Up and down on the Downs

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Around 300 riders at the start of the Ditchling Devil 200

If you’ve been keeping up with previous adventures you’ll know that Peter, Julie and I successfully made it to Teddington earlier this month on our DIY 300km ‘Sheffield to London’ Audax. After a short but restorative night’s rest at Peter’s sister’s house we were up early again the following day, back on the bikes and on our way over Richmond Park to Wimbledon Common and the 8am start of the Ditchling Devil 200km audax.

The 205km audax route takes riders through South London and over the North and South Downs the outskirts of Brighton, taking in Ditchling Beacon along the way. From Brighton the route climbs back up over the South Down to Devil’s Dyke before descending into West Sussex and Surrey before climbing over the Surrey Hills and following the Thames into Richmond.

With a £15 entry fee the Ditchling Devil is a little more expensive to enter than your usual audax, which is usually around six to eight quid, but for the additional entry fee the organisers provide food, with the help of local community groups, at three village control stops along the route.

 

Getting over to the start of the audax was enough of a challenge in itself as rather than pedal all the way around the Common we decided to try and take an off-road ‘short-cut’. When I lived in London I used to run with Belgrave Harriers and their club house is based in Wimbledon. Every Saturday morning my club mates and I would run across the common and over to Richmond Park for training, so I knew which direction we needed to head in, but let’s just say that it’s much easier to get up to the windmill in a pair of trainers than it is on 23mm tyres.

After our wibbly-wobbly detour through the woods, we finally emerged at the top of the Common and into the Windmill cark park to be greeted by literally hundreds of cyclists. The three of us were a bit taken aback by the sight of so many riders at the start of an audax as we are accustomed to seeing around 50 or so riders at the starts of most of the events we take part in. There had to be well over 300 cyclists milling about, eating donuts and waiting for the 8am off. We started to get the feeling that the Ditchling Devil 200 might not be quite like your usual run-of-the-mill audax events.

We parked our bikes and took our place in the line to sign on while each stuffing down a donut. We were a little disappointed not to have coffee at the start but I guess providing coffee for this many riders at an outdoor sign-on would’ve been pretty hard work logistically. After picking up my brevet card I took my place in the queue for the ladies toilets. Yes, that’s right, a queue, for the ladies. All female audax cyclists will know that we never have to queue for the ladies toilets, there just aren’t enough of us usually taking part – in fact we usually have to kick the blokes out of our toilets at most events. However, the Ditchling Devil had a lot of women entrants, which of course is great to see, except that they all seemed to be in ahead of me in the toilet queue.

We decided to hang back at the start to avoid the crowds as we sped away from the common down Wimbledon hill and started our journey through the suburbs of south-west London. This audax definitely had the feel of a sportive to it and despite trying to hold back the three of us inevitably got sucked into a few of the big groups of riders on the road as small groups jockeyed for position, getting bunched up at red lights then trying to out-sprint one another on the green signal.

The sheer number of riders led to a few uncomfortable moments at junctions, especially when a lot of cars and buses were also queuing to get through, but as we left the suburbs behind and headed to the hills of the North Downs the bottlenecks soon settled down as the stronger riders pushed on up hill and riders spread out along the route.

Despite riding on tired legs from our 300 the day before we were all climbing pretty well and did our own fair share of overtaking on the hills. Beyond Reigate the hills settled out into a more gently undulating landscape as we headed toward the first control and feed stop.

The control appeared out of nowhere as we were guided into a field at the crest of a country lane where a couple of people with lists of rider numbers applied stickers to rider’s brevet cards. We were advised that the first food stop was a couple of kilometres away in the village of Highbrook and with the promise of egg and bacon sandwiches ahead we were off down the road.

It was pretty easy to spot the food stop as there were so many riders spilling out of the farm garden and into the lane. We had a little chat with the farmer who told us that the whole village come together every year to help feed and water hungry riders who are in search of breakfast. After our egg and bacon roll and a cuppa we thanked him for his hospitality and were back on our way pedalling through the Sussex lanes toward the South Downs which sat on the horizon like a big green wall – a wall we needed to climb up and over before our descent into Brighton.

Ditchling Beacon, the famous climb over the Downs that features in the London to Brighton bike ride is not to be underestimated. At 1.5 km long it might not be in quite the same league as a few of the tougher climbs we have up here in the north but it’s still a formidable 16% at its steepest gradient and averages 9% overall, so on a hot day it’ll certainly make you sweat a bit and get out of breath.

