Great British Bike Rides Review

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Can you review a cook book without making a meal from at least one of its recipes? Possibly, but the North York Moors ride had to be tasted before I could review Great British Bike Rides. Both the Ride Grade and the Climbing Grade for this particular route are classified as 'Extreme'.

Some words and pictures:

Climb out of Westerdale

I managed to sneak in this ride during a family holiday one Easter. We stayed at a cottage near Helmsley, at the foot of the North York Moors. The recommended start point for this route is Rosedale, but I had to cut in to the loop nearer, at Nunnington.

Nunnington start

The flat part of the route. My starting point of Nunnington

Ampleforth

All the time in the world. Take a picture of Ampleforth College and move on...

Byland Abbey

... to Byland Abbey

Kilburn, with the White Horse in the background

Approaching the White (actually a mucky grey) Horse at Kilburn

The route from Nunnington to Kilburn is very pleasant and lumpy rather than hilly until Kilburn. At this early point in the ride report you were meant to have the option of playing a video of me wheezing my way towards the gliding club that overlooks the White Horse. Sadly, my wife refused my request that I should fasten our family video camera to my handlebars, so a last-minute replacement was kindly given to my by my brother-in-law. Unfortunately, the files generated by this device are in a format that I cannot edit (for free anyway) and are a bit rubbish anyway. Just take it from me: the Kilburn Horse climb is a toughie, but easily the prettiest of the climbs on this route. I was, however, distracted that just as I started the climb my Garmin failed to register my position and started flashing a question mark at me. It meant that my Garmin track for the day was split in to three. More on that later...

GBBR mentions a steep descent after the Kilburn climb from which caravans are banned. When I read that the first time I thought that Dave Barter couldn't be referring to Sutton Bank. Surely not. But he was. Actually, my descent of Sutton Bank was fine. It was worse last time I went down it in a car (what's that burning smell?) and, ironically, the only close call I had with passing traffic came later on the flat. A lorry overtook me after the recognised entry point for cyclists along the A170 then pulled in a bit too sharply as a vehicle came towards it. At Sutton-under-Whitestonecliffe I thankfully took a right turn on to much quieter roads.

On towards the second climb for me (climb 3 in the book): Boltby Bank. This is one of four on this ride listed in Simon Warren's 100 Greatest Cycling Climbs. The road surface is broken and gravelly, and when I sat down in the saddle at one point my front wheel shot in to the air. Luckily I still had enough strength in my arms to wrestle the bike in to a straight line and remain upright. A tough climb, harder than Kilburn.

Boltby Bank top

Test the brakes before dropping in to Hawnby

I made another video of the Boltby Bank climb, but again my Garmin flashed a punctuation symbol at me. It wasn't until later that I twigged the problem: the video camera was interfering with my GPS device. It had also started to pirouette on its mount on the shaky descent to Hawnby, so I switched the camera off and stashed it in my rack bag.

The view of Hawnby that can be glimpsed between trees as you rattle along the road is breath taking, but over too quick. Next comes my favourite section of road in the North York Moors: Hawnby to Osmotherley. It can be bleak, but it is certainly spectacular. It was at this point as I began to struggle up each little incline that I felt very much alone up on the Moor, as I did again on a descent that I overshot and somehow stayed on two wheels as I braked through gravel on a tight bend.

There is a fabulous descent in to Osmotherley. I think this would be a worthy alternative to Rosedale as a starting point.

Five per cent of this route is on 'A' roads, but that number can be cut just after Swainby by taking a road on the opposite side of the A172 (I think it has the word 'loop' on the sign post after you pass the pub on your left). The minor road rejoins the A172 close to the turn off you need to take to go on to the next climb: Carlton Bank.

Carlton Bank top

Couldn't quite do justice to that view

I didn't think this climb was too difficult. It didn't feel all that long either. There is a hugely enjoyable descent to Chop Gate (pronounced Chop Yat) from where those choosing to take the shorter option can head south along the B1257. Good luck with that; though magnificent, the Moors don't have very many alternative routes. I wouldn't fancy riding all the way to Helmsley on that 'B' road. Having said that, the route north wasn't too busy, and I arrived at a carpark-cum-viewing point without any further close calls.

