22 November 2019

Derwent 3: Kexby to Barmby

Day 3 of the River Derwent ride featured a lot of flooding, and... well, that was it, really. Flooding. But also a fascinating end, with an unexpected tour of a tidal barrage opposite a mighty power station. (Back to ← Day 2)

Now having switched to my touring bike, anticipating a day of tarmac on-road cycling, I resumed. The first major port of call was Wheldrake Ings Nature Reserve, and thanks to all the recent heavy rain, ‘port’ was a not inappropriate word: rather than marshy expanse, it was a lake district (pic).

I clearly wouldn’t be walking round the reserve today to spot egrets, shelduck, widgeon, curlew, lapwing, warblers, corncrakes or any of the other birds recorded on the ‘recent sightings’ noticeboard. The reserve's website recommends wellies; scuba gear would have been more use on this occasion.

I wouldn’t be cycling across the reserve’s little Derwent bridge, either (pic). In any case, today the Derwent was about mile wide. Not quite the straightforward ‘road riding’ I’d expected.

So I turned round and biked on south, through the grey cool overcast morning, to have a picnic lunch by the pond in Duffield. Well, half a cheese sandwich and two chocolate Hobnobs, anyway.

I crossed the Derwent at Bubwith’s narrow bridge (pic), whose views showed the extent of the flooding: pretty much as far as you could see in any direction was water.

At Breighton I diverted to the riverside pub. I was too early – it was closed, which again was just as well.

I admired another footpath that I wouldn’t be taking today, seeing as how it was a metre under water (pic).

The final leg of the trip was on the footpath (yes, I pushed) alongside the Derwent as it flows determinedly south towards the Ouse, with the cooling towers of Drax power station as a handy landmark (pic).

The Derwent, being one of Britain’s cleanest rivers, is raided for nice fresh drinking water here. A large Yorkshire Water abstraction plant right here supplies the thirsty people of Hull, Leeds, York, Scarborough, Sheffield and Wakefield.

However, the Derwent would naturally be tidal, so to stop the brackish waters of the Ouse from invading, the mouth of the Derwent has a barrage to keep them back (pic). Twice a day, mighty steel shutters are lowered to block off the Ouse’s salty muck.

As I was poking around taking pictures, the warden came out to say hello and give me a guided tour of the plant. (He lives onsite and isn't allowed to stray more than half an hour away, so it could well bring a bit of interest to his duties when a visitor arrives and asks intelligent questions. Or questions, anyway.)

We shared a pleasant chat about outdoor activities, cycle touring, and silt, and I got a tour of the engine room and a demo of the barrage’s computer controls. (There’s manual override for everything, which is reassuring in case of Windows 10 deciding to install major updates just when you were hoping to shut off a flash flood.)

So, this was journey’s end: the mouth of the Derwent, opposite Drax power station, on the silty Ouse not far from Selby. A very controlled finish, thanks to the barrage.

And another excellent ride, full of variety and quirky things. From thrilling heather-clad moorland to gloopy mud. Lush valleys, drab farmland plains, impromptu lakes. Aviators, chefs, baristas, barrage operators. An East Yorkshire sort of river, gentle and rural, rather than West Yorkshire gritty and industrial.

And water, water everywhere: I’ll drink to that. With a bit of the Derwent itself.

Miles today: 38
Miles total: 123

Back to ← Day 2

21 November 2019

Derwent 2: Malton to Kexby

Day 2 of the River Derwent ride featured the world’s biggest Yorkshire Pudding recipe, kamikaze hedgehogs, a fine old ruined abbey, and a satnav-cockup legend. (Back to ← Day 1 • On to Day 3 →)

Malton doesn’t make much of its position on the Derwent: no riverside cafes, promenades or costanera tapas bars. It’s equally uninterested in encouraging cyclists, to judge by the total absence of bike racks in the market square (pic) – or, to give it the proper technical term, ‘car park’.

I would have complained to the Tourist Information, but their old office is now a bistro and they’ve moved halfway out of town.

What the town does make much of is its lively selection of independent foodie places.

Indeed, as this sign proudly proclaims, Malton considers itself Yorkshire’s Food Capital (pic).

They take this responsibility so seriously that there’s no branch of Greggs here. My breakfast came from Thomas the Baker instead.

I also dropped into Leoni’s, in my unbiased and independent view the best coffee shop in Yorkshire, which just happens to be run by my cousin Simon.

