Big Skies Bike Rides: Thixendale from Malton or Norton on Derwent

Big Skies Bike Rides is the name given to eight cycle loop rides 'launched' in 2010. They take their name from the phrase used by David Hockney when he compared the sky over the Yorkshire Wolds to 'the big sky' he experienced in the American West. This 21.5-mile route starts in Malton/Norton and passes through Birdsall, Thixendale, Warram le Street and North Grimston.

On the day I completed this route I had ridden there with some other Hull & East Riding CTC cyclists from Cottingham Green near Hull. The Big Skies Bike Rides booklet produced by 'Visit Hull & East Yorkshire' points out that Malton has a railway service, currently operated by First TransPennine Express. But if I were to drive to this circular route I would start the ride from Thixendale; that way this anti-clockwise loop would end with a descent of the beautiful Water Dale back to Thixendale, and perhaps a pot of tea and a slice of lemon drizzle cake at the Village Hall.

Birdsall Brow/Leavening Brow

Looking from this point Birdsall is back down to the right, Leavening over the give way markings

Thixendale from Malton is by far the most challenging of the Big Skies Bike Rides. The excellent booklet describes this ride as 'hard' – the only one with such a category – I might have preferred 'tough', certainly when compared to, say, the Driffield loop. The way out of Malton is through Langtoft Wold along a road that can be busy. It's fairly hilly, too, and the first of two category five climbs. Not long after is the category four climb of Birdsall Brow. It's not as steep as the third climb of the route, but it does go on for longer. There's a nice view at the top of the hill but, sadly, my photograph doesn't capture the huge vista. At the crossroads shown above (point 3 of the map) a left turn takes the grateful rider towards a glorious descent of more than two miles in to Thixendale (see video later).

Thixendale Village Hall

After the descent through Water Dale there are welcome refreshments at Thixendale Village Hall (the former Youth Hostel)

From Thixendale the route heads towards Fimber, before taking a left turn to the north at Burdale and a hill which, for the casual cyclist, is likely to be rather testing. Here's what John Woodcock, writing in the Yorkshire Post, said about this part of the route:

A couple of miles on you start pedalling back to Malton. That is you would if you were of Tour de France standard. At this point most average cyclists will have to dismount and push the bike up to the plateau above the remains of the medieval village of Wharram Percy.

None of the Big Skies Bike Rides follows a route that takes cyclists up the steepest of hills in the Yorkshire Wolds (Nunburnholme, Hanging Grimston, Sherburn Grits etc.), but there are a few testers on this ride. Fairy Dale from Burdale is, for me, the steepest section on these official routes, even when compared with the climb out of Settrington on the Yorkshire Wolds Cycle Route, but it is over relatively quickly. In good weather there are lovely views to be had after conquering this gravelly, single track road (drivers always seem to be considerate in these parts and are likely to pull over) and following it towards Wharram Percy.

Chalkland Way/Fairy Dale

Looking back after the short, stiff climb from Burdale along the Chalkland Way and Fairy Dale

Cyclists with chunkier tyres than my 700x25c Gatorskins are invited to take a stony stretch of the Yorkshire Wolds Way (near to point 7 of the map), but I've never risked it. I prefer to follow the alternative route – a short, downhill few hundred metres along the B1248 – and then turn off to the left in Wharram le Street. After here there are some wiggly, poorly surfaced lanes that lead to North Grimston, but avoid the B1248.

Grimston Brow

The descent of Grimston Brow towards point 9 on the map

From North Grimston the route is unremarkable, but pleasant enough, with a descent in to Malton – particularly welcome if you started the ride there. If you are in need of refreshments my personal preference is the Yorkshire Tea Rooms on Castlegate in Malton. On the day I did this route my companions sat on the benches at the railway station eating their sandwiches whilst I had an omelette and chatted with a cyclist from North Yorkshire. I probably ate too much for the long drag back out of Malton to the south.

This is a challenging, but rewarding ride that requires a bike with low gears and, I would suggest, a cyclist with a fair degree of fitness. If you choose to start the ride in Thixendale you could bypass Malton all together by avoiding the out-and-back road from points 2/10 on the map (although that also does away with the purpose of these 'Visit Hull and East Yorkshire' day rides).

All roads lead to Thixendale (well, nearly)

The video below was taken later than the images above, in June 2011, and shows two descents in to Thixendale. The first, Water Dale, is both my favourite Thixendale ascent and my favourite descent. There are no fewer than six minor roads that serve Thixendale's population of around 130. This is quite typical in the Yorkshire Wolds; the sheer numbers of quiet roads that radiate from such small villages add up to the network of country lanes that criss-cross the area and – together with the changing landscape and rolling hills – explain the appeal to cyclists in this part of Yorkshire.

Video of dropping down in to Thixendale shot on Patrick's Dogcam Bullet HD WIDE mini camcorder on a later ride. The first descent is Water Dale; the second Thixendale Wold

Other Big Skies Bike Rides:

North Newbald and back from Beverley

North Millington Dale and Warter from Pocklington

South Dalton, Lockington & Lund from Market Weighton

Burton Agnes and Kilham from Driffield

Great Wold Valley from Hunmanby

Sledmere Country from Sledmere

Bempton Cliffs and Rudston from Bridlington

Yorkshire Wolds Cycle Route

Visit Hull and East Yorkshire Big Skies Bike Rides & Yorkshire Wolds Cycle Route.

5 comments on “Big Skies Bike Rides: Thixendale from Malton or Norton on Derwent”

  1. Hilary wrote:

    Your 'Big Skies Bike Rides' posts have really opened my eyes to an area of the country that I would never have considered to have much to offer the cyclist. Your descriptions would also be really helpful to anyone living/visiting the area – bit far for me tho!

    That second descent looks a bit rough!

  2. francis brogden wrote:

    i would suggest he takes the camera back as it appears to be stuck in slow motion!!!

  3. Chris wrote:

    Well, based on the original eight rides [now 10 – see update] there should only be one more to endure read about: Bempton Cliffs & Rudston from Bridlington. I had thought about suggesting making Bempton the destination of the 2012 CycleSeven ride. Quiet country lanes, hills that are more forgiving than those in the Yorkshire Dales and, of course, a beautiful coastline (and home to 200,000 birds – which I thought you'd appreciate, Hilary). Anyway, my route was just too long, but I could shorten it, I suppose. Something to think about... (Another wild card suggestion would be the 2012 Big G – Grimpeurs des Wolds Cyclosportive, probably at the end of July.)

    If you get Cycling Active (or flick through it in WH Smiths) there are often ride reports of the Big Skies Bike Rides – or variations on them. The latest (November 2011) has a report of Sledmere Country from Sledmere, only in reverse for some reason.

    Yes, the road through Thixendale Wold is rough. In fact the Water Dale road is in by far the best condition. It was resurfaced earlier this year (or was it 2010?) and makes a huge difference going up and down.

  4. Chris wrote:

    Cheers, Francis. Actually, Patrick used time lapse photography, and a lot of patience, to capture the descents 🙂

  5. Kern wrote:

    Lemon drizzle cake ... it's enough to make anyone ride anywhere ...

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