Cycle-camping trip: Sneck Yate Bank, North Yorkshire Moors

Camping beside the Cleveland Way near Sneck Yate. My adapted racing bike and Terra Nova Competition one-person tent.

Camping beside the Cleveland Way near Sneck Yate Bank. My adapted racing bike and Terra Nova Competition one-person tent.

I suppose I really ought to begin this with an apology to the owner of this lovely piece of ground, not that you’re likely to read my blog – you’re probably far too busy trying to eke out a living working the land – but if you do…sorry. I didn’t ask your permission to camp the night. I didn’t know where to find you, and anyway I was far too exhausted to try.

The second thing I should do is appeal to every other wild camper to respect the countryside and leave it, within reason, as we find it. Wild camping and “stealth” camping are thorny issues, but the bottom line is that, in England, we are tresspassing, strictly speaking, if we don’t ask permission to camp, and the practice is only as common as it is because of the generally good nature of landowners (and, perhaps, the hassle and expense of trying to sue someone). I might get into all that again later, but for now I just want to write a bit about my camping trip.

Here’s the bike, a Marinoni frame with mostly the original Campagnolo fixtures.

Er, that's far too much gear, mate...

Er, that’s far too much gear, mate…

My Bike

I’ll interupt this to say a bit more about my pushbike. If you’d rather just read about the trip, skip on to the next heading. The frame is a racer, and a rather top-end make, but I’ve replaced the narrow racing wheels with some bog-standard alloy tourers after the front wheel went down an expansion gap in a level crossing, bent badly and nearly caused me serious injury. I also replaced the pedals for some simple plastic ones.

The bike came to me by accident. I found it resting against a skip out the back of Morrisons, where I worked at the time. It seemed abandoned, but that was suspicious, since who would leave a racing bike in perfect working order unattended and unlocked leaning against a skip? I asked around all day. I moved it to somewhere a little safer, but left a note in case someone came for it. By the evening, I decided it must have been stolen and dumped, put up more notices, and threw it in the back of my van to take home. Now, with hindsight, I know that I should have taken it to the police station. Someone might have claimed it. You never know. I feel rather guilty, because I didn’t do that. I pretended to myself that putting up notices would be enough. It was probably nicked miles away and the owner might have reported it, and if I’d taken it to the police that person could have got it back. Sorry, mate. I guess I probably thought it was alright because I hadn’t stolen it; “finders keepers” I probably said to myself. I liked it very much. I didn’t have a bike. I had no idea that it was a good make. The strange thing is that if you’ve ever seen the logo for Marinoni and the logo for Morrisons, you’ll know that they’re almost identical, a capital M inside an ellipse inside a square, and when I saw that stamped on the frame I thought, stupid me, I didn’t realise we had our own delivery bikes here. Maybe someone else had found it dumped earlier, after its little excursion, and thought they were bringing it home to us!

So anyway, that was about 1992 or something, 17 years ago. I’ve loved it since, although it’s actually far too big for me, and then I decided to do some modifications for cycle touring and camping. This summer I made some front pannier frames out of aluminium that I had lying around, mainly because the forks don’t have the usual fitting holes for mudguards, which most front frames utilise. Of course, it would be a simple job to buy some and make a small alteration, a bracket at the bottom or something, but since I had to alter them I might as well start from scratch and save myself a few quid.

DIY front pannier rack

DIY front pannier rack

The horizontal bar is L-section aluminium with two short slots cut in the upper face to accept the lugs on the pannier back and bolted to the forks via a simple bracket and rubber mounts. The other end is bolted to the diagonal, which is made from some carpet joining strip, with a hole drilled for the axle end to go through. Another piece of the same forms the small extension pointing down from the axle, with a similar hole drilled, having a lug at the bottom for the pannier lower attachment. The axle nuts are just tightened up to hold these two pieces together against the fork dropouts.

I considered not having the diagonal connection bar, and overcoming the tendency for the horizontal one to rotate foward by placing the upper pannier lugs either side of the fork. This would reduce the weight a little, but in the end I went for the stronger, triangulated design, which also kept the pannier further forward away from my feet on a tight turn.

Here you can see the steel lugs on the pannier back slotted into the frame. If you fit things like this, it’s useful to fashion a curve on the bracket to help hold it in line with the fork, and to pad both sides with rubber to protect the paint and give the mounting a little bit of give.

Pannier rack fitting close-up

Pannier rack fitting close-up

We found the black rear panniers that you can see on the earlier picture in a cupboard, the “wife” and I, and we both had no idea where they came from. They would be perfect, I thought, for the rear carrier, with some hi-vis stripes ironed on and various other modifications to the fittings.

That meant that my old separate panniers from the back could be hung on the front wheels. As any fool knows, serious touring cyclists have front panniers. You get more in and it balances the bike much better.

The little patch of silvery plastic on the rear pannier is another addition I made – a solar-rechargeable torch, fastened with velcro. This worked for the one trip, until I ripped it off a little too quickly and the inevitable happened, the hooky bit was more adhesive than the glue sticking it to the torch.

The handlebar bag is also a do-it-yourself job, an old camera bag, which I suspended with cord and some of those spring-loaded D-clips you can get in outdoors shops, the latter just clipped onto the brake cables where they enter the brake lever housing. That’s not really best practice, but I was sick of trying things that didn’t work, and this did.

