It was all Ruth’s fault of course; this long distance cycling thing. Ruth likes to think of herself as an ‘enabler’ or ‘encourager’, but the reality is that she double-dares. She makes a seemingly idle and innocent comment, such as “So are you cycling up that incredibly steep hill then?” The words burrow like an ear-worm into the back of your head and before you know it you’re doing the one thing you said you’d never do. So today it is my turn to return the favour: time to ride our bicycles for 200km and save the hills to the end.
At the end of September I’m organising a pair of audaxes; 100km and 200km, starting from Welton. They are the Humber Bridge 100 and Humber Bridge 200, both of which circle the Humber Estuary with a crossing of the Humber Bridge at the end. Today’s ride was a sort of reverse-route check, starting with the Humber Bridge and Lincolnshire Wolds, crossing Keadby Bridge and Boothferry Bridge with 100km of flat riding directly north, before finishing with the Yorkshire Wolds.
Ruth and I set off at 07:15 into the cool of an overcast August morning, riding along the new cyclepath to the south-side of the A63 and through North Ferriby to the Humber Bridge – despite the grey skies the air was crystal clear and we could see for miles in every direction. I pointed out the petrochemical spires of the industrial-disneyland that is Immingham, before we turned west into Lincolnshire. On the climb away from Far Ings a doe deer stood in the long grass beside the road. She watched us ride quietly towards her before ducking backwards into the hedgerow and down the bank to the field below.
We followed the A1077 and although it was rush hour we found the traffic to be holiday-lite and polite. We crossed Ferriby Sluice and gazed into the long-flat-straight distance of the New River Ancholme, while to our right we passed Read’s Island rising from the mud of the Humber Estuary.
The route was soon back into narrow lanes as we weaved our way through Alkborough and Burton-on-Stather to Flixborough. I was three years old when the Flixborough disaster killed 28 people, Ruth had grown up nearby and knew of the explosion – something to do with a flammable gas building up in a confined space, Wikipedia has a record of the explosion being so powerful that within a one mile radius 1000 buildings were damaged and in nearby Scunthorpe 800 homes were damaged. It seems a miracle that there weren’t more people killed and injured.
We dropped off the hills at Flixborough with broad views of the flat marsh and farmland beyond the River Trent. As we reached the bottom of the embankment we discovered a solar farm. Underneath the solar panels were rows of wheat which looked difficult to harvest. I’m a big fan of renewable energy, but there was an interesting juxtaposition of farming the sun for energy compared with farming the sun for food. The wheat below the solar panels clearly had no value. It raised questions for us on whether it is more important to feed our GPS and smartphone devices with energy more than the need to grow food to feed people.
We crossed at the most obvious bridge in Keadby, with its semi-derelict looking industrial heritage and then stopped for our first coffee at the Keadby Post Office.
The real reason Ruth and I were riding the Humber Bridge 200 in reverse needs to be admitted: prevailing wind! We now had 100km of flatland cycling with a tailwind… what bliss! The great thing about a gentle tailwind is that you don’t really notice it but do benefit from the cycling being ever-so-slightly easier. I really hope that come September the flow of air will be from the north and west, or riders on my events are going to be exhausted before they get back to Welton. I must make sure there is plenty of cake!
As we reached Goole we felt the need for a bacon sandwich. I’ve called into the ‘Supreme Coffee Shop’ before and find the service very friendly. We rested for a little while, and the sun disappeared behind the clouds to be replaced with light drizzle.
We rode through Hook because the roads are much nicer than any other route through Goole, and it also brings us past St Mary’s Church to ride underneath the M62 where it crosses the River Ouse. I was startled to see what looked like a long thin ‘sausage-cat’ run across the road in front of us. The fact that there is no such animal as a ‘sausage-cat’ forced me to realise what I’d seen was actually a jet black mink. I’ve not seen a mink before, but checking up online when I got home it was clearly not a sausage-cat!
The light drizzle couldn’t compete with Ruth’s raincoat and as if by magic, the skies cleared as we continued northbound. By the time we reached Melbourne the sun was blazing on our backs, and I’d drained my water bottles. Flat roads are sometimes called the ‘hill-with-no-top’. It might have been Dean who told me that during LEL. The tailwind continued to be in our favour as the road rose gently by perhaps as much as 10m over the next 20km. We passed through farmland and through dappled woodland, we were hidden by tall hedges and exposed by miles of arable farming.
Easy riding in the sunshine lead us both into a subtle complacency and by the time we reached Sheriff Hutton we were really looking forward to a delicious cup of coffee and some wonderful cake at Quarmby’s – but one of the awful things about having Monday as my day off is that everything is shut. The pub was shut / the cafe was shut. We settled for an instant coffee from a machine at the Post Office eating Tunnuck’s Teacakes on a bench by the roadside. Ruth was feeling a little unwell – which was odd. With hindsight, perhaps the gentle riding had lulled us both into a false sense of comfort and serenity.
We now faced the hills. We’d saved the hills to last. We’d covered 130km in 7 hours and now had 7 hours to cover the last 70km – how hard could it be. This randonnée was in the bag!
Ruth and I had been especially blessed with quiet country lanes primarily because the heavy traffic uses big trunk roads like the A64 – unfortunately we had to cross this dual carriageway. We pootled uphill along the cyclepath, but the Kirkham Priory junction was just over the brow of the hill and our view of whether it was safe to cross was hampered. This route would be a dangerous audax ride, exposing so many riders to a blind crossing of the A64 – thankfully the crossing is much safer in the other direction – downhill / cyclepath / right turn lane.
After the up and down of Kirkham Priory, where we passed but did not stop at the Stone Trough Inn, we were now completely into the foothills of the Yorkshire Wolds. The scenery was stunning, and the gentle curve of the York-Scarborough railway line hugged the valleyside below us. We agreed that if the pub in Leavening was open we’d grab a drink. Of course – the curse of Monday struck and we could see the pub would not be open for a while.
Leaving Leavening, the road climbs by 14%. The genuine brow of the hill is visible in the distance where the treeline runs along the ridgetop. We climbed. Slowly. Well; I climbed slowly… nursing my post-LEL knees. Ruth climbed faster than I did, soon putting a big gap on me and disappearing into the distance. I kept myself slow and enjoyed the huge views opening up around me.
The air was fresh and the sun was pumping heat into our backs as we reached the top of Leavening Brow, having climbed from 100m to 230m in about a mile. The reward was the twisting descent of Waterdale into Thixendale – unfortunately for Ruth the dehydration and sunstroke was ending her day out. Carol & her Mighty Micra came to the rescue as we sat in the evening sun and enjoyed the isolation of Thixendale village.
With only enough room for Carol, Ruth and Ruth’s bike in the Mighty Micra I was happy to be able to ride home anyway – only 45km of the Yorkshire Wolds lay between me and home. This warm August Monday evening saw many cyclists out. The climbing across the Wolds was not insignificant at the end of a long day – so the cold beer alongside ‘sausage and mash’ that evening had been well and truly earned.
I’m looking forward to September 23rd when this will be run the ‘right way round’ as the Humber Bridge 200, but I will have to route check it again nearer the time. Certainly it will be more sensible to clear the hills at the start of the ride.