If you ride a bike and stray from your local patch, then Simon Warren’s 100 climbs book should be an indispensable part of your luggage. So, heading up to the North York Moors I had it packed. Looking through the book, the nearest, most accessible climb for me was number 56, White Horse Bank. The book rated it 7/10, not too bad then and since I had a couple of free hours first thing on Sunday morning, I plotted a 27 mile route around the climb.
Saturday night’s heavy rain had left the roads slick and as I rode out from the low rolls of the Howardian Hills, cloud still clung to the higher terrain of the Hambleton hills, and Sutton Bank. Riding towards Oswaldkirk on empty Yorkshire roads (the North East being such a desolate place), I had gentle, easy downhill start.. The first real test came at Oswaldkirk. We had followed a cycling couple up the 50m high bank here on Saturday morning and I had driven passed in second gear, so I had an idea what to expect. I wasn’t disappointed. The road bent slightly to the left before switching back to the right with a 20% gradient, and then cutting a shallower 10% line diagonally across Oswaldkirk Bank.
It was a meaty enough climb upon which to break my hill fast. From there the road levelled off. Then I came upon this ominous sign. Hmm a road that prohibits caravans, I think I like the sound of that.
For now, I had to follow the caravan route to Ampleforth, and I found it hard going. I was heading into quite a strong head wind along an exposed and deceptively draggy stretch of road; 7am and the pints of mild I had been drinking the day before at the Galtres festival were sitting heavy in my belly. I was having doubts about the dark stuffs efficacy as a climbing fuel. Anyway, for taste, I can thoroughly recommend a pint or two of the Great Heck Brewery Voodoo Mild.
The descent into Ampleforth was fast and followed by a pleasant ride along decently surfaced roads through Wass and past Byland Abbey.
Taking a right turn in Byland Abbey, I rode beneath a ruined arch, once part of the abbey, but long since cannibalised by a farm for more utilitarian purposes. The arch was a gateway into a cycling paradise. The narrow, deserted and occasionally rough road meandered and rolled through the woods on the lower slopes of the Hambleton Hills. In a few more weeks, when the leaves are turning on a crisp autumn morning, I imagine this would be a stunning ride.
The next junction I turned right and started the climb up the White Horse Bank. Around a left hand bend and the gradient immediately kicked in at 10% and more. The weathered road twisted through the trees with wicked hairpins at 20 to 25%. Twice the gradient relaxed to something below 10%, but by the time I had thought about recovering the steepness was back. Around one right hand bend there was a break in the trees. There were signs for a white horse, but all I saw was a dirty white wall of pain and the rising road. I had started the climb on the little ring, and quickly gone to the 23T sprocket on my cassette, and that was where my gearing had stayed, but now, with my legs burning and my heart tapping out a Balearic Beat in the Yorkshire mist, I was wishing for a couple more teeth on my flatland standard gearing. Another bend and the road straightened while I wobbled across it, and then the trees ended, the gradient ceased to climb and I was into open country atop the bank. I had completed the climb, 175m with an >11% average gradient, in 8.44 minutes; I hadn’t been disappointed. The natives claim Yorkshire as God’s country, maybe, but that climb belongs to the Devil.
I now turned for home, following the A170 down the equally steep descent of Sutton Bank. The road was mercifully quiet, but damp, so despite keeping a light touch on my breaks, it was still a fast drop. I turned off the A170 onto a single track road with a grassy middle and then I was back into the gentle Howardian Hills, legs loosened and feeling good. I enjoyed the tailwind home.
The next day I went up to Sutton bank with the family and met some friends from York. The skies were cloudless and the views magnificent. We ate a picnic sat above Roulston Scar and were joined by a thick bodied Oak Eggar moth. It escaped from one child’s indelicate grasp to land on another’s T-shirt. Looking east the pale outline of the Dales was visible on the horizon, to the north a section of A170 peeped through the tree covered slopes. occasionally the peace of the bank was disturbed by the throaty growl of an engine as its driver struggled to match the gears to the 25% gradient.