I set the GPS logger on my mobile phone to record, and set off from All Saints School in Ingleby Barwick for this route checking ride of the “Keep to the Roads” 100km audax. I had plotted out the route from memory and with some help from Google and bikehike but I really wanted to make sure the route instructions made sense and that the distances were correct. Riding the first section with me was my wife, Carol, and my sister, Suzanne.
“Keep to the Roads” is a 100km ride, at a pace between 12 and 25kph, and it does not qualify for AAA (Audax Altitude Award) points, however it is not an easy ride. Cyclists will need strength, low gearing and good balance to ride up the 25% climbs. You can’t relax on the descents either; they are twisty, strewn with gravel and occasional roaming sheep. Riding in the North Yorkshire Moors is a good challenge, and this 100km route takes in some really difficult sections.
The route starts off from the centre of the Tees valley and heads south, gently undulating over Seamer hill and through the new windmills. There was a lot of low cloud and a mist of rain coating my arms and chest, the wind turbines themselves were turning gently and facing south east, with the blades disappearing into the cloud base at the top of their cycle. As we passed Tanton Bridge I saw a fully grown deer in the field next to us, startled and running away from us.
Cloud cover was lifting by the time we arrived at Great Ayton and met up with two CTC riders, Peter Sanderson and Andy Wills. Carol left and headed home, while Suzanne was doing the entire ride with me today. We rolled out of Great Ayton to Easby and started the first long climb of the day up to Kildale. The Captain Cook monument stands on the top of the hill, visible in all directions and in front of us we could see snow etching outlines into the sides of the Cleveland Hills. We crossed over the North Yorkshire railway on our way to the crossroads at Crag Bank Wood.
The pace was gentle because we were chatting, and also because I was watching out for difficulties with the route. By the time we reached the cross roads and the turning to Westerdale I realised that the route sheet was gaining cumulative errors, so I have decided to take a leaf out of Nigel Hall’s book and only list the distances between instructions. I have also realised that I need to warn the riders about the twisty gravel strewn descents. Care needs to be taken on each descent as riders may have to stop quite abruptly for wandering sheep, and the loose gravel makes this hazardous.
From the cross roads we dropped down to what is locally known as ‘toilet bank’ due to an arrangement of lavatory bowls festooned with flowers lining the wall of a house. Don’t laugh too hard though, you’ll need all your breath for this first climb which levels out for a cattle grid before climbing further still. Once over the top of this climb there is an excellent view of some of the climbing to come; you can see the next hill and the hill beyond that, with the ribbon of asphalt running in an unyielding line up the side of it.
The next descent is a popular location for sheep to attack unwary cyclists and at the bottom there is a ford. Today it was running at nearly 2 feet deep and the slippery cobbles hinted that walking over the footbridge was a good idea. The footbridge is slippery too, the wood being slimy and wet. Once off the footbridge the next bicycle skill required is “clipping in on a steep climb”; there is almost no flat to get started on, so riders will need to demonstrate great bike handling or take the walk of shame to the top of this little short sharp climb.
Another descent, long, fairly open, with gravel in the centre of the road; ends with a second ford, which today was not in flood. So I was able to ride straight over it and start to climb for a third time, up to the village of Westerdale. Just to the left as you pass the ford there is a disused bridge, with a circular style crossing and a date stone, very interesting and I wish I captured a photograph, but the gravel on the climb ensured I had to stay seated and keep pedaling. Through Westerdale and straight on to the highest point in the moors at Ralph Cross, 430m above sea level. Between Westerdale and the top though is a demon section of 25% climbing which after climbing so far will take what is left of your energy, and when you reach the brow of the hill… you are not at the top, it keeps climbing and climbing. Along the sides of the road the snow was still deep, and the slushy melt water was streaming across the road.
Eventually we reached Ralph Cross and turned right on the main moors road to blast along to the Lion Inn. I did momentarily stop of get a bicycle-cross related photograph.
The Lion Inn is a very popular public house, the food and beer is excellent but there can be a bit of a wait due to the volume of orders they receive. We sat by the open fire and warmed up our cold damp toes, knowing that heading out into the cold was going to be tough. I enjoyed a pint of Wainwrights, a local brew, followed by jacket potato and chilli-con-carne; a good plateful and very warming. Peter, I noticed, enjoyed the treacle pudding and custard.
