“OK?” Mike asked. Not wishing to look like a soft southerner I replied “Yeah great thanks.” Although inside my head there was a small child screaming at the top of their voice.
We were descending the infamous Chimney Bank on the North Yorkshire Moor. Although it is classified with a gradient of 33%, as we approached the steepest section it appeared to me more like a cliff face. Suddenly, it felt as if someone had placed a sack of potatoes on my shoulders as gravity started to do its thing. Using my limited mountain bike skills, I put my rear end as far over the end of the saddle of my road bike as possible and gripped the brake levers as if my life depended on it, hoping I didn’t get brake fade before the hairpin corner.
Thankfully, I rolled into the Vale of Rosedale Abbey without incident with a big grin on my face, just as much from relief as from the thrill of the descent.
I was being treated to a guided introduction of riding in the North York Moors by Mike Hawtin of Gone Mountain Biking. Mike and his wife Amanda run a truly cycle friendly B&B, complete with secure bike storage and workshop in the centre of Pickering, as well as the other family business specialising in Mountain Bike skills coaching, maintenance courses and cycling holidays. Additionally, they also offer guided rides on and off road, of which I was taking full advantage. I couldn’t have chosen a better location or guide, Pickering is featured in Stage 1 of the 2017 Tour de Yorkshire (TdY), and Mike is a fountain of knowledge.
My short midweek excursion was to discover why the areas of Ryedale and the borough of Scarborough are so popular with every type of cyclist, including professionals. The Tour de Yorkshire and Tour of Britain have used the area extensively. My visit could not have come at a better time as the announcement that the 2019 World Road Championships is to be held in Yorkshire had just been made and it is expected this area will be heavily featured.
Our route thus far had taken us on roads used in the previous editions of the TdY, including a section used in 2015 near The Great Yorkshire Brewery in the village of Cropton, (based at the New Inn and one of the fastest growing micro breweries in Britain), past Hutton le Hole (start of the climb to the King of the Mountain Stage of 2016 TdY at Blakey Ridge,) and onto the top of Rosedale Chimney, otherwise known as Chimney Bank.
Following my personal record breaking steep descent, I only had a few moments to catch my breath before we crossed the road and immediately began climbing Heygate to the top of the Moors. My grin turned to a grimace as I passed the sign informing all of the 25% gradient. However, the slow slog skyward was well worth the effort. The view from the top near the Millennium Cross, the latest addition to the many ancient crosses that are archetypal of the North York Moors, was terrific. Looking back, we were afforded a marvellous view of the horrendous gradient of Chimney Bank and looking ahead towards Goathland (of Harry Potter and Heartbeat fame), and across Egton High Moor, the moorland vista couldn’t have been more striking.
Riding through the moorland terrain under big skies was sublime and virtually traffic free, just a joy to ride. After traversing a windy ridge (Mike giving warnings of side winds to be encountered), there was a beautiful long descent into Lealholm where we stopped for well deserved refreshment. The climb out of the picturesque village is 17%, and although steeper than most of the hills at home, by now I had become so accustomed to the large double digit gradients, I practically sniffed at the figure and conquered the ascent with relative ease!
However, Mike had a couple of surprises for me, one was the 1 in 3 drop into Egton Bridge which bizarrely didn’t seem as steep as Chimney Bank. Was I getting used to the North Yorkshire gradients or has there been a mathematical error? The other was a cheeky climb, as Mike put it. This came in the form of a 25% uphill struggle to Wheeldale Moor, past the site of the remains of a Roman Road. Still, the effort was well worth it. The solitude, wild scenery and feeling of isolation was one to be savoured. And yet it was comforting to know that in reality we were never that far from civilisation.
At Tranmere Bog, memories of my excursions on French and Belgian cobbles came flooding back as we crossed the ancient cobbled bridge. Even more painful memories came flooding back as we attacked a few more ‘stingers’ (another euphemism from Mike for sharp climbs), before descending for the last time through Stape, and down into Pickering.
It had been a challenging 42 – mile route, and a great insight into the conditions, pain and rewards of riding some of the best roads I have encountered in Britain. Who needs the continent!
Ryedale is not all about road cycling though. The following day I had another treat in store, (and I don’t mean the award winning farmhouse breakfast I enjoyed at Carr House Farm B&B); off – road cycling with none other than Adrian Carter, founder of Pace Cycles. Adrian has been instrumental in setting up off road cycle centres in the area. He has been involved with the mountain bike scene from the very start. Indeed, he and his team were the first to introduce colour coded trails, a system that was subsequently adopted nationally and one we all take for granted.
