Number up for trail rider?

fingerpostIt’s a while since I finished a walk by torchlight!

As is becoming the norm, we set off a little later than most sane folks would (plenty of excuses available, though really we’re just settling comfortably into the lifestyle that says we live here so we can set off when we bloody like!) and ended up coming over the shoulder of Fountains Fell as the sun set; not that there was anything much to report, as gathering cloud denied any light show.

A grand walk, though, from home in Stainforth over the crag behind the village to Jubilee Cave, then across the moor to Malham Tarn and back along the Pennine Way, dropping off the trail before Fountains Fell to head home over rough pasture, in the dark.

What almost spoiled the walk was the pair of motorised persons riding trail bikes on the moors above the village and on the Pennine Way near Malham.

We met them twice. On the first occasion I thought I might be developing killjoy attitudes; afterall, the bridleway we were following was quite hard-surfaced and their motorcyles weren’t, it seemed, going to cause any damage.

Was I being Capt Selfish in wishing them elsewhere?

Then we passed through a gate, off the hardened bridleway surface and on to a grassy trod, a soft, sensitive surface that had been torn apart by their tyres and those of other motorcyclists. Capt Selfish, me? No way – these guys were tearing up the trails, ripping apart the sensitive surface and leaving the torn earth exposed to the eroding effects of the elements.

I’ve seen worse, near Ribblehead a couple of years ago, where an ancient route’s been rutted to incomprehensible depths by 4x4s. The damage we saw today was slight by comparison but no less acceptable. Here’s a couple of guys taking polluting motor vehicles on to moors where other folk go to seek fresh air and an escape from phones, engines and the rest. Whether the riders were acting illegally or not I’ll probably find out tomorrow, when I call the National Park folks to report the encounter.

Despite a lot of good work that’s been done recently to bar such riders from our rights of way, it seems some of the ancient ways once used by farmers’ horses and carts are still classed as highways; and where horses and carts went yesterday, donkeys and asses can still go today, it would seem.

Doesn’t really matter. Whatever they were up to, and whether they were doing it legally or not, the riding of such bikes, especially at speed, goes against the grain, the spirit, of what I believe National Parks were established to protect.

Several years ago I met another party of trail riders in the Dales, following an ancient route on vintage cycles, at a pace that only just overtook our own. It was a pleasure to see them and they were obviously getting a great deal of pleasure from the landscape through which they were carefully travelling. Aye, they were travelling at a gentle enough pace that the path remained undamaged and they were able to appreciate their surroundings.

So it could be done sensitively but, sadly, it’s always difficult to legislate for the careful few. And the practice we saw today is going to have to be stamped out while there are still trails left to be walked in the Dales.

We saw them again later in the afternoon, carefully and politely closing gates as they left blacktop near Malham Tarn to tear on to the Pennine Way and rip up some more ancient trackway.

The first rider looked as if he’d be happy if we challenged him. The number plate on his bike was broken, unfortunately, so it couldn’t be identified. Perhaps it was damaged in a terrible accident.

The second rider looked a lot more apprehensive. His number plate was intact, though I suspect that anyone checked they’d probably find it belonged to some Scania artic blown over on Shap summit in 1987. Perhaps.

Ho hum. Anyway, I’ll call the reg number into the appropriate authorities tomorrow.

In the meantime, if you sympathise with the theory that motorcycles – or 4x4s for that matter –  belong anywhere but on our footpaths and bridleways then become a supporter of the Yorkshire Dales Green Lanes Alliance and back their work to rid our hills of these selfish phutt-phutt menaces.

Have fun,



John Manning

Freelance outdoor writer John Manning and his family are based in the Yorkshire Dales

3 thoughts on “Number up for trail rider?

  • 31/12/2008 at 11:44 am

    I love to get away from everything, and I can’t imagine many things worse than having my time in the Dales spoilt by trail bike riders.

    Is this a case of there being no designated area for bikers to use, or do they just not care?

  • 22/02/2008 at 3:33 pm

    John,this is certainly a growing problem in the Dales area,both my wife and myself (along with about 40 others)are Open Access rangers in the Nidderdale AONB and come across this problem often.For us the worst areas are around Scar House Reservoir and the area to the West of the Washburn reservoirs.As I am loath to spoil my day by having a noisy confrontation with a gang of them we tend to take details of reg. nos. etc and pass this on to our office who then contact the police.On a recent push by police and NP rangers many of the bikes were found to be not road legal.The NP and Niddedale AONB recently published a leaflet to inform riders what they could or could not do,not sure if it will make any difference but we can only hope the message gets through.

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