Viewing point on B1257

Another view spoiled

Another thrilling descent followed when I turned off the B1257. These were relatively quiet roads and not particularly hilly after the drop from the 'B' road. Further along this stretch it is easy to overlook Glebe Cottage in Kildale. It is in an ideal point for cyclists going in either direction through this little village; there aren't many other places to stop (even though the proprietor was rather preoccupied with sorting out his Internet connection over the phone when I called for refreshments). Well worth a look, particularly if, like me, you feel exhausted on your ride, with quite a distance still to cover.

Glebe Cottage, Kildale.  Cyclists Welcome

Glebe Cottage, Kildale. Cyclists Welcome

Westerdale ford

A cobbled ford before Westerdale. Take the little bridge

Last year I rode what was supposed to be a 300km DIY Audax with our own Mr Wilkie. We stopped at the café in Kildale and passed through Westerdale to get there. So I knew there would be some significant hills in front of me. Worryingly, as I started to drag myself up the first of them, the little flags that waved at me from my Garmin were some way ahead on the display (the downloadable .gpx files include Waypoints that mark the beginning and end of each of the six climbs on this route).

Westerdale Ford (bike)

The surface is gravelly after the ford, but I managed to clip in and cycle up this stretch

Climb out of Westerdale

"Best time to ride: Avoid winter"

So it was only after passing through Westerdale that the climbing was officially recognised. I wasn't at my cheeriest on this ride as I winched myself up towards the main road and the descent in to Rosedale.

Westerdale shadow in the snow

Rosedale Abbey road closed

Road to Rosedale closed

I think the 'Road Closed' sign had a bit of an effect on me. I had resigned myself to taking the main road descent to Hutton-le-Hole and had even put on my little dayglo tabard to catch the eye of passing motorists. And yet something made me hang around, just to be certain that there was no way through. I flagged down two cheerful ladies whose car I had watched come towards me along the supposedly closed road. They assured me that I could get through. The road was in the process of being resurfaced, but the blokes doing the job had gone home for the day and I would be free to get through. Off I went along the snow-lined road towards Rosedale. It was quite a drop.

Descent in to Rosedale

Approaching Rosedale, and the snow has disappeared

Rosedale Chimney Bank

"Cyclists please dismount". I'm ahead of you there...

I would like to have reported my first triumphant attempt of Rosedale Chimney and how I powered through the bends. Unfortunately, with over 70 miles behind me that day, I could not get up on two wheels. In fact, as I sat down in the saddle, the front wheel flew in to the air once more as it did on the Boltby ascent. Sadly, this time I wasn't able to keep the bike on a true course and as I tilted over to one side unclipped and put a foot down. This was particularly galling as I had only one more bend to get around. I walked the bike round that bend, remounted and twiddled my way to the top. There's always next time...

The views and descent towards Hutton-le-Hole were fabulous and almost made up for the disappointment of unclipping earlier. But the tiny climb out of Hutton-le-Hole put me back on the granny ring again; I was severely fatigued, hungry and very cold. I stopped to put on all of the clothes from my rack bag, ate all but my emergency cashew nuts and turned the pedals towards Kirbymoorside. Once across the A170 and on to the much flatter sections of the ride I started to feel better, and even got on to the 50T 44T chain ring in an attempt to make the average mph a bit more respectable.

It was starting to get dark, and I needed to complete my loop at Nunnington before backtracking and returning to our holiday cottage.

Nunnington finish

Closing the loop. In Nunnington again

Back at the cottage I slumped in a chair and took an age before I felt well enough to face my reheated supper and eat it alone in the kitchen. It was my longest ride of the year (it still is, incidentally) and by far the hardest under 100 miles that I've ever done. I'll do it again, and nail Rosedale. But maybe not for a while, eh...?


The above is a modified version of text posted elsewhere back in 2013 and no longer available.

There are plans for GBBR 2...

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2 comments on “Great British Bike Rides Review”

  1. Kieran wrote:

    I have been wondering whether to buy GBBR or not (hence googling it). I might just give it a try.

  2. Chris wrote:

    I think it's worth it, Kieran. I can't imagine how better to present 'Great' rides in Britain. I'm a bit of a home bird, however. I've only done the one ride – the North York Moors one on page two of this review – and I'm going back this summer. Without a triple!

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