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Looking east from Ditchling Beacon

Today our ascent was further complicated by  a steady stream of Sunday drivers all out for a day in the sunshine. The climb’s not quite wide enough for two-way traffic and bikes and some drivers were taking quite a few risks overtaking cyclists without giving them much room. Around half way up the traffic ground to a halt in both directions as a bloke on a bike had to pull up suddenly due to severe cramp. A concerned driver in a Range Rover parked up and jumped out to check that he was ok, which was very good of her, but her vehicle was blocking the road in both directions, causing trouble for drivers and cyclists alike.

After a few starts and stops – never a good thing on a 10% gradient – we managed to weave around the static traffic and make it to the top where we were rewarded with a fantastic 360 degree view across the Downs to the Sussex coastline and sea beyond. From here the road descended into the outskirts of Brighton before climbing back up a few sharp little climbs, one at least 20%, to the top of the ridge and on to Devil’s Dyke where we were rewarded with another fantastic view and an info control.

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The view across the Downs from Devil’s Dyke

After a quick breather and photo stop we were soon descending back down into the Weald. Drivers taking part in the London to Brighton Classic Car Run were passing us going the other way and we got to see fine examples of classic vintage motors as we pedalled our way west for a much-needed lunch stop at Upper Beeding.

Lunch was being provided for us in the event organiser’s home. The whole house and garden had been turned into a giant feed station with lots of volunteers preparing and serving industrial-sized quantities of pasta, chilli, bread and rice pudding and riders were scattered everywhere inside and outside the house. The afternoon heat had picked up considerably and I sheltered in the lounge for a while to get out of the hot sun after lunch while Peter and Julie stayed in the garden.

Much of the next section of the ride was on fast main roads and we had a few scary encounters with close passing traffic. These encounters seemed to increase once we crossed over into Surrey, with much swearing and hand gestures – mainly from me! Riding through Surrey was a real trip down memory lane for me as I lived in the village of Alfold for a while when I first started working in London in the 1990’s and once I’d moved into the the city I’d often return to this part of the world for training rides. The villages haven’t changed much but the drivers have definitely got more impatient.

Our final food stop was in the village of Chiddingfold at the cricket club. Once again we were supported by a host of volunteers handing out cups of tea and coffee and a fantastic selection of homemade cakes and biscuits – just what we needed to get us through the last 40 km over the Surrey hills as the three of had started to flag a bit by now.

Julie and I had been keeping a sharp eye on Peter for most of the ride as he can be prone to missing turns and pedalling off in the wrong direction. He’s also managed to cultivate faffing into an art form, leaving gloves and water bottles in his wake at controls. This feed stop was no exception as we handed his gloves to him again. We were starting to wonder how he would manage without us when he rides LEL this summer!

I knew that even though we only had 40 km left to ride we still had a few climbs to go, the steepest being Combe Lane at Shere. It starts off relatively tame but banks up to 18% by the swtichback at the top and on our tired legs it was really tough going to drag ourselves over the last bit.

After Combe Lane it was all plain sailing back over the M3 and M25 into the outskirts of London and we managed to cover the flatter terrain pretty quickly by working together taking turns on the front. I managed to get all the way to Kingston before blowing up after a fairly long stint on the front and had to limp home on the back being pulled along by Julie and Peter along the Thames to Richmond and the finish at the Rose of York pub.

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The Thames at Richmond

We clocked in at the pub just a little after 7 pm, pleased with our efforts considering that we’d now clocked up over 500 kms of riding in two days.  We all agreed that it wasn’t really like any audax we’d done before but we’d really enjoyed it. The organisers really do deserve a big ‘thank you’ for the amount of organisation that went in to providing food and assistance for the huge number of riders taking part – an absolute bargain for the 15 quid entry fee. Cafe stops on audaxes can often result in quite an expensive day out but I’d only spent 75 pence all day!

If you live in the south and haven’t moved up to a longer distance audax yet then this 200 would be a great one to start with. It’s a long way to come for an audax if you live in the north but it’s definitely one to make an effort for, experience some of the best bits of the North and South Downs and make a weekend of it… just make sure you’re prepared for that toilet queue, ladies.

 

Isn’t it all downhill to London?

Last weekend I got the opportunity to cycle down to London, something that has been on my ‘to do’ list for ages but one that I’ve never managed to get around to planning.

Thanks to our friend Peter, this time all of the planning was taken care of and Julie and I had been invited along. He is currently training for LEL and, just like us, trying to get some big miles in when the opportunity arises. Peter had arranged to pedal down from Sheffield to his sister’s in Teddington in a day and then take part in the Ditchling Devil 200km audax from Wimbledon on the following Sunday, clocking up just over 500km in a weekend.

