Best of the Backyard | Julia Hobson


First in a series celebrating the trails we’ve fallen in love with all over again during lockdown, Best of the Backyard heads to Ikley for a lap with Hope and Juliana Bicycles ambassador, professional guide and all round good egg, Julia Hobson.

When lockdown hit, Julia was still nursing a dislocated knee suffered while skiing in the Alps during the winter. So as the World slowed down, so did her riding. With the leg hinge healing well, Ilkley would be the site of many a gravel ride but today it would be all about the bouncy bikes, with a brand new Juliana Joplin coming out to play. Anything but a downhill bike will likely have something that will get the pulse moving in Ilkley.

Ilkley sits a stone’s throw from Julia’s base of Bradford, and is a triumph of sensible people having discussions with other user groups. Ilkley MTB have put in a fair amount of work to ensure that bike-specific trails that get the attention they deserve, as well as championing bikes in the local area.

Our ride starts from the Cow and Calf, a popular pub and climbing spot that share the same name. Legend has it that the rocks were split by a giant Romald when fleeing his wife, either way, the millstone grit they’re made of characterises this part of the world. In the dry, offering bracken-infested hillsides of endless loam, and in the wet, that grinding slop that destroys bike parts. We’d be lucky to dodge the rain albeit with the ground wet underfoot.

We pick up the Millennium Way to gain our height steadily, the only other option being a stiff winch to the top of the moor, which in the July heat isn’t all that attractive a prospect. We soon happen across the Swastika Stone, a relic of the Roman occupation of England rather than having any ties to the Third Reich. After a brief chat with some walkers about their trip through the Alps, we’re back on our way.

It’s not long before we’re almost at the top of the moor, the scars of the massive wildfire still noticeable before we happen across the memorial for the airmen lost when a Handley Page Halifax bomber hit the moor in January 1944 after getting lost in cloud in the dark. Light hands have done away with most of the wreckage that didn’t burn in the crash with just a small pile next to the memorial.

From the Ilkley side, Dales High Way, and Addingham Moor, we cut across the open moor along one of the few plantations atop the hill towards the Buck Stones that give the skyline a very distinctive look. Like the tors of Dartmoor but the Yorkshire version.

From this high vantage point you can see the Dales to the west, and the spine of the Pennines north and south, and the sprawl of Bradford and Leeds to the east. It’s also from here that the real fun begins. The climb from the Cow and Calf had been long and steady, bar a few steep punches, but the spine of the moor is a multi-line gallop that keeps you on your toes. I can see now why Julia brought her Joplin… It’s making light work of the undulations that require constant power as we weave our way back to the start point.

It’s here where having someone who knows where they’re going comes in very handy. Trails start to split off in all directions but I’m told we’re sticking high until the Ilkley MTB signs appear and the bracken starts to take over. A few technical river crossings later and we’re atop ‘Gully’, ready for our first properdescent of the day.

Gully is as much as you’d imagine, a steepening meander of rock-filled goodness with signs of local riders’ hard work keeping it in good nick until you hit a traverse, catch your breath then drop into yet more slimey turns, the wet clay offering little of the grip that the millstone grit is famous for. A momentary lapse and I’m off into the undergrowth as Julia sails past cackling at my misfortune. We’re soon back trying to navigate which of the plethora of trails to take, and each one now has tree root to contend with as we get closer to the bottom of the hill, making things that little bit more interesting.

Back at the Millennium Way we winch our way back up to the crags for another lap. This time it’s dry and the berms just urge you to leave your brakes alone. Even where the dirt is wet on this side of the hill it seems more predictable and you can really push on, testing the limits of grip before spitting you back out at the duck pond, ready to hoof our way back up the road to the van.

Where we choose to live often has a large part to do with the trails on our back step. This is definitely true in Julia’s case as you can lap these trails all day and not ride the same kind of trail twice, or go for a big pedal along the tops before finishing on some hand-crafted singletrack gold.

Words & Pictures: Pete Scullion
Ikley Trail Rules