I met Adrian at his Sutton Bank Bike Centre located in the visitor centre of the North York National Park. The setup is an excellent example of the private sector working closely with a national authority and land owners. The trails used are existing bridleways and ancient tracks, maintained and improved sympathetically by the National Park working in conjunction with ideas and suggestions made by Adrian’s team. For example, a track across a field used by farm vehicles will be bolstered in the centre creating a firm riding surface for cyclists, leaving the muddy tyre tracks for tractors. This light touch is typical of their ethos, resulting in a natural environment seemingly untouched by cycle centre hands.
Adrian was keen to show me how the coloured coded tracks interlinked thus enabling riders to extend their ride should they wish do so.
We set out on the green family trail through a small wooded area with super single track, before crossing a road and onto bridleways leading to the other feature that Sutton Bank is famous for – ‘The finest view in England’ (according to James Herriot).
It was at one of several viewing points looking across the ‘finest view’ that the trail splits. Family or novice riders can return along the edge of the escarpment or as we did join part of the blue route and extend the ride.
The route followed the edge of the ridge affording magnificent views across to the Yorkshire Dales, which must have been at least 50 miles away. It then dropped down the bank via single track through a quarry where the stone for the local building had been dug out of the hillside, on through a wood yard and then back up to join the original ‘split point’ joining the green trail again.
I didn’t need reminding I was in the illustrious company of someone who knew the trails like the back of his hand and was riding a bike he had designed and built. But if I did, the awe inspiring way Adrian shot down the descents left no doubt as to the company I was in.
On the way back to the Cycle centre, complete with bike wash facilities, we stopped at the most popular viewing point of the aforementioned Mr. Herriot. From here you could see for miles across from the Vale of York to the Pennines, and views of Gormire Lake, formed in the last ice age and Garbutt Wood. Simply breath-taking.
Further along the trail the track splits into two pathways, one for walkers and one for cyclists. It must be remembered the trails are shared with other users, and where it has been possible, separate pathways have been created. Another one exists on a descent on the red route, separating horse riders and cyclists. This has come about by listening to the users and working with all parties to find a practical solution. This has created an ideal and safe environment to learn and experience riding bridleways and public tracks similar to those likely to be encountered in the ‘wild’ and also to act as a ‘stepping stone’ before experiencing the many cycle centres with purpose built trails for mountain bikers alone.
Before leaving I met Michael Graham from the North York National Park who informed me of the plans to improve and enlarge the visitor centre which further whetted my appetite to sample more of the 150-mile Moor to Sea cycle network. The network has been split into 11 sections giving the rider a large selection of choices, from cycling the whole route in 5 or 6 days or choosing one or more sections for a day – ride. Michael also pointed out that a lot of the attractions within the National Park act as ‘honey pots’ to most of the visitors, with a knock on effect of leaving the area free for cyclists.
I left with the thought of returning to complete two sections of the Moor to Sea network, namely the Cinder Track. This is an old rail route from Whitby to Scarborough and boasts the best coastal scenery on the entire Moor to Sea network. It would also allow me to explore Scarborough, the finishing town of the TdY in both 2015 and 2016.
Before leaving the area, I couldn’t resist driving down and back up the famous Sutton Bank as featured in the third stage of TdY in 2016. It’s not often you drive past signs stating ‘No caravans allowed’! The gradient is 25% and you are regularly reminded of the fact every few 100 yards and by road signs instructing you to stay in a low gear. I turned around at the base of the hill and passed a sign stating how many times the road has been blocked by HGVs this year (7) and made my way up the 1.3 km ascent.
On the way home I popped into the Ampleforth Abbey, well worth a visit if only to purchase some of their beer produced on site. The Abbey beer has a unique taste that reminded me of a typical Belgium Trappist style Dubbel. Lovely. Chatting to Andy Slingsby, Lettings and Event Manager, he told me of the mountain bike tracks in the Abbey woods and how the Ryedale Grand Prix starts and finishes in the Abbey grounds (next event will be held on 6th August 2017). Also, initial talks with a sportive organiser have been held, with the idea that the Abbey will be a focal point.
Not only are Benedictine monks behind cycling, I left with an overwhelming feeling that almost everybody in Ryedale (or should it be Ridedale), were passionate about supporting cycling in the area. There was definitely a cycling culture amongst the people I met, whether they were pub landlords, café owners, B&B hosts or those directly involved in the sport.
Certainly the wild, beautiful landscape of this corner of Yorkshire, lends itself to most enjoyable rides both on and off road. I would encourage anybody to come and try it for themselves.
Lovely B&B situated in centre of Pickering and home of Gone Mountain Biking
Award winning Farmhouse B&B, complete with four poster beds and award winning breakfast
Great places to eat
Winner of ‘Independent Food Retailer of the Year, 2015
Named as Yorkshire’s favourite pub
Great place to visit
Ampleforth Abbey and Grounds