Setting off from Durham at 8:45am, I followed the morning rush hour traffic south on the A167 all the way to Thirsk. Initially, the traffic around Durham and Newton Aycliffe was busy, but as 9am came and went the number of cars diminished and I had this main-road to myself.
The early morning mist refused to lift, instead it intensified to mid-morning drizzle and I was soaking by the time I arrived in Thirsk. Two days ago the sun had been shining with a warmth sufficient for shorts and t-shirt. Today I was in padded cycling trousers, arm warmers, shirt and gilet – with a raincoat packed just in case. The drizzle soaked into my arm warmers and mixed with the sweat on my brow running into my eyes. Time for a coffee; Wetherspoons helped me out by providing an americano-style drink for 99p.
The purpose of the blast south was to keep my legs reasonably fresh for a ride back north into the North Yorkshire Dales, but I hadn’t planned a route other than roughly identifying some places I wanted to visit: Masham, Leyburn, Barnard Castle.
I left Thirsk heading west past the big supermarket and the racecourse towards Skipton-on-Swale, over the River Swale, and through Ainderby Quernhow to ride beneath the A1(M). I was following the B6267 towards Masham. I was pleased my “Ribble Sportive” was comfortable and working beautifully for me, which made tackling the beginnings of the Dales a pleasure.
In Masham I found plenty of yellow bikes nailed to the walls of buildings; strangely macabre remains of the Tour de France’s visit to Yorkshire. Dead yellow bicycle skeletons nailed to walls and buildings as a warning to cyclists. Masham is the home of Black Sheep Brewery and Theakstons Brewery, so when I texted Carol to let her know I was okay I included: “In Masham no beer“. It was 1pm but I thought it would be nice to stop at a cafe in Leyburn so carried on, it is only about 10 miles further. On the way, I passed the remains of Jervaulx Abbey.
Continuing along the A6108 I crossed the River Cover outside East Witton, then rose through Middleham and dropped to cross the River Ure on a castellated bridge.
The overcast and misty conditions had not lifted and although I was working quite hard on the hills – and working up a sweat – I wasn’t particularly warm in myself. As I arrived in Leyburn it was about 1:45pm. and I looked for a cafe where I could secure my bike: the Warlands coffee shop and art gallery is somewhere I’ve stopped before and I knew the soup or a toastie would be good quality.
More yellow warning bicycles adorned the outside of the Guesthouse.
Despite the damp cold weather, the ride so far had been easy. However, I knew what lay ahead was the challenge to reach Barnard Castle. Firstly I had to get into Swaledale, then I had to cross over into Teesdale – both of these crossings would involve some climbing and I needed to settle on a route. If I took the A6108 through Bellerby, I’d have to cross Marske Moor, but this would drop me onto the A66 with a section of dual carriageway to ride. The simple route seemed to be over Stainton Moor northwest of Leyburn and through the military ranges – in the opposite direction to the 2014 Tour de France. I remember the televised chaos of the crowds lining the roads as Froome et al battled to Leyburn.
There was a different sort of battle taking place today: the red danger flags were flying and soldiers were all around. The firing ranges were open and hidden in the mists on the tops of the Moor was the muffled pop-pop-pop of gunfire. It was eerie – I wouldn’t like to be experiencing gunfire in the real world. After the mist-clad warfare I was pleased to see Swaledale open before me and cautiously rode down the steep gravel-strewn tarmac to Grinton and over the River Swale into Reeth.
The next two challenges for today were the climb from Reeth through Arkengarthdale and the climb from Langthwaite over ‘the Stang’.
The first time I rode over ‘the Stang’ I really struggled. I grovelled up each incline wondering when the hills would finally end. Today was different – I knew the climb ahead and knew that the ‘road goes ever on and on’. After the initial steep section, the road just hugs the surface of the moorland and follows natural contours. Every brow of the hill hides another climb and another brow of another hill. A summer of long and tough rides had conditioned my knees and legs well enough to use a selection of gears and enjoy this crossing. I wasn’t the fastest cyclist in the world (ha) but I was happy and content – and dripping sweat. At last I was warm!
The drop down the far side is steep and hazardous, something I’d avoid in winter. I kept a sensible head as I picked my way around the bends downhill. This made me wonder if the route in the other direction would be better. Hard climbing followed by long descents.
Back into Teesdale but the geography is still lumpy, so I had to keep the pedal-pressure on to crest each new hill before finally coming to a full-stop at the A66 dual carriageway. I looked both ways, chose my gap in the rumbling trucks and cars, and hammered as hard as I could for the 500m to the B6277 turning. And breathe again!
Barnard Castle at 4pm and 95 miles ridden – I grabbed a cup of coffee at Penny’s tearoom but I had foolishly arranged to meet Dean and Dave in Darlington at 5pm. So with a swift knock back of the espresso I was straight back out and following the Whorlton route back over the River Tees to Darlington. Even with the whole day in my legs I found some extra effort and covered the 15 miles from Bowes to Stapleton in less than 50 minutes; arriving in the market square in Darlington exactly one hour after leaving Barnard Castle. At least I was warm from the exercise even though the day had stayed resolutely cold, damp and grey.
It was great to see Dean and Dave – we were riding together to Durham and chatting about their ‘Paris-Brest-Paris’ experiences. Dean had a nice treat in store though, an off-road ride beside the A167: from Burtree Lane (where it crosses the east coast mainline railway) to Coatham Lane, at Coatham Mundeville. At this time of day the section from Darlington to the A1(M) is horrible with impatient traffic, so to be able to ride away from it was a blessing – further blessings were that none of us punctured.
By the time we returned to the A167 the rush hour had died down and the three of us enjoyed a comfortable ride back to Durham and into the Duke of Wellington pub for a “Post-PBP Meet” where Aidan joined us. 216km (~135 miles) ridden and my legs felt tired. I felt dehydrated and hungry. It was a great ride but I suspect the views would have been better on a clear day.