I started at Arnside because a friend lives there. It's an agreeable village, right by the estuary, with warnings of quicksand and a siren shrieking when the tide turns - the famous fast tide of Morecambe Bay. My friend told me that the tides are so strong that sometimes a bore comes roaring up the channel.
The weather forecast was bad, to get worse. I left Arnside at about nine and cycled north east along an arm of the estuary under grey skies, and then turned inland when there was a violent shower. I sat it out under some trees then pushed along the B6254 trying to find the route east to Dentdale. By 11:30 I had got to Oxenholme, almost to Kendal which was not the way I planned. It was raining on and off and there was a pub, with a notice saying Open All Day. "That means from 12," said the bar manager, but they let me buy a cup of coffee and he offered me some advice on the route.
I hung around the porch looking at the rain which was falling hard, then realised that it was not going to let off, so I may as well carry on, and retraced my way a couple of miles, then took a road east up a hill, which forked to one dead end, and with another way that wasn't clearly marked on the map and led across lonely looking hills. I hadn't been able to get a cycling map for the area, and was using a big format motoring book map, scale 1 cm = 2km, which is not really detailed enough for good cycling. Also, when I pulled this unwieldy thing out of my pannier, the rain fell on the pages and they were starting to dissolve. Someone came along in a car - I asked them, but they were clueless - said that way led by the reservoir. It looked tricky so I gave up and turned back.
I had seen a National Cycle Network sign next to the pub at Oxenholme, pointing to Sedbergh. So I returned that way, thinking that at least it would be easy to follow though it would add miles on to the journey. The rain really had set in by now and I followed a rolling, but not steep route. It was too wet to stop and eat my bread and cheese - I could only stuff the odd oat bar and chocolate down my throat.
I got to Sedbergh around 2pm, just over half way on my journey. I looked for a cafe with a wooden floor, went in and ordered soup. Water made pools below me. I was wet through - everything sodden - my waterproofs hadn't been able to stand up to the hours of heavy constant rain. . The cafe was steaming and full of holiday makers who were passing this rainy day over slow cups of cofee. The sun came out for ten minutes and shone through the cafe windows then when I left the cafe it had gone and the rain fell in huge drops again. Fourteen miles to Hawes, and another nine miles or so from Hawes to Keld in Swaledale.
I had a choice of going by an A road to Hawes or along a B road through Dentdale. The cycling principle of never using an A road sent me along Dentdale, by the river Dent which was roaring right next to the road and at some parts was brimming over, ready to carry me off in a flash flood. There were no other cyclists, or anyone outside until I got to Dent itself. It's a pretty cobbled town. I cursed its cobbles and carried on.what would have been a thoroughly pretty road by the river and beneath the trees but all I could see was the rain.
If I hadn't had a place booked I would have stopped somewhere, but my accommodation was pre-paid for, and I was going to get there. Though very wet I wasn't cold, the wind was mostly with me and not very strong and I was in oddly good spirits - perhaps because it was the first day of a cycling holiday, which I had been looking forward to and I had not got any exercise in Arnside. I really was not at all miserable this miserable day.
A viaduct rose up dramatically and there was a steep climb to go under it as it crossed above the road. I was pushing up my first Dale hill, which was like the curtain wall of a castle. I was over-laden, not very fit, and had to push the cycle most of the way, wishing the occasional farm tractor or van that passed me would offer me a lift. The view was of wet moorland and rain, and then a steep drop down to join the A road, which I should have taken in the first place. It wasn't busy, the gradient was easy, the light wind right behind me, and as it was covered with water I aqua planed at great speed until I got to Hawes.
It was about 5pm. I had planned to stop in Hawes for a hot drink, but when I ceased cycling and went to the supermarket to buy a couple of things, I started to shiver. I was too wet to do anything except to get where I could dry off. I had about nine more miles to go, and in front of me was another Dale hill - 17% gradient the sign said - a Hawaiian surfer's dream of a wave it looked - and so I went up, half walking and half cycling, up into the cloud and constant rain on a high lonely road. Then the long drop into Swaledale, the village of Thwaite, then on a switchback road for two miles until I got to the village of Keld, and the Keld Bunkhouse. I rang the bell. The owner came out, and said "We had given you up." It was about 7pm.
He took me to the bunkhouse where there was a trio of walkers doing the Coast to Coast and a young couple on a weekend break. One of the walkers offered me a brew. I hung my waterproof on the racks in the drying cupboard, went upstairs to change - everything was soaking except my bra. I wrung out my socks, emptied my boots into the sink, made some food and then played Pictionary and Scrabble with these very friendly people who were staying there, all from the north of England. The walkers had been falling in bogs all day and had got very wet and muddy.
That was the wettest day cycling I have ever had. You could have irrigated an acre of desert with the amount of water sticking to me.