Whitby and back

Cycling from Ingleby Barwick to Whitby has been on my ‘to do’ list for some time, and with Father’s Day tomorrow an opportunity arose in the form of a group ride.  I laid out a route which headed directly to Whitby across the North Yorkshire Moors.  Gary, Stephen, Jonathan, Mark and I gathered at St Francis of Assisi Church at 8:30am.
Yet another “start” photo at StFoA (IB)
The sun was shining, the skies were blue… at 7am, but as we set off the clouds had gathered looming ominously over us and threatening rain, the wind had whipped up too.  We rolled out into the angst that is Ingleby Barwick traffic in the morning, but were soon out into the quiet country lanes through Seamer and into Stokesley.
Ahead of us the North Yorkshire Moors loomed, shrouded in heavy black clouds.  The others had chosen to wear coats to be on the safe side.  I was riding my tourer and, like Jonathan, I had luggage space so I had packed warmer clothes and was just wearing a short sleeved top and arm warmers.  Even though it looked like it was going to be wet and cold all day we all knew that the climbing was going to warm us up.
We passed through Kildale and were fortunate to pass a field of sheep just before the farmer let them out into the road, it looked like he was planning to drive them all down the road.  After Kildale the road climbs, it was inevitable, even though the route I’d planned was designed to take the easiest way to Whitby.  Of course, “easy” “moors” and “Whitby” are uncomfortable bed-fellows.  We turned towards Westerdale and the first significant climb of the day.  This was going to take us to the highest point of the ride, but it certainly wasn’t going to be the hardest climb.  We were heading for Castleton, and the choice was via Commondale or the route I’d chosen.  I had done my homework and knew that the ‘lower’ Commondale route was about 210m ascent, whereas this ‘higher’ road was only 180m, so although we were looking down at Commondale as we rode, I encouraged the others that this was the better route.
There was another hill ahead of us to reach Castleton, with a crossroads half way up, which we had to ride straight through.  Again this seemed to be taking us higher than necessary but oddly enough the route involved less climbing than the lower road.  I wasn’t sure if anyone believed me at this time.
Only 18 miles left to get to Whitby… easy eh?
Regrouping in Castleton after the early climbs.
Once we had gathered ourselves again we sped down through Castleton and out towards Danby.  My preferred route was actually through Ainthorp, and although it had less climbing, the initial turning looked so daunting I kept quiet and just let us roll along the main road to Danby instead – the road we were now taking ‘looked’ easier even though I knew it would be slightly harder by the end.  We had good views of the dales as we cycled along next to the Esk Valley Railway.
Slightly raining at this point… but not enough to justify a coat.
We made it to Danby fairly quickly, but we had some bad news from Mark.  Some niggles in his thumbs and joints were making it really hard to brake enough on the descents.  Although he was going to be strong enough to ride all the way, he was going to be in a lot of pain before long.  We stopped at a cafe for coffee (and I had a sneaky cheese toastie), while we called for Sheena (Mark’s rescue service).

As we left the excellent Stonehouse Bakery and Teashop the sun was shining and the air was warm.  We were now down to Stephen, Gary, Jonathan and I; reflecting that “nobody gets left behind” is a rubbish club motto.  We should change it to “who’ve we lost this time?”.

In the sunshine we rode along together chatting.  The North Yorkshire Moors are full of beautiful views and in the bottom of each dale there are fairly flat or undulating roads, not everything in the moors is “up or down”. Jonathan was clearly enjoying himself and fell into the cyclist’s trap of saying what a lovely time he was having.  Of course this meant things were going to go wrong for him next.  As we hit Lealholm and turned left there was a massive hill to get up.  Stephen asked if we should wait for Jonathan and I said no, thinking we were all grouped together anyway, but after 5 minutes of climbing I looked behind and couldn’t see him.  I turned round and rolled down the hill to find him, passing some MTB riders twiddling their way uphill.  I retraced the road through Lealholm but couldn’t see Jonathan – this was puzzling and I now wondered if he had been in that group of MTB riders, so I looped back and as I came round the corner on the hill there was no one in sight.  Oh dear.  Was Jonathan behind me or in front of me?
I climbed from Lealholm to chase the group down, hoping everyone was together ahead of me.  It took about 20 minutes to catch Gary and Stephen, the hill was huge and was followed by another steep descent and climb before I’d finally found them – and no Jonathan.  We were all now worried that he’d come off on gravel or a slippery road, and at this time a heavy rain shower hit us.  We sheltered behind a copse and waited it out.  After the rain the obvious choice was for Gary and Stephen to head for Egton, the warmth of a pub, and some lunch while I went back to look for Jonathan – by this time Stephen had reached him on the telephone and we knew it was merely a puncture holding him up.
I met up with Jonathan back in Lealholm and we made our way to Egton together, the rain and puncture didn’t seem to have damped his spirits which was good news and it was lovely to be cycling along with him again.  We reached Ye Horseshoe Inn about 40 minutes after Gary and Stephen and tucked in to some warm food and a couple of beers.

