Durham – York – Durham

Martin Gibson raced for 28 years from 1984, a his palmares include many first, second and third places in road races over that time. He set course records for 100 mile time trials, and in 2004 won the CTT Mountain time trial. I know he is very well thought of by those he raced against. I think I even raced against him in the 2008 CTT Hill Climb of Carlton Bank. It was a great pleasure to be able to ride with him on this Durham-York-Durham charity ride.
We were raising funds to support the New Learning Resource Centre development at St Johns College, Durham. The Learning Resource Centre is the most significant fundraising project for St John’s College and Cranmer Hall in their collective histories. The £2.5m project will see the development of a 21st century learning and teaching space which will offer a new and enhanced environment for learning, with individual and group study space along with audio-visual equipment in flexible teaching and meeting spaces – including video conferencing facilities for joint teaching with other UK and world-wide programmes. Rev. Prof David Wilkinson, Principal of the College said: “We are committed to providing the best resources we can for those who pass through our doors. Our existing library, housed in a former chapel, simply does not meet the needs of our students. Because we are financially independent of Durham University, we receive no external funding for such projects. We have already raised over £1.8m through the generosity of friends and supporters of College.”

We set off from St John’s College at 6:30am on Monday morning and dropped over the cobbles to Prebends Bridge, then out of Durham via Shincliffe Bank and over the A1(M) to Coxhoe. Here we realised Martin had lost his club gilet, which had dropped from a back pocket – we’re still looking for this so if anyone knows where it might be…
Martin set a fast but sustainable pace and I placed myself 1 to 6 inches from his rear wheel: sucked along on a magic carpet ride! We blasted down through Sedgefield and south toward Darlington before turning for Sadberge. The quiet county lanes I’m used to were a race track at this time in the morning. We were very pleased to cross the A66 and find the lanes empty around Middleton St George and we were finally able to chat as we rode together to the crossing of the Tees at Dinsdale and Girsby. At Great Smeaton we joined the A167 to Northallerton and then beyond all the way down to Topcliffe.
This ride report might seem a little lacking in scenic detail. There are two good reasons for this. Firstly, we were moving fast and focused on getting down to York as quickly as possible, Secondly, we chatted the whole way down. Martin is a great bloke; he has competed in 28 years worth of cycle racing and the stories he had to tell were brilliant. I thoroughly enjoyed his company. So after 3hrs and 57mins we stopped at York railway station – the ride down having flown past! Vicars in training get everywhere, and Rachael from Cranmer Hall spotted us waiting for Claire’s train to arrive.
We called at York station to meet up with Claire Readey who planned to ride the 75 mile return leg with us. Claire has ridden the Etape Caledonia, but like me was a bit anxious about being able to keep up with Martin.
We swept through York and down to Bishopthorpe Palace where we were meeting John Sentamu, the Archbishop of York, to receive his prayers of blessing and support for our ride and for the fund-raising.

Photographs taken, water bottles refilled… and we’re off again. No long coffee and cake stops on this ride; Durham calls.
We were returning to Durham the same way we’d ridden down, and all was going well until BANG! clatter, clatter, clatter… I was convinced my rear wheel had simply disintegrated; that the rim had blown, or that the spokes had snapped. Thankfully it was only a puncture – but the nail had gone in the top and out the sidewall.
After a masterclass from Martin on how to remove and replace a wheel without all the ugliness of turning a bicycle upside down and resting it on the hoods, we were back out rolling again, with tyre booted by some old tubular from his racing days.
Again the miles just seemed to melt away, with Claire shooting off ahead of us on anything that looked like a descent. Claire likes to sprint, and used her aero-bars to fly away. The rain came to bother us for a bit although I was quite happy getting soaked because the day was still warm.
Audrey, Martin’s wife, met us in Great Stainton to refill our water bottles one last time and we posed for a twitter update by Claire. You can see Martin was practicing his, “My legs are getting cold, let’s go!” face.
All that remained was Sedgefield, Coxhoe and back into Durham, drafting a tractor along the A177 from Bowburn to Shincliffe. We came back over Prebends Bridge and over the final set of cobbles to the front of St John’s College to be given a wonderfully warm welcome by our friends from college. David Wilkinson posed with us for photographs; which nicely topped and tailed the fund-raising we’d done for college.
We covered the 150 miles from Durham to York and back to Durham in just over 9 hours moving time and with only a few stops. On the way down we didn’t stop: 3hrs 57minutes. On the way back, apart from the puncture which took 18 minutes to fix, and a brief refreshment stop with Audrey, we were riding solidly. A great day out – thank you Martin and Claire for your company. Thank you to everyone who has generously sponsored us, thank you to the Archbishop for meeting us in York and encouraging us, and thank you to everyone who met us at the end – just before the work day finished.

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