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Sunday 18 March 2012: Swaledale Rollercoaster

I've enjoyed one of the very best rides I've ever had on a bike today, a grand tour of the Dales in conditions which, despite being a little chilly out of the sun, offered the most amazing light and skies for photography. The clouds were awesome again. I took over 350 pictures! Indeed, I spent so much time off the bike taking shots along the way that I didn't get back until it was almost dark. I went up the valley to Buckden, then over Kidstones and down Bishopsdale to Aysgarth, before taking the back road to Askrigg and climbing over the fells again to Muker in Swaledale. A short run down my very favourite Dale before climbing back over Buttertubs to Hawes and then the long haul over Fleet Moss to drop back down to Buckden. It was then as easy ride down the Wharfe valley (although far from flat!) in fading light to finally arrive home not much before 7pm. It came to a total of 92 miles from a bit under six and a half hours in the saddle.

Having had a quick look through my pictures I feel like I have some real gems. I could spend days playing around with them, but I actually have to do a bit of work this evening so I'm leaving all the arty ones for another time and have made a quick choice based on the best journal shot of the day. This is at the top of perhaps my favourite pass in the whole of the Dales. It's such a minor road that I don't even know if it has a name, but it joins Askrigg with Muker. After a steep pull of the best part of a thousand feet of climbing the road crests the rise (from where this was taken) and you get your first glimpse of Swaledale. I always feel a great sense of anticipation here. It's a bit like the feeling when you've racheted up to the top of a roller-coaster. This is the release point. From here it truly is a roller-coaster ride all the way down to the bottom of the valley. The road twists and turns and goes up again a few times in the middle of lots of down. It's a total thrilling experience.

I started quite late this morning because the weather forecast suggested an improving kind of day, and they were spot on. I hoped to catch the evening light as I came down the valley from Kettlewell, and I certainly did. The most dramatic vista of all was by the turn off to Arncliffe, but the shot was spoiled by the fact that it started to hail just as I got the camera out! From there the light just got more and more intense. I'm not sure I've ever seen anything quite like it before. Low sun and dark brooding clouds. The trees and hillsides seemed to be glowing. Perhaps it's just that my eye is now better trained and I'm seeing more intensely. As I was taking a picture a dog-walker came by and I couldn't help effusing about the amazing quality of the light. She humoured me by saying that, "yes, it was quite nice", but it was clear that she thought I was distinctly odd!

But my fun continued further. A huge flock of gulls was reflecting the last of the sun, shining silver against the dark clouds. I had a visit from a mummy sheep with three totally adorable and tiny baby lambs. Then the sun set and everything started burning orange. The sky turned amazing colours. The whole day was simply magical. There really can be no more wonderful place to cycle in the entire world than this. It was quite perfect today and I'm sure I've never before been so 'involved' with a ride. I even managed to finish in really good form - despite actually having had very little to eat. Indeed, the entire route was ridden on two small spiced buns and a custard tart! Who needs all this hi-tech energy food?!

I must finish by thanking everyone for their favourites and stars and comments on The Cloud Factory. You've humbled me yet again. This looks set to be my second most popular blip ever after Reflecting on Thin Ice. I would never have guessed that a shot of a power station would win so many hearts. You guys rock. I've been feeling stoked all day ... as you can probably tell!

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