Rooster’s YPA and an OS map of North Yorkshire
A bit of map reading later and we’d figured that the Sustrans route looked a little too “off-road” for us after Aislaby, so we decided to take the more direct route and use the A171 for about 200 yards – with the tailwind it was going to whip us right down to the seafront in no time.
Setting off from Egton we passed through narrow country lanes high up on the valley side with views which I had not been privileged to see before.  The blue sky, deep green valley and slight tailwind were enjoyed to the full.

We regrouped again in Aislaby for the final section into Whitby, the wind was blowing us along nicely and as we crested one hill Gary claimed first sight of the sea; the road in front of us had the infinity look of launching into the air with only the North Sea ahead.
At the A171 we joined the heavier traffic but were being whipped along at 20 – 30 mph all the way sweeping round corner after corner until we bowled onto the seafront and along to the top of the West Cliff.
We’d made it!  Whitby!  What an excellent adventure and we had a photoshoot to celebrate.  An ice-cream van nearby was selling Trillo’s Whitby ice-cream and we treated ourselves to “Goth” flavour.  This is blackcurrant and liquorice flavour made especially for the visiting Goth festival visitors.

The ride had only been planned as a single way event, “Ride to Whitby”, with the Esk Valley railway giving a £5.50 return journey (which included bicycle transport) back to Great Ayton.  Jonathan decided that catching the train was the sensible option and the next train was due in only an hour, at 4pm.  The rest of us had decided to try and ride home, back the way we came.  We knew it was going to be difficult on tired legs and into the wind, but there was also the option of catching the same train as Jonathan further down the line at Egton or Lealholm.

We were treated to great weather though, there was no more threat of rain, so Gary and Stephen took the jackets off and we enjoyed the heat and bright sunlight, with the cooling headwind – it was tough but worth it.
After we climbed back to Aislaby and through Egton we came to a turning just before the descent into Lealholm and Stephen suggested that it was an alternative route back to Danby.  Checking the OS map showed that there was about the same amount of gentle undulation as the valley bottom route, but this moorland road was simply high up on the edge of the moor overlooking the Esk Valley.  We followed it and had stunning views of the dales to our left.  A family of MTB riders came towards us, a couple of adults and three children all obviously enjoying themselves with a slight downhill and they had the tailwind.
At the end of this road just before we reached Danby there was a steep descent and I got a little ahead of Stephen to catch a photo of him hurtling downhill.
We stopped one last time in Castleton for a final beer of the ride, at the Drovers Inn which was selling a good range of real cask ales.  I popped for the “Blond Witch” from Moorhouse’s brewery.  Now we just had the route back around Commondale to Kildale and home.  Legs, backs, arms… all tired and at the end of their energy we slowed down.  But this was no race; we were simply enjoying a day ride to Whitby and back, so as we passed near Great Ayton with the sun getting lower in the sky we stuck together reflecting on the wonderful day out we’d had.  We passed within sight of Captain Cook’s monument on the hilltop, near his birthplace after having ridden out in the morning to his monument on West Cliff in Whitby.  I thought that perhaps this would make a good Audax route – The Captain Cook Audax; Great Ayton – Whitby return.
The final hill of the day, about 11 hours after we’d started, several pub stops, great food, beautiful weather and marvelous scenery.  The Seamer windmills welcomed us back into Teesside, turning swiftly in the westerly wind.

So – thank you to Mark, Jonathan, Stephen and Gary for great company.  Thank you to Claire as well for laying on a massive feast at the end of the day, so we could gather together with our families and celebrate what a loving community we are part of.  Thank you all.
God bless.

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