Cycling the North Yorkshire Moors on a rainy day in January.

Driving up from Kent for a 9.00 till 5.00 job in Hartlepool on the 8th of January. To far to get there and back in a day. An overnight stay was booked up on the 7th. With the accommodation and mileage paid for as a business expense it would have been a missed opportunity not to schedule in a decent days ride while I was up there. The drive took me up past Osmotherley on the western edge of the North Yorkshire Moors. I cycled the moors back in January 2014. It was mostly dark when I did. I thought then it would be good to do it in daylight. Here was the chance.

A reason I take jobs away from home is to grab the expenses paid opportunity to ride in different parts of the country. The dates are usually agreed a few weeks ahead. It’s a case of fingers crossed for the weather. The weather on this occasion was by anyone’s reckoning rough. Cold, wet and windy across the UK. The moors got a yellow weather warning of heavy rain for much of the day.

Urgh! Have a good one 🙂

That was a text I received from my sister as I set off from Osmotherley at 10.45 am. We’d been messaging one another on my way up in the car (Okay Google hands free texting if you’re wondering). My sister has recently rediscovered cycling. Even her evangelical enthusiasm for all things bicycle was tainted by the thought of what I was up to. Having set the intention it was though a fairly easy decision to stay on track. Besides that there was no way I was doing a 570 mile round trip just  for a days work.

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You can’t just ride these signs the first time you see them without taking a picture.

To be fair over the first ten miles or so the rain had eased up a bit. The wind was in my favour. The going was good. It was great to see the scenery this time round. What’s not to enjoy? I was looking forward to the miles ahead and feeling fit to take them on.

After a while the rain started to come down heavily just as the forecast predicted. I was dressed for it and not that bothered. There was a slight worry about having wet feet all day. My shoes were double wrapped in plastic bags beneath my neoprene overshoes. That did a fair job of keeping the worst of it out for a couple of hours. Often the anxiety of what might be is soon overtaken by the reality of what is. Thankfully it’s rarely as bad as you imagine it might be as was the case on this occasion. I was soaked through but it was okay. I was not freezing, the bike was performing well. The absurdity of this elective endeavour amused me no end. Life is good on a bike.

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It’s not cricket.

A quarter of the way into the ride featured an early highlight of the route  between Commondale and Castleton. For just over two miles I followed an old farm track across the side of the hills. Even with the weather being what it was and visibility not being all that the view of the track stretching out ahead of me was right up my street. After the unfortunate demise of the Specialized Tricross, I was now cycling about on a bike my friend Rew loaned to me at the beginning of December, a Boardman CX Comp.  Though used to the benefits of cross bikes in traversing the muddy tracks and shoddy services of NCR1 it was on this stretch that I first experienced the real benefits of having disc brakes. With the cantilevers the Tricross had, my hands would have ached with the strain of pulling the levers on the downhill slopes. Disc brakes removed the effort and at least doubled the sense of control. Not one to crave the next best thing but in this case I’m sold.

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The trail along Commondale Beck towards Castleton Moor.

It was on reaching Grossmont that the next noteworthy event occurred. Even as I enjoyed the speedy descent into the town I could see there was a steep climb out the other side. Just before the climb started my Garmin prompted me to go down a little lane just off the high street. I hesitated at first. The directions looked a bit odd. Nothing ventured nothing gained. If there was a chance that I could bypass the steep ascent what was I waiting for? Off I went and down the short hill I rode. The lane took me to a ford which crossed what I know now is the Murk Esk. The definition of a ford is –

A shallow place in a body of water, such as a river, where one can cross by walking or riding on an animal or in a vehicle.
Now I have no idea what the Murk Esk is like at other times but on this day there was no way I was going to get across it. The definition was some way off what I saw in front of me.
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It was an easy decision to make. Time for a detour.

As you can see the Murk Esk was in full flow. The marker on the other side was at two feet. Slightly above knee-high on me. If it had been somewhat slower I would have given it a go. There was no way though I was about to risk the current here. I turned the bike around and rode up the hill out of Grossmont. It was at this point I came across the first big climb of the day.

As I left the town I spied another cyclist making his way up the hill. He was some way ahead of me and working hard to make the grade. Not being one to pit myself against others in such circumstances I just got on with making my way. I would have changed down to the granny gear on the triple ring of the tricross had I’d been on it. Things were different now with the compact double on the Boardman. As a result of the higher gearing, and to my surprise, I was gaining on the other cyclist fairly quickly. Breathing the Obree way is a massive help. With just a few feet between us the road forked. He continued straight on and although I was now off route my sense of direction told me I needed to go right; right where a road sign warned of a 33% incline!

