Epic of the month - West Cam & Cam High Roads - Bike Magic

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Epic of the month – West Cam & Cam High Roads

Epic of the Month
February – West Cam & Cam High Roads

Face up to it: Britain is a fantastic place for mountain
biking!! If you don’t believe me, then just try out the routes that I plan to put
on bikemagic every month. These routes aren’t secret, you’ll find them in many guidebooks
and magazines. The difference is that these are all routes that I have actually ridden
in that month, so I’ll be able to comment on the current condition of the tracks.
This month’s ride is From Horton to Hawes and back again, in the Yorkshire Dales,
following the route of two ancient roads, Cam High and West Cam. On many maps, sections
of these old roads are marked as footpaths, but don’t worry, they are legal – with
status as ‘open for all vehicles’. So expect motorbikes and four wheel drives to
also be using these tracks.

Physical Singletrack
Technical Scenery
Fun Rideability

Where’s the Cafe then?
Start and finish can be at either Horton or Hawes. I chose Horton, so as to have
the extensive cafe facilities of Hawes for halftime. The round trip was measured
at 32miles, and took 7 hours, including the 1 hour nosh stop. Longer and shorter
loops can be easily devised, but at this time of year you’ll have to consider how
much daylight you have.
The riding is almost all on rocky and muddy tracks, with some sections of minor road.
There is an excellent 1.5mile single track descent into Hawes. The riding is fantastic,
but very tiring. It is almost all rideable. The entire route is very exposed, so
be warned.
Make sure you take some nibbles along in your pack also. Both outward and return
sections are long enough to work up a serious hunger.

Markers Pens at the Ready
First things first. Get out a highlighter, and Landranger no.98, and mark out the
following waypoints.

Outward Journey


Return Journey

Horton cross roads





High Birkwith





Old Ing junction



Cam High Road junction


Cam End



Beggarmans road


Cam House road end





Start of West Cam



High Green field


Pennine way BW



Exit forest


Gaudy House lane



Horton cross roads












Rough Start
Start from Horton by the manic road bridge,
at the 90deg road junction, (if you haven’t already crashed your car there.) A narrow
and tarmaced lane heads north from here toward High Birkwith farm, which is mainly
uphill. This will either warm you up for the epic ahead, or cure your hangover (depending
on where you were the night before). Go straight through High Birkwith farmyard,
complete with resplendent union jack, onto the steep semi-surfaced track ahead. Don’t
let this easy surface give you a false sense of what is ahead. Follow this track
until the gate near the ruins of Old Ing (cars are often parked here).
Go through the gate, to be greeted by a signpost: left for Pennine Way, right for
Pennine Way. Take the left, through another gate, the track being almost flat.
This track is the start of the West Cam road, an ancient road from Horton to Hawes,
it is also one of the least comfortable tracks I have ever ridden. It looks smooth,
but feels terrible – do not adjust your suspension – it really is as bad as it feels.
The track stays almost level until Ling Gill, a miniature limestone gorge, before
becoming muddier, and beginning to climb. A gradual slog ever upwards is interspersed
with short rocky climbs, and occasional bottomless lagoons of mud.
After one last cobbled climb you will arrive at a solitary signpost on the horizon.
This is the junction of West Cam and Cam High roman road. Take a good look around
you, admiring the extensive vista of absolutely nothing, and realise why being prepared
is a damn good idea. Turn right, onto the uphill track.

Uphills suck
A big mistake is to think that you are now
nearly at the top. You actually have about 3km of further uphill along Cam High.
A recent magazine article about this route complained about the damaged caused by
offroad vehicles. The route is very rutted, but thankfully remains rideable throughout.
The main problem you will have to face here will be chainsuck, which was experienced
by everyone in my group, the particular type of mud, combined with a washed clean
chain is probably to blame.
Eventually you will reach the rough public road rising up from Cam Houses, follow
this along the ridge top for only 1km. Be very careful not to miss the unwalled track
heading left over the moor, again signposted ‘Pennine Way’.
This is the West Cam road once again. It soon reaches a wall, which it follows across
the steep fell side for over 3km. This track is a delight, almost level, rolling
along, through puddles, with the occasional short climb. It is the ideal place to
race your mates, covering each other with water as you crash through the puddles.

Just as the track starts to head downhill, look for another Pennine Way sign, turning
off uphill to the right. If you miss the turn off and continue down West Cam road,
you will still reach Hawes, but the section by the forest is horrendous rubble, and
almost impossible to ride. This alternative is much better, offering a twisty, if
wet, singletrack descent into Hawes.

