Ignorance is bliss – but perhaps the warning signs were there on the start line. There was a 75% DNS (Did Not Start) rate on the longest of the four CTC Challenge Rides which meant I’d be doing this 200km route alone.
The East Yorkshire CTC run a series of Challenge Rides: 70km, 130km and 170km. This year, however, the organiser (Chris) had added a 200km route which could be ridden as an entry level Randonneur event. New rules from Audax UK allow for routes which can be both planned and validated by GPS devices. Traditionally, Randonneur events [Audax in the UK], are ‘allure libre’; meaning you can take any route you like between control points. I like this approach but if you want a more convoluted route it can be difficult finding appropriate controls. The “Mandatory DIY by GPS” rule meant that I could take Chris’ route and submit it as my DIY 200km Audax.
My ride had actually started by leaving Welton and climbing Welton Wold to reach Cottingham, it was promising to be a beautiful day for this 210km route. In Cottingham I met other riders who’d travelled from as far as Harrogate to take part, and everyone turning up early in the morning was given a warm welcome by Chris and treated to some delicious coffee he’d prepared for us the evening before.
Although I was the only 200km rider on the start line, there was a good turnout for the 170km route and Chris set us off together at 8am. In the enthusiasm of group riding we did set off at a cracking speed, keeping the pressure on over the first early climbs through Little Weighton to High Hunsley. There was great communication in the group, pointing out surface hazards and calling out junctions. We took a sharp right on a steep downhill into North Newbald and stretched out a little on the climb of Newbald Wold. The views opened out before us and we had a brief respite rolling along fast together towards Etton and into South Dalton.
I was beginning to think about dropping off the back of the group now as I had an extra 40km to ride and some locally infamous hills to experience. These riders were all strong, but when *the fairy who shall not be named* deflated Richard’s rear tyre we all pulled up to wait. I made my apologies – they were on a different ride to me – and I just carried on. I had a feeling they’d be passing me before long anyway.
At first though, my speed stayed quite high because we were in the flatter part of the ride and I was being helped by a friendly tailwind. Between Lund and Hutton Cranswick I was passing across wide open farmland with lovely views. Lovely views featured constantly, and there is something very reassuring about gently rolling farmland. It wasn’t until I’d crossed the A166 at Garton on the Wolds that the road began to climb again, this time on the shallow 3% gradient of Garton Hill to the 37m high “Sir Tatton Sykes’s Monument”. The monument stands out from the surrounding landscape and apparently built in 1865 by “those who loved him as a friend and honored him as a landlord”. It is an easy climb just over 2km in length, but the exposed road can result in a bit of a headwind.
Just past the monument I reached Sledmere and there is a cafe in Sledmere House, highly recommended I understand. I wasn’t quite ready yet so happily I rolled on, following Croome Road north and slightly downhill to West Lutton. I was beginning to wonder where all the hills were, not that the ride had been flat, but more that my route had 3000m of ascent and I’d barely scratched that despite covering 80km already. I found some encouragement in West Lutton, because I was now on a road used in several audax events – the climb to Settrington Beacon. This was a 5km climb with about 100m of height gain… about 2% gradient: at last I was chipping away at the headline climbing figure.
There were very good views from the top of Settrington Beacon, but the cloud level was now low with a hint of rain in the air. The descent is definitely hazardous with gravel washed across the road, a very uneven surface, tight bends and occasionally a local motorist hurtling along. I was glad I’d reached the bottom before the rain suddenly hit. Getting drenched certainly created a sense of camaraderie between me and the walkers out exercising their dogs along the roadside. I was now into North Yorkshire, having dropped off the northern edge of the Wolds and I was very close to Malton. As I passed the lake outside Settrington Grange, I was blissfully ignorant that the next 60km were going to contain the majority of the climbing. First was Grimston Brow along Luddith Road, a tough little climb thanks to the broken and uneven singletrack road surface.
I wasn’t aware at the time, but looking at my OS map I see that I was cycling past ‘Earthquake Plantation’ and Wharram Percy Medieval Village. I soon dropped down again into Birdsall and another testing climb began to get over the top of Birdsall Brow. Once over this climb I was delighted to find Water Dale, and its sweeping bends which lead down to Thixendale where it was time for some refreshment. The village was quiet, it was 12:30pm and I was 100km into my ride. Coffee was on offer at the village hall, and behind me was a village shop. I rested for about 15 minutes and then set off on the ‘additional’ loop which would turn the 170km ride into the 210km ride.