After a 50 minute stop, we headed back out into the cold, but this time with the light wind to our backs as we swiftly rode back to the turning for Rosedale and Fryupdale. The moors were speckled white with snow on the brown and blackened heather, it was dramatically bleak and you wouldn’t want to be trapped up here without food or shelter.
A left turn at the sign “Fryup” takes us onto a narrow lane. This section undulates downhill and I tend to pick up speed quite easily, but it is important to keep the bicycle under control here because the odd tourist can be driving up towards you and there is not much of a gap to squeeze through. More loose gravel and loose sheep; it is easy to be drawn into a sense of control as you let go of the brakes and gravity accelerates you, but the road has surprises and I will make a note on the route sheets that riders need to keep themselves and their bicycles under control.
The 200km “Ralph Cross” audax turns right here to visit Lealholm, but we get to turn left and ride around Fryupdale to get to Castleton. The road stays fairly high on the side of the valley and gives a lovely view of the dales surrounding you. There is plenty of typical English farmland and associated birdlife swirling overhead. We have a slight climb to negotiate before swooping into Ainthorpe and hitting the main road back to Castleton. There is a gentle climb up the high street to the Castleton Tearooms where we take the left and descend briefly to cross the river and underneath the railway we crossed earlier in the day.
Now we have a tough climb, not a difficult as the 25% out of Westerdale, but on tired legs this is going to ask a lot from the riders. The steepest section ends at the bend you can see from the bottom, but the hill continues for a long way after that, in stepped sections much like interval training. If you have had enough after this and want to go home, just take the left turn by the bus shelter and the route goes down to Commondale and back to Kildale, cutting off about half the remaining distance. In fact, looking left here you can see Roseberry Topping, a distinctive hill with a sharp face where mining works have collapsed. However, for those who can keep going, the North Sea soon comes into view, with a vista that spans all along the coast, from the industrial to the natural.
There is a horrible 200m of A171 which I can’t avoid before we turn onto quieter roads for Lingdale and Skelton. The route is marked by more downhill than up over the next few kilometres as we drop and eventually reach sea level.
The café on the right, Cat Nab Fish Bar have agreed to serve riders on the day, and I’m sure they can turn round a fast cup of tea or coffee. Over the bridge is the posh and grumpy café, which advertises “illy” coffee and has sandwiches on offer. But I have always found them grumpy towards grubby cyclists spoiling their perfect image, and at £5 for a couple of toasted teacakes which they couldn’t be bothered to put the butter on, and expensive coffee too… just stick with Cat Nab Fish Bar, they will see us okay on the day.
A word of warning – don’t fill up on “Fish n Chips” because there is a zig-zag-zig to get back up to the cliff tops and the last “zig” is the longest and hardest. If you like the flat hairpins on Alp d’Huez you’ll hate these sharp little devils but if you can fall into them, gravity can make the mistake of sweeping you uphill. Well, at least until gravity notices what it did. After that I’m afraid it is a bit of a slog to the top. That was the last hard climb of the day, now we are undulating along through Saltburn-by-the-Sea, left at the Tennis club, past the golf course, and on to Upleatham. A short section of nasty little busy B-road gets us to Guisborough and we are taken past the front of BikeScene cycle shop.
Once past Guisborough we are into the country lanes below the Cleveland hills. Ralph Cross was at 430m above sea level, there is only one hill you can see, if you know where to look, that is at 435m. On this ride you have been to sea level and then up higher than any of the hill surrounding you. Roseberry Topping is much clearer as you ride under its feet, and the slipped front face is clear to see. In the distance to the right you might be able to make out the Seamer hill windmills, which is where we are heading shortly. We cross another railway line before we reach Great Ayton.
Great Ayton is the last control on the 100km route, and there are some lovely cafes if you have time to stop. We keep the stream to our left and head back retracing roads we rode to get to Great Ayton, over the top of Seamer hill and looking down into the populated and industrial Tees valley
My legs are drained, the weather has been good to us today, we had great views of the moors and dales, the sun shone out briefly while we were at the seaside and on the way back towards Great Ayton, the wind was light and didn’t bother us. I hope that on the 14th September we have good long clear views of the moors and dales too. It is a beautiful place to cycle, it is hard work and requires a lot of cycling skill, but the rewards are breath-taking.