SUNDAY 26TH

Sunday 26th February arrived with a cool start and the likelihood of windy conditions with rain coming later. Eight of us decided the risk wasn’t too great to prevent us getting a decent ride out after Mark Sweeting had posted his intentions to do the Rothbury Round. Yes, I am well aware that Northumberland is largely a bog at this time of year, however there are a couple of big juicy carrots dangling in front of you on this ride, too juicy to be ignored, so off we went!

Meeting at the normal spot, Asda Benton at 0900 were Piotr Szczygielski, Deryck Brown, Peter Whitworth, Paul Houghton and Mark. For once I left the van at home and hauled my gear the 200 metres down to the meeting place, having been a last minute decision maker and not wishing to interfere with any pre-ordained transport plans. Mark was kind enough to throw my Trek Fuel EX-9 up on his roof with his own and Paul’s bikes. I jumped in with Deryck to keep him company while Pete and Piotr took their own cars. As we were passing the A1 slip road at Stannington, who should slot in behind us but John Rivers, joining us from his Ponteland home, what immaculate timing!

Incidentally, on the subject of bikes, 650B long travel weapons seem to be the name of the game just now with three YT Capras (Mark S, John and Paul) and Deryck's Canyon Strive CF9 Race (wow!) leading the charge while my modified 150mm Trek Fuel EX-9 came next with Peter’s Whyte T-130, Mark R’s Spesh Camber and Piotr’s Cube hardtail in order of travel.

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On our arrival at Rothbury’s riverside car park, who should be waiting for us but Mark Ramsey. Mark’s shift working means he only gets every second Sunday off to play, and the way things have panned out for several months is that nobody has done a suitable ride on his free days, typical! So he was looking forward to catching up with us again, and of course his vast expertise in the Northumberland landscape had him also well aware of the ground conditions we would encounter today but as with the rest of us he knew there was payback on this one.

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We set off around 0950 after a bit of faffing and chinwag, heading up the road, very slowly in my case, the “up” word taming my speed to ridiculously low levels. I did manage to catch up at the top of the hill as we hit the first bridleway and headed for the hills. NOTE!!! The bikes in the pic below are NOT ours!!!
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For about  9.5 miles we were travelling virtually westward into the remnants of Storm Doris, hence some struggling on the open stretches although the first 7 of those miles had the wind more-or-less at our side, so not too bad and much easier in the few sheltered areas. Of course there was also the small matter of 1000 feet of climbing over the same distance to contend with. Peter stayed with me at the back as I struggled up the climbs, while he himself was feeling some leg pain at various times. As previously suggested, the ground was wet so there was plenty mud plugging to do. However the gloop wasn’t quite as widespread as we’d expected so there were also some good sections where we managed to travel a bit quicker with a bit of swerving and jumping, although we sure weren’t in a hurry. While wind and ice will forever be my most hated aspects of mountain biking, I was out here today regardless because I miss the riding and the banter so much, and with my racing season looming there wouldn’t be many more free Sundays to enjoy, so I tried to grin and bear it – not too hard in this company.

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Our first rest halt came long after I needed one, at Chartners, that famous landmark Outward Bound (or ex-) house in the middle of nowhere which immediately promotes thoughts of the delights waiting just beyond if you’ve been there before. Half of us parked at the picnic table in the ever-increasing gusts while the sensible half stood in the shelter of the east-facing wall, and we were there for about 10 minutes shedding some edible weight from our backpacks. Time to hit the remains of the hill up to the welcoming gate at the head of Whitefield Hill.

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The dual track descent from the moor edge that takes you 800 vertical feet down to the little village of Hepple is most likely the reason that Mark Sweeting chose this ride. I well recall the glow on his face after his first experience of it in July 2012. It’s one of those runs that you can’t help drooling over and wanting to repeat. It starts out flattish up top, with some deep puddles today until the slope began to allow water run-off and made it largely bone dry from half way, gradually steepening as the stones get bigger and the best lines become harder to stay on. We were approaching the Shooting Hut at one third distance with 100 of those precious feet gone when Mark Ramsey somehow managed to collect a nail, of all things, in his Camber’s rear tyre. He ran the last hundred metres with it until a suitable siding loomed, which just happened to be at the hut entry point.

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Deryck and I accompanied him down to the shelter of the building and shared the repair job between us, nicely out of the wind. We even had the cheek to tease the rest of the lads from within its cosy confines until we felt sorry for them and re-joined.

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Time to step it up now, the turns getting tighter and the rocks bigger while our speedo needles began to wind nicely clockwise. It’s pretty handy knowing your way down as you do need to check your speed in a few places, but if you are familiar with it the adrenalin rush pushes you over to the reckless side of sensible as you strive to beat your last time to the bottom gate. Great fun, and well worth the effort needed to get us here. Not a single face without the broadest grin as we regrouped down below, and Piotr even had to check with me later that night to confirm he’d managed to clock 58 kph (he’s Polish after all, so we forgive him the metrication) on the fastest part! I still can’t believe we’ve never lost anyone to a nasty spill down here (or have we???).

At last we had the wind largely in our favour as we made our way north then east for the next 8 miles, at which point Doris turned her wick up and became angry. There followed a very hard bridleway slog as we turned west again, then south towards Rothbury until it peaked beyond Ship Crag where we could barely keep the bikes upright. We paused there for a few minutes after the leaders had hidden behind rocks to await the arrival of Peter and myself, the last two and quite a way behind the others at this time.

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At least the end was in sight now as Peter’s clever phone clocked the wind speed at 40 mph and increasing. We decided to haul ass in case it got any worse, Mark S leading onto the final, gnarly, technical singletrack descent. It’s a bit of a stretch of the language to call this any kind of “track” as even sheep find it difficult, and at various times the descent claimed Paul, John and Peter, but thankfully all three spills being of the comic variety. I managed to get past Mark when he chose a bad line at the low point of the trail and skittled up to open the final gate of the day, just managing to catch Peter dropping it just a few metres from the end, his legs now completely dead!

A final gravel upslope path saw us sitting above the nearest houses and we stopped to discuss which track to follow down to the town. We’d passed the first one and Mark S believed there was another further on, but I managed to persuade him to take the middle route, and that decision paid off handsomely. Not in terms of user-friendliness, for sure, but for sheer gut-rending laughter there was little to beat Deryck’s descent into the laburnums, getting his head jammed between two branches. I followed him and suffered a similar fate, as did most of the others who attempted the steepest chute. Paul and Pete were probably quite sensible in walking the last part, although even that was fraught with comic danger.

Just a few back gardens and a set of steps to do after that and we were cruising over the bridge and back to the cars about four and a half hours after leaving. Another memorable Midaircrisis mission completed.

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Next Sunday Ride (plus other odd days) - See our Facebook page.

Next Night Ride: Thursday as usual.

Thursday nighters are 10-25 milers, 7:00pm start at ASDA East car park, Benton, 3-3.5 hours and generally OK for fit new riders but you need decent lights you can see with, NOT CANDLES. You MUST wear a cycle helmet.

Sundays are generally much longer, 8:00am to 10:00am starts from ride venue ending around teatime, and much harder rides.

Other ad-hoc rides are always being organised, see our Facebook page. Gloves, waterproof coat, snack and drink recommended. Carry basic tools.

The Best Bike in the World arrives at ASDA!

Well, not actually in the store, but outside in the car park on Thursday night, and it was John Rivers who turned up with it, lucky s**! And as if to prove it's pedigree it resisted all of Matt Holmes' attempts to wreck it on a sharp-edged, very high kerb!

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The bigger the group, the louder the laughs!

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