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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
The last 70 miles to home
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.
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.