12 June 2017

SE2: Ferriby to Spurn Point

Day 2 of the sixth Compass Ride was a blustery bright summer day, and involved two lots of Alternative Wright Brothers, a crossing over to the Eastern Hemisphere, Britain's newest island, and an inexplicably stranded satnav-fail lorry. (Back to ← Day 1)

The Wright Brothers? Forget those minor mechanics from Kitty Hawk. For real achievement you want Ferriby's own Wrights, Ted and Will. In 1937 down at the foreshore, by the dog-brown waters of the Humber, they discovered the Ferriby Boats. These, it turned out, were major archaeological and historical finds: Stone Age vessels – as old as Stonehenge – that once ferried people, beasts and food across the estuary. A monument (pic) marks out the footprint of the first boat found.

That's Lincolnshire over there. As a child I would often come down here, looking with awe across to South Ferriby and the cement factory. Why was the boat found on the north bank? My own theory is that it was used once, and that when they'd seen what was on the other side, they came back for good.

From Ferriby it was 20-odd miles of almost unbroken offroad, ideal for my trekking bike. I coasted happily along the waterside path (pic) up to the Humber Bridge. The bike was far lighter than yesterday, as I'd left luggage at mum's. I was far heavier than yesterday, as I'd had dinner and breakfast at mum's.

I threaded through Hull's shiny new marina and redeveloped docks, most impressively past The Deep (pic) and its sharklike profile. It's one of the UK's biggest aquariums, and definitely the best, with everything from vast multistorey glass oceans full of vivid tropical fish and scary sharks, to smaller tanks with dull monochrome North Sea fishes.

When I was little, we only had fishing for sticklebacks in Welton pond. Today I saw a six-year-old here, staring at one of the small, computer-monitor-sized glass tank fronts, trying in vain that two-finger-expand gesture you use to zoom in on touchscreens.

Out of Hull I followed the 10-mile Winestead Rail Trail, surfaced for the first four or so, and then a succession of just-about-OK cinder and farm track. Near Keyingham I exchanged cheery hellos with these horse riders (pic), thinking how lovely it all was.

I thought it was less lovely when I spent the next three miles dodging the hoof craters they'd made in the soft muddy surface. Still, in this unremittingly flat landscape, the horses had at least created some vertical interest of their own. Clearly they'd had a good breakfast.

Patrington is the least untownlike of the villages in this part of Holderness. The flat, remote tranquillity intrigued Hull's gloomy poet-librarian Philip Larkin. 'Here silence stands like heat', Larkin wrote; perhaps he'd waited for a bus here too. Anyway, the railtrail having run out, I was now back on the road, stopping briefly to cross the meridian marker (pic) and leave the West behind. No chance of a decent phone signal or organic quinoa out here in the developing world, then.

I was surprised to see this monument at Welwick (pic). It commemorates four members of the Gunpowder Plot of 1605, most notably John and Christopher Wright, two brothers who lived in the farm next door. Well, there you have it: Ferriby's Wright Brothers make intriguing discoveries that advance human knowledge and are celebrated with a few planks, while Holderness's Wright Brothers are murderous terrorists who get a life-size cutout as if posing for a 70s album cover. Though, politics as they are these days, you can understand how John and Chris felt. Thinking about it, Guy Fawkes himself came from York, and he's positively celebrated too, by a pub in his name.

A local feature out here is the towers built on some of the houses (pic). It's so flat round here you can probably see all the way back to Hull and across to Grimsby, which does make you wonder if it was worth the effort.

And so, at last, to Spurn, the sprawling tendril of sand that stretches three miles out and a few yards wide from here into the waters where Humber and North Sea jostle against each other. It's one of England's most remarkable places to cycle. This is the entrance to the Reserve; you can just see the lighthouse at the end of the spit in the distance (pic).

Cars are banned from Spurn, because in 2013 a storm surge washed away the road (and the telegraph poles) from a half-mile section of the peninsula (pic). I came here in 2009 with friends when this was all still intact and fully functioning, as was my sense of humour.

The silhouetted figure is standing at the easternmost point in historic Yorkshire. The next land due east of here is Borkum, a German island off the Netherlands coast. It's sandy and largely car free, like Spurn, though I suspect the bread is better.