The bag was suspended by the loops where the shoulder strap had been attached, just above the side pockets, so all it needed was securing below to stop it swinging back and forth, which I did even less technically, clipping it to the looped-wire spring of the front brake. I know, I know…! Again, it worked, only needing adjusting at one point on the outward journey when the cords lengthened and the bottom began to rub on the tyre.

I was chuffed to bits with this bag, because it had moveable compartments made of foam padding, so I could set it up nicely to protect my camera, and it was big enough for tons of other gear, phone, wallet, field glass, compass, kitchen sink… I put it “backwards” so the top opened away from me. The pocket nearest me was big enough for a map, and I gave it a spray of silicone waterproofing.

The Trip

I have referred to this trip since as a nightmare and a failure, but in reality it was a steep learning curve (called White Horse Hill) and involved some really good parts. It was, after all, my first ever cycle camping trip involving wild camping.

My only other cycle camping was during a single journey from Harrogate to Oxford in four days, camping on commercial sites, back in my 20’s. And I had been wild camping once, a couple of years ago, spending a dreadfully stormy night on the moors, having gone there on the bus and then a few miles on foot. After that I realised that I wasn’t up to carrying a pack on my back. Either I needed more practice and workouts to get fitter, or those days were just behind me now. I hope it’s the former and I do a little backpacking too in coming years, but for now I turned my attention to cycle-camping, letting the bike take the strain.

This trip was rather a catalogue of mistakes, a lesson in how not to do cycle camping. Mistake number one was setting off too late. Despite thinking that I’d done most of the packing the day before, it seemed to take forever to get the last bits done that morning, and I set off about 1:30 pm. That’s only a mistake if you intend to go a longish way, and I did.

Now, I should point out that some people will consider this a short way, a quick spin on the bike, I know that, before I reveal how far that is. Actually, I didn’t even know how far it was (and still don’t) – that’s mistake number two – I just had a spot in mind, from looking at the map and google earth, and I thought it wouldn’t be too much trouble to get there. A rough guess would be about 45 to 50 miles. Insane.

I could probably do 50 miles without too much difficulty if it was fairly flat and I didn’t have any luggage. I know that I average about 10 miles an hour and I’m sure I can sit and peddle for 5 hours, but for that I’d have to set off in good time, and the route wasn’t flat, and I had an insane weight of gear on the bike, I estimate somewhere in the region of 17kg. Why so much? Well, I was hoping to be pretty well self-sufficient for about 5 days, for no good reason, and that meant carrying more food, more clothing and a few other extras like a hand-wound torch with charger socket for when my phone battery was low. Even so, mistake number three was to pack far too much. At the last minute I was still trying to decide whether to take only a pair of sandals, only sneakers or both, and ended up taking both. I had a similar difficulty deciding whether to take a half-litre vacuum flask of hot water to have a cup of tea on the way (and to keep water hot while camping, too), and ended up doing so – a ridiculous luxury, I now realise.

I set off through Knaresborough and out to Ferrensby, then West across to Aldwark Bridge, and enjoyed the ride. Most of the first hour or so it was raining lightly, which was refreshing. I stopped once to shelter under a tree when there was a heavy downpour.

Mistake number four, however, was that I didn’t stop and eat or drink enough. The flask did me a couple of cups of tea, and I ate some Brazil nuts from time to time, and I drank probably about another half litre of water. The first mistake, setting off late, played on my mind, so instead of stopping and having a good meal in a pub or resting for longer, I kept pushing on, and I got some of that mission mentality, like this was some macho test of stamina.

I then rode North through the villages on the York plain towards the moors, and I think I went into a weird kind of mental blank.

Approaching Oldstead and White Horse Hill

Approaching Oldstead and White Horse Hill

Kilburn White Horse

Kilburn White Horse

That was the view ahead, White Horse Hill, and that was the hill I intended to climb, but I wouldn’t be finished by a long chalk, pardon the pun. My journey was supposed to continue over the moors to the top of Sneck Yate Bank, then go East down the hill into Hawnby, then climb again over the Osmotherly road across more moorland.

I did get to the top of White Horse Hill. I had to push the bike up it. In fact, I was so knackered by then I had to push it for about 20 paces and take a rest, over and over. Even if I had mountain-climbing gears instead of racing ones I would probably have got off and pushed. The little road wound up and up. I thought I’d never get to the top. I didn’t time it, but had the feeling that it took me most of an hour.

Part of the problem was that I didn’t have a clear destination or route, and by this time I was scouting for suitable campsites. That’s ok, except that if you don’t stop to camp, you might waste time looking at a spot and trying to decide what to do. Not being used to this game, I was constantly trying to weigh up how much daylight I had left, how much energy I had left to pitch the tent, find water, cook and so on before losing the light, and how confident I felt that something better might turn up in the next few miles. In fact, I was beginning to scout for campsites long before reaching White Horse Hill, and I only took the detour to Oldstead because it looked more promising on the map. This meant more wasted time and energy, because, although there were places I could have camped, I got another fit of machismo and wanted to push on and get higher.

White Horse Hill itself would probably be a bad place to camp, being quite a hot-spot for tourists and, no doubt, early-morning dog walkers. Once I was up on the higher ground, I began searching more seriously, now giving up the idea of getting all that way to my vaguely-intended destination past Hawnby.

It was then that I remembered the wonderful view from a little track that I’d seen just at the top of Sneck Yate Bank (as I used to live in Hawnby and communted along that route most days), and decided to investigate it for camping potential. There was nowhere suitable to pitch a tent there, but I saw a stand of trees nearby, marked on the map as High Barn, and I saw there were a few springs marked too a little way off. The trees would give me some shelter from the elements, and I would just have to hope that I could find water. I only had about half a litre left.

