Long Day's Journey into Night (a cycle ride from Loftus)

One of the pleasures of planning a cycle ride is working out the best way to link various points. I have a vague plan of cycling from the church in Hull where I was married, up to Middlesbrough Cathedral (Hull is in the Diocese of Middlesbrough) and back one day this year. Or maybe next. It would be the longest ride I have completed so far (probably for charidee), and it would mean cycling from the very early hours until late that same night. After yesterday's shenagins I now have my doubts.


On NCN route 1 at Loftus. The sea is to the left of those buildings

After an overnight stay in Loftus on the north-east coast of England I set off the following morning for Middlesbrough along National Cycle Network route 1. My idea was to check out the route with the possibility of including it on the longer ride later in the year. Staithes, Loftus and Brotton are parishes within the Diocese and my plan was to visit – or at least pass by – as many such parishes and their churches on the route. That won't happen...

NCN route 1 between Loftus and Middlesbrough

NCN route 1 seems to spring from Loftus and links up with Middlesbrough. There is no other official route in to Loftus, presumably because it is felt that there isn't another safe way of getting there by bicycle. So close to the coast there are really only major roads to bring you there. Twenty minutes later than the latest time I had set myself I set off at 8.20am and took the twisting course north. The first part of the route takes you downhill towards the sea, but not quite as far as the shore, and then back up what for me was a steep climb, especially without a few miles to warm up the legs. This is to avoid what is known locally as Loftus Bank, a fairly steep descent and ascent on the A174. It's probably wise for cyclists to avoid it. After crossing over that main road the route goes out in to the countryside and comes back towards the coast to cross the same A road to get to Brotton.

Not much further on and I missed a turn despite plotting the route – admittedly probably a bit too loosely – on my GPS. This wasn't the first time I had needed to backtrack on the ride. It certainly wouldn't be the last.

1471_NCN sign

Missed it the first time. Fun and games playing spot the signs

The next few miles were spent weaving about around the A174 along a route designed to take the wary cyclist away from the main roads. I can't deny that the route did just that. Unfortunately, it necessarily meant a lot of turns, more backtracking, and a little frustration, with the clock ticking.


More interesting diversions


The beach at Saltburn by the Sea (er, I think)

1481_Please clean up after your dog

Impressive cleanliness from the guardians of NCN route 1

In order to make good time I had in mind arriving at Osmotherley, on the western edge of the North Yorks Moors, around midday. Unfortunately, all of my diversions had put me behind time. In Redcar I became more than a little disgruntled with the way the route was taking me. After bunny-hopping over a kerb, negotiating pedestrians along a snicket, going down a tenfoot (are they called that in these parts?) and rejoining the main road a few yards further along, I got fed up. By now my GPS and the NCN signs bore no relation to each other. I decided to follow my Garmin's track and set off through a housing estate and headed in the general direction of Middlesbrough. Despite not seeing any other signs for a few miles I came to a T junction and picked up the signs for Middlesbrough again. Not long now, surely?

1485_A road to Middlesbrough

On the cycle track beside the A174 to Middlesbrough

Folk who fancy a ride out from Middlesbrough to the east coast are best served by this section of NCN route 1. It's not really there for road cyclists in a hurry. The route has been carefully put together to avoid the heaviest of the traffic. In parts it is confusing and lacking in signs. A few more signs that reassure the unsure cyclist wouldn't go amiss either. Or maybe it's just me. Anyway, I fetched up in Middlesbrough much later than I had expected. Then I struggled to find NCN Route 65, although I admit I should have been able to work that one out.

1490_Middlesbrough railway station

Don't tempt me

Somehow, and I still don't know how, I ended up on an A road with roundabouts leading to other A roads. I recognised the name of one place (although it was somewhere I didn't want to go to) and I pulled off the road and asked for help. Now, this wasn't the first time I had tried to get help from someone. Mostly I did receive help, such as from the chap walking his dog near the Riverside Stadium who pointed out that Cathedral wasn't in Middlesbrough as such, but was in Coulby Newham miles away, as he put it. But some people – I'm sure – gave me the wrong information, like the guy who put his finger in my map and told me where I was (I know now I wasn't) and got me all confused. Anyway, it turned out that by this time I wasn't that far from the Cathedral so I asked again for directions (and again, and again) before finding it behind Tescos.

