddly isolated and peaceful, with no main roads running along the valley; only country lanes and bridleways winding their indeterminate way through beef cattle meadows and woodlands. So different from the West Yorkshire valleys, with their canal, railway, roads, and textile towns huddled along the river ribbon.
It’s not that easy to get to from Leeds on a short winter’s day, but I managed a couple of round trips, both starting at Menston Station and dropping a couple of miles to Otley.
In Otley, cross the Wharfe and head straight up hill. It’s a long tough climb – 600 feet in about 2 miles. Near the summit, take the lane signposted for Dob Park (ignore the sign that says No Through Road).
Ride down the single track lane, pass Middle Farm, and continue to the river. The track had been very badly damaged by the winter rains on my trip, but I’d guess it’s normally easily passable on a hybrid.
At the bottom, you arrive at the fine Dob Park Packhorse Bridge and ford – that road you have just come down was once a main road across the dale.
I climbed to rejoin the road, and back to Otley, across Lindley Wood Reservoir, through Farnley (with its fine Victorian parish church). Fine riding.
I even enjoyed the snow-storm blowing around me on the descent from Farnley. The prospect in three miles of a pint by a roaring open fire makes pretty well anything bearable.
Only a couple of days later – aye, the Washburn valley is a fine place to ride and explore. This route has long off-road sections, passable on hybrid tyres, if wet and muddy in places.
After crossing the Wharfe, I turned right and took the much gentler climb to Farnley; turned right on the bend at the beginning of the village, and dropped down towards Lindley Wood Reservoir.
Crossed the fine old bridge over the Washburn. A path to the left takes you back up through the woods, along the reservoir side. Join the B6451 to cross the lake, and follow a path to the right as far as Dob Park Packhorse Bridge.
Head up the valley side to the road, turn left, and take the bridleway across the fields. Through Folly Hall Farm, down the hill to to the river, and follow the farm track to the foot of the dam for Swinsty Reservoir.
At the head of the lake, the climb. 500 feet in three miles, some of it gentle – and some of it tough, leg-sapping work.
First to Timble. (Last time I rode this road, many years ago, Timble Inn, a fine village pub, had just closed; it has since been refurbished and reopened as a rather grand fine-dining place.fancy inn. Think I prefer the old one.)
On over Askwith Moor. Bleak. The wintry blast in my face had me walking most of the way.
And the drop back down to Otley, for a pint in a warm pub. The Horse and Farrier serves a fine Okell’s; beer from the Isle of Man, with its Beer Purity Law that permits nothing but water, yeast, hops, and malt.
Come better weather, I’ll be back. Perhaps riding Harrogate to Menston – about 16 miles; some significant climbs (as in “reet buggers”).
Or starting at Weeton Station, climbing to Almscliffe Crag, and dropping to Lindley Wood Reservoir; only 5 miles, no lung-busting climbs. That would make a good jumping off point for a trip right up the valley – along the reservoirs, to the Washburn’s source in the moors below Greenhow.
And why not on into Nidderdale?