‘If you’ve not got anything useful to say, don’t say anything at all.’
I can’t remember who said this to me, or where or when for that matter, but I know someone did, and while I can’t even remember why it was said… it stuck. I should admit that there have been moments where I haven’t followed this advice (largely preceded by alcohol), and afterwards I have perhaps wished I had followed it more closely. However, respecting this internalised advice, I’ve been quiet for the last few weeks. I know you’ve missed me, and I’ve missed you too. Ahhh… hugs to all… which is nice, as Uncle Boris now says we can.
But, to a very important matter; Has anyone seen spring?
I’m sure my memory serves me right in saying that it was last seen about 6 weeks ago, and even then only fleetingly, before disappearing behind the clouds, leaving a persistent northerly, not to be seen since. Despite the global climate disaster (warming) the last days of May are here and it still feels very much like winter. Ok, maybe not deepest winter – but at best spring, and certainly not summer. At this time of year, I am typically well on the way to developing my ridiculous ‘mint humbug’ cycling tan, and yet while riding at the moment I more closely resemble the Michelin man, white as a sheet and twice my ‘au naturelle’ size wearing every item of cycling clothing that I own. I’m sure that I’m not alone in giving more than one despairing sigh as I take to the road faced with another day of damp feet and a face full of headwind, and just for a moment romanticising about what it feels like to ride in shorts and short sleeves. This may be a ‘careful what you wish for’ scenario, as with unpredictability of the weather, we could have a month long heat wave, and then I will moan about lack of sleep, my grass and plants dying, and that my car now looks like a hay bale as I’m not allowed to wash it. However, I’ll take my chances and wish away – we’re only 4 weeks from the longest day. That means from a daylight perspective at least, we’re only 4 weeks from the journey back towards the dark and misery of winter, and we haven’t had more than a handful of spring like days, never mind summer. I don’t like it.
I also have to say that riding the same roads all the time, with the same (miserable) weather has certainly not been ‘inspirational’. However, last weekend, I went to ride with friends in North Yorkshire. Inspiration!
I am very lucky to have a diverse group of friends to share my love of cycling with. Some of these introduced me to cycling, and some cycling introduced to me. While most friendships are typically forged over a long period of time, through periodic interaction and experiences, the friendships that cycling has brought to me have developed rapidly, and are equally powerful. I wonder if this is because of the intensity of the collective experience of being out on the road? Notably in my case, these friendships were conceived through 9 days (6 days of rain!) spent riding from Lands End to John O’Groats, and the sheer sensory overload of the Col D’Aubisque, Tourmalet and Peyresourde (in heavy rain at 2c), during the Raid Pyrenees. While this intensity is relatively easy to reconcile, there is also a different level of transparency that comes with hours of collective saddle time, and taking on a challenge that many say you’re certifiable for attempting in the first place… never mind when bits of your bike, or even yourself, are hanging off. This transparency cuts both ways. While I have attained friends for life, there were many friends for 5 minutes, who I can’t even remember their names, or what BS they were filling me with – but they are not missed. Perhaps harsh, but certainly true.
Uncle Boris lifting my seemingly life-long grounding was timely as some time ago plans were made to meet friends in Yorkshire, to go ‘glamping’ and cycling from the York Holiday and Cycle Stop. Its location made the Howardian Hills, North York Moors and the Yorkshire Wolds all attainable in 3 superb days of riding, plus the sights, sounds and crucially pubs of York are only a £15 taxi ride away. It is definitely well worth a look if you’re looking for something a little different in terms of overnight, designed for cyclists. Unfortunately, perhaps predictably, spring remained nowhere to be seen, however despite the weather the riding was incredible… and up there with the best days I’ve had on the road. Proof you don’t need an organised trip, a bike box and a carbon footprint the size of the Moors themselves to have your eyes and lungs opened, and mind blown. North Yorkshire did not disappoint!
While the Howardians and Wolds are rolling and picturesque, the Moors are abrupt and imposing. At 80 miles and 6,500 feet of climbing, the Moors made for our ‘Queen Stage’, with impressive climbs, quiet roads and an immersive vista from the top to make you feel like you’ve travelled a lot further from home than you really have. It was quite simply one of the most rewarding days of riding I can remember. Admittedly, following the rain of the prior day, some of the fords were sketchy for cars, never mind dangerous for bikes, and I was VERY pleased to find bridges for all but one. Strangely amidst the apparent remoteness of the Moors, there was a haven, tucked away, barely signed anywhere (so badly signed that I made a 4 mile detour as I missed the turn!) an oasis… The Yorkshire Cycle Hub. This is a bike shop, cafe and even accommodation should you wish to stay in the middle of the Moors, in fact in Great Fryup Dale. A magnificent venue that if you’re up that way on bike, car or foot, I wholly recommend a visit – just make sure you know where you’re going! With food, drinks and views all out of the top drawer… I will be back. While I’m sure the great ‘fry-up’ is amazing, faced with an extensive trek back across the Moors, I opted for a rather exceptional ‘Gyro D’Yorkshire’ chicken wrap.
Food is a really important part of any cycle ride. Not just in terms of occasion, but it’s the very fuel that we need to burn that can turn a great ride into a disaster, or vice versa. While I certainly didn’t ‘bonk’ on the Moors, I definitely ran out of juice, and had to delve into someone else’s pocket for a flapjack before a diversion to a garage for more water and a ‘public transport’ themed chocolate bar. If you’re going up on to the Moors, take far more food and water than you need. Villages, and crucially shops, become rarer than a Yorkshireman wasting a fiver, and if you’re working hard (and you will be!) on a warm day, I’d imagine that supplies could get marginal, quickly. In general though North Yorkshire’s cafe’s are ready for cyclists, with superb food, served promptly and usually somewhere to leave your bikes. If you’re in the Wolds, drop down to The Hide in the Market Place, in Pocklington. This cafe / deli is simply not to be missed for your injection of caffeine, snack or lunch on the way back in… exceptional service and food (the breakfast sandwich is phenomenal!). It appears to have a reasonably consistent flow of cyclists coming and going… so it’s clearly got a good reputation, for a good reason! And even better, it sits between a Tap Room and a Gelateria, so you’ve got all bases covered.
All of that said, we didn’t go to Yorkshire for an ice cream or a bacon buttie, we went to ride some hills, and that’s good, as perhaps unsurprisingly it’s got lots of them. Some of them are VERY steep indeed, in fact the steepest that I’ve ever ridden. These are the sort that once you’re on it, you’re not entirely sure how you get off it, without actually finishing the climb (perhaps a good incentive to ride on). The Rosedale Chimney is, I now know, a relatively well renown climb. Renown because it’s truly horrible! Maxing out at 1 in 3, yes 33%, with something more akin to 45% if you take the wrong route around the left hand bend – which I did, as I completely abandoned the imparted local knowledge as soon as I got into it. If you’re lucky enough to have spinny gearing that will cope with this pitch, you’re not out of the woods, as with every press of the pedal the front wheel wants to lift, encouraging you to stand, adding to the hurt. I would describe it as a mind bending six and a half minute assault on my body and senses. But don’t relax there… as the old saying goes – what goes up, must come down. If the ascent was brutal, the descent is just bloody scary! My brake pads and rims were screaming when I got to the bottom… there’s no tucking this one out without a very big accident. I loved it!!
That’s one of the amazing things about cycling… the harder it is, the more rewarding it is. The more it makes you work, think and respond to the challenges the road and conditions throw at you, the more you get out of it. North Yorkshire, with some of my best friends… I got a lot out of it.
Go there and explore… you won’t regret it!