1492_Middlesbrough Cathedral

Middlesbrough Cathedral. Built in the late 1990s after the 19th century cathedral fell out of use. The original was later gutted by fire in 2000

After a photograph at the Cathedral I asked a chap where I should go now. He tried to send me off towards Stokesley, but I held my own and had already forgotten his revised directions as I headed off towards Hemlington (the place I didn't want to go to but would at least allow me to get my bearings). From there I fell in to Stainton (where I wanted to go) and Maltby on quiet country roads again. Bliss, but I was now heading in to a stiff headwind that would slow down my progress for the rest of the day.

Osmotherley and the North York Moors

As well as my North of England AA road map, Sustrans Yorkshire Moors and Coast cycle map and Garmin GPS I had added a route list written on the back of a Co-op receipt. It's particularly satisfying to – metaphorically – tick off the towns and villages as I pass through them. After Swainby I had written "Osmotherley", but it was quite a way to go before I got there. I was grateful for the lower gears I had given myself on my Kinesis. I needed them as I winched myself up on to the north-western escarpment of the North Yorks Moors.


My cycle map reckons you should "not drive through or park in Osmotherley". It is tight for space, but the shops need custom to come from somewhere. Perhaps that instruction was directed at only cyclists who might otherwise park up to ride from there?

I arrived in Osmotherley at 1.30pm, a full 90 minutes behind schedule. Scrambled eggs with salmon and a pot of tea. Then beans on toast and a refill of my water bottles. Osmotherley is lovely and I would happily have stayed, especially as the cottage we rented a couple of summers ago was tantalisingly just across the road. We really must try to get another cottage some time. Half an hour or so later I set off, with too full a belly, across the moors towards Helmsley. This road is one of my favourites in Yorkshire. The last time I rode it was nearly ten years ago, and in the opposite direction when I stayed the night in the Youth Hostel. Even on this Bank Holiday there were few cars about and it is a joy to take in the different scenery and all the twists and turns and hills. On that last journey I was fully laden and far from fully fit. My companion and I walked quite a few stretches of the route (but then we had already cycled 70 miles that day after doing no preparation).

1499_Osmotherley NCN 65

A nice view on a clear day, but surely the ugliest sign post for miles

1506_Hawnby signs

More signs. A Heartbeat-style one with, by contrast, an unnecessary NCN sign post. There seems little point in having the cycle signs here, actually. There's nowhere else to go

This time it was different and I fancied a change to my plotted route. Despite being behind schedule I asked a woman in Hawnby for directions to Old Byland where there was a lovely old church. She looked at my map ("I'm going to be all girly here" she said as she turned it upside down so it pointed the way I needed to go) and suggested two possibilites. I should have taken more notice of her preference; instead I took the hillier version (I need the practise) and the one with the ford. Sure enough I got my practise and passed the 25% sign without the need to walk. Just about. Eventually, I made it to the top of this testing rise and found the road I need to take. Just as the woman in Hawnby had said, there was no sign to Old Byland, just a homemade one for Murton Manor. It was a lovely, quiet road with grass along the middle of the single track. A steep descent followed, too steep to enjoy on this gravelly, twisting road. At the bottom was the promised ford.

1508_Ford on the way to Old Byland

The clear water didn't look too deep

1509_Way to avoid the ford

The footpath I should have taken


What happened when I didn't take the footpath

I didn't notice the footpath until I picked myself up from the bottom of the ford. The front wheel had gone from under me. The water was deeper than it seemed, and the bed of the ford just too slippery for my skinny tyres. I was drenched below the waist and all the way up my left side. Fortunately, there was no one around to witness my embarrassment, or the potential one that followed as I tried to wring out my skin shorts. Despite my best efforts it felt as though I was wearing a soaking nappy as I set off on the climb out of the wide valley. The moment was leavened by the sight of a stoat further up the road looking down on this sodden cyclist.

1511_wet bike

Hindsight is a wonderful thing. The bridge over the ford that looked more like a boating lake from this viewpoint

Despite being thoroughly damp I carried on to Old Byland and, after asking a couple of people, found the church behind the rectory set back from the village green. I'd come this far so I wanted a picture. A couple of walkers told me there was tea and coffee and a kettle in the church. I had a look around, but left after changing the tops I was wearing. The replacements were a little moist, but an improvement on the ones I had taken off.

1513_Old Byland Church

The church at Old Byland

From there it would have been rude not to go to Rievaulx on the way to Helmsley. I could have got closer, but by now I was really late.

1514_Rievaulx Abbey

Point, click, move on (note the Brooks cover protecting the saddle from my soaking shorts)

1521_friendly locals

The locals were friendly

The last 70 miles to home

1522_Castle Howard

Castle Howard in the far distance, on the way from Helmsley to Malton

I could have done with a hot drink, but made do with roadside snacks and my water. I swept through Helmsley and its Queen's Diamond Jubilee bunting and didn't stop in Malton. Instead I kept the momentum going so I didn't cool down too much before the mile-long climb out of Settrington. I had chosen to go along the north-west edge of the Yorkshire Wolds so that I could gain height quickly (well, as quickly as I could) then drop in to Driffield from Cowlam.

