A few weeks ago I went up to Scotland for work. Yes, back in the days of being able to leave the house! For anyone reading this in years to come – that’s a reference to the restrictions currently in place for the CovID19 pandemic! And as I always try to do, I went for a ride as a break to the driving on my way up. On this occasion it saw me stopping in Grassington with the aim of riding up Park Rash – Hill #45.
Park Rash is a hill climb north of Kettlewell. So I chose Grassington as the target for my start point in order to give myself a little bit of a warm up prior to hitting the steep gradients. Like many places in the national parks you can either park in the official car parks and pay a fee or you can try to find somewhere on the roadside for free. Although early March being out of season meant that there was plenty of free space on the roads, I decided to do the honourable thing and pay the car park as this helps put more funds into the area.
From Grassington to Kettlewell there is a main road, the B6160 which runs along the west side of the River Wharfe and there is a green lane, called Grass Wood Lane that runs along the east side via Conistone. This lane is tricky to spot when leaving Grassington and I was glad for the GPS and Strava route mapping on my phone allowing me to find it with minimal effort. Once on the lane it’s a beautiful ride, up from but alongside the river passing through trees and beside fields of sheep; just make sure to turn right in Conistone to stay on the lane, if you end up crossing the bridge over the river you’ve gone wrong!
Once you reach Kettlewell it’s onto Cam Gill Road and straight into a big climb. Unfortunately this initial steep ramp up through switchbacks at 10% for half a kilometre is not actually a part of the official Park Rash climb. Just think of this as a warm up act if you like. Park Rash itself is one of the toughest climbs in the UK 100 Cycling climbs book and is given a rating of 9/10. And with the pre-climb climb included I can confirm that, yes, it is a very tough climb! The views over the top though are well worth the efforts and there’s a fantastic feeling of remoteness up on the top before you descend down the other side to Melmerby. The Park Rash climb itself averages 10% for 2.1 km achieving an elevation gain of 238 m in the process, while hitting a maximum gradient of 25%.
It’s one of those climbs that’s punishing in bursts, I refrain from saying ‘short’ bursts because when you’re doing the 20%+ sections they really don’t seem all that short! With my thighs burning and heart beating ten to the dozen any sort of rest was sought after and so the times when it evened out for a while were much appreciated on my way up to the top. The inconsistency in the gradient, while providing micro rests, does give way to potentially misreading the summit as you think you can see the top and then you go over it and see the next ‘top’. Fortunately there is a landmark that pretty much marks out the actual top and that is the cattle grid. Unlike many UK climbs in the national parks where a cattle grid marks the bottom of the climb, Park Rash has one right up at the top.
For my ride the weather was overcast with the constant threat of light rain which I did get from time to time and a moderately stiff breeze. A week or two earlier in 2020 would have seen snow instead and as I reached the summit of the climb there was still plenty lying in fairly deep patches. Deep enough for a classic bike photo anyway!
For my route I had decided to loop around and back to Kettlewell using Kidstones Pass on the B6160. Which is a road that I believe featured in the 2014 Tour de France, Stage 1 as Côte de Cray – climbed from the other direction. So having come down from Park Rash I turned left at Melmerby and left again at West Witton onto the A684 to join up with the B6160. Unfortunately I was met there with the dreaded ‘Road Closed’ sign that all cyclists fear! This is particularly bad news in these parts of the country, where a detour via Hawes would add a significant number of extra miles and time. To confuse matters, the sign had a roadworks completion date of several days earlier and to make the decision tougher it spoke of the road being closed 7 miles ahead. So do I take a lengthy detour, knowing that I still need to complete my drive up to Dundee in Scotland or do I risk the closed road in the hope that a bike can get through or that the roadworks have indeed finished as per the sign. If I choose the latter option there’s the chance that I cycle 7 miles before I discover that I now have to cycle back 7 miles and still do the detour.
So I chose to take the chance with the closed road. After all surely at worst it would mean me carrying my bike over a wall and across a field or two, let’s just call it cyclocross in the original sense! Fortunately after around 4 miles I was able to flag down a rider coming the other way and confirm that I would indeed be able to get through on a bike. The roadworks were still going on, clearly they’d overrun the dates on the signage and you wouldn’t have got a car through past the heavy machinery but a bike was just fine. The only downside for me was a load of nasty tar marks on my white frame, any suggestions on the best way to remove these will be very much appreciated!
Once over Kidstones Pass it was a simple ride along the B6160 back to Kettlewell and then back onto the lane, to where the car was parked in Grassington. A good 3.5 hour break in my journey up to Dundee, 70 km ridden, over 1,000 metres of elevation climbed. A good early season workout for my legs.
Park Rash would certainly feature well in a Yorkshire Dales bigger day out, maybe a loop including Malham Cove ( https://www.strava.com/activities/2808521288 ) and the roads around Settle would work well.