Look what you could have won
The fickle British climate loves to mock our sun-dappled dreams but a deluged North York Moors make for a spectacular consolation prize.
North York Moors Killer Loop directions
1. START. (NZ474022) The Rusty Bike, Swainby
Out of café turn L, follow road round to R keeping river to your L. Continue for 1.4KM and then leave road on corner continuing SA on surfaced bridleway through forest. On leaving forest turn L through field joining road near farm. Turn L on road then R at junction. Follow road for 3.6km.
2. (NZ518000) Scugdale Hall. Distance so far 6.51KM
At Scugdale Hall turn L before gate. Continue up hill to Barker’s Crags. SA passing Brian’s Pond on L for 2.2KM. At spoil tip turn R, crossing road and passing Lordstones cCountry Park centre. Continue for 1KM then L towards Busby Moor. R at junction following trail under Kirby Bank and then along tree line of Broughton Plantation dropping to B1257.
3. (NZ572033) Cleveland Way. Distance so far 15.6KM
Cross B1257 SA up paved bridleway. Go through wall and turn R. SA on bridleway on edge of Urra Moor. At junction turn R then L. SA for 0.5KM then fork R into top of East Bank Plantation down to East Bank Farm. Through farm and SA to rejoin B1257. L toward Chop Gate turning R down Raisdale Rd.
4. (SE558997) Chop Gate. Distance so far 22.25KM
SA for 2.4KM then L towards Raisdale Mill. Bear L through farm yard then R up Mill Lane. Follow bridleway SA for 1KM to top of ridge. Pass through gate and follow bridleway SA down to Scugdale Hall. Follow road for 3KM, turn L and continue on road for 1KM. Take marked bridleway on R through fields rejoining surfaced bridleway in forest. SA to road, then SA back into Swainby.
The route starts in Swainby on the A172, 30mins drive from junction 49 of the A1(M). The ride starts at The Rusty Bike cafe, postcode DL6 3EW.
Best time to go
With a lot of exposure and trails that mostly consist of clay and peat this loop is definitely one best left for drier days.
The Rusty Bike in Swainby is the start and finish of the ride and is well stocked with homemade cakes and decent coffee. The café at Lordstones Country Park (NZ524030) does a good cup of tea and has a deli shop for all your pork pie needs. The Buck Inn at Chop Gate (SE558996) is mountain biker friendly – even when you’re coated in mud and grit.
As well as serving scones and tea The Rusty Bike is also in the process of having a bike shop added and have a fleet of hire bikes too. Westbrook Cycles in Stokesley have a good range of bikes and accessories.
If you’re looking for a more all-weather ride the Dalby trail centre is an hour down the road. With a selection of routes and a skills area it’s a safe bet for a good day’s riding. If you’re after a bit more of a mess about in the woods rather than a straight up route head over to Guisborough Woods just outside, you guessed it, Guisborough and follow your nose.
Words and photos: Sim Mainey
Here’s what you could have won
The fire’s on and I’m settled into a comfy chair with my hands wrapped round a cup of coffee. The full height window of the café streams with water and looking into the distance a small white cloud has got itself lodged in the trees of the wooded hillside giving the edge of the North York Moors National Park a North Shore feel. Beyond that is grey upon grey upon grey.
After a week or so of good weather the run on sun has ended in quite some style – British summertime failing to live up to the promise of British springtime. I’m no fair-weather rider, a bit of wind and rain is all part and parcel of mountain biking and a decent jacket coupled with a determination to leave the house are usually all I need to tackle the worst of the weather. A lot of the time bad weather is an irritation but today it’s a full-on frustration.
You see this North York Moors Killer Loop has been put together by local rider Rob. Keen to show off some of the best riding in his part of the world he’s spent a lot of time plotting a route, riding it, tweaking it and sending me photos along the way of the trails and views I’d be pointing my camera at when I visited. The last photos Rob sent through, taken the evening before, were full of green and gold hillsides, blue skies and cotton wool clouds. Like the big prize on a TV gameshow being revealed to an unlucky contestant it’s a case of here’s what you could have won except that I get the big reveal at the beginning rather than the end.
Rob, Rafi and I stare into the grey from the comfort of The Rusty Bike café and sip slowly at our drinks, prolonging the inevitable and playing a waiting game, both with the weather and each other – who will break first, get out of the seat and officially start the ride. Phones are checked and various forecasts consulted for any possible hint of a gap in the rain. The forecasts are all definitive, heavy rain appears to be the flavour of the day so there’s nothing left to do but just get out and throw ourselves to the whims of the weather.
As usual after five minutes of riding it’s fine. Fine as in my jacket has wetted out, my shoes are sloshing with water and it’s not actually possible for me to be any wetter – so it can rain all it likes now. There’s something freeing about knowing that you’re as wet as you can be, you cease to ride around puddles or care about the rain at all. It doesn’t matter how much waterproofing you have on, only being totally drenched makes you truly impervious to the rain.
The North York Moors are hardly unassuming but they can sneak up on you, rising dramatically from the surrounding pan-flat plains with no rolling hills to ease you in, no early warning of what’s to come and eventually crashing to an abrupt stop at the east coast. 20 minutes into the ride and we’re not far into Scugdale but it already feels like we’re deep into the creases of the moors and venturing into an area a lot more wild than the twee towns that are scattered through the National Park.
A short, sharp, direct bridleway takes us up to the moorland plateau. Shin-height heather stretches off to the horizon broken up by the occasional windswept tree, coffee brown ponds and trails running in all directions. I wonder if viewed from above they’d make up Yorkshire’s answer to the Nazca Lines of Peru, but rather than depicting monkeys or hummingbirds they’d show whippets and sheep. We pick our way across the moor like slot-bike racers, staying in the heather-lined ruts, paying attention to pedal position to prevent being flipped unceremoniously over the bars. From the top of the moor it’s possible to see that the mono-grey of before is actually the full gamut of grey, darker clouds moving over the mid-grey backdrop which changes in opacity so distant hills appear and vanish. Despite being hardened mountain men, mostly, we cut down the hill to the Lordstone Country Park visitor centre for a pot of tea and a brief respite from being drowned from above.
