The Dales are one of the most beautiful parts of England, with some classic mountain biking that will make you feel like you're really out in the wilds. York-based enthusiast and mountain bike instructor Sarah Allard describes what's on offer.
The hilly limestone country of the Dales encompasses some of England’s most prominent peaks, the highest being Whernside at 736m (2,415ft). The mountain biking terrain is varied, but a large proportion of it is on stone tracks and bridleways following broad valleys, with some long ascents.
The Yorkshire Dales covers a sizeable area and distances between the best riding locations can be further than you think. But don’t let the distances and long ups dissuade you: the Dales are fantastic mountain biking country with tremendous views, and certainly not to be missed.
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Sarah Allard is the co-founder of Lost Earth Adventures, an adventure holiday and mountain sports outfit that leads expeditions and courses both in the UK and further afield in Asia. Sarah is a qualified mountain bike instructor, trained in whitewater rescue and wilderness first-aid. She leads groups in the UK and Southeast Asia.
Having grown up in Canada, she spent much of her youth exploring...
Due to the large expanse of area the National Park covers (an impressive 680 square miles), I’ve divided it into a few separate sections known for their outstanding riding.
Northern Dales: Wensleydale and Swaledale
Wensleydale and Swaledale are in the northern reaches of the park and feature some of the wildest terrain, remote peaks and biggest landscapes in the Dales. It consistently ranks as one of the best places for natural trail riding with huge swaths of single track and bridleways to keep you busy for a long, long time. If you’re not up for sharing the trails with others, this is the place to go.
Nidderdale classic loop: 24km, 700m ascent, difficult
Raining cats and dogs, grey skies or sunshine, this is an absolutely fantastic route and almost 100% off-road. It begins at the impressive Scar House Reservoir before climbing high above the valley floor. Stop to enjoy the view before continuing through farmland and grassy slopes. The finale is an exciting rocky descent back to the reservoir. There are a few pubs and cafés along the way, too.
Tour of Pen-y-Ghent: 30km, 670m ascent, difficult
Another undeniable classic, this route takes in the sensational scenery surrounding one of Yorkshire’s finest peaks, Pen-y-Ghent. This circular route is demanding, but doable, with two significant ascents and a satisfying descent down the shoulder of Pen-y-Ghent. The trail is mainly off-road on rocky pathways and grassy moorland. Another highlight if time permits is visiting Hull Pot, a stunning natural feature, visible from the route.
Swaledale Loop, 52.8km, 1300m ascent, difficult
An absolute belly buster, taking in just over 1300m of ascent. The riding is consistently good and fast. After a steady climb, you’re rewarded with a descent onto Gunnerside Gill. You’ll eventually make your way to an epic ascent up Fremington Edge. A great descent leads you all the way back down to earth. Lunar landscapes, wild open terrain, fast single track, flowing bridleways and riding that takes you through the industrial heritage of the area – not to be missed!
Kilsney Moor, 16km, 240m ascent, moderate
A worthy introduction to mountain biking in limestone country. This route starts in Kilnsey, and perfect for post cake reward and hot cuppa. There are a few ascents that take you up to Marstile Gate up stone tracks and grass fields. It’s not too technical so you can focus on the outstanding views. Your descent back into Kilnsey is fast, fast, fast down a wide track. Have your fingers over the breaks and go for it!
Howgills Classic, 38km, difficult
Head to the northwest corner of the Dales to reach what may be the finest section of single track in area. Exposed to the elements, this route is best saved for a warm, sunny day. Start in Sedbergh and be forewarned the initial ascent is unforgiving! Traverse the summit to the reach the The Calf, catch your breath and savour the views. Descend into Bowerdale and it just gets better and better. One last ascent before the grand finale – continuous steep double track and flowing single track.
Best times to go:
Mountain biking in the Dales is possible throughout the year, although midwinter can be tough, and the snow generally brings proceedings to a halt. Some of the routes such as Howgills are very exposed to the elements and are better in warm weather.
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