Yorkshire Gallop 200km Audax

The Yorkshire Gallop is a 211km audax from Aldbrough St. John near Darlington, heading down to Thirsk, Malton, York and Ripon before returning to Aldbrough St. John. Two years ago it was called the “When I’m 64” to mark the organiser’s significant birthday, and it snowed. It was cold. Freezing. So when I saw the weather forecast was wet and windy I sang for joy – yay! – no snow!
Leaving Durham at 7am, the wind was extremely strong and gusty. I had a lift from Rob of VC167 and we thought the wind might be too much for putting the bike on the roof. The wind failed to put many people off though, as about 60 riders had turned up for the start and I believe another 40 were coming for the Ripon Cantor later (the 100km audax also from Aldbrough). VC167 were out in force, and a great selection of local clubs such as Cowley’s Cycles from Northallerton.
With a typically understated audax start, we headed out on a single track lane and then under the A1 and south through Middleton Tyas and Scorton. Bibbles and twists in the road served to stretch the group out and it fractured; the west-south-west wind making each change in our direction challenging. The lanes were slightly crumbly, with gravel and pot-holes. As a peloton we communicated the poor road surface to each other with hand-signals, and narrated this with shouts of car-up, car-down, car-back and car-up. No one had agreed terminology in advance but we figured out the meaning eventually. There was only one car-related incident; with some road-works we cycled through a green light only to be aggressively honked at by a driver sat at green. It seems as though the traffic signals were showing green in both directions. 
We arrived in Thirsk passing the first horse-racing course of the day, and the theme of the “Yorkshire Gallop” event.
I stopped in Thirsk for 5 minutes – long enough to grab a chocolate bar and receipt to prove I’d passed through. I jumped back on the bike and with a jig right and left through Sowerby I was now alone, and would remain solo on the road for the rest of the ride. The Sowerby exit from Thirsk is actually really nice; shortening the A19 section to merely a couple of hundred metres and the Thirkleby turning. The ride gets more uppity-downity from here for a while but the prevailing wind was giving me a nice hand.
The sky was beginning to clear and big blue patches were opening up. To the north the white horse carved in the hill-side was clearly visible. It has recently been re-whitened and shone out of the surrounding green fields. The roads were deserted – I was happily spinning along, wind-assisted all the way to Coxwold and past the church where the annual Cyclist’s Remembrance Service is held.
The road drops and I gathered speed down past the Newburgh House fishpond, then straight into another climb. Perhaps I was photograph happy at this point but I did like the sculpted hedge. I remember sheltering from a heavy down-pour on the 3 Coasts 600 coming down this hill a few years ago.
Up and down and up and down. I was caught and passed by four faster riders I’d seen at the start. I assume they were riding fast but had stopped longer than I in Thirsk. Two years ago the snow was falling in huge flakes, today I had sunshine and a tailwind.
The run down through Hovingham Park into Hovingham was pretty and then I’d reached the simple section: the B1257 all the way to Malton. I like this road when tailwind assisted, bowling along at 30+kph. It undulates and there is a bit more traffic than I’d experienced earlier, especially the Helmsley-Malton motorbikers – but the veiws north to the Yorkshire Moors are good and south are the lumpy bits near Castle Howard.

I arrived at Morrisons in Malton with 3hrs 12mins showing for the 87km covered, which with the 5 minutes in Thirsk equated to a 26.4kph (16.5mph) overall average – ‘woo’ and indeed ‘yay’.

It was only 11:30am, and felt too early for a lunch stop: 87km wasn’t quite far enough to justify it, so I grabbed a quick bite to eat in Morrisons and used the receipt as proof of passage (audax proof). No more than 10 minutes here and I was cycling again, south west on Welham road towards York.

This was now the hardest section of the ride. Still alone. My friendly tailwind had turned into a direct headwind, pushing my pace down to 10kph with every slight rise, and not significantly faster on the descents. I put my cycling into survival mode and nursed my knees and glycogen stores as much as I could.

The scenery was classically British with rolling farmland hills and the first shoots of arable crops tinting the fields from muddy brown to spring green. I was heading down towards Buttercrambe with the mansion overlooking the road, just before the double bridge over the River Derwent. The bridge has weight, width and length restrictions, so there is an inevitable confrontation of motor vehicles vying for right of way. As a cyclist the whole thing feels comic – moving from calm sweeping county lanes to the equivalent of Piccadilly Circus for a second or two.