High Barn

High Barn

I opened the gate and pushed my bike over the rough grass on the bridleway, part of the Cleveland Way, up to High Barn and chose a good spot down behind some piles of brushwood between the trees. There was quite a stiff breeze blowing, but behind these it was nice and still. The photo above was taken the next day, of course. By this time it was late evening.

I was exhausted. I pitched the tent and got the stove out to make some dinner. However, the endless decision-making continued: should I try to find a source of water first, or try to eke out the small amount I had left. I’ve lost count of how many bad decisions I made by this point, but this was the next. It was beginning to get dark rapidly, and that put me off trying to search for springs or streams down the hillside by torch-light for obvious safety reasons. Who knows, it may have been a good decision, a life-saving decision. Certainly it made sense at the time not to go trudging about over land I didn’t know in the dark. I had passed some big puddles on the way along the bridleway, which also persuaded me that this was the best decision, since I wasn’t going to die of thirst. It seemed best to put the dinner on with what little water I had (carrying only dried food, obviously) and hunker down for the night.

So that’s what I did. Unfortunately, I put a little too much of the dried vegetable soup in the pan for the “sauce”, and then, worst of all, I put some pasta in as well. The resulting thick gloop was hard to get down, and the pasta just didn’t cook, but merely sat there soaking up some of the precious water and turning to a rubber consistency. When you’re very tired, often you get past eating. You don’t feel hungry, and have to tell yourself to eat for the sustenance. I tried to eat what I could of the soup-gloop without throwing up, went to do what bears do in the woods, enjoying the view of the lights of villages all across the plain below, and went to bed after a quick phone-call to my partner and then a text with my map coordinates as a safety procedure.

Things didn’t improve at this point. I tried to choose a bit of ground that gave the best compromise between shelter and surface, but I’d given too much emphasis to the shelter. I realised it was a bit lumpy and rather damp, but figured that the lumps were damp clay, and I could easily thump them down to make a flatter bed. Once in my sleeping bag, however, I found that they were harder than I realised, and so began that well-known camper’s routine of shuffling round most of the night, trying to fit one’s limbs between the lumps. Despite overpacking on most things, I had rather skimped on the mat, using a couple of layers of the yellow plastic underlay that goes under wooden floors (a tip from another camper on a forum), and my sleeping bag was pretty thin too. I had a slight headache, probably from mild dehydration. It was colder than I expected. I slept intermittently, then deeply after the sun came up.

I woke up rather too hot and unzipped the tent to cool down. I thought that it wouldn’t be long before people started coming past – this was probably quite a popular route of a weekend, and it was Saturday. It was very pleasant basking in that warmth, but I knew that I had to get up and start finding water. I collected up what I would need, remembering to take my valuables with me, and set off to see what “spring” on the map would actually translate into. The view from here made it all worth it.

The view from High Barn

The view from High Barn

As I set off I saw someone coming towards me, a man walking a couple of dogs, so I said hello and asked if he was local. I said I was off to find a spring or stream, and did he know of a good place. He said there were some springs further down the hill, but he didn’t know if they were running or not. He said that he knew the farmer who owned the land, after I made apologetic noises about camping, and that he wouldn’t mind. He pointed to the farm house, which wasn’t more than half a mile away, and suggested that I should call and ask to have my water bottle filled.

Now this is a curious issue that I’ve thought about quite a lot since, but it isn’t really a favourable proposition to me, getting tap water from houses and farms. Part of the reason is that I’m camping where I shouldn’t without permission, partly it’s because I’m trying to manage without home comforts like running water, and part of the picture is certainly my generally introverted nature. I cycle off into the hills to be on my own. I had passed a pub in Oldstead, where the smell of food and beer mingled with the soft murmur of voices, and didn’t stop. This tendency, I’ve decided, is stupid. It’s not like I’m supposed to be living off the land like a commando. It’s supposed to be a biking holiday!

I descended the hill, following the map, and found the nearer of the two springs marked. It was disappointing, being not much more than an area of mud. This is a common occurence. It’s not a good idea to take springs marked on maps at face value, especially in summer. Sometimes there may not even be any trace of water at the surface.

I continued further downhill, nearer to the farmhouse, and found the other. That was more like it, a circular depression about ten feet across full of murky water, but with a relatively clear trickle flowing out and down the stream bed. The only problem was reaching the water across the mud all around, but I found some good spots, washed my pots and then moved upstream a little to fill my water bottle, my “dirty” water bottle, that is, and I also scooped some into a plastic bag. It was hard to get much for the mud and the debris running into whatever was placed in the flow. I three-quarter filled the bottle by gently pushing it down into the mud, holding the lip upstream at the surface. It was then that I realised I had hardly got any better water than I’d passed in those puddles, but at least it wasn’t standing water.

Back at camp I set up my home-made filter and filtered the least dirty of the water into the pan to make coffee. The filter is just an old plastic pill container, a cylindrical pot with a lid, into the bottom of which I melted a few holes; I lined this with cotton wool, poured a small measure of the contents of a Brita(TM) filter cartridge in and placed more cotton wool over the top to leave the bulk of the volume as a reservoir for the dirty water. It works pretty well just placed in a pan, as long as you’re careful not to spill the dirty water directly into the pan (or it’s not critical anyway, which it certainly wasn’t this time). I think the Brita stuff gets rid of a fair amount of any chemical polution that might be present, and, of course, does a pretty good job of removing the particulate matter, though not down to the micron levels that a proper outdoor ceramic filter would. I’m not sure how much of the bacteria and other nasties it kills, but I was going to boil it anyway, which does the rest.

