Whooeee! Ten thousand fiends shrieked and gibbered in the upper air as two of us drove our way to Higherford about 11-45 on Saturday night. With demoniacal laughter they hurled us onwards, and ere the shelter of Higherford could be gained rain caused us to take refuge in our capes. The witching hour of midnight boomed out as we arrived at the meeting place, where three other members were already assembled. By 12-15 a full muster of twelve riders was complete, and, clad in capes, leggings, and sou’westers, we took the road.
Steadily we climbed Blacko, and Jupiter Pluvius, thinking to discourage us, opened the very floodgates of heaven. The rain literally poured down, bouncing back off the road with the force of its descent, while the wind, with howling glee, tore at our streaming capes In a sudden fury until it seemed they would split in twain. Then, as quickly as it started, the cloud-burst ceased, leaving a continual drizzle to cheer us on our way. Still undismayed, we passed on, and then commenced the thrilling descent of Coldweather. And what a thrill! Imagine a densely black night; a boisterous back-wind; brakes not working properly, owing to the rain; eyes straining forward into the glare of the lamp; and, lastly, a road dropping downwards for about three or four miles. However, all good things come to an end, and finally the hair-raising descent was accomplished without mishap. With all sail set, we sailed smoothly onwards into the blackness, through deserted hamlets wrapped in slumber, perhaps with one or two lighted windows showing that the occupants were not as yet in bed. Occasionally a belated car passed; a train thundered through the night in the far distance; and now and then a cow poked its head over the hedge, gazing at us with wondering stare.
At two o’clock we stopped in Settle, where some of the more optimistic ones removed their capes, as it happened to be fine. Leaving Settle, we walked up Constitution Hill, mounted, and rode on, passing in quick succession through Stainforth and Horton. Now we were on the road that leads to Ribblehead, and were surrounded by bleak, desolate moorlands, invisible in the gloom, over which at times a curlew suffering from insomnia would emit its shrill cry. At Selside the road took on rough character. Bumpily we jolted on, and soon it became noticeable that the blackness was slowly dissolving, leaving in its wake an eerie twilight. The road became easier to see, objects were more clearly recognised, and by the time we reached Gearstones, about four o’clock, it was almost light.
A halt was made here for a snack, and on resumption of the journey, the pessimistic ones who had not doffed their capes were fully justified, for it started hailing, driving against our backs pitilessly. Hastily the others donned their capes, and we toiled our way upwards to Newby Head. Ah! At last! With gathering momentum we darted down towards Hawes, speed increasing greatly, while on the bends it became positively dangerous.
At Hawes "Lightweight" and I left the club to go and order breakfast. We instructed them to loiter (they greeted this with cheers), and turning our faces towards Buttertubs Pass, we pushed on manfully. When riding became impossible, we walked; the track winding amid sylvan glades, until finally we stood at the top of the pass. Looking back, we obtained a glimpse of Wensleydale in sullen mood and even this was blotted out by dark clouds and rain sweeping down the dale. On the hills over-looking the road the clouds were very low, giving the pass a formidable aspect, until a shaft of sunlight breaking through the clouds transformed the scene magically. The whole pass seemed to smile, beckoning us on, and our spirits rose joyously, making the wretched night ride fade into oblivion. Past the Buttertubs we rode, until at last we looked down into lovely Swaledale, bathed in the rays of the rising sun, forming a sharp contrast with the morose Wensleydale we had just left. We had hardly time to indulge in the beauty of it, and, proceeding cautiously, we dropped down the other side of the pass, turning to the right at the bottom, alongside the Swale, through Muker, and on to Gunnerside, where breakfast was ordered. This village is a gem, typical of Yorkshire. Comprising a few cottages clustered under the lee of a hill and overlooked by densely wooded slopes, it should satisfy the most ardent beauty seeker.
While waiting for breakfast, we performed an early morning toilet, being joined shortly by our comrades, who did likewise. Inspecting the village, we discovered our camping section, who had journeyed there on the Saturday afternoon, just on the point of rising. This, of course, gave us the opportunity of making fun at their expense, only ending when breakfast was pronounced ready. Full justice was done to the meal, naturally, and when we trooped outside again, everyone had a sense of well-being and comfort.
We left Gunnerside with regret, hugging the Swale closely all the way. It was a curious morning; sometimes the sun shone; at other times sudden squalls of rain caused us much discomfort, but when the sun shone the dale was a veritable paradise. White-washed farms perched precariously on the hills on one side, while on the other the slopes were richly clad with verdant forests. Through it all the Swale tumbled musically, the whole scene forming a picture of ethereal loveliness which will haunt us for many a day to come.
Feetham was soon reached, then Reeth, and ten miles further saw us in Richmond. Now many a poem has been sung of Richmond’s glory, but it proved such a disappointment that we did not stop long. We inspected the church, with the shop in it: the castle, only from a distance; and casually viewed the scene from the bridge up the Swale, which has formed the nucleus of many a painter’s canvas, with ill-concealed contempt, so little did it come up to our expectations.
From Richmond we struck over to Leyburn, amid bracing moorland on which the gorse was blooming 1n golden profusion. Doggedly we slowly forced our way forward, for we had turned into the teeth of the wind, and on arrival at Leyburn in a famished state, we had lunch. Our camping toughs were also there, but they went on to Middleham, as they were going over Coverdale. We wished them joy, and promised them a decent funeral.
Once more refreshed, the ride continued (we were back in Wensleydale) in surroundings almost as magnificent as Swaledale. Riding alongside the River Ure, we passed through Wensleydale, West Witton, skirted West Burton, and turned up Bishopdale, over Kidstones Bank. And what a wind! We had to fight every inch of the way over. At the summit it seemed to take a malicious delight in impeding our progress, but we conquered and dropped down into our own familiar Wharfedale, with, I must confess, a tiny prayer of thankfulness, through Buckden, and on to Kettlewell, where we took the bottom road that goes through Conistone. We were rewarded with a fine view of Kilnsey Crag, towering in sombre splendour on the other side of the Wharf. Crossing the river, we reached the main road to Skipton again and the wind became more sideways, thus being less troublesome. We sped along in fine style, branching off at Cracoe for Gargrave. Tea was disposed of here, and the remainder of the ride home was almost drab in comparison with the beauties we had witnessed during the day. Finally, in response to those critics who are sure to condemn us for turning out on an awful night like we did, I would remind them "Something attempted, something done.”