1526_Er, a wooden hut at Cowlam

After the grandeur of Castle Howard a more humble structure and my penultimate roadside stop. This is where Steve fixed his puncture on our coast to coast cycle ride two years ago

I had to stop at a petrol station in Driffield. I needed more water and it was getting dark. I bought flapjack and a cheap headlight torch that I would strap around my bar bag. (I had to go back in to the shop to get in to the packaging as I had left my tin snips at home.) The rest of the journey was very familiar. The wind dropped just as the rain began to fall. I made reasonably good progress and, despite having done more than a hundred miles, I put the chain on the big chain ring and raced against the dark and the weather. There was just light enough to get away with the puny LED strapped to my bar bag. By Cottingham the street lights were needed.

I arrived home wet all over again, just before 10.30 and with over 130 miles on the clock. My fourth century ride of the year hadn't been entirely pleasant, but I expect I'll forget about the worst of it before long.

11 comments on “Long Day's Journey into Night (a cycle ride from Loftus)”

  1. Hilary wrote:

    Well done Chris, that was quite a ride! Good photos too.

  2. Well , I'm not one of you seven but do live in the Boro. If you need help for this area get in touch. Phil Chisolm keeps the path in Saltburn clean going put every Saturday. It used to be horrendous with dog muck but his consistency has got it reduced. He puts up the number each week.
    A couple of years ago we rode our fully loaded tandem from Barton on Humber to home and that was 112 miles so well done .

  3. Chris wrote:

    Hi, Hilary. I wish I had taken some topical photographs on the Bank Holiday weekend. Osmotherley and Hutton Rudby were especially resplendent in bunting. But then Tim seems to have captured the Jubilee celebrations rather well.

    Cheers, Brenda. I might take you up on that offer of the route, thanks. The July 2012 edition of Cycling Active has a ride out from Middlesbrough through Hutton Rudby (twice, actually) and on to Osmotherley and I may well use part of that. The visit to Middlesbrough Cathedral wasn't in the plan for last Tuesday, but seeing as though it's on the southern fringes of the Boro it should be relatively easy to get to if I ever do the Hull-Middlesbrough-Hull ride some time. Good work, Phil btw 🙂

  4. Patrick wrote:

    Chris wrote: the pleasures of planning a cycle ride ... cycling from the very early hours until late that same night ... I became more than a little disgruntled ... struggled to find NCN Route 65 ... a few yards further along, I got fed up ... I asked a chap where I should go now ... etc

    Hmmm... quite a ride Chris, and an enjoyable report. Navigation should be plain sailing with a GPS though? Or was it important to explore? If you can access Google Earth I recommend it for planning a route. It can take a few hours to pin down a long course but then you can set off cycling 99% confident that all you need to do is pedal. Exploration on the desktop and no time wasted on the day.

    Either way, that was a big distance. Well done.

    Incidentally, Middlesbrough Cathedral is a dubious piece of architecture. Visually anyway. It reminds me of a fire station.

  5. Chris wrote:

    Hmmm indeed. The problem I had with route 1 between Loftus and Middlesbrough was the back streets, cut throughs and charming meanderings that I was taken along (from the scale of the map I was working from it wasn't always easy to plot the route online, but I would have the little blue signs on which to rely on the day – or so I thought). For instance, I got lost in [er, insert name here later] and had a chat with a local chap. Despite not believing him I walked my bike up some steps to the top of a pedestrian bridge and pointed the bike in the direction of Middlesbrough. After an age of dodging dog walkers and those barriers erected to keep motorcyclists off the trail sure enough I found confirmation that I was on route 1. But then I came out on the outskirts of the city and a very industrial area. There was little pleasure to be had there for sure. After that trying to get out of Middlesbrough was just lack of concentration on my part, I think, because again I had put a rough track down hoping to rely on those blue signs for route 65 😳

    Still, I knew there would be enjoyment once I was heading towards Osmotherley.

    Either way, that was a big distance

    Yes, about 50 miles too big. The first 50 😮

    The design of Middlesbrough Cathedral does make for interesting discussion (which I won't go in to here), but from my thoroughly selfish point of view it is at least at the southernmost edge of Middlesbrough so if I do attempt the ride some time at least I can get to it from the quiet lanes near Stainton. I'm still thinking about that...