Further proof that Malton spends its money promoting its culinary status, and not on, say, cycle facilities, is here on the side of this house (pic).

This is said to be the oldest Yorkshire Pudding recipe (pic), dating from 1747.

I expect people were complaining then that it tasted better in the old days. And that proofreading had gone downhill. And that there wasn’t enough horse’n’cart parking.

I headed along the new cycle path out of Malton to Huttons Ambo, past this Erinaceous Rights campaigning sign (pic).

The good news for local hedgehogs is that I don’t cycle fast enough to present a threat.

This entertainingly wobbly suspension bridge (pic) gently cakewalks pedestrians and cyclists across the Derwent. Along this stretch the best way to see the river is from the train, which hugs the bank for a few miles in a leisurely manner. My train trip back to Malton this morning had included a few delays, ideal for sightseeing, though not as good for getting to appointments on time.

At Kirkham (pic) is one of the most scenic bits of the whole Derwent – perhaps better in summer, I’ll grant you – thanks to the fine old bridge and the ruined abbey.

I enjoyed my picnic lunch – well, a flapjack – at Stamford Bridge (pic).

The town named after the Derwent’s most famous crossing is known for two reasons.

First, the battle in 1066: Harold and his army beat the Vikings, thus ending the Viking Period, but were so weakened that three weeks later they lost down at Hastings to the Normans, thus ushering in the Norman Period.

Second, Stamford Bridge shares its name with a football ground. In 2008, this caused a satnav-trusting taxi driver to bring someone here, when they’d rather hoped to be watching Chelsea instead, 230 miles away.

Stamford’s road bridge over the Derwent is narrow, busy with heavy traffic, and controlled by traffic lights, but its other bridge – a post-Beeching railtrail, half a mile downriver – is nice and quiet (pic).

My last view of the Derwent today was at Kexby (pic), on the scruffy and forlorn old bridge now bypassed by the bypass.

The historic toll charges give a clue as to the dreadful nature of a society dominated by Tory privatisation.

Thank goodness that wouldn’t happen today.

Anyway, I cycled back home, ready for dinner, and ready to resume tomorrow morning...

Miles today: 34
Miles total: 85

Back to ← Day 1 • On to Day 3 →

20 November 2019

Derwent 1: Lilla Rig to Malton

River Derwent

Source   Lilla Rig, North York Moors
Mouth   River Ouse, Barmby
Length   72 miles
Towns   Malton, Stamford Bridge
Route   See on Ridewithgps

The fifth of my Rivers Rides was a varied three-day, 120-mile trip from remote moortop to muddy estuary along the River Derwent. Day 1 featured full-size plastic cows, a Dark Ages assassination, Cold War espionage, white black sheep, multicoloured birdlife, and the real birthplace of aviation. (On to Day 2 →)

First, know which Derwent we’re talking – England has four of them. The other three are all quite lakey: the Cumbria Derwent supplies Derwentwater by Keswick; the Derbyshire Derwent fills the Derwent Reservoir in the Peaks; and the County Durham Derwent tops up another Derwent Reservoir up beyond Teesdale.

I've cycled round all those ‘Lake Derwents’, but of course there’s no such jet-skiable expanse of water on this, the longest and best river of the four, the Yorkshire Derwent. Or so I thought...

Anyway: getting to the source of my Derwent, up on the roof of the North York Moors, required a long dawn slog up from Scarborough. At the northern bay’s northern end is where the river’s pre-ice age course sloshed it out into the sea (pic). The old channel is kept on as Sea Cut, and used as a sort of overflow pipe.

The twin notions of long periods of time, and pent-up masses of water, had a special relevance to me, as my jump-start morning coffees began to work through my system.

Heading up out of Scarborough I passed this plastic cow (pic). Evidently they don’t go for garden gnomes here.

You can buy such polypropolene heifers online for just over a thousand pounds – about the same as you pay for the real thing.

I plodded up a series of bridleways up into the Moors towards the slopes whose trickling waters gather to create the Derwent (pic). And, following the recent heavy rain, a lot of boggy fields and farmyard-sized puddles, too.

It was a bright calm morning, with not a sound to be heard.

Except that is for the squelch of my boots in the foot-deep mud (pic), and muttered swear words that paid homage to the era of the Angles and Saxons.

There was a lot of pushing and not a lot of riding here. I’m not sure I felt the heather was that lucky.

At last I got to the moortop, and the splendidly isolated Lilla Cross (pic). The monument commemorates Lilla, who died protecting King Edwin of Northumbria from an assassin here in the year 625. There are sweeping views of the North Sea to the east...

