It was 7:30am as I left Ingleby Barwick heading south over Seamer hill and aiming for the North Yorkshire Moors. The sky was a deep clear blue and the day was crisply cold but I was looking forward to a whole day riding my bicycle. Learning lessons from recent rides, I had brought some balm to keep my lips moisturised knowing that the cold air and sunshine would dry me out if I didn't. The wind turbines ahead were stationary, and the only breeze was a very light draft from the east.
I find the Tees valley is a good place to start any long distance event because the gently rolling hills warm up my legs slowly, and as I ride away from the Tees I'm generally going uphill.
By the time I reached Great Ayton today, although my fingers were freezing my body was quite warm. The quiet lanes from Ingleby Barwick to Kildale had very little traffic, and this dropped away to zero traffic as I took the right turn down Crag Bank to cross over the moors railway. My planned route was mainly flat, but to get to the flat bit I had to cross the North Yorkshire Moors heading south, so I've plotted the direct route to Westerdale and over the high point of the moors at Blakey Ridge.
I heated up under the beating sun in the clear blue skies, and started to sweat on the steep climbs. So I stopped and removed my hat, arm warmers and gilet. I was isolated in the moors with only the lapwings, grouse and sheep to keep me company. The lapwings circled around with their distinctive call and swept low over the ground in a big diving arcs. Startled grouse jumped and flew away as I came close, and the sheep just stood there, eyeing me as I passed and occasionally threatening to walk in front of me.
At Hob Hole, a ford at the bottom of a steep sided gully, I could see the shadow of the hillside covering the road. As I passed through the interface between sun and shade the temperature plummeted instantly, a bit like stepping into a cold storeroom. The frost had not cleared from the grass and the ford was looked frigid. Discretion being the better part of valour, I valiantly got off and walked my bicycle over the footbridge. On the far side the road was a single sheet of ice, which prevented me from riding until I'd pushed away from the shadows.
The road had yet another drop to cross the river Esk, and offered an excellent view up into Westerdale itself, with its cultivated fields and heather topped moorland.
The ford over the Esk was dry, and to the left of the road there is an ancient bridge with its sharply curved and cobbled arc. It was restored in 1874 and is still a serviceable green route, but obviously not suited to motorcars, so I took a short detour to ride it and capture a couple of photographs.
The final big climb of the day was ahead, the long road from Westerdale to Blakey Ridge, with its long gentle gradient, interspersed with 20% ramps. By the time I had made it to the top it was 9:30am and I looked down the road to the south knowing that the rest of my adventure would be flat or downhill all day long.
The mist lining Rosedale was beautiful. Next I had the descent of Blakey Ridge to Hutton-le-Hole which was pretty fast, but ahead of me I was able to see a daunting bank of cloud. It was obviously foggy ahead and I wondered if it was going to clear for me later. At Keldholme I crossed the A170 and continued along a deserted road to Malton. It was deserted because of the sign which said the road ahead was closed. I ignored these signs because they are normally addressed to motorists. "Business As Usual in Marton, Normanby and Barugh" the next sign said. "Diversion: No Access to Malton"... I continued. "Business As Usual in Normanby and Barugh", "Diversion"... I continued. "Business As Usual in Barugh", "Road Ahead Closed"... I continued. Around the corner I found three workmen in a ditch and a section of road 25m long closed off. I picked up my bicycle, walked around and said hello. They tried to charge me a fiver for granting me passage.
I was pleased with my decision to ignore the diversion. I stopped to talk to a local resident who was cutting his hedge, he said that many motorists come down too, in the hope that they might be able to squeeze through. He also laughed that the week before the road was closed between his house and Malton, and of course he need to be in Malton all week. He said that now the roadworks had moved past his house it was 'just typical' that he needed to go the other way to Kirkbymoorside. He laughed about it though.
In Malton I pulled up at a coffee shop and as I was locking my tourer to a suitable fixed object an elderly gentleman, who'd been admiring the bike, started talking about how wonderful Gatorskin tyres are. We chatted for a bit, but I was really desperate to warm up and shake the cramp from my fingers, so I had to break off our conversation. It was a shame because that was twice today I'd been engaged in unhurried discourse.
Pain au raisin, chocolate brownie and a medium cup of coffee. I'd been riding for three hours and needed this, it felt like a hearty breakfast. I must have looked a mess though because I was crusted with salt deposits on my forehead and had a faraway stare as I sat and tried to recover a bit. There was a family beside me celebrating their daughter getting her first job... working in the coffee shop.
