Howardian Hills Audax

Winter audaxing might be a soul destroying exercise in self-flagellation if it wasn’t for log fires, real ale and heart warming pub lunches. It was for this reason that my November 200km ride headed to Felixkirk and the Carpenter’s Arms.

November cycling has been especially challenging, not least because of the cold, so opportunities to keep my Randonneur Round the Year attempt on track were diminishing fast. Last Monday had started well: out on the road at 7am, main routes for the first 10km, but then as I approached the Yorkshire Wolds it was clear that sheet ice was going to stop my ride going any further. Today was my last opportunity in November for a day out and the soothsayers from the Meteorological Office foretold wet and windy, yet mild, weather. Anything would be better than ice, so at a more leisurely hour of 8:40am I set out on my do-it-yourself audax.

Winter audaxing

My hasty plans from the night before required me to visit Everingham, Stamford Bridge and Oswaldkirk before sitting down to a gourmet lunch at the Carpenter’s Arms in Felixkirk. Then a return leg heading for Topcliffe, York Minster and Everingham before retracing the route to Brough. Because the first leg of the journey to Stamford Bridge is mainly through farmland, which is flat as a pancake and exposed to the wind, I stuck a pair of headphones in. I have tinnitus and the rushing wind noise seems to make this worse, but a bit of trip-hop on a walkman stops the problem.

My first adventure was to navigate Cliffe Road from North Cave, there is a massive resurfacing effort taking place that has been running since July and will continue until early next year. “No through route for cyclists.” The detour is long and it is worth seeing if the resurfacing team will let a rider through anyway.

No through route

This is liberation theology for cyclists: beauty is truth. The beautiful people working here let me through anyway. So much work has been done that the road surface is really nice – and closed road cycling is such liberating fun.

Beyond the wind turbines, pig farms and hedge-free arable farmland I found some entertainment looking for the A64. I was having one of those ‘it is just round the corner’ moments. I was wrong, which comes as no surprise to me. First I had to reach and pass through Stamford Bridge where at last there were some ripples in the ground to break the monotony. Then the hills were ahead…. the Howardian Hills. These were made a feature of the London Edinburgh London ride because Danial Webb is an evil mastermind hell-bent on destroying people’s legs. Today I was making them a feature of my ride; to enter them at Terrington ride up to Oswaldkirk and exit them at Coxwold.

Howardian Hills

Those dark clouds were threatening rain, but due to a clumsy gear change on the hill into Terrington I didn’t reach the rain. Instead I broke my chain. It was a mucky job to split the chain properly, remove the twisted link and rejoin both ends with a quicklink. I haven’t broken a chain for over five years, but I was glad to be carrying quicklinks and a sturdy chain tool. Despite the sunshine, it was bitterly cold stood beside the road, so I was grateful that it didn’t take too long to fix and get moving again.

The Howardian Hills hadn’t gone away while I fixed my bike: so I still had to ride into them, up and down each short but steep climb, and eventually reach Oswaldlkirk nestled in the side of a bank. I turned into the headwind just as the rain started – blattering, cold, heavy rain drops. The views around me were gorgeous, and the sunlight in the sky was playing with a mixture of yellow and black bruises on the clouds. It was a joy to be out in the this weather – but only because I knew a warm fire and gourmet meal awaited me. As I rode beneath the foot of the cross at Ampleforth I remembered to say a prayer of thanks for the joy and freedom of cycling.

There were more closed roads as I approached Felixkirk, eventually reaching a section of hot fresh tarmac where I had to shoulder the bike and walk along the grassy verge to the far side of the roadworks. In the rain and wind.

Carpenters Arms

I took my time in The Carpenter’s Arms, the Theakstons was delicious and the menu was extensive. So I refuelled from both while watching the staff try to erect a 6m Christmas tree outside. They did a pretty good job – perhaps encouraged by the Landlord who said, “If you get it sorted by 2pm then there’s a beer in it for you”.

Reluctantly I left the warm and cosy arms of the Carpenter to face the biting wind on the way to Topcliffe – this was a tough section, but I tried to remember that the feeling of cold in my chest and exhaustion in my legs would only last until I turned south for home. There is something so draining about a headwind; it isn’t just that you have to ride slower, it seems to be the combination of ‘feeling slow’ and being cold along with the inevitable fact that riding slowly means the suffering goes on for longer.

But within moments of turning my back to the wind the ride changed character completely – the pace rose from 22kph to 28kph with less effort. The wind to my back didn’t seem to make me anywhere near as cold as on my chest. I was still putting in effort and my body started to warm up significantly. There was one exception to this though – my feet.

My feet were cold. Very cold. I had a nagging doubt that the rain had reached through the Goretex and drenched my socks, and that they would freeze. I tried to increase my circulation by wiggling my toes but it made no difference. This was not just a physical problem, it was psychological too – I began to think about a train home from York.

I reached York in good time and felt ready for some food. My rough plan was to head for the York Tap at the station where I could have a drink, warm up and eat something. Then I thought I could maybe decide whether to buy some more socks or simply catch a train home. This plan went wrong as I came down the A19 into York because I took the turn along Petergate towards the Minster… my brain was looking for socks before food – and the Christmas crowds were filling every space. As I wandered through York I eventually found myself on the A1079 (Hull Rd) without successfully finding socks and feeling like a disaster. Right then I spotted ‘York Cycleworks‘ and quickly nipped through the traffic to pop in. One pair of Merino Woolie-Boolie socks and one energy bar later I was feeling like the last 50km was becoming do-able again.

York Cycleworks

The change in my toes was perfect, and the boost from one Torq ‘sundried banana’ bar was wonderful. I set out on the Hull Road and serenely passed all the queuing traffic trying to leave York. The traffic was queuing from the city centre to the roundabout over the A64 and I found myself comfortably passing it all – on the right hand side in a proper overtaking maneuver rather than the sheepish undertake along the gutter.

All that remained was the ‘quiet’ lanes through Melbourne and Everingham to head home – but rush hour isn’t quiet. Despite the busyness of the commuter traffic I didn’t experience a single close-pass. For the entire day I’d been on traffic-free closed roads, or on empty lanes, or finally on busy roads with courteous drivers. This had been lovely.

The cold of the night was getting colder – and with just 25km to go I felt the need to warm up again so stopped at the Melbourne Arms for a packet of crisps and a drink in front of their log fire. It was all I needed to boost me through the final bit of night riding.

Melbourne Arms

The clear skies, glittering stars and bright half-moon kept me alert to the potential for black ice, so I was careful as I negotiated corners and junctions. Retracing the unmade road from Cliffe to North Cave was hazardous in the dark so I stayed in the middle of the road, but then I was home again. I could have given up – I nearly did. I think I failed to give up by accident because a trip to the Tap at York Station would surely have resulted in a train ride home. The friendliness of the Carpenter’s Arms, York Cycleworks and the Melbourne Arms – together with a nice route and no motorist hassle contributed to a good day out. It was hard. It was cold. But now that I can see November’s ride appear in my ‘Audax Awards’ I have an added level of satisfaction that I ‘endured’.



The CTC magazine arrived this morning – and it has a load of articles about ‘endurance cycling’. I’m glad I didn’t give up. Oh, is that December waiting?


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