It seems we’re not the only ones with this idea. Ramblers fill the café along with the fug of damp and drying clothing and the earthy smell of the outside come inside. Phones and forecasts are optimistically re-checked but all continue with their bleak predictions. Tea drunk and water dripped onto the chairs it’s time to leave the humidity of the café and crack on.
“It’s like riding on butter that’s been taken out the fridge and then briefly blasted with a blowtorch”, says Rafi. Weeks of good weather has baked the clay trails hard, leaving tyre tracks, hoof and boot prints firmly imprinted in the ground. The recent heavy downpour has only added a veneer of greasy slip. The trail keeps largely on the level but along the way small bumps, drops and banked corners have us raising and dropping our saddles encouraging us to push with our legs rather than pedal to make the most of the flowing pumptrack style trail. It’s a fast section of trail, the occasional puddle and the shearing top layer of dirt adding a bit jeopardy to things and keeping our attention sharp. Rafi says he rode this trail last week and it was ludicrously fast and dusty. Despite how fun it is I don’t want to know what I’m missing, I just wish I’d remembered my riding glasses and fitted a mudguard…
Then the weather, seemingly in need of a breather, changes and the rain stops. For the first time today we can see the sun, a white disc behind a thin grey curtain of cloud. A frenzy of photography breaks out, rain is wiped from lenses that are glossy black from the drenching earlier and cautious optimism surfaces – maybe the forecasts were wrong, maybe our luck is in. The cloud level lifts and the surrounding landscape reveals itself – a patchwork of fields, farms and towns spreading into the distance, the sea, mouth of the Tees and Middlesborough all now visible.
Buck Inn time
Keen to make up some distance while the going is good we crack on, spirits raised a little. We follow the treeline of Broughton Plantation which starts as sunken track eventually getting rockier throwing occasional webs of glassy looking roots in for good measure. As we pass under the Wain Stones the nature of the trail changes and takes on a more Alpine feel – tall conifers rock in the wind and a rolling sandy track dotted with rocks replaces the clay. Under the shelter of the trees patches of dust and dry loam act as small memories of yesterday’s conditions.
We make it to the top of Urra Moor before the wall of rain comes into view expanding and contracting to fill the valley before eventually enveloping us. The trails on this hillside are black from the peat, still firm and yet to turn into draggy porridge or gritty gruel. Bracken rather than heather tears at our feet and grabs at our knuckles on some of the tighter downhill turns. On a good day the view from the top is superb, I’m told. Even with the opaque filter of rain it’s certainly got something to it allowing you to look into the heart of the Moors one way or out to the flatlands the other.
Heads down, hoods up we jag across the landscape making for the shelter of the bridleway that runs through East Bank Plantation where Rob promises we’ll find dry loamy corners to play on. The loam has turned to Weetabix, the sheer volume of water coming off the hill has turned the trail into a river in parts and the steep sections resemble flumes. With already soggy gussets we don’t care and take pleasure in hurtling down the trail in a wake of spray. Coniferous forest switches to deciduous, the last of the battered looking bluebells fighting for their place in between the ferns. We slither our way down to the bottom of the valley where we face one more climb back to The Rusty Bike – but first chips.
“Look at the state of them”, is the not so whispered comment from one of the patrons of the The Buck Inn in Chop Gate. Covered in filth and dripping wet we don’t make for the best advertisement for the virtues of mountain biking. After making sure we are actually welcome we shuffle through to a back room out of sight where newspaper has been put down on chairs for us. Two plates of chips and a round of full fat Coke turns up and is seen off in short order. Warm and full of potato-based lethargy it’s time for the final grunt over the ridge and back to Scugdale.
I’ve been on rides where, with nothing to eat, a long way to go and The Bonk setting in conversation has inevitably turned to food. Inner culinary desires for weird combinations of food manifest themselves and obsession takes hold. Today the conversation has turned to designing the ultimate in properly wet weather riding gear – baffled shorts to prevent spray getting to your upper legs, sail cloth bum sections to keep your chamois dry, a neoprene drysuit-style jacket that zips onto the shorts. As we spin along the road towards the green lane that will hoist us up the hill we’re giddy with the thought of not being soaked to the skin – being dry is the new being fed.
Looking back into Scugdale from Barker’s Ridge not much has changed since we set off this morning. The same cloud is stuck in the trees, it’s no brighter or darker and it’s certainly not drier. From up here though it looks fantastic, but maybe that’s because the end is in sight along with the promise of a cup of tea, scone and dry clothes. Either way the descent back down to Scugdale Hall with its hidden ruts, loose rock and puddles of questionable depth is a fast and fun way to make our way off the moors.
We finish the ride by riding in the river in the middle of town to clean off what mud has managed to stay stuck to our bikes. We get some disapproving looks from passers by but by this point we’re too wet and tired to care. What’s more worrying is the vague whiff of effluent coming from somewhere and we pray dysentery doesn’t strike on the drive home.
While there might have been a hint of ‘Here’s what you could have won’ on this ride I don’t think we came away as losers. Sure, we didn’t get the dusty trails, blue skies and sun tans that Rob’s photos promised but we did get a big ride out in a beautiful part of the country, a story to tell and some innovative ideas for a new range of waterproof clothing. While I can’t vouch that the clothes would be any good I can guarantee if you follow Rob’s route you’ll have a great day on the bike.