Snow Chain

The snow has been falling for a couple of days, but I noticed that my "day off" on Friday coincided with a cold but sunny day in County Durham. After the last trip over Bollihope, I had wondered what it would look like in the snow - so headed out today to have a look. This meant taking gritted A-roads, and essentially took me from Durham along the A690 through Crook to the A689 and towards Stanhope.

The A roads were busy, it was just after morning prayer when I headed out, 9am, leaving Durham Cathedral in the bright sunshine and climbing out of Durham on the A690. The traffic was heavy; I chose to pass long queues of stationary traffic on their offside. In return I was given a lot of space by passing motorists later in the day and although I was following a main road I didn't feel threatened.

The biggest challenge was keeping away from the black ice lining the gutter of the road, I had to keep out far enough to be comfortable. The headwind and general trend of climbing kept my pace really low, with my average struggling to rise above 18kph. I plugged away and passed through Langley Moor, Brancepeth, Willington and Helmington Row before facing the climb of Job's Hill Bank to reach Crook.

Crook is a nice little market town, and the white snow was adding to the picturesque feel in the square where the little parish church is. Once through the town there was even more climbing to get over the top of Coal Bank, but the reward was a beautiful view down into Weardale.

The sun had been shining brightly on my left shoulder and this had the effect of drying out the right hand side of the road, but leaving me guessing about ice and snow on my side. I cautiously descended to the A68 roundabout and over that into Weardale.

I passed through Wolsingham but didn't stop as I'd only done 36km and it had taken me 2 hours! I was looking to see if either the climb from Frosterley or the climb from Stanhope would be clear for an ascent of Bollihope.

At Frosterley I turned onto a gritted road, and stopped to assess the situation. An elderly gentleman asked me where I was going and then said I'd be fine going up - it was coming down that would be the problem. He told me his Dad had died coming down Mellbutts Bank at the sharp right hand bend. I said I was sorry to hear it but that I wish he hadn't told me. He replied he was only being helpful. What can you say? I said "Thank you."

As I climbed away from the Weardale valley floor, I was trying to deal with the occasional car in the middle of the road, and the snow drifts and icy patches. I was being cautious, but didn't expect what happened next. Snap. The chain was left lying by my back wheel as though my bicycle was a naughty puppy and had dropped a mess on the floor.

Fortunately I was carrying my toolkit and had a quick-link from two years ago wrapped in cellophane and cardboard. I pushed the bike to a convenient farm gate in the sunshine and set to work. After a minute or two the chain was safely repaired and I was ready to go. I cleaned my hands in the snow before I realised I had nowhere to dry them and suddenly felt extremely cold! Silly me.

Discretion being the better part of valour, I valiently tip-toed my way back down the hill and made my way back to Wolsingham for a lovely cup of coffee and a ham'n'cheese toastie.

I called it quits - it had been a really nice morning ride, but I turned for home and enjoyed the tailwind pushing me along at 30+kph all the way back to Durham. It was a lovely trip out and if I had more time and more confidence I could definitely have made it to the top. The road is gritted and clear - so I would happily recommend the climb, especially in the snow. The sunshine, clear blue skies and beautiful white snow were wonderful to be immersed in.

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