Here’s the report on July’s Away Day which I introduced previously as the ‘Whitby Away Day’.
Due to a long spell of less than ideal weather, July’s North York Moors Away Day, from Great Ayton to Whitby, had been postponed until Saturday 29th. Sadly, only three of us – Chris, Graeme W and myself – were able to make it which at least offered the advantage of a fairly well balanced ability group.
Distance 64 miles/104 km | Ascent 6417 ft/1956 m | Max Height 948 ft/289 m (Kildale Moor) | Max Gradient Up 18% (Skinningrove)/Down 19% (Boulby) | Surface Road | Profile Steeply Undulating | %Flat 13% | Start/Finish Great Ayton, N. Yorks | Grade Challenge
Note Some gradients will have been steeper at specific points plus there was the added bonus of interesting corners – including a few hairpins.
Weather-wise it had certainly been worth the wait as the forecast was generally good with the only concern being a stiff headwind that would make its presence felt on the way back. Warm sunshine ushered us out of Great Ayton, accompanying us through Guisborough as we headed for the coast at Saltburn aided by the aforementioned wind.
After a smooth, unhindered descent of Saltburn Bank, now devoid of the crowds which had thronged the recent National Road Championships, we began the first of the many testing climbs we’d encounter on the route. This one would take us into Brotton and it wasn’t long before I found myself out the back – not by much but a precursor of things to come.
By the time we’d reached Brotton’s lofty town centre, I’d regained contact and we we were soon flying down the lanes to Carlin Howe at which point the route returns steeply to sea-level in the former ironstone-mining village of Skinningrove. As soon as you cross the beck, by the beach, the road rears up dramatically on Skinningrove Bank. At 1.6 miles and a maximum gradient of 18% it’s statistically the toughest climb on the route but with fresh legs it didn’t feel like it.
Nevertheless, I soon found myself going backwards, though the elastic never quite snapped. We stopped to regroup but the climbing wasn’t over, as we’d yet to crest a still considerable ridge to reach the steepest descent of the day – 19% straight down to the A174 at Boulby. My legs, by now, had got the memo and by the time we reached the descent things were feeling a bit easier. In the blink of an eye however, you’re braking hard for the junction, opposite Boulby’s polyhalite mine (the deepest mine of any kind in Britain). Then, after only a few metres, it’s onto quiet Cowbar Lane heading for the former fishing village (and smugglers haunt) of Staithes.
Sitting well back on the saddle, with handfuls of brake, we plunged into town, looking directly down on Staithes’ pretty, orange pantiled roofs, to the footbridge over the beck. After dismounting on the bridge to take pictures, the brisk wind, blowing down the gorge, blew my bike over. I’d propped it, somewhat carelessly, against the rail and although the bike seemed intact, my as yet untouched water bottle was clearly visible, far below, bobbing down the beck heading for Holland!
What could I do? If it was the bike, I’d have waded through the mud to retrieve it but drew the line at a water bottle – full or not. Having waved goodbye to the bobbing bottle I had to face the fact that I now had no way of carrying fluid. Although I figured I’d cope, efficient hydration is an easily under-appreciated facility, especially on a long ride.
Anyway, that was the future; for now we turned our efforts towards leaving Staithes – another leg-bender – and just to get back to the same road we’d left a few kilometres earlier. This time we were on it for a couple of kilometres, to Hinderwell (23 miles), then on towards Runswick Bay. Thankfully, rather than descending the insanely steep hill to the picturesque bay (a dead-end) we turned right, this time to cross the A174.
The next few kilometres to Ugthorpe were characterised by relatively short but often steep undulations while clouds built up ominously ahead. At Ugthorpe we reached the route’s longest descent, a fairly shallow one, followed by a relatively gentle climb into Lythe and the A174 again. After leaving the village, the road descends steeply to Sandsend via Lythe Bank. You’d do well not to underestimate this, with multiple tight bends coming in quick succession accompanied, almost inevitably, by at least one oncoming car.