The RNLI staff who lodge on the end have to get across to their houses and lifeboats by 4x4 across a section of beach (pic) which now occasionally washes over completely at very high tides, making Britain's newest island, and the only one entirely in Yorkshire. (Whitton Island, which emerged recently at the other end of the Humber, is partly in Lincolnshire.) Good to see Spurn taking back control, then.

You can push your bike across the beach section, and continue riding on the other side onto the transitioning island, where the road picks up again (pic, looking back). I kept stopping to admire the vast, flat views, and shake the sand out of my shoes.

For those who get stranded by the tide, there's this refuge hut. You'd be trapped here, safe and sound but with absolutely nothing to see or do. It's here to give you an idea of what living in Holderness would be like.

This is just about as far as you can go southeast in Yorkshire by bike. The road ends around here, near the end of Spurn Head, by a cluster of RNLI lodges, the lifeboat launch pier, and a couple of lighthouses. You're effectively three miles out at sea, confronted by unsettling existential questions, such as Cleethorpes. I did the only thing you can in such disturbing circumstances. I had lunch.

Back up at the entrance to Spurn, a surprise-but-no-surprise. A lorry driver from Lithuania had got stuck in the sand trying to turn back (pic), claiming he had suffered an epic satnav fail. 'Nesąmonė', as they say in Lithuania; I reckon he just cocked up.

I locked my bike up in Easington, got buses and trains back to Ferriby, and drove out the next morning to pick up the bike. It's been another delightful ride out to another county extremity, and thanks to the trekking bike's offroad opportunities, I could explore lots of places I'd not seen before. And I'll tell you what, Larkin nailed it.

Miles from Ferriby to Spurn Point: 38
Miles from York to Spurn Point: 81

Back to ← Day 1

11 June 2017

SE1: York to Ferriby

The sixth of my Yorkshire Compass Rides was a two-day trip down to the southeastern extreme of Spurn Head, one of Britain's strangest places. Day 1 was a hot, bright summer day, riding across the flat, quiet farmland between York and Ferriby, the village where I was born. It involved York's other scale model of the solar system and some disappearing swans. (On to Day 2 →)

My route out of York took me through the university campus. I was delighted to see that the Uni's astro soc has recently set up the city's second cyclable scale model of the solar system (pic). The first one is on the railtrail south to Selby – I biked along that one in a previous Compass Ride. The planets on this one are much bigger, on one scale, and the distances between much shorter, on another scale.

With such a flair for making informative and vivid explanations by blatantly fiddling the figures, the students behind it clearly have a great future in the media.

York to Ferriby – where my mum lives, and where I was born and grew up, though many would dispute the second bit – is a journey I've biked dozens of times before, always on a road bike. Thanks to being on my trekking bike, with front suspension and mountain bike tyres, I could have taken several offroad options this time, such as alongside Pocklington Canal (pic) or the Bubwith Railtrail.

They looked great on paper, but we don't cycle on paper. In practice they were muddy, wet, dull, and only connected one middle of nowhere to another. So it's a wonder Sustrans haven't made them feature routes yet. But for me the allure of nice flat smooth quiet country lanes was too much, and I mostly stuck to the roads, seeing more tractors than cars, and more pigs than people.

I did get some charming offroad riding, though, at the beginning of the day (York to Elvington) and end (Brantingham to Swanland). The last few miles, over the Wolds and with views down to the plain of Holderness (pic), were rather good. It was peak poppy, and some wheat fields were a blaze of red, like my arms would have been if I hadn't remembered the sun cream this time.

You know the well-photographed sign in the Scottish Highlands, saying 'Strome Ferry (no ferry)'? Well, East Yorkshire should have quite a few along the same lines. 'North Cliffe (no cliff)', perhaps. Or 'South Cave (no cave)'.

Or, most poignantly, 'Swanland (no swans)'. Until recently there were several in the pleasant ponded village (pic) that looks like it belongs in upscale-commuter-belt Surrey. But they dwindled to a pair, and when one died, the other left. The only swans now are on the sign for the Swan and Cygnet.