Peter designed the Sheffield to London route to be ridden as a 300km DIY audax, which is basically an audax that you plan yourself.  When you design a route you must plot the shortest distance between two points, so if you want to avoid main roads you can put in a control stop wherever you need to change direction. Peter had managed to plot a pretty straight route down through Bolsover, skirting around Nottingham, Northampton and Milton Keynes before heading slightly south-west over the Chilterns to Beaconsfield, Windsor and finally following the Thames to Teddington.

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Early morning sunshine on the lanes outside Bolsover

We met up in Nether Edge at 5.30am on Saturday morning outside the Sainsbury’s cashpoint where we picked up out first control receipt of the day. After a night of heavy rain, the weather was looking good and the wind wasn’t too strong so we expected to make good progress. The roads were deserted, giving us a pretty-much, traffic-free run all the way to Staveley for our next control receipt before heading on through Bolsover and the quiet lanes of north Nottinghamshire. Early morning rides are a great opportunity to catch some wildlife and en route we saw a barn owl and a young fox playing in the road.

The odd stretch on a busy road is often unavoidable on an audax, especially when you need to get across a river. We’d planned our Breakfast stop at Bingham, a village east of Nottingham, 75 km into the ride and our third control of the day. This meant crossing the Trent at Gunthorpe on the A6097 which is a straight, fast road with heavy traffic. Although it was only around 9am the traffic had picked up enough to make it a fairly unpleasant experience as the road is narrow in places and impatient drivers don’t like being held up by bikes, so we were all pretty glad to get to the roundabout turnoff to Bingham.

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The Picture House Cafe, Bingham

There are a few cafes to choose from in Bingham and judging by the amount of cyclists we saw arriving in the village square it’s a popular meeting place for local cycling clubs. Our cafe of choice was the Picture Cafe on the square, lovely decor, a good menu and, most importantly,  good, strong coffee. We were all impressed enough to consider planning a future day ride from Sheffield.

Keeping an eye on the time we were back on the road for just after 10am and on to the quiet country lanes that run parallel to the A46, through Nottinghamshire and Leicestershire. At Market Harborough we headed off-road on the Brampton Valley Way. This 14-mile cycle trail runs from Market Harborough to the outskirts of Northampton along the track bed of a disused railway line and is part of National Cycle Route 6.

Traffic-free route always sound like a good idea – and they are for leisure cycling and family days out – but when you’re covering big miles, often the surface can be a little hard-going on a road bike and they can slow you down quite a bit so we all found the 14 miles pretty tedious. We also encountered some unexpected tunnels – long, muddy, unlit tunnels that were pretty impossible to ride through on skinny 23mm tyres so we had a bit of pushing to do too.

This was also the first long ride on my new Fizik Luce saddle and before hitting the trail, the first 100km had been a comfortable ride but the new saddle has quite angular edges on it’s ‘wingflex’ system and, jiggled around on the bumpy trail surface, I found that the angular edges on the saddle’s ‘wings’ were starting to rub on the back of my legs when I sat back in the saddle. As I still had nearly 200km to go, this was a bit worrying.

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All Saints Church, Northampton

The route spat us out on the outskirts of Northampton, our fourth control of the day and destination for lunch. We’d lost a bit of time on the trail and were around half an hour behind schedule, arriving in town just after 2pm, but we were all pretty hungry and ready for a spell off the bike. We headed up Gold Street to All Saints Church and settled for lunch in the All Saints Bistro which is part of the church building. There’s plenty of covered, outside seating which was good for keeping an eye on the bikes locked up in the church square.

The route out of Northampton took us south, just skirting the edge of Milton Keynes, We were heading into commuter belt and the villages were starting to look a little more well-kept the further south we traveled. The village of Stewkley stands out as a lovely example with some fine old houses and thatched cottages. The cars were also getting bigger and more expensive but unfortunately the drivers’ manners weren’t improving any  and we had a couple of near misses with people taking crazy risks to overtake us rather than wait behind.

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Enjoying a drink at the Half Moon Pub, Wilstone

The fifth control of the day was The Half Moon at Wilstone, a traditional english pub with friendly staff who were interested to know where we’d come from and where we were going. We were met with the now fairly familiar cries of  “Where? Sheffield? Today!”. It was 4.30pm and we were hot in the afternoon sunshine so we ordered large, cold drinks all-round. Peter pushed the boat out with a lager shandy. We weren’t quite ready for a pub meal and there wasn’t a shop so we had to make do with the emergency bagels we’d been carrying around with us all day.