My approach to such things is simple. Focus on breathing, don’t look up and expect nothing in terms of pace. Reaching the top without getting off is my only intention.  It paid off. I made it. My first real climbing challenge with a compact double had been a success. It turns out that the climb was Sleights Moor,  #147 in Simon Warrens Another 100 Great Climbs. Not sure what the 33% sign was all about. It was nowhere near that according to RWGPS and any other reference you may care to note. Still it looked pretty steep at the time and it felt great to make it to the top.

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Sleights Moor levels out into the mist. Not another soul around. Can’t think why.

From here the immediate task was to get myself back on route. It was lucky that when I mapped the route I did so with some degree of logic. I used this map to get an idea of where everything was. That helped me plot a loop on RWGPS which passed through a number of villages and towns on the way. I remembered that after Grossmont I was heading to Goathland. I could have used the map on my Garmin to work things out but as it was my sense of direction and road signs got me there without any wrong turns made.

There were more big hills on the way. My hands were getting pretty cold on the descents. A fleeting thought of hypothermia did cross my mind. There was another 33% sign before one of the ascents (Delves Lane / Smiths Lane just past Egton Bridge) which had a couple of sharp bends. I honestly looked forward to getting stuck into it to warm up my core temperature again and as a result my hands. It was quite an experience. With all the rain there had been water was pouring down the hill in torrents. This  created the odd illusion of moving and being stationary at the same time. Still I was climbing very slowly so perhaps that was not far off the reality of the circumstance. Once again though I made it to the top without getting off. I found a nice write-up of the climb here. I think it’s probably #150 – Egton High Moor – in Simon Warrens Another 100 Greatest Climbs.

Open moorland lay ahead between me and Rosedale Abbey. The rain had all but stopped, which was nice as the wind had really picked up now there was nothing in its way. A ferocious crosswind nearly had me off a few times. I got down on the drops to make myself less of a target and grinded it out. Despite the conditions this sort of riding really appeals to me. There is a unique pleasure to be had from being out in the wilds miles from anywhere, on your own and depending on nothing but stamina and determination to see it through. You can get lost in thought on a bike. This is different. This is more of a meditative experience. Totally immersed in the present and nothing else. I love it! As the road approached the end of this flat section of the moors for the first time all day I saw evidence that the sun did indeed still exist.

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Sunset on Egton Moor

Feeling quite hungry after all this effort I was looking forward to reaching Rosedale Abbey. I imagined a shop being open where I could buy some crisps, a hot drink, chocolate and maybe a sandwich or roll. Not so. Clearly the shops here only stay open when there is some hope of passing trade other than a lone cyclist. In truth I did not look very hard. It was a small village and what shops I could see were all closed. Living in the south-east I’ve got used to there being places to buy food all over. If not a shop then a garage. I’ve learned that’s not the case in other parts of the UK but still I’m surprised when I ride for fifty odd miles or more without passing a single place to stock up supplies. Hey ho best plod then.

Coming down into Rosedale Abbey I could see there was a pretty steep climb up out the other side. What I had not realised is that this is the place of the infamous Rosedale Chimney. A true killer of a hill with genuine 1 in 3 sections and a tight bend to navigate round. Here I met my nemesis for the day. At the foot of the hill my right ham string cramped up. I hopped off the bike as quick as I could and did what I could to calm the spasms. There was no way I was going to be able to ride this one. I felt a pang of regret as I’d loved to have given it a go. I had to settle for  accepting my limits on this occasion and taking a slow walk to the top.

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Taken from the parking spot on Rosedale Chimney. I’ll be back sometime for this climb.

Next chance of a food stop was just ten miles away in Kirkby Mills. So happy when I saw a garage with the lights on and a hot drinks sign outside. I spent half an hour in the place stuffing my face with the assortment of food and drink that perhaps only other long distance cyclists would appreciate. By the time I’d had my fill I was warm again and the hamstring cramp relegated to a lurking threat warning me off any prolonged hard exertion. And so it was that the last twenty miles were completed in the dark and with cautious reserve. The pronounced memory of this stretch was going down hills very carefully for fear of plunging into a fast flowing ford at the bottom of each. There were a lot of fords but fortunately I never came across any that matched the one that had me taking a detour in Grossmont.

I arrived back in Osmotherly having been on the saddle for just a few minutes under seven hours. It’s probably the slowest 80 miles I’ve ridden but I’m not bothered by that in the least. This was, even if I say so myself, a hardcore ride and one that I feel proud of having completed. Don’t let bad weather put you off getting out there. The memories are as good as any you’ll get at other times.

4 Comments

    • Cheers! I hope to have the opportunity to do it again one spring / summer when the days are longer and get to see more of the countryside. I’m ‘gonna ride up that chimney too!

  1. What a lovely report – glad you enjoyed yourself and I hope you get the chance to come back in better weather. Imagine this ride in shorts and sunglasses, with sweat dripping into your eyes.

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