Readers may repeat experiments with Brita filter materials outdoors at their own risk! I did email them to ask their opinion on how suitable their products are for such pursuits, and kindly offering them my free consultatory expertise as a novice outdoorsman, but I’ve heard nothing back. They’ve probably filed it under “Top Secret: New Product Development”, or “Crank Emails”. I think there must be a gap in the market. Everything else seems to be heavy and/or bulky and, although it might remove all known pathogens in one go without boiling, I’m sure there are a few folks like me who just want to improve the clarity and remove a good percentage of any pollutants.

The bloody stove ran out of gas next. I’ve got one of those Rapijet stoves, that is basically an oversized cigarette lighter: you fill it up at the base with butane from a cigarette-lighter-refill canister, and it has a knob to turn it on with an integrated button for the piezo-electric spark. The first time I used it in earnest, on my first wild camp, I bust the knob by overtightening it and had a cold dinner, but I made a repair later. I’ve not used it much yet, but on this trip I noticed that it does seem to empty pretty quickly, or I haven’t managed to fill it fully. It’s hard to tell whether it’s still taking gas when you fill it, and, unhelpfully, the instructions don’t say if you should use any of the adaptors (that are listed for different lighters on most cans of fuel), so I just do it with none of them. The other downsides with these things are that they’re no good at altitude (you need a different fuel – propane, I think) and they’re not exactly very lightweight either, I guess because of the need for a good strong metal case to hold the pressurized gas; then you have to take a refill. It’s one of the things on my list to look into improving for next season.

Anyway, the stove running out meant letting it cool down before filling it (as per instructions), and while I was waiting for that along came a couple of very chatty walkers who kept me from my morning cup of coffee for another twenty minutes as we compared tents, stoves, routes and prefered methods of travel. They were very kind and offered me some of their water, but I was fine, thanks.

Finally I got some coffee made (with powdered milk, of course, but I don’t mind that), as more people filed passed saying hello and commenting on how late I was having breakfast. Breakfast? Jesus, it took all morning to fetch water, filter and heat it and make a cup of fucking coffee. I’d get round to breakfast in good time. One of the lovely things about the outdoor life is that you appreciate ordinary luxuries more. You can’t just fall out of bed and switch a light on, turn a tap, flick a switch, open a cupboard and hey-presto, there’s your coffee.

I enjoyed that coffee, and then I made porridge for lunch. I lazed in the sun for a while, and began thinking about what to do next.

This trip had had to be fitted in between other commitments, and all along I’d been a bit disappointed by the weather forecast. It was lovely that day, but Sunday was supposed to bring very heavy rain, and then it was meant to ease off a bit after that. When I set off I was ignoring the implication that I might spend a lot of time sitting in the tent in the rain, but now the idea seemed rather depressing. I could sit it out and hope things got better before long, but going home today was quite tempting, even though that made it just a one-nighter when I’d intended to have a few days to a week.

I put off that decision a little longer by focusing on the present campsite. The ground was wetter than I had realised last night, and I’d had to put a load of straw in the doorway to minimize the mud I was tramping through. The ground was lumpy. I could move the tent a little way along to a better bit, but then the water supply wasn’t very good either. I could go further afield to find better water, but then I was camped on what was clearly a busy public bridleway at the weekend, and I didn’t want to risk leaving my tent pitched, or have the hassle of carting it about just to look for water. The rain might keep the people away tomorrow, but then we’re back to the other question again, whether I wanted to be here in the rain at all.

Would it be better to move into the woods somewhere for more shelter from the rain? No. Trees don’t really shelter you from continual rain. They shelter you from a shower, because the water sits on the leaves for a while, but if it continues it all just runs off on you anyway, bringing dirt and debris onto the tent with it.

In the end, I decided to pack up and cycle somewhere, leaving the question of where until I’d set off. This was probably another bad idea.

Uppermost in my mind was the idea of cycling on to where I had intended to go yesterday, but I had to admit that my apetite for this trip was waning, and besides, I hadn’t even seen the place. I expect that I must seem very pathetic to a lot of people. I have an anxiety disorder, I’m told (I worry about stuff too much). Anyway, this is what happened. The negative possibilities seemed to grow in my mind every time I formed a plan of action, but in particular I imagined that tomorrow would bring torrential rain and the “easing off” would be minimal. Some people would expect moderate rain and then a lovely few days afterwards to look forward to. By the time I’d got back to the road, I was beginning to think that heading home today would be best. Besides, the cycling itself was very enjoyable, whereas camping in the rain on my own might turn out to be a washout, despite having brought a book to read.

Another cyclist pulled up beside me and we had a chat. He was in all the lycra stuff on his racer and was just enjoying a spin up from Thirsk where he lived. I briefly mentioned my predicament and how I was thinking of quitting and riding home today. He said that the weather could be very unpredictable around these parts, so not to take too much heed of the forecast. It almost made me change my mind, but by now I had cycled in the wrong direction for a while and I didn’t want to start taking the whole thing apart again. He cycled off ahead and I continued to “quit”, as it felt. Even as I did so I had big doubts about the wisdom of this. By now it was mid-afternoon, perhaps around 4 pm. much later than I’d set off yesterday, and I was tired from the outward journey. My trip meter said it was 35 miles, although it would be more downhill and I could avoid the detours, making it more like 33, but this was a crazy decision, the worst one yet. I kind of knew it at the time.

