Big Sky Cycling – a loop from Stamford Bridge near York
On Saturday I joined up with Chris at Stamford Bridge near York to cycle another Big Skies bike ride in the Yorkshire Wolds: my second in about a month. By 'join up with' I mean I met him 40 miles into a ride of almost 130 miles, for him, that is. We cycled together for just short of 47 miles, then he rode another 40 miles home.
Stamford Bridge is a good place to start a ride for someone driving to the Wolds. My drive from Manchester was about 90 miles each way and I'd phoned the Town Clerk the day before to enquire about parking; he directed me to a large free one just by the bridge, and when I arrived, Chris was already there (having cycled 40 miles from home). A 90-mile drive for a 46-mile bike ride might seem a long way but on a Saturday the motorways are quiet with none of the weekday log jams of my previous trip. M62, M1, A64, A166 and I was there before ten after a drive of about 1 hr 40 mins, relieved to see he was still carrying *his usual pile of kit.
A clear blue sky was forecast – the forecasters on TV the day before were filled with pride at what was in store for us on this spring weekend. From Stamford Bridge the route goes north through woodland and winding lanes to the village of Crambe, passing over the York to Scarborough railway at a level crossing with a quaint country signal box. "Watch out," says Chris, "there might be a train today."
We stopped for a snack at the ruins of Kirkham Priory, founded in the 1120s by the river Derwent (photo), then turned east through Westow and Burythorpe where an old church sits strangely on a hillock before a couple of sharp climbs led up to higher ground (photo) past Birdsall. The lines of trees at the ridge of this higher ground had been visible on the blue horizon from miles away but as we rode over into open farmland the sky grew cloudy. What really makes a big sky is the distant ceiling of clouds in the few degrees of elevation above the horizontal (top photo). An empty sky has no roof and there are no shadows on the fields. Chris's camera, unfortunately, was now broken.
At Kirby Grindalythe we turned south east to Sledmere, south west for a cup of tea at a bikers' cafe near Fimber, and west through Thixendale where you are caught with no escape except a stiff climb in any direction. As we slogged uphill towards Uncleby, Chris's back was playing up and my stomach was puffed up with wind for some reason – eating nuts, I think, or the cucumber sandwich.
At the top of Uncleby hill we wondered what the fine view might be, then plunged downwards at speed to Kirbyunderdale, levelling out through Bugthorpe, Barthorpe and Buttercrambe, crossing the Derwent river again before returning to Stamford Bridge around three thirty. My stomach was still painfully bloated with wind and I hadn't relieved it in the usual manner. All I will say is I fixed it while Chris went off to buy aspirin for his back. Note to self: don't eat cucumber when cycling.
- Distance: 46.45 miles
- Elevation gain: 2,277 ft
- Moving time: 03:52:48
- Average moving speed: 12.0 mph
- Maximum speed: 33.6 mph
This is an excellent route (thanks Chris). The Yorkshire Wolds are less obviously picturesque than the Yorkshire Dales, being flatter (not flat) but this provides ideal recreational cycling that is not too physical. The land rolls gently and the occasional steep climbs are short. This agricultural region of England is sparsely populated but enjoys a labyrinth of lanes with virtually no motor traffic except farm machinery. And there's the gorgeous big sky and views to the far horizon. A place to ride lost in thought. For cyclists within striking distance of the M1/M62, you are just an hour or two's drive from the free car park at Stamford Bridge.
*I'd intended to do this ride on my Giant hybrid bike with 32mm wide slick tyres, but the night before, I noticed the gear cable outers had worn to the coils from rubbing on top of the suspension fork so I took my Ridgeback Panorama touring bike instead. It's slightly heavier and I'd just fitted it with Vittoria Cross XN Pro cyclocross tyres with a file pattern tread that I thought might be a bit slow. With Chris threatening to be ruthless in cutting down his kit I was worried I would be easily outpaced (which I would be on equal bikes). As it happens my tyres were fine, Chris brought his usual load, and anyway – he'd already cycled the 40 miles to the start of the route.