There is a horse-racing course to the south of York, but Nigel’s route is very clever, avoiding the busy A166 and A64. He takes us along a route which simplifies the escape northbound. This was not, however, my choice; I was looking forward to a longer stop having covered 120km with only 15 minutes off the bicycle. First was the obligatory photo-opportunity outside the cathedral, and then I circled a bit looking for somewhere I could lock up the bicycle and have a proper rest. In a moment of inspiration I remembered that the Tap pub at York station lets cyclists bring their bicycles into the pub. I was able to rest without worry; and the selection of real ales is massive.

I felt much more refreshed after a ‘holiday’ rest – remembering to treat the audax as a lovely day out instead of a slog of a task. I didn’t rush back out, so the stop lasted about 40 minutes. Returning to the roads of York I noticed a lot of other audaxers around at cafes, supermarkets and petrol stations. The gang of four skinny fast riders were ahead of me at some lights but they got trapped at the A19/A1237 roundabout and I tried to nip up the inside of them. They spotted this and shot off ahead on the A19 through Skelton to Beningbrough.

Beningbrough was where I left the A19 and crossed over the east coast railway line, I could feel the westerly wind blustering into my left hand shoulder. The clouds had almost completely lifted, leaving bright sunshine beating down on me. I removed arm warmers and asked myself whether this was the right time to start working on my cycling tan.

The route was set to cross the River Ouse on the toll bridge near Aldwark, and due to resurfacing work the whole section of road from Linton-on-Ouse to the bridge (around the air-force base) was closed to motorised traffic. Was this perhaps the busiest section of closed road I’ve ever ridden?  There was a steady stream of cars ignoring the closed road signs. The upside though, was the buttery smooth tarmac.

Aldwark bridge is a piano keyboard of a river crossing, with wooden planks bouncing up and down as the tyres roll over it. This bridge can get congested when the supermarket delivery truck gets jammed one way against a flow of caravans being towed the other way. Today however it was deserted and I was able to take a relaxed picture of this iconic place.

Yet more quiet country lanes with beautiful views, and I was able to see the white horse again in the far distance. Another rider, Cecil, was tracking about 1km behind me and I spotted him occasionally as we approached Boroughbridge. Another river crossing, this time the River Ure which was flowing fast over the weir and under the road.

As I passed under the A1(M), I shouted “poop-poop” for the echo effect and in defiance of the traffic thundering overhead. Then, sticking closely to the defined routesheet, I took the Newby Hall turning and the day continued to be a great day out and a lovely way to spend time on a bicycle. It was about this time the singing in my heart had to be done out loud.

For those unfamiliar with audaxing principals, you don’t have to follow the routesheet – you just have to go to the control points. I rejoined a main road and found a couple of riders making a good pace into Ripon; they had skipped the twisty scenery. One of these riders was Dave, an experienced randonneur, VC167 rider and audax event organiser – responsible for challenging events such as the Dales Tour. I stayed with both riders past the horse-racing course and into Ripon and it was great to have Dave’s experience to direct us to the petrol station, just through the other side of Ripon and by the Malton turning. This petrol station is open long hours and has a coffee machine mini-market, so it is an excellent resource for long distance cyclists.

160km (100 miles) covered so far, and we embarked on the final section which is 51km (32 miles) long; back to Aldbrough St. John. I felt strong and comfortable, so let Dave and his friend ride away from me in order that I could enjoy the day without having to watch the wheel in front. They are pictured below, just at the turn in the road.

Shortly after, Cecil, who had tracked me for many miles, sped up and caught me. We chatted for a few minutes until we crossed back over the A1 at Catterick and then he dropped me as we approached yet another horse-racing course. I know I didn’t slow down and I suspect that he just naturally gets faster and faster towards the end of each ride.

I had a different agenda. The routesheet takes us back through Scorton, and the Farmers Arms was named. They have a nice log fire and I felt it would be a lovely place to have a final battery recharge within 10km of the finish.

What a beautiful day out, although the weather was quite windy I had only struggled in the Malton to York section, about 30km. The rest of the 212km was bright, sunny, fresh, and enjoyable. The sun was setting as I approached Middleton Tyas and my dynamo lighting came in handy on the final section under the A1 and back down the single track lane into Aldbrough St. John.

212km, in 8hrs 25mins riding with only 1hr 30mins stationary (most of which in pubs). Back in under 10 hours. Feeling strong and looking forward to next week’s tour from Durham to Iona. As always, I give thanks to God for the tiredness in my legs and the salt dried on my brow.

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