For the most part, once we were away from Sheffield, apart from the trail, the route had been pretty flat and fast but we were now heading into the Chilterns and that meant a few hills. Nothing by Sheffield standards but when you’ve already got 200km in your legs even the smallest incline can be a be a bit of hard work. Peter had done his best to keep the route off the main roads which meant that we found ourselves on some very narrow and not very well-kept country lanes. Some of them were so badly potholed that we gave up trying to negotiate the holes and got off to push for the second time in the day.

The sky had been growing progressively darker and by the time we got to the outskirts of Beaconsfield the heavens opened, and boy, did they open. We were absolutely soaked through to the skin in seconds. The force of the rain hitting the hot roads made the surface water frothy and visibility was poor. It rained solidly for a good 15 minutes but we pedaled out of it and by the time we’d reached the next control point at Dorney the roads were completely dry.

We definitely got a few funny stares from the early evening diners as we entered the Palmer’s Arms in Dorney. We were soaking wet and bedraggled and the rain hadn’t reached the village yet so outside it was still a lovely summer’s evening. We didn’t plan on stopping around long but we needed a control receipt so we ordered drinks and crisps and made good use of the facilities before heading through Windsor and on to Staines.

Old Will the Conqueror certainly knew what he was doing when he chose Windsor as the spot to build a castle. As we pedaled away from Dorney, across the plain of the Thames, the castle was the focal point of skyline, shining gold in the setting sun. We paused for a quick photo stop over the bridge at Eton before climbing on up to Windsor town centre, full of tourists and people partying on an early Saturday evening.

Next stop Staines. We were all pretty starving by this point as we’d not eaten anything substantial since we’d polished off the emergency bagels. On long rides Julie and I have gotten ourselves into the rhythm of eating something small every hour even if we don’t feel hungry, in order to keep blood sugar levels as even as possible to prevent bonking out.  It seems to work well for us but relies upon us topping up our food supplies whenever we get the opportunity. Peter doesn’t seem to need to eat as much as we do and was managing ok by just eating at controls but we were unanimously thrilled to see a Sainsbury’s petrol station the minute it came into view.

Peter’s sister had dinner waiting for us in Teddington as we’d planned to arrive for 9.30 but as it was already 9pm and we still had 20km left, we needed something to tide us over. I opted for a bag of popcorn to fill me up and a carton of iced coffee for a caffeine hit while Julie and Peter shared a sandwich. The cashiers were pretty impressed by our achievements so far and wished us well on the final leg of our journey.

Staines on a Saturday night is quite a rowdy affair so we were glad that we’d not needed to stop in the centre of town. We were hitting the outskirts of greater London now, roads were busier and traffic lights slowed us down quite a bit making the last 15km pretty slowgoing as we rode through the suburbs of Ashford and Feltham.

By 280km the back of my legs had pretty-much had enough of those angular edges on my saddle and I had to keep continually repositioning myself, which was a real shame because the nose of the saddle really was very comfortable.

We finally made it to our destination on Teddington High Street at 10.24pm. We needed to make sure that our arrival was documented so we immediately found a cashpoint to validate our journey of 301km before heading over to Peter’s sisters. We were given a  very warm welcome by Alison and Michael, along with plenty of food and a lovely, hot shower.

By 11.30 we were in bed as we needed to get a few hours of sleep in preparation for our next adventure, the Ditchling Devil 200km to Brighton and back on Sunday… but that’s another story.

Pedalling over the border

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Hanging out with the flock in Lockerbie

Over the weekend Julie and I decided to give our Transcontinental bike and kit set-up a decent trial run on the Hot Trod 400km Audax which starts north west of Newcastle-upon-Tyne and heads out west into the Scottish Borders and over to Lockerbie, before heading north east to Moffat and along the Tweed valley to Peebles. Finally heading back into England via Cornhill-on-Tweed and down to Morpeth.

It was Julie’s first 400km audax and, understandably, she was a bit apprehensive. 400s are never easy, even after you’ve got a few under your belt and you know what’s coming. A 300 can be completed in a (long) day, even if it’s a tough one and you’re a slow rider but with a 400 the time allowance is 27 hours, so unless you’re a super-speedy rider, you’re almost certainly going to be riding into the dark and possibly all the way through to the following dawn.

The Hot Trod starts at Kirkley Cycles, a farm that also happens to be a great little bike workshop and cafe around 10 miles north-west of Newcastle. It’s a 400 with a few differences and it bills itself as a great ‘first time’ 400 event.

First up, it starts at a very civilized 9.30am which, on the surface, sounds great but starting late start also means finishing late. The 27-hour time limit equates to a cut-off time of 12.30pm the following day. As it usually takes me around 23 to 24 hours to finish a 400, that meant a finish time of around 9.30am the following morning, riding