From there it was downhill to my mum's, with the majestic view down to the Humber Bridge (pic) and the cement works over on the Lincolnshire side (no pic). Ferriby looked lovely on this sunny Sunday afternoon, with lots of people sitting outside the Duke of Cumberland pub – cyclists, walkers, horse riders, local families.

I hopped in to the Co-op next door to buy some flowers for mum, and was delighted to see my favourite sort of bouquet: one that said 'Reduced to clear'.

Miles from York to Ferriby: 43

On to Day 2 →

01 June 2017

NE2: Thornton-le-Dale to Robin Hood's Bay

Day 2 of the fifth Compass Ride was another lovely hot summer day, and involved some wonderful countryside, a priceless painting, Britain's best or worst railtrail, and a concluding dip of the wheels in the North Sea. (Back to ← Day 1)

It was an early start into the blazing morning sun from Thornton-le-Dale – too early, alas, to visit the Classic Car Museum, whose displays (pic) include this remnant from Yorkshire's first unsuccessful bid to host the start of the Tour de France.

I climbed out of Thornton and started my traverse of the North York Moors on the network of farm tracks, bridleways and paths that cover this beautiful area (pic). It may have been half term, but I hardly met a soul. It was clearly a good day for the area's souls. They didn't have to meet me. Suited us both, then.

After Dalby Forest I headed on road through Langdale and up through Broxa village, then along more forest tracks (pic) overlooking Harwood Dale. Cycling along in perfect solitude I had time to contemplate meaningful questions, such as why I had left the sunblocker at home.

I had to drop in to the Falcon Inn. This was a favourite post-walk haunt of my uncle Frank, who lived down the road in Cloughton, and his painting of the pub still hangs by bar (pic). I toasted him with a diet Pepsi – it was too early in the ride for a beer – and noted that he would sometimes walk in a day the distance I was mountain biking.

From Ravenscar, the resort that never was, I took the old railway path that runs from Scarborough to Whitby. This stretch, from Stoupe Brow, is one of the most spectacular cycle trails in Britain (pic). It often has people standing open-mouthed and taking pictures, not quite believing what they're seeing. Not the views, but the quality of the track's surface. It's appalling. 

(The other way to enjoy the coastline is to walk the Cleveland Way, which loops round the Moors from Helmsley to Whitby and down the coast to Filey.)

Presumably the council have called it 'Cinder Track' (after the material originally used as the trackbed) to try and make a positive out of the dodgy surface (pic). They should have called it 'Uneven Potholed Rocky Unpleasant Fit Only For Full-Suspension Mountain Bikes Track'. Or, for even more comic effect, 'National Cycle Route 1'. Which, amusingly, is what it is called.

I've done the trail loads of times, and have seen people fall off and be hospitalised because of the terrible surface. Obviously I knew what to do when this happened, and sprang into action: I went straight to Ravenscar Hall and ordered some tea and cakes for everyone.

But I'm glad to say that some money is at last being spent on it. They've put up some signs saying 'Caution: Surface very rough in places' (pic).

At the trail's entrance at Whitby, there's a big sign saying 'Cinder Track. Where will it take you?'. To which the answer is, A&E, probably.

Anyway, thanks to having a decent hardtail trekking bike, I made it the five bumpy miles to Robin Hood's Bay along the track – freewheeling almost all the time, down the long slope that was a stiff challenge to the steam trains.

Robin Hood's Bay has the almost surreal look of a Cornish fishing village that's been washed in a storm into the Yorkshire coast, and is approached by a 1 in 3 hill down to the harbour (pic).

It's totally unique and like nothing else in the county.

Except Runswick Bay up the road, I suppose.

And Staithes, obviously.

Down at the harbour the beach was full of families enjoying a hot summer day. I dipped the bike's front wheel sort-of in the sea (pic): my choice as the northeasternmost point of Yorkshire, and the conclusion of this particular ride.

I continued along the railtrail to Whitby and my train home. Frustratingly, I arrived an hour and a half before it left, with nothing to do meantime except sit out things on the terrace of Wetherspoon's overlooking the harbour.

Miles from Thornton Dale to Robin Hood's Bay: 26
Miles from Thorton Dale to Whitby: 34
Miles from York to Robin Hood's Bay: 64

Back to ← Day 1