Sat July 5th – Le Tyke Sportif or Litton to Buckden (and back) for the TdF

The walk today was a bit of a last minute plan. On Wednesday the 2nd, the one just gone and three days before the walk was due, we decided to go and watch the Tour de France through the Dales. Such a simple thought. With hindsight, it was certainly easier to type that than it was to research the route and and work out an itinerary. The initial idea was to watch the hill climb stage, the first of three that day at the “‘Cote de Cray”. We had been around here in January when we did Buckden Pike (see previous blog) and the route was quite accessible. However, the fly in the ointment was that the roads leading to Buckden and beyond were closed to vehicular traffic from 6am on the morning of the Tour de France (TdF) which made access a little difficult unless we were willing to set off before 4am. With that road closure in mind and looking at several other options we found we could quite easily access neighbouring Littondale, the valley running parallel, park there at The Queens Arms and then ‘nip’ over the hill of Ackerley Moor & Firth Fell to drop down the bridlepath into Buckden. Simple, as meerkats seem fond of telling us.

Distance: 7.54 miles
Ascent: 2458 ft
Sandwiches: Ham with Piccalilli, Cheese & Garlic sausage salad, pork pies
Soup: Too warm for soup, so took a bottle of French Red and Rose to see if they went well with pork pie.

Elevation Profile
Route Map

3D View of route

We drove to Settle and then took the B6479 road up to Stainforth. We passed through this little village to pick up the moor road to Halton Gill at the head of Littondale. The drive to Littondale from Settle is absolutely glorious, and must be one of the best driving routes in the country. It is a quiet, but very scenic, back road that runs between Pen Y Ghent and Fountains Fell and offers great panoramas of the surrounding grand landscape.


As we dropped down into Halton Gill we came across many cars parked on the open grass verges adjacent the road. Every car had a bike rack on the roof or the rear tailgate. This was a sign of the things to come. We turned right just after crossing the bridge in Halton Gill and continued along the single track macadam road that runs along the valley bottom until we got to the small hamlet of Litton and the Queen Arms. There was much traffic parked along the road and the pub had anticipated this and was running a car park in the field opposite. They were charging £10 for the day. The price really took me by surprise because when he lady minding the car park announced the cost I came out with that well known Yorkshire phrase ” ‘Ow Much?!?!“. They might not like spending it, but by God, they like charging it.

Anyway I paid Dick Turpin and we parked up, changed our footwear, and I heaved the big rucksack out of the of the car, strapped it to my back and we proceeded to walk to Buckden. We got to the front of the pub and turned right to head along a bridlepath that ran through some stone farm buildings. To my dismay the path immediately started upwards. We continued along the path, which was more of a lane than a track and dropped down to a ford and crossed Crystal  Beck which appeared very dry for this time of year. We were then back to an uphill section, and from here it was uphill all the way! From Crystal Beck to just below Ackersley Moor the path was a steady incline running upwards along the contour lines on the hillside and made for steady going. After crossing through a stone wall, there was an abrupt left turn and the path went straight up the hillside – no gradual incline using the contours here, just straight up. The climb up was incessant and we did have to keep pausing to get our breath, and admire the view which was extensive due to the great weather.

Looking up Littondale

We could clearly see the path stretching out in front of us directly up the hillside. There were some people ahead of us who were making good progress, and one guy and his dog actually ran past us which made us feel very unfit. We continued climbing and the path did get steeper at one point. We passed a middle aged guy wearing a wide brimmed hat who appeared to be having difficulty getting his 8 or 9 year old daughter up this hill. You could see that she just didn’t want to do it and he was having to coax her all the way. I know just how she felt.

Looking down Littondale

After much huffing and puffing, groaning and moaning we found the ground to start levelling out and before we really knew it, we were on a flat summit plateau and making easy progress along a stone flagged path. Oh the joy! A sense of relief came over me at the realisation of not having to climb up any further, and that from here on to Buckden it was all downhill. We passed the summit trig’ point which was some distance away on our right and were soon making a descent down into Buckden itself.

As we started to descend the view beyond Buckden Pike was very extensive, and we could clearly see the B6160, the road that formed the “Cote De Cray”, and even from this distance it was obvious that it was already packed with people. At this point we decided to change our plan and just stay in Buckden and leave the Cote de Cray until another time. Too many people there and the additional distance with this weight on my back would be purgatory. The heavy rucksack was sapping my energy already, so the chance to knock a mile or so off the distance was welcome and seized upon. We made some great progress down the bridle path into Buckden and got a real move on. I had forgotten the estimated times for the peloton to pass through and thought it was about half past midday, so we were eager to find our spot and sit and enjoy the carnival-like atmosphere.

We approached the village green in Buckden and found it to be quite busy. We walked up towards the church and found a spot on the grass verge beside the road. There were a number of people lining the roads, although not as many as on the hill climb stage.

Looking back to Buckden
Leaving Buckden towards Cray

It was a huge relief to take the rucksack off. I felt as  though I was floating for several minutes afterwards. We unfastened our folding chairs from the rucksack, set them out and removed a bottle of wine from the bag and proceeded to have drink and some nibbles, and soak up the carnival atmosphere.

We watched the Gendarmerie come through, our own Bobbies on their motorbikes, various sponsors and team vehicles passed and all of them were waving to the crowds, tooting their horns and enjoying the atmosphere of the TdF.

