On Tuesday night I raced the 2/3/4 Dirtwheels circuit race at the recently opened York Sports Village. During the day I had been deliberating whether or not I should race; I knew too much beer and the wrong type of food at the weekend’s Galtres Festival, combined with insufficient sleep, would have dulled what race sharpness I still had. Nevertheless I was intrigued to try out this purpose built race track, and under floodlights too, so I turned up on the line, but without any great expectations.
The race circuit is a 1km loop and starts with a sweeping left hand bend followed by a gentle up hill drag. The track bends left again then curves and dips gently down to a hairpin bend. From the hairpin the track drags upwards back to the start line. The surface is excellent and the track wide enough to feel confident hitting the bends at speed and in a bunch.
The race started at a fairly pedestrian pace and for the first two laps I wondered what was going on. Then the attacks started and the speed ramped up. Unlike the Rockingham races, all categories started together and it was the 2nd cats doing the damage. Soon a group of 6 riders were free. They stayed away and 3 of them even lapped the bunch. It is a fast circuit, and with the regular hairpin, a testing one. I didn’t exactly shine under the floodlights, but I hadn’t expected to. I hope I’ll one day get to race the circuit again, but next time I’ll aim to do it with better form in the legs.
The next morning I got up early to work the stiffness out of my legs and take on another Yorkshire climb. From Simon Warren’s 100 Climbs book, I had my eye on climb number 54, Boltby Bank, also known as Sneck Yate Bank.
I set off north west through the nursery slopes of the Howardian Hills to Sutton-under-Whitecliffe. Under clearer skies I had good views of the White Horse and the tree covered bank I had climbed earlier in the week. Boltby Bank climbs up the same edge to the moors further north.
From Sutton, straddling the A170, I headed north along quiet rolling roads, through Thirlby and onto Boltby village. Exiting Boltby, the road tilted sharply upwards to climb over the lower slopes of Bleaky Hill. Around a corner and Sneck Yate Bank came into view. Through the trees a 100 metres of dark grey tarmac could be glimpsed, cutting a diagonal line up the hill and through the trees.
The road dropped down to the dry ford crossing Lunshaw Beck. Across the ford and the climb started with a gentle first 100 metres, then as I passed Hesketh Hall, the road tilted sharply upwards. The 10% gradient steepened to 15% as the road disappeared into the trees. There was a slight kink in the road through the trees which obscured the view ahead, but as you leave them behind the road ahead straightens and, if you have the energy to look up, all you see is the increasing gradient ahead. This open stretch climbs at over 20% and it’s a brute. I was wobbling across the road and sweating in the cool morning air, despite crawling along at walking pace. I tried to sit back in the saddle and grind up, but I was lifting my front wheel off the road, so I stood back on to the pedals and pushed them round. My lungs, heart and legs were hurting with the effort, that was to be expected, but I wasn’t expecting the strain in my forearms. Back into the trees and the road bent to the right then left and, after one more final kick, brought with it an easing of the gradient. Soon the road leveled off and the expanse of the Yorkshire Moors stretched ahead.
The view from the top is fairly obscured, so to better appreciate it I rode back down to the Cleveland Way footpath which skirts the edge of the moor top. It was worth the climb, the view was beautiful.
After the climb I turned south for Sutton Bank. To my right was a short horizon to the edge of the moors, full of wheat fields and pastures. To my left were stunning views across the moors, dominated by the flat top of Rievaulx Moor, sitting between the valleys carved out of this ancient plateau by the Rivers Seph and Rye. From Sutton Bank I continued east along a pleasantly quiet A170 then turned off for the descent down to Ampleforth.
The Ampleforth descent is a steep and narrow one which twists down Trudlock Hill into the Holbeck Valley. Just after the steepest 15% slope, near the foot of the climb, I passed a flat bed truck starting up. I pity anyone following me down who might have met with it.
From the opposite side of the valley, the Howardian Hills rose before me. I took the climb from Thorpe Hall to the woods of Yearsley Moor. The climb starts on a left hand bend with a deep gravel drift in the road. The climb is a pleasant 100m ascent rising at a varying gradient averaging 6-7%, but briefly steepening to 17%, at least according to the signage at the top, but I’m not so sure it gets quite that steep. Nevertheless, it was a good climb on which to finish my ride, the kind you can enjoy at a comfortable the pace.
I haven’t fully explored the Howardian Hills AONB, as much as I would have liked to. My rides have been short 30 milers, squeezed into the early morning while the rest of the family are either still asleep or watching Milkshake or CBeebies. I have ticked off two of the big climbs I wanted to do, White Horse Bank and Boltby Bank, but there are plenty more left to ride. The Howardian Hills AONB is not a big area, and I could easily explore it on a 30 mile ride. Compared to the Moors, the climbs are tame, but the Hills offer some fantastic rolling roads, perfect for cycling and with stunning views across the Moors to the north and the Vale of York to the south. And of course there is the long, magnificent and undulating avenue alongside Castle Howard.
Into the Moors, northwest of Helmsley I would like to further explore the Rye Valley. Here Rievaulx offers some challenging 14% plus climbs, but it is around Hawnby where the big climbs reside. Looking at the OS map, 3 km of roads around the village have 7 sets of gradient chevrons, 3 of them indicating slopes steeper than 20%. Definitely worth a look!
Finally there is Rosedale Chimney. In the middle of the moors this is an infamous climb with 1:3 gradients. I cannot make another visit to this part of the world again and not climb it, it demands to be ridden…