I continued, and whizzed down White Horse Hill in a matter of minutes, just a little concerned for my brakes. That was that. I realised that my worst error the day before was in not stopping enough, eating enough and drinking enough, so I vowed to stop at the next pub and have a jolly good nosh before the trip home, which might take me well into the evening.

I did stop in Coxwold, but only had a pint of bitter shandy and a packet of crisps. I didn’t feel like eating any more than that, and just packed another packet of crisps for later. I asked the barman if he’d fill my water bottle with tap water, I chucked away the remains of my filtered water and set off.

I made good progress at first, helped by knowing most of the turns without having to check the map. However, I got complacent at one point, went the wrong way and added another 4 miles to the journey. This was unfortunate, as it was just when my morale was about at its lowest anyway and I was really flagging.

It was only a few miles further on that I decided that it would be most sensible to phone my partner and ask her to come out the remaining 8 miles in the car and pick me up. It honestly wasn’t just a failure of guts and determination. It became a serious medical decision, because by that time my neck was giving me appalling amounts of pain from the riding position and the cool breeze on it. It was dark and getting colder, and there was the prospect of a number of steep hills, the worst being the last half a mile up from the Nidd valley at Knaresborough. I was pushing my bike up Gallabar Hill towards Marton and the A1 when I called, at about 9 pm.

I could have got home in about an hour to an hour and a half, and wouldn’t mind the exhaustion – indeed I would revel in my suffering and success  – but there was a good chance that I would have grave issues with my spine, and that was not worth the trouble. Another solution would be to just stop and pitch, but in my condition I thought that was also a stupid option. I had blown the chance of making this a nice cycle-camping trip. I had overdone it massively on the mileage over two days for my age and condition, and now it was finally time to do the sensible thing rather than make it worse by causing myself more suffering. It was wonderful to get home. I had beans on toast and several cups of decaf and began to feel human again

Even with quitting early, my neck has been pretty painful and stiff for many weeks. I hate to think what it would have been like if I’d pressed on.

The lessons from this first cycle-wild-camp are many. My legs were hardly stiff at all, so I know that I’m up to that level of physical work. It wasn’t the peddling that did me in. It was poor attention to food and drink, combined with the riding position and my neck problem.

I’m planning to replace the drops with a straight handlebar or even something more cruiser-like for a more upright position. However, I’m now considering whether further messing about with my old racer that’s too big for me anyway is sensible, or if I’d rather splash out and get something more suitable. I’m crap at making decisions, that’s clear, but last time I thought about it I was in favour of sticking with it, putting a new handlebar on, refitting the whole gear train with a “stump puller” and getting a sprung saddle, as my behind is going to take more of a battering if I sit more upright.

I remember reading that one of the most important things in a touring cycle is comfort, and that any reduction in pace from the wind on your chest is more than made up for by being able to keep going longer. It was in Richard’s New Bicycle Book, and for that reason he considered a mountain bike a good choice for touring, to my surprise. I don’t think he means those cheap 30 kg things that pass for mountain bikes, though, but a grand-or-so worth.

It was pretty sickening that I’d made such a hash of the trip, especially as I began to analyse it and realise what bad decisions I’d made all along. Even worse, the next day, supposed to be heavy rain according to the Met Office, was fair, as was the rest of the week. If I had only decided to move from High Barn and find a new camp, I would probably have had a good time up on the moors, and I wouldn’t have had the painful and aborted trip home. I could have rested up, sunbathed, chilled out, and set off several days later for a nice relaxed ride home. Oh well, you live and learn.

Picture 007

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21 Responses to Cycle-camping trip: Sneck Yate Bank, North Yorkshire Moors

  1. Ian says:

    Congratulations on actually getting off your back side and doing it. Thats a brave thing to do. I’m 47 and haven’t cycled since I was a kid. In Jan I bought an old touring bike on ebay for £36.00 and I am now preparing for a 1,000mile ride to Monaco in May or June this year. Just because I can, and because I have told my little girl thats what I’m doing. I have a total budget of £100 for my bike to include a full overhaul – £93 spent thus far and she’s a gem to ride. I did a 35 mile ride two weeks back and it damn near killed me – I took no food, just a little water, forgot my wallet and had no phone. I was a mess and it took me 5 hours to do. Eating the right stuff at the right time and in the right quantities is what touring is all about. Now I understand the food side of things the training is coming on fine. Best of luck for your future rides

  2. lettersquash says:

    Training? Oh yeah, that’s what people do, isn’t it? 😉 Thanks, Ian, your kind comment made me feel a lot better about this. I’ve been close to deleting the post, I felt such a wimp! Trouble is I haven’t got much time for training, so I think I’ve just got to learn to take shorter trips, pack a lot less kit and – you’re right – eat the right sort of things at the right time. I find that the hard sustained exercise of cycling suppresses the appetite, so I need to force myself to stop, rest and enjoy a good meal. That’s exciting about Monaco (any particular reason for the destination?). Are you staying in accommodation or will you camp? Not wild camping, presumably, in France. Going alone?

    I was on a wild camping forum the other day and people there made me felt better too – about my wimpishness when camping alone in a tent on the moors for the first time (I mean, it was the first time I had camped alone at all, and the first time I’d wild camped, and it just happened to get windy in the night and then finally chucked it down and blew like crazy for hours). I was scared. I thought I heard all sorts of things, something scratching about just outside the tent, and even before that I was waiting to be attacked by something – I hardly know what – a dog, drunks driving home over the moors from the pub, werewolf? But I learned that almost everyone on the forum felt scared at first. We have these basic instincts that kick in. I’ve had a few nice trips since, and it gets better.