...while to the west is the strange sight of what looks like a giant loudspeaker (pic). It’s RAF Fylingdales, a radar station that watches for missile attacks on Britain.

If the nuclear button gets pressed, don’t worry. Thanks to this 24/7 monitoring, you’ll get four minutes to fulfil your bucket list before being vapourised. But at least you know it’s there to safeguard the population. Of the USA.

(From 1962 to the early 1990s, the radar installation was housed even more bizarrely, in three giant golfballs. It was a familiar sight to Moors walkers: the Crazy Golf of the Cold War.)

So, now on good gravel tracks at last, I was at the source of the Derwent. It’s right here (pic), where the first dribbles emerge from the spongelike heather. The sea is only a handful of miles away eastwards, the direction we’re looking in the photo, but this water will probably end up tracing a less obvious, slower and quainter, south-west-south route instead. Less exciting but quirkier.

For some reason that makes me think of my career progression, especially the idea of long gradual downhill.

The riding from here was wonderful: an easy freewheel down well-surfaced forest roads (pic) on my trekker, exactly the right bike for the job. The Derwent was away to my left, out of sight, busily slicing its way through the moorland.

The forest roads became tarmac, and in Langdale End I passed the fine old Moorcock Inn (pic). Until recently this was one of the old traditional rural ‘parlour pubs’, effectively someone’s house where you were served beer from a jug through a hatch in one of their front rooms.

The pub has been refurbed (and is only open Thursday and Friday evenings, which was probably just as well – it would have been tempting, and I only had four hours of daylight left). Nevertheless, it still feels like it’s 1968. It often does in this part of Yorkshire. No wonder they filmed Heartbeat here.

Most families have a black sheep. Here in Yorkshire though it can be the white sheep that feels different (pic).

Round Hackness it feels like we’re in a proper river valley (pic), though one greener and rounder than the plunging limestone dramas of the Dales. But – to my delight – the quiet roads were being plied by day-riding cyclists here too.

I passed over Sea Cut (pic), the artificial channel that sluices off Derwent floodwaters along the river’s old path into the North Sea, via that outlet I passed at the start of the morning.

The effect of the Sea Cut on the river is to cut its flow dramatically: having built up surging momentum, it abruptly becomes a stream once more, effectively having to start all over again. For some reason I think of my career again.

The next few miles of the Derwent, Forge Valley, are the prettiest. When glaciers blocked the old course several thousand years ago, the Derwent was forced through the hills here. There are riverside paths (pic), and information boards that list the many colourful birds encouraged by specialist feeding stations.

I spotted marsh tits, great tits, coal tits and a nuthatch, bringing my total bird species identified so far this year to four.

The road follows the river closely (pic). Thanks to Sea Cut, I was cycling alongside the water, not through it.

I reached the A170 at West Ayton, and turned right to head west. A couple of villages along is Brompton-by-Sawdon, announced by the village sign as the Birthplace of Aviation.

It’s thanks to local squire and engineer George Cayley (1773–1857), who not only worked out the basic physics to understand powered flight (which proved very useful to a couple of bike mechanics in Kitty Hawk later on), but tested them out with a handful of pioneering glider flights in the mid-1800s.

Somewhere round here (pic), within the gaze of this quizzical horse in the fields around Wydale Hall, the first heavier-than-air craft in all history took briefly to the skies. Nobody is sure who that first pilot was – we only have legend, guesswork, and the hazy childhood recollections of a 90-year-old lady. (Another Cayley fan blogs entertainingly about his homage to the site here.)

The Hall is now a retreat, but I get all the quiet time and meditation I need thanks to my bike rides. Right now, rather than finding myself, I was more intent on finding a Greggs.

The Derwent ‘Valley’ here, heading west to Malton, is a wide, flat expanse of farmland. Normally the river is virtually invisible, an obscure small channel discreetly draining the fields either side. And indeed it was invisible today, but for the opposite reason (pic): assailed by the recent rains, the area was now broad wetlands.

So Yorkshire’s Derwent, too, has its own lakes this sodden autumn. Somewhere under those well-birded meres, a small river is trying to locate the sea.

I meanwhile was trying to locate a train home. I got to Malton and missed the hourly service to York by two minutes. Excellent timing: it left me maximum opportunity to warm up in front of a pub fire before the next one...

Miles today: 51

On to Day 2 →