Wet ‘n’ Wild
Follow this grassy single track, climbing
gently at first, then dropping steeply through rough pasture. Be warned that the
first section has many underlying limestone rocks, it looks very fast, but in the
wet is frictionless. The track descends ever onward taking in many surfaces, all
of which seem to be 90% water. The last section drops almost trackless through the
wettest field I have ever seen. The rule that water always flows downhill does seem
not seem to apply to this small area of Yorkshire, it just collects like a lake on
the fellside. You will eventually join the driveway to Gaudy House Farm.
Take note of the speedbumps on this short section of road. I treated them as bunny
hopping practice, and as I crested the blind summit at 40mph, suddenly found myself
facing a limestone wall about 50 yards away. I couldn’t stop for the T-junction and
narrowly missed the wall! So take note – the speedbumps are there for a reason, to
reduce the death toll.
If you managed to miss the wall, then proceed downhill at every junction, until you
reach Gayle. Take note that Gayle, is NOT Hawes. You may not realise this at first.
Turn left in Gayle, past the Wensleydale cheese factory (cracking Gromit!!), and
into Hawes itself. Hawes is the metropolis of the area, boasting such futuristic
facilities as a petrol station and cash machine! You will probably be much more interested
in the chippy, cafe, tea rooms, and pubs. Have fun!.
My personal eating tip, is to ignore the Cafe on the left hand side as you go into
Hawes (popular with motorbikers), but take the lane to the left just after it. Here
is a tacky-looking giftshop, but persevere and you will find a tea room in the back.
They are very welcoming, don’t mind muddy bikers and serve excellent giant Yorkshire
The amazing fact about the outward journey was that on a Sunday in February, following
the Pennine Way, we saw not one other person in the 15miles between Horton and Hawes.

Return Journey
The first thing about the return journey is
making a decision about any long or short cuts. Bear in mind that you have already
had a very good off-road day out. The fastest return route is the B6255 via ribblehead
to Horton – all road. After that try the Beggarmans road direct south from Gayle,
up the 1in4 tarmac hill, to rejoin the main route. If you actually feel like extending
the route, you could cycle all the way to Bainbridge, so as to take in the entire
Cam High road ascent, and/or cross over at the summit of Beggarmans onto the Cam
Houses road, to rejoin the outward route back to Horton.
This is the description of the main route. Leave Hawes on the A684 toward Bainbridge,
but take the second right, uphill to Burtersett. Go straight through the village
continuing uphill, working off your lunch. You’ll know when you reach the Roman road,
it is a dead straight dirt track for 4 miles. Unfortunately, you take the uphill.
If you like your downhills long and fast, rather than steep and technical, you will
much prefer the route in the anticlockwise direction. However, this will leave you
with a super steep tarmac ascent (after Oughtershaw), and a steep uphill push (out
of Hawes on the Pennine Way).
The ascent is well surfaced, but hard work, especially if, like me, you can see your
riding companions as coloured dots half a mile ahead. After a mile or two the route
levels off and becomes wetter, and eventually has a slight downhill before reaching
the Beggarmans road (tarmac) high above Hawes. Look down the road to Hawes, and be
thankful you didn’t take the shortcut route!
Follow the tarmac uphill, after 1km the road turns sharply left. If you wish to extend
the route, carry straight on here on the rough road, until you almost reach Cam Houses
and the outward route. For mortals, continue left along the main road and drop down
very steeply into upper Langstrothdale, looking out for the very bad bends en route.
The descent should be super fast, but it was so windy on the day I rode, most of
the downhill had to be pedalled!

Calling Civilisation
The first ‘civilisation’ you reach is Oughtershaw,
also complete with union jack. The road then undulates for a while, before a second
short downhill. When you see a farm down on your right hand side and some forestry,
take the sharp right turn into Beckermonds farm. This track is surfaced, but may
appear private. Follow it through Beckermonds, Low Green country house, and High
Green farm, where it becomes a gravel forest road. This road is delightfully quiet,
and leads through some limestone clints and alpine-like pastures, before it is engulfed
by the forest.
After only a mile in the forest, a muddy track crosses a cattle grid onto Birkwith
moor. By now you will probably have had enough, but persevere. More quality off-road
is yet to come.
The track stays level or climbs slightly for an agonisingly long time, especially
when you are tired and hungry. The mud here has an amazing ability to have zero friction,
but yet still manage to stick to the bike. You can actually fall off your bike trying
to ride in a straight line on the level!!
The track is smooth but very muddy. There are a couple of fords en route, both of
which look rideable, both of which aren’t! Eventually the track heads downhill, and
just as you begin to relish the prospect of a cracking downhill, the surface turns
to rubble. One section is barely rideable, and when you are tired it certainly isn’t.
This entire section back to Horton, saw people falling off at the slightest provocation,
just due to fatigue.
Finally you will spy Horton below you, with a steep cobbled track leading down to
it. You can let rip at last, with a death or glory descent. It is rough, but just
hold on for dear life and pray. A fitting finish to the day. You should now find
yourself exactly back where you started from.

Next Month – something big
and scary in Cumbria.
(Written by someone big and hairy from Cumbria)


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