    Have a great ride!

  3. ian says:

    Hi, Monaco is the target. It’s the thing to look forward to when it gets tough. The thought of hauling my old bike up to the Casino Royale and taking a few pictures is what will keep me going. Yes I am travelling alone, no support en route, and I will be camping. I can’t find a large scale map that shows camp-sites, but I am assured that they have camp sites everywhere. I will be using the Atlantic coast cycle route, then cut across using the ‘canal midi’ as a guide to the Med. Then follow the coast along to Manaco. Piece of cake……….

  4. lettersquash says:

    Nice one, sounds amazing, Ian. I’ve also heard there are campsites all over the place there, but no experience myself. Don’t you mean you can’t find a *small* scale (paper) map with the campsites on, to take with you? – i.e. covering the whole route through France? If you’re not using a smart phone, maybe you could go online to look at larger scale maps (them’s the close ups) with all the sites on your route and plot them on the small scale one. Might be time consuming, but worth it to know where they are on the road ahead….or just ask. The longest I’ve done is about 180 miles (Harrogate to Oxford), about 50 miles a day. I was in my early 20s then, but on a heavy steel commuter with the old Sturmey Archer 3-speed hub and a massive home-made rack on the back (a wire office stationary tray) – everything in a black bin liner strapped to that, except my tent poles, which I strapped to the frame. Oh, and a guitar on my back. It surprised me how well that bike did – I had half expected not to make it and have to hitch. Keep in touch and all the best with your training.

  5. silverblade says:

    Enjoyed reading that mate. I can fully relate to what you say about looking for negatives, I do that sometimes and put myself off going out on the bike for no good at all reason really – a vague threat of rain or maybe just getting a bad vibe that summat’s going to go wrong can be enough to put me off.
    Thing is from reading about your trip, you’d done the hard bit after the first night out. It’s a shame you didn’t just pack up your gear and get some proper breakfast somewhere instead of wading through mud to get a bit of water for a brew, I reckon you would have gone on and had a great trip. But I guess you don’t need to be told that 😉
    Glad to read in the comments above that you’ve been on some more trips since, hope they went well.
    I do a fair bit of cycling, just building up to my first bikecamping trip hopefully, come spring. Well, I’ve ordered a tent anyway 😉

  6. lettersquash says:

    Hi silverblade, great to read your comment! Yes, those solo camping trips are getting easier, although I still don’t do nearly enough of them. I’ve learned not to bite off more than I can chew. As you say, I’d done the hard part the first day – but it was too hard. Dehydration and exhaustion ruin things so easily. If I lived in Scotland or something I’d do more wild camping, but in England it’s the added stress of knowing it’s illegal. It becomes stealth camping – quite fun when you’re in the right mood. I’ve got a couple of little spots where I feel secluded enough – with a good water supply! I hope you enjoy bike camping. Doing “a fair bit of cycling” is a good way to start. Are you thinking of wild camping, and whereabouts are you? Thanks for commenting.

  7. silverblade says:

    Hi. Not sure I’m ready for wild camping yet though I do fancy it at some point- I’m in Yorkshire, near Skipton, and as you say much better in Scotland for that sort of thing. I enjoyed reading this blog by a lass who does the coast to coast walk solo and wild camps in some amazing looking places. Think I will stick to campsites initially, but avoiding the large caravan type ones. has a “tents only” filter and also lists some good ones in the NW but doesn’t cover Yorkshire as yet.

    If I was to wild camp think I’d consider getting one of these – – looks really good and easy to use, I’d be very wary about water that’s not from a tap otherwise I think.

    Up to this last year I was doing about 200-300 miles a month on the bike but I injured my ankle badly out walking on 2015 and I’ve let it slide a bit (a lot) since, so I’m quite out of condition now. Hoping to get back into it again in the coming months though and the idea of camping as well is an extra motivator now. I’ll probably just do a one nighter first and then hopefully build it up. Just ordered a smaller tent (vango banshee 200) and some dirt cheap panniers (I’m not willing to shell out for expensive ones at this stage) but I think I’ve got most of the rest of the gear from more conventional camping trips donkeys years ago. I do have a roadbike but I’ll use my Marin hybrid for this – it’s heavy but solid and comfortable, and with straight handlebars so I can look around.

    I’d be interested to know where have you been on your more recent trips, couldn’t see any blogs for those on your site.


  8. lettersquash says:

    Wow, some great links, silverblade, thanks! That blog looks amazing…and I spot a Terra Nova Competition tent, same as mine, I think. The AquaPure looks great too, and at that price it’s not too bad. I reckon it works out at about 10p a litre of fresh water. I can’t quite believe it’s safe straight away like that, but I guess it must work. Just read a few reviews at Amazon, but they’ve ironed out a couple of teething troubles since most of those. It’s a few years since I checked out filtration products, and they’ve come on leaps and bounds. Last time I looked it was a case of pumping the water through a ceramic filter, or chemicals, often a long wait, or those UV ones.