Bonjour, bonjour, bonjour… ce qui est tout ce alors?
Lead car for the race
The front breakaway group

You could tell the riders were getting close as the sound of the many helicopters in the air was menacing. It brought to mind a scene from Apocalypse Now. The three riders from the breakaway group came through first, and the crowd could be heard cheering as they approached and was like a audible Mexican wave rippling along the crowd keeping pace with the riders.

A team car
Timing officials
Helicopter filming the peloton
The peloton

After a couple of minutes the main peloton flew past, and I do mean flew! There were gone in about 30 seconds and then after the team cars passed by the route was silent. It was a very colourful spectacle, and the chances of seeing it again in Yorkshire are probably very limited too.

Team Lotto-Belisol (Belgium)
Team Tinkoff-Saxo (Russia)
Team Sky (Great Britain)
Team Sky (Great Britain) and Team Movistar (Spain)
Team Movistar (Spain)
Gendarmerie and team cars
Team cars heading up to Cote de Cray

We decided to move from the roadside and walked back down towards the village green in Buckden. We found a suitable spot, unfolded our chairs and continued with our picnic. It was at this point we started to see cyclists coasting back down from the Cote de Cray. Some of them took to stopping on the village green, and others just continued on their way heading down towards Starbotton and Kettlewell. We sat on the green for well over an hour and watched a continuous stream of cyclists flowing along the road whilst eating ice cream. I have never seen so many push bikes! We got talking to a chap who had come up a couple of days before with Gloucester City Cycling Club and was cycling back to Skipton prior to the journey home. We presumed that many others present had also travelled some distance too – there couldn’t be so many cyclists in Yorkshire, although this point seemed to evade the national press who produced a number of belittling articles about the whole thing thinking it was only Yorkshire folk who turned out to watch, and the hidden message of course was who would want to go to Yorkshire to watch a bike race. I expect their reporting would have been different if the Grand Depart had been within the M25, and then if that had been the case we wouldn’t have heard the last of it on the BBC news or national press either.

We finished off our picnic and drained the second of the two bottles of French wine we had carried over and decided to make our way back. We folded the two chairs and strapped them to the rucksack, I heaved it onto my back and we made the return journey. 

The climb started as soon as we got off the macadam road leading to Hubberholme. As I trudged up the winding gravel track a number of people passed us who were not carrying the same weight, or were barely into their teens. We plodded on, steadily climbing upwards until we got to the area of Redmire Pot where the picnic blanket came out, the rucksack came off again and we had a lie down for an hour in the diminishing sunshine. Looking for the picnic blanket gave me a chance to see if Mrs MuddyBoots had secretly stowed some rocks in the rucksack as it seemed the weight hadn’t diminished at all; after a brief search there were none to be seen, but I did come across a bag of chewy Haribo sweets. I lay on the blanket in the sunshine with the breeze blowing over me chomping on the sweets and I very nearly dozed off!

After an hour we packed the blanket up, hoisted the rucksack again and plodded on, ever upwards. The path was never ending, at one point I began doubting if this was the same path we took on the way down as it seemed to take forever to progress along it.

View down to Buckden with Buckden Beck running down from Buckden Pike

There were timber post waymarkers on the path up the hillside and I was using these to keep moving me along – “keep going until the next post.. go on; you can do it” was a phrase repeated continually in my head until I neared the summit. When we reached the stone flags placed by conservation volunteers we knew we were almost at the top. The hill summit plateau was a relief, as by this point my legs were feeling the strain and I suspect the wine consumed during the picnic hadn’t helped much either. I was getting very close to dumping the bag and coming back for it at a later date.

Looking down Littondale with Pen-Y-Ghent on horizon

As we progressed along the summit plateau the view back down Littondale was fabulous, and the distinctive silhouette of Pen-Y-Ghent stood out on the horizon. I took several minutes to just stand there and take in that view. It made the effort to get there worthwhile. The path was now downhill all the way to the car and this became quite difficult. The hillside was quite steep, my legs were tired and I was very conscious of losing my footing and going for a tumble. My walking pole would have come in very handy at this point, and for some unknown reason I had decided to leave it in the boot of the car. Perhaps the additional weight bothered me!

The view away from the head of Littondale, with Pendle Hill visible in the distance

We slowly and carefully descended back down into Littondale, and the views made up for the discomfort. The sun had started to go lower in the sky and the shadows were now getting longer. In time we got back to the car and with a satisfied groan I took the pack off for the last time and dumped it onto the grass behind the car. Mrs Muddyboots tried to pick it up to place it in the boot and couldn’t. She was then quite incredulous that I had carried it that distance and over “that hill”. A quick replacement of footwear made for a refreshing change and we hobbled off to the pub to rebalance our fluids.

We sat outside the Queens Arms and slowly sank a pint of very cold lager. By now the sun had gone behind Plover Hill and it was getting quite cool in the shade. We discussed tea, and then decided against eating here this time. We drained our glasses and went back to the car for the journey back home.

Pen-Y-Ghent from Dale Head farm entrance

The journey home was steady and uneventful, and we were not in any particular rush to get back either. When we got home we watched some of the TdF television footage recorded from earlier in the day and it really was a showcase for the Yorkshire Dales. The live transmission was done by a French TV company and as such many of the place names had been renamed, particularly Skipton Castle, or “Chateau du Skipton” as the French have it. The aerial footage was a Yorkshire Tourist Board PR mans wet dream – scenery and views that you just couldn’t buy. It showed the Dales off in all their glory and they looked superb indeed and made us realise just why we enjoy going over there walking… praise indeed from a staunch Lancastrian.

Vive Le Tyke Sportif!

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