  6. Kern wrote:

    That's a massive ride. With a swim thrown in for good measure. And a bit of pin-the-tail-on-the-map for amusement. Very brave of you, Chris.

    I'm with Patrick on Middlesbrough Cathedral, and with Chris on the potential for interesting discussion. In Nelson's navy there were two topics that were forbidden at the dinner table: politics and religion. Perhaps cycling blogs should respect the same boundaries, although I was a bit disappointed that no one really took the bait on the constitutional monarchy gambit ...

  7. Patrick wrote:

    The constitutional monarchy gambit... I noticed that. As it happens we discussed it around the dinner table over the Jubilee weekend LOL

    Kern wrote: Canada's head of state is Queen Elizabeth.

    Looking this up, I see she is referred to as the Queen of Canada. I've never heard that before. Constitutional monarchy is not an easy concept to understand. The United Kingdom is one, as well as Canada, but we have no constitution as such (as far as I'm aware), and I can't think of a single instance where the monarch has overruled parliament in modern times. The power of the Queen, if 'power' is the right word, seems to stem from the fact that she expresses no opinion on anything at all – except perhaps for facial expressions – whereas Prince Charles receives criticism even for expressing his views on architecture! (famous carbuncles etc – I suppose we know what he'd think about Middlesborough Cathedral)

    That is a splendid wooden shed BTW Chris (the one at Cowlam). Perfect for stoving I reckon.

  8. Chris wrote:

    Patrick wrote: That is a splendid wooden shed BTW Chris (the one at Cowlam)

    It looks as though it wants to be a bus stop, but I can't imagine it has been used for that for years. Just as I got there a bird flew out (house martin, swallow?). I didn't look inside, but last time there was at least one enormous pile of bird droppings in there beneath a nest. Personally, I've only carried a stove (a big Trangia) when cycle camping. No, Health & Safety required me to get my next drink on a petrol station forecourt – no stoves allowed 😯

    Even if pressed I think Charles would keep schtum if asked to comment on a Catholic place of worship. But we can guess...

  9. Kern wrote:

    The real advantage of a constitutional monarchy is precisely the fact that the monarch holds no power and is non-partisan. In times of constitutional impass impartial adjudication is needed to move forward the process of government.

    We had two examples of this a few years ago (the only examples I recall in my lifetime). The minority government of the moment wanted to prorogue parliament rather than face a vote of confidence. This tactical, procedural manouvre was obscure (at the time) and questionable in light of demands of the opposition who were willing to align themsleves into a ruling coalition.

    The question of the day was, should the ruling party be allowed to prorogue or should there be a change of government? It was the Governor General who ultimately made the decision. (Whether she consulted the Queen I don't know, but I would not be surprised if she sought advice.)

    The point of the anecdote is that, in moments of heated partisanship, a neutral party is sometimes needed to play referee. A republican system of government cannot provide that element of neutrality, and in fact can exacerbate fractious politics.

    Hence the merits of a constitutional monarchy. Charles' opinions on Catholic architecture notwithstanding.

  10. Patrick wrote:

    The question of the day... it was the Governor General who ultimately made the decision.

    Good example. Point taken. The British Queen appoints the Governor General as her representative – but only in theory. I see that he/she (GG) is now appointed by special search group of monarchists, all Canadian, and the Governor General is Canadian. The Queen, meantime, is 'consulted'.

    Whilst I can see the merits of this arrangement in times of impass it strikes one as somewhat hollow in the sense that the Canadian electorate can vote to change it. Australians, for instance, voted (in 1999 – I happened to be there at the time) on a republic with a President selected by Parliament from a list of candidates chosen by the Australian people. It failed but could have succeeded. It is not hard to imagine the public furore if the Queen really did step in personally to decide the affairs of a foreign nation. It's hard enough to imagine for the UK, let alone an intervention by King Charles!

  11. Mary wrote:

    A great ride Chris, a long way too. I find map reading for many people out there is quite a challenge, and when on the odd occasion I need to ask directions, finding someone who can read a map is as challenging as finding where I need to go!

    The modern Cathedral I would never have classed as a Cathedral at all had you not photoed it and put it on here. Quite small isnt it, and not with the Wow factor of what I recall a Cathedral to look like. (might be different inside it though), but the church at Byland, that was a beautiful building.

    I hate fords when they are in use too. I always take the paths, I remember my horse once slithering about in one we were 'fording' so I avoid them on a bicycle for the same reasons as you discovered. Too much algae on the floor of 'em.

    Great to be out and about on your bike on the Bank Holiday 🙂

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