It’s easy to overshoot Wits End Cafe tucked away as it is at the foot of the bank. It was here, after a short conflab, that we decided to stop. ‘Comfortable and covered’ is how I’d describe its ‘garden’ – with plenty of room for bikes. We were particularly grateful for the shelter because, just as we sat down, down came the long threatened rain. By the time we hit the road again it had stopped and the clouds were fast receding. Mindful of the potential water situation, I purchased a small bottle that would fit into my jersey’s overstuffed pockets.
Whitby came next, where the roads – not surprisingly – were jammed. Threading our way carefully through the traffic and over the River Esk via the swing bridge (closed to cars but packed with pedestrians) we headed out of town, along the river, then uphill to the cross the A171.
Next up was Ruswarp in the Esk Valley. To get to it you have to cross a steepish spur before a few miles of easy riding alongside the river which you recross to enter the town of Sleights. Here, the road kicks upwards for what would be a long, steep climb over Sleights Moor if we hadn’t turned right onto Eskdaleside after about a kilometre. What follows is an entertaining rollercoaster which extends along the south side of the valley to Grosmont.
In fact I think it was my favourite part of the entire route: by riding the downhills hard enough, you can preserve sufficient momentum to get yourself most of the way up the next incline. It’s like this until the final descent – signed as 30% – into Grosmont at the foot of which you’ll find the station on the North York Moors Railway where we stopped again.
As we walked our bikes onto the platform, one of the heritage railway’s bigger engines was pulling out – amidst whistles and hissing steam – just as a smaller engine was arriving. The sun was high and the platform hot and bustling. Perhaps distracted by the scene around me I drank only a coffee – a decision I was about to regret.
Heading for Egton, you don’t ride too far out of Grosmont before you’re confronted with a long, steep climb of the ‘double arrows’ variety on the map. This is where I began to feel that all was not as it should be. Already lagging Chris and Graeme at the bottom of the hill, I soon realised I was lacking the ability to close the gap.
So I did what I could, feeling okay but unable to go any faster up the hill. Although I was sure I was going to start feeling better, I actually began to feel more and more drained, my lips dry and my tongue sticking to the roof of my mouth. Of course I should have done something about it, like finding a shop and buying some water, which I suspected was the cause of my troubles, but instead I just pushed on.
What was now a strong headwind wasn’t helping and I was glad to sit in the wheels. It wasn’t that I couldn’t ride, I just couldn’t seem to do it fast enough. Danby and Castleton came and went in hilly fashion but rather than stopping to hydrate by some means or other, I just carried on, not doing too badly on the punchier climbs but dying on the longer ones.
Detached once again on the climb after Dibble Bridge at 55 miles, I was distracted enough to continue briefly in the direction of Commondale despite the computer beeping that the route went in the other direction. Back on track, I found the guys at the top of a small moorland rise at Sloethorn Park where Chris took this rather nice photo of me looking fitter than I felt.
Soon afterwards, the road kicked up again as we turned right, onto the road from Westerdale, to ride up to the highest point of the route on Kildale Moor. I felt like I could cycle comfortably enough but was thirsty and lacking strength.
Knowing that it was the last sustained effort however, my morale was improving and I continued over the top for the umpteenth long, fast descent. A motorcyclist unwisely chose to squeeze between me and a car which was closing at considerable speed, distracting my focus from the last short, steep climb of the day that lay ahead in the valley.
Maybe helped by the adrenaline, my energy seemed to return on the climb, and I arrived at the junction alongside Chris. Nevertheless, as we turned onto the road through Kildale – back into the wind – I was happy to sit on again (for the most part at least) as we started moving fairly rapidly on the final leg. I’m not sure how Graeme had become detached but it was Chris and I who completed the final few kilometres to Great Ayton together, Graeme arriving shortly afterwards.
Chris’s suggestion of the nearby pub was taken up enthusiastically by Graeme and I. Chris even bought the beers though it was me that owed him one after towing me the last few miles (one of the most practical advantages of cycling with a group).
As we sat outside in the sun, gazing idly across the nascent River Leven, on went the rose-tinted sunglasses. Despite the complications (for me at least) it had been a great day out – as they almost always are on roads further afield. Hopefully we’ll get a few more attending the next one but the summer sunshine isn’t going to last much longer!