    On the other hand, I have improved my own water filter a lot since, as I describe here and in fact I have abandoned Brita filters altogether now (even in my Brita filter jug at home) and buy activated carbon in bulk, which works out much cheaper and is much better for the planet. Of course – general warning to everyone – THIS DOES NOT MAKE DIRTY WATER SAFE ON ITS OWN, IT NEEDS BOILING as well. It just makes it nice and clean to look at (although some staining, like from peat, remains), removes some of the possible contamination (agricultural run-off etc.), and makes it taste fresher. So, you really shouldn’t have anything to worry about if you boil your water. It kills every known biological pathogen. One of my aspirations in camping is to go green, so the home-made filter and a little hobo stove is a great solution.

    As for later travels, I have only done four, I think, which is awful when I realise this was 2009! I got a camper van for me and the missus, so I tend to go in relative luxury now, but I do miss my solo wild camping and ought to get back into it. Two of those were to the Brimham Rocks area (one single night and a two-nighter), another near Thruscross Reservoir, and I went with my “son-outlaw” (partner’s daughter’s husband) to just north of Harrogate. I never got round to writing up anything apart from this

    I did take quite a few photos and videos ready to blog on these, but just never put them together. I’ll maybe get round to it. Also had a load of bike problems and my classic Marinoni has now died. It’s in the spare room waiting to have its Campag parts removed and sold. The bottom bracket wore out and it’s not worth replacing, I’m told, as it would cost quite a lot, it’s non-standard, and the frame is bent anyway. It might even damage the frame just extracting the old BB. Since it never even fitted me, I decided to strip it and move on. My only other bike is a ridiculously heavy “mountain bike” (haha!) with front and rear suspension – great for a short commute over potholed roads, but not much good for touring. Can’t even take rear panniers. I’ve been making my own rucksack (well, altering an old one for ultralite walking), and intending to try some walks again instead of biking.

    That Banshee looks nice for two, but for me I’d rather have my Competition and 1.4 kg less to carry!

  9. silverblade says:

    Yeah I noticed she had the Terra Nova Competition, looks a great tent but too pricey for me at this stage – I’m not one to steam in spending loads on kit for a new hobby until I know I’ll use it. I researched it a lot and the vango banshee looks a good bet for me, gets some great reviews and seems quite a similar tent – and possibly a bit sturdier in storms as well from what I read. It’s a bit heavier but I’m paying £92 as opposed to £300!

    I have same concerns about the water, meant to ask you if you boiled it. Will check out your filtration links – even though I’m not planning on wild camping yet I am interested in stuff like that. I do wonder if that Aquapure filter would work against something like cryptospiridium, which is not unknown in these parts. I might send a query off to Yorkshire Water, see what they say.

    Regarding the bike, I’ve had to replace the BB in my hybrid 3 times in the last few years (seems an inevitable consequence of all these ruddy hills round where I am!) and it was actually quite easy and cheap being a standard size. But when you said in your blog the bike was a bit too big I did wonder if that, combined with the drop handlebars, had contributed to the bad neck pain you had on your Sneck Yates Bank trip? Probably right to move on.

    Hopefully my tent and panniers will arrive soon and I can get on with my preparations – looks a bit wet and windy tomorrow but maybe I’ll get out on the bike Friday. I’ll let you know how I get on.


  10. lettersquash says:

    Three hundred quid?! I’m sure I didn’t pay that for my Competition. I thought it was more like £150, but might have been more, but it was a long time ago. It’s not perfect, by any means – a bit fiddly to pitch and feels quite delicate, although I think it’s probably stronger than it looks. I first got a Vango Ultralite 100, which is a single-skin one-person job and it’s a nightmare for condensation and has nowhere to put anything. So I got the Comp. I was obsessed with the research, and even got another one that I pitched once in the front garden and sent back.

  11. silverblade says:

    They are £300 now yes. If I wasn’t being cost conscious on this venture then it’s what I would probably go for, but my Banshee 200 was £93 and free postage off eBay ( £100 and more most other places). I pitched it on the garden yesterday – took me just over 5 minutes. Great little tent and it has this tension band system which apparently make it really solid even in heavy winds, and plenty of ventilation to prevent condensation.

    It is heavier for sure than the Competition at 2.4kg (not sure I’ll need to take all the pegs though) but should be fine on a bike hopefully – I’ll be doing some test rides with the bike fully loaded this week. I say fully loaded, I only have a pair of medium sized rear panniers (tent and footprint groundsheet will go on top of the rack) so it might be a challenge to get everything in for an overnighter. I refuse to wear a rucsac while cycling but might end up needing a handlebar bag like you had.

  12. lettersquash says:

    Silverblade, you made me think again about the bike – I’m going to get a second opinion at least. Spa Cycles in Harrogate seemed underwhelmed by the whole job, although I can’t remember exactly what they said, either it was completely seized or they thought it probably would be …. lots of labour cost … non-standard so we’d have to source one … did you know the frame was bent? … you’d be better selling the bits and starting again. Trouble is, every time I think about that it comes down to spending a lot to get anything near the same quality, strength and lightness, and then a lot more on insurance and massive locks, or I opt for something cheap and nowhere near as good. So I’m going to start looking for an old-fashioned bike repairer or frame builder and see if someone is actually interested in the project. I want to get a smaller chainset for the hills, which will mean re-mounting the front changer – or possibly a bigger set of cogs on the back. Can you recommend anyone for the BB extraction?

  13. silverblade says:

    Don’t have anyone I can recommend really, all my cycle maintenance I have found can be done myself and that’s what I’ve always done. Changing a bottom bracket for example is an absolute doddle, I did mine yesterday in about 30 minutes – it is just a cylinder with a thread on it that screws into a cylindrical recess in the frame. A few specialist bike tools are needed, but I got all the ones I need in a toolkit from Aldi for about £15. And there is a plethora of help on youtube. From what I’ve seen you are a practical guy who could easily do this, judging on what you did with that front pannier rack you made. I suppose if the BB has seized into the frame kit might be a bit tricky.