I’ve missed the scale from this image, but the bottom of the profile is about 40m above sea-level and the top of the profile is about 240m above sea-level. I knew Chris had ridden this to check it was rideable, but little did I know how demanding it was going to be. I headed out of Thixendale on the climb to North Brekenholme and joined the Roman Road which runs along the ridge top looking west towards York. The escarpment drops steeply away in the multiple crinkles of Open Dale and Acklam Wold and with about 200m from top to bottom, the views west were beautiful.
Just like that moment on a rollercoaster as the car crests the top of the big dipper… so I felt as I turned left and dropped down Leavening Brow: but there was no way I was going to be as fast as a rollercoaster. This was going to involve a lot more suffering. I knew this when I saw cyclists were walking up the road towards me! In Leavening I rode up and down and up and down through Acklam Wood to reach the bottom of the climb to Acklam Wold and the mast at the top. Lung busting. I turned immediately right and dropped down steeply to Barthorpe and turned at Bugthorpe back eastward. Before I reached Kirkby Underdale I took the turn for the gated road and the climb from Salamanca Beck; thankfully there were no closed gates today, but the 1:6 signpost warned of pain, and the rough road surface delivered it.
This climb brought me back to the Roman Road, but Chris’ planning took me straight back down again through Uncleby to what must be the most humorously named “Painsthorpe”. All of these climbs feature in Simon Warren’s “Cycling Climbs of Yorkshire: A Road Cyclist’s Guide” – in fact Chris’ 200km route ticks off 5 of them. There is a very detailed analysis of the local hills which was written by a gentleman called Roger and available via the East Yorkshire CTC website. So – Painsthorpe. Actually, not so bad in reality. I found the previous climb – from Salamanca Beck, possibly known as Hanging Grimston – the toughest. Perhaps it was the knowledge that the majority of the day’s climbs were over, but while riding up to the Roman Road for the third time something buoyed me along: I felt serenely comfortable as I crested the top of Painsthorpe. With a whoop of delight I dropped once more into Thixendale and refuelled. I’d covered 150km and as everyone knows, it’s all downhill from there.
The first bit of downhill came in the shape of a 14% uphill (!?!) gradient out of Thixendale; up and over Huggate Hill. Then a turn and descent into Millington, along a sweeping and twisty gentle downhill slope, somewhere to enjoy freewheeling! In Millington there was a really tempting looking pub, with people sat out in the sunshine – but the joy of cycling was upon me and I rolled along without glancing back.
I skimmed around the east of Pocklington and was riding at a brisk pace as I came to Nunburnholme. I have heard there is a hill here, so I girded my loins for another arduous climb – but the wind was in my favour and took the edge of the effort. I stopped at the top of the climb and looked south west: the Holderness Plain was laid out before me. I could see Market Weighton, the Humber, and beyond that the wind farms of North Lincolnshire. Further west I could see a couple of power stations, I assume Drax and Ferrybridge. I had a huge grin on my face and thought I’d be able to take it easy on the way home now. I called Chris to let him know I was well, because I suspected that I was now the last rider on the road.
As I approached Market Weighton, I was moving a lot faster but then the road was a lot busier. I crossed the roundabout on the A614 and headed into town, but Chris’ route planning had one last surprise for me: I turned for Goodmanham and started the Kiplingcotes Lane climb. I was surprised and delighted to find that Chris was actually out on the route taking photos of the riders. So later he sent me a picture to remember his event. On the East Yorkshire CTC twitter feed and on their website, Chris has shared photos of the cyclists doing the other challenge rides.
Riding faster and faster, I took the busy little road through North Cliffe and South Cliffe before one little bump up to Hotham and paused to enjoy the view from under the wind turbines. Each descent was feeling more and more glorious, giving me a grin on my face from ear to ear. In North Cave I called into the White Hart Inn for a pint of fermented-isotonic-recovery-juice and a packet of artificial flavours.
I hope this route becomes a regular feature in the East Yorkshire CTC Challenge Rides because it asks a lot but gives a lot. The euphoria I’ve been feeling for completing it makes the pain and struggle worth it. The views from the Roman Road are breathtaking, as are the climbs. And the twisty descents of Water Dale and into Millington were great fun. Thank you once again Chris, the East Yorkshire CTC, and everyone who helped make this ride happen.