Big Skies Bike Rides: Bempton Cliffs and Rudston from Bridlington

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 23.5-mile route starts in Bridlington and passes through Bempton, Buckton, Grindale and Rudston.

Rudston standing stone

Rudstone monolith. The largest free-standing Neolithic stone in Britain

I’ve hardly cycled at all in the last three months. I’ve managed just one ride since the end of British Summer time. So today’s ride proved to be a little tonic, and for me the final one of the (originally) eight Big Skies Bike Rides. I took the train as I had on my ride from Hunmanby. The Bridlington ride goes in an anti-clockwise direction to Bempton and the cliffs there. However, I took the train from Paragon Station in Hull to the alternative start in Bempton. My thinking was that on the return journey if there were cyclists trying to get on in Bridlington I would already be on the train. That was the plan…

Bempton railway station. Just the one platform

I almost failed to get off the train at my destination. A simple soul unused to public transport, I stood at the left-hand side of the carriage waiting to get off from the door I had entered and from which all other passengers had got on and off between Bridlington and Hull. I think I expected the doors to open, then I realised that there was no platform on the left side and I punched the yellow button and got off on the right side, seconds before the train pulled away from the platform. I had to turn my little map upside down to work out which way to go (left from the station as it turned out) and cycled in to Bempton.

The route to the cliffs is well sign-posted as it’s on the Yokshire Wolds Cycle Route. Back in April, when we did the Route, we didn’t go to the cliffs at Bempton. I had never been before (although I’ve visited nearby Flamborough many times), but I knew there would be little birdlife to see at this time of year. So this wasn’t an oversight. Unlike forgetting to bring a pump, the correct size inner tubes, my water bottle and the book I wanted to read on the train. At least things couldn’t get any worse.

The cliffs at Bempton. Quiet at this time of year, but home to hundreds of thousands of birds in the breeding season

Future visitors to the Bempton cliffs might have seen my unintented vandalism if I hadn’t quickly confessed my sin to the chap in the shop; as I rode up looking for something to lock my Ridgeback to I thought I would lean it against one of the two benches that were overlooked by the shop. Unfortunately, my front tyre sunk in to what turned out to be a concrete hardstanding that had just been poured that morning. By the time I returned from the cliffs the chap in the shop had tamped it down again with a big stick. If you do this ride from 2012 onwards there may be a bike shelter by the time you visit, but in any case you should lock your bike outside the visitor centre close to the cliff top. The hardstanding was for the bike shelter, apparently.

It’s a surprisingly undulating road to and from the cliffs, then off towards Buckton along the potentially busy B1229. Although many vehicles passed me going in the opposite direction I think I counted only five or so that overtook me in approximately 16 miles from Bempton on the loop back to the outskirts of Bridlington.

Near Grindale on the National Byway Bridlington local loop and the Yorkshire Wolds Cycle Route

It’s a steady climb from Buckton to the crossing of the A165 (a busy road between Bridlington and Scarborough). I was struggling in to a headwind with my heavy bike and poor physical fitness. After crossing the main road a very well-surfaced narrow road takes you to a T junction close to Grindale. It’s unusual to cycle on roads in the Yorkshire Wolds that have road markings. Despite being on a normally quiet National Byway local loop I found the route between Grindale and Rudston to be unexpectedly busy and not particularly pleasant to cycle along.

Along the Byway between Grindale and Rudston

All Saints Church, Ruston. The monolith is behind the church

Parts of All Saints church in Rudston date back to 1100. I was looking forward to visiting Rudston, and seeing the the church and monolith (actually a megalith, according to Wikipedia). After photographing the church I set off looking for a 26ft tall standing stone. Not easy to miss you may have thought. But miss it I did. All the pictures I had seen show it in isolation, but it is actually very close to the east and far side of the church. I had imagined I would lean my bike near to it to take a photograph and give some idea of scale. However, I still felt a bit squeamish after stepping over graves to see that of Winifred Holtby, so I didn’t weave my Ridgeback between the headstones that surround the stone. Besides, it is estimated to weigh about 40 tonnes, and it had been really windy.

Winifred Holtby’s resting place in the graveyard of All Saints. She was born in Rudston

Looking back towards Rudston. The sun was at its strongest just as the winds dropped

More gentle climbing to get out of Rudston on a road marked Burton Agnes – I think the Big Skies leaflet should have mentioned that. At the top of the hill a chevron warns of the tight bend to the right, but it’s left back to Bridlington. There is no sign informing you of this, though, just a stick-on NCN route 1 sign wrapped around a post. Just head towards the communications mast.

I have allowed my Ridgeback MX5 to become neglected. I very rarely shift the chain off the middle chain ring and it seems I use only three of the rear sprockets on my commute. In fact, on some of the stiffer sections I had to coax the front derailleur on to inner ring with a careful application of the heel of my right boot. On larger cassette sprockets the drive train gave out worrying noises after finding itself in an unfamiliar position. Finally, on the way back to Bridlington I lifted the chain on to the big chain ring. By now the westerly wind had died down, but it was the most enjoyable section of the day’s ride.

Sands Wood

It’s not all downhill along the Roman road back to the coast and there are a couple of short stiff climbs before dropping down to the A165. At this point the route would go left and – assuming a start at the alternative of Bempton – towards the promenade and Sewerby. But I was pushed for time and knew I had no way of making it back for the 13.57 from Bempton. So I took the city centre A road to Bridlington station and was five minutes late for the 13.41 from there.

Maybe it was the westerly wind on this ride, but I think it should be done clockwise. The Roman road is quieter than the others, a rewarding ride and mostly uphill if ridden from the coast. The other sections (Buckton to Rudston) are also uphill from the coast, but busier, especially from Grindale to Rudston. I think it would make sense to do the busier roads downhill and savour the quieter Woldgate Roman Road. The Yorkshire Wolds Cycle Route recommends a clockwise direction on much of this route. I was suprised how hilly this loop turned out to be, so it was much more interesting than, say, the Driffield ride. Rudston, with its standing stone and church were well worth the trip. And fans of Winifred Holtby’s work may want to pay a visit to her grave. Anyone arriving from the south by train to do this ride should consider my tip and start from Bempton. Another tip would be to remember to bring refreshments, a pump, the right inner tubes, and maybe a book. South Riding anyone…?

Travelling with a bike on the Yorkshire Coast Railway line

The bar in Bridlington Railway Station

In a way I was glad I didn’t make it back to Bempton, partly because I’d ridden that section of the route before, but mainly because I wouldn’t have visited the station at Bridlington. I think they have an impressive display of flowers in the summer months, and it is a lovely traditional station. The bar is licensed and is packed with railway memorabilia – possibly a bit too packed, actually. Get rid of that Coronation Street fruit machine and reinstate the open fires, I say.

Waiting for a train. Bridlington Railway Station

My return train was delayed by more than a quarter of an hour. I had found my handlebar riser (to allow the beam from the front light to clear the bar bag) and readied myself for another wait or a long ride home if the train was crammed with two cyclists…

No more room. The two places on the Scarborough to Sheffield train are filled

… fortunately, both cycle racks were empty, but another cyclist got on just after me. And he was going to Sheffield. I wonder what would have happened if there had been three of us waiting on the platform.

Other Big Skies Bike Rides:

North Newbald and back from Beverley

Millington Dale and Warter from Pocklington

South Dalton, Lockington and Lund from Market Weighton

Burton Agnes and Kilham from Driffield

Great Wold Valley from Hunmanby

Sledmere Country from Sledmere

Thixendale from Malton or Norton on Derwent

Yorkshire Wolds Cycle Route