    That said I do wonder why you are persisting with this particular bike frame. You’re obviously fond of it but as I commented before if it is too big for you it could cause you problems like the neck pain you described. Surely better to get a bike that fits you properly? If your employer does cycle to work scheme you can get a bike at a much reduced price. From what you’ve said sounds like you don’t do a lot of cycling at the moment so why do you set the bar so high on the “quality, strength and lightness” of this particular bike?

  14. lettersquash says:

    Thanks, Silverblade. You’ve now encouraged me to have a go myself…I said I was indecisive! At some point I decided I couldn’t fit this job in to my schedule and didn’t have the tools or skills, and people scared me with the view that you can damage the frame if you heat it to remove a jammed one. I just need to make time, and first thing is to dowse it in penetrating oil. Your thoughts on this are very welcome, but I reckon I’d be really glad I kept the bike for practical reasons, not just because I’m soft on it (although I am).

    I only work two days a week for an employer, a small tourist attraction in walking distance, so the cycle-to-work scheme won’t apply (I’m also developing a business if I ever find time for that!).

    The frame is probably only a bit big for me, and that’s only according to theory. It doesn’t feel too big, and I can put the saddle at the correct height for my leg length, it’s just closer to the top tube than is usual. I could also consider a shorter crank if necessary, reducing the distance to the lowest reach. The other main distance, to the handlebars, can be adjusted by having more traditional bars sweeping back slightly. There are some on my mountain bike that I’ll try if I get the BB sorted (and gear-change levers on them instead of the down tube!).

    Sitting more upright on it might help with my neck problem, but it’s probably not that much to do with the riding position, because it’s something I suffer from when walking and driving as well, and it’s improved most by keeping my neck warm. I injured it when I was a teenager. When I’m out walking on a hot day, I still have a scarf or something round my neck, which gets me some funny looks. I do the same when I’m driving – the camper van, in particular. I could get a perfectly-designed bike and still be in agony if I overdo it and/or don’t keep my neck warm.

    The fact that I don’t do a lot of cycling isn’t a reason not to set the bar high on weight and strength. I don’t do a lot of cycling because I haven’t sorted this out – little issues like the drops and gear changers on the front tube and the very high racing gears, and now the broken BB. Until the BB ground to a halt I used to commute on it and take a spin for pleasure fairly often. I just didn’t cycle camp much because I was learning how and didn’t make time for it. I even did fairly major shopping on it, loading my panniers with up to 25kg. When you start with a light, strong bike, you can afford to carry a lot more, and this one weighs around 12kg (I only weigh about 55kg / 8st 9lb).

    My cycle-camping aspirations involve heading for the hills and possibly carrying a fair bit of food so I’m self-sufficient for a while, so starting with a light, strong bike makes sense. Hand-built brazed steel frames are amazing things, and as far as I know you can’t get one now except for silly prices. They just bend if they get over-stressed, and people bend them back into shape. Aluminium breaks, and often has to be a lot thicker for the same strength. Carbon fibre is expensive AFAIK. I reckon I could possibly get about £200 for my bike, even selling the parts separately, maybe even £350 on a good day (if someone doesn’t mind the fact that the seat stays are bent – I’m not bothered, it works fine, or I could bend them back), but that doesn’t seem to go anywhere near the sort of dosh I’d need to source a 12kg bike. It’s likely to need a lot of searching for a second-hand one. I suppose I’m also concerned that whatever I buy might turn out to have some annoying problem that I didn’t think of. Better the devil you know. In principle I like making do and mending, and who can say they ride a hand-built, almost original, nearly 35-year-old bike made by one of the most respected bike builders in the world?

    Finally, this bike has got a secret additional advantage. Almost nobody knows what it’s worth and it looks like a heap of rusty, badly touched-up junk, which means I don’t have to carry a toughened-steel D-lock or a massive motorcycle chain. I prop it up against the Co-op while I get some milk, or I lock it with a token chain and padlock, and nobody gives it a second look. A big lock wouldn’t actually protect the most expensive bits, the rare-ish ’80s Campagnolo fittings that someone could take off with a penknife! I really should get some insurance, however, now I think about it. Actually, if it works out, what I’d like to do is spend some dosh on installing a tracking device, so if anyone nicks it I can hunt them down and kill them. 😉

  15. crowsoft says:


    I tried earlier to post a response to your last post but it never appeared.

    cheers silverblade

  16. lettersquash says:

    Hi silverblade, I’m sorry about that. Something’s definitely gone wrong with wordpress comments recently. As well as that missing one, I’m sure your comments have had to be approved three times, which should only happen the first time you post with a particular email. If you post again, maybe copy and paste somewhere to save it before you hit Post Comment. Also, feel free to email me if you want. The address is at the bottom of the page.

  17. silverblade says:

    Hi, have emailed you instead. cheers

  18. lettersquash says:

    I didn’t get it, silverblade. Maybe check the address again.

  19. silverblade says:

    yep (copied and pasted that from the email in my Sent folder) – I haven’t had a delivery failure as yet – some gremlins at work today I reckon 😉

  20. lettersquash says:

    Weird. I’ve emailed you – after that, dunno, carrier pigeon?

  21. silverblade says:

    An account of a bikepacking/wild camping trip to Cyprus that some of your readers may find interesting 🙂

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