After a good long 20 minute rest, I decided it was time to move on. My average speed had been exceptionally low thanks to the gradients of Westerdale, and my next target was Tadcaster, south and west of York. I'd ridden 68km (42 miles) but it had taken 3hrs 32mins, my average speed was a pootle-tastic 19kph (12mph). The wonderful thing about the remainder of my journey was that this value would continue to rise all day, by the time I got home I would have lifted the moving average to 24.4kph (15mph). There was another 58km (36 miles) ahead of me before my planned lunch stop, and it should all be flat.
I left Malton by crossing the railway line into Norton and taking the right hand turn onto Welham road, immediately ahead was a climb! So much for pan-flat. The bottom of my granny gearing had been needed in the moors, but there was no way I was going to resort to the inner ring again in this ride, so I toughened up and with a little bit of "out-of-the-saddle" effort made it to the top. This immediately rewarded me with views of Malton and the surrounding countryside. My route planning kung-fu must have been amazing, because after 2.5km (1.5 miles) I found a small turning for the Sustrans Route 166 "Yorkshire Wolds Cycle Route", and it was beautiful. This route was totally silent, I could hear the chattering birds and the flash of yellow/green from Greenfinches as they fluttered along the hedgerow next to me.
I was in no hurry, but as the road continued to very gently rise and fall I found my pace picking up slightly. Despite this I was also drinking in the bright sunshine, clear blue skies and lush green fields. I felt like I was in cycling heaven, and it continued like this for 20km (12.5 miles) until I reached the A166 just west of Stamford Bridge.
I put my high-visibility gilet back on for the short 2km section to a tiny little turning before Gate Helmsley, this was Scoreby Lane, and once again I was away from the traffic and in beautiful countryside.
I was getting closer to York now, and there was no avoiding the main roads ahead. After cycling straight through Dunnington, I joined the A1079 just before it crosses the A64; at a major and busy roundabout.
I am comfortable cycling over large roundabouts in the busy traffic, but I recognise that this is not everyone's idea of fun. So I was pleased to see an alternative beside the road, a well-used looking cycle path. If anyone plans to follow my journey themselves and is daunted by the traffic here - rest assured that there are cyclist's facilities.
Immediately over the A64 junction I was on dual carriageway, and as usual I ignored the cycle path beside the road, but I was very close to the University of York and there were many other cyclists around. I passed the campus to the south along Heslington Lane and into Fulford, where I turned left and headed south out of town. York had been negotiated without much difficulty and I was pointed back out to the countryside again. Just before the A19 /A64 junction I took a small right hand turn onto the B1222 behind the designer outlet village shopping area.
I needed to keep my eyes peeled now because I was the wrong side of the river Ouse and there wasn't another road crossing until the brilliant little bridge in Cawood. I needed to find another part of the Sustrans network, route 65. Route 65 is part of several cycle routes around the country, probably most famous for the "White Rose Cycle Route" between Middlesbrough and Hull. The turning I needed was not a road junction, but an easy-to-miss path up onto a railway bridge.
This was a lovely treat, a cyclist's blessing cutting off miles of circuitous riding to pass over the river Ouse from one country lane to another. The bridge itself had (has) a wire sculpture of a person fishing, sat with his dog and bike.
Shortly after crossing the river Ouse I took this right fork down to the road at Acaster Malbis and was back into pure countryside riding. I stopped to make sure I was on route correctly and knew where I was going. Sometimes I use the GPS on my phone to pinpoint myself quickly but I prefer to use a paper map, unfortunately the page I'd torn from my road atlas didn't quite come far enough south. As I was route checking I heard a sort of humming buzzing noise coming towards me. I looked up to see a fast moving cyclist on a fat wheeled mountain bike approaching. I couldn't work out why he was moving so fast, until as he passed I noticed he wasn't pedalling. Ah-ha. Electrickery! He had an electric powered bicycle.
I was beginning to feel hungry and had in mind a lovely gastro-pub in Bishopthorpe, so I set off again knowing that a pie and a pint were just round the corner. Here was where my route-planning skills had failed me though. I had intended to go to Bishopthorpe, but I had not actually plotted the route to go there. Oh dear. The further I cycled the more it dawned on me that my lunch was going to be in Tadcaster, another 15km away and as it turned out, another 60 minutes cycling.
Looking for alternative routes doesn't always pay off. At Appleton Roebuck I turned down Bond Lane and then into the "dead-end" of Church Lane. This appeared like it ran all the way to Bolton Percy, but one look at the surface of muddy water was all I needed to change my mind, so I retraced my route back to the more solid looking road I'd left. It wasn't much of a diversion, but I was starting to have rumbles in my tummy.
I finally arrived in Tadcaster after 6hrs 17mins of cycling and 128km (~80 miles), but it was 2:30pm and I'd been out for 8 hours. I was disappointed that my pace was slower than I intended; I thought that perhaps the moors had drained me more than they should, or that my hunger was playing a part, but then I remembered I'd given blood the day before so perhaps that also played a part. I decided I needed a good rest in Tadcaster so stopped at The Coach and Horses
just by the river. Steak & Ale pie and two pints of Black Sheep helped me pass the time and aided my recovery. The food was excellent, the beer was delicious.
The only blot to this perfect rest stop was the background music. Some cover versions of songs are wonderful and improve on the original, for example I suggest that the Butthole Surfers cover version of 'Hurdy Gurdy Man' by Donovan was an vast improvement. Unfortunately, in this pub, the music selection had some dreadful covers. I nearly cried when when Simon and Garfunkel's 'The Only Living Boy in New York' was murdered. Seriously, it doesn't need the banjo. Perhaps it was a sign of my tiredness that I was getting teary about it.
I rested here for a good 40 minutes, letting my legs relax, ignoring the awful music, and allowing a smidgen of time for my food to go down. It was 3:15pm before I left and the next stage of my route turned north, heading for Northallerton. Another 61km (38 miles) lay ahead of me, and the sun was still bright in the sky. Despite this I was cold and put my arm warmers, gilet and cap back on; to try and maintain some core heat. More country lanes were ahead with more beautiful scenery and quiet cycling. It was wonderful to be able to cycle so far with such a small amount of traffic.
My rolling speed was picking up though and the fuel from Tadcaster had helped me. I had cycled home from a friend's house in Tadcaster in October 2013 so I was on familiar navigation territory as I passed The Victoria at Cattal railway station.
It was straight-forward to reach Whixley and join the B6265 to Boroughbridge, in the distance to my right were the Hambleton hills, which are the western edge of the North Yorkshire Moors and I could make out the White Horse, a chalk area cut from the turf. Carol tells me this is an ancient sign cut into the hillside to say, "Here is a pub!" I'm not convinced of her credentials as an archaeologist. In Boroughbridge I stopped briefly at the monument in St James Square, but only to take a photograph before continuing to Northallerton.
I crossed over the river Ure and left the B6265 for the northerly road. It was just here that I passed the 160km (100 mile) point after cycling for 8hrs and 30mins, although having taken a lot longer when all the stops were counted.
I passed through Cundall and Asenby before climbing the short hill into Topcliffe where I chose to stop at the corner shop for a chocolate bar and energy drink. The owner tried to encourage me by saying I only had another 40 miles to get back to Yarm... "thanks" I said. Outside a young man had left the engine of his car running; how lazy do you have to be in order that 'not turning off the ignition' is a good idea. Although perhaps I'm being judgemental and harsh; he might have a battery problem and need to keep the engine running to get home.
I left Topcliffe on the A167 and now felt closer to home as I could see the way the Hambleton hills turned east and became the Cleveland hills. I knew Osmotherley and Mount Grace Priory were somewhere to my right. I found myself in Northallerton in next to no time, and decided for a last burst of coffee from the little coffee shop in the supermarket. Noddy had an espresso too and we chatted about the last 188km and how nice it was to be outside on such a lovely day.
And that was it, pretty much. Another hour of cycling on familiar roads and I was home. Although between Northallerton and Ingleby Barwick the sun set over the Yorkshire dales. I had been treated to clear blue skies and bright sunshine all day long, and now watched the sun disappear below the horizon leaving behind the most beautiful colours in the sky; orange and peach, blue and pink. As the darkness drew in I found a burst of new energy and lifted the pace back home through Hutton Rudby and Hilton. I was quite tired, it had been a long ride, 10% over distance for an Audax at 220km.
I had been riding for 9 hours and 1 minute, but had been out for 11 hours and 11 minutes. This route is challenging because my average pace was less than 15kph when I reached Blakey Ridge, but had slowly climbed for the rest of the day until reaching a respectable 24.4kph.
I thought I might turn this ride into an Audax Permanent Event, but at 10% overdistance it might be unpopular, so if anyone wants the directions, please just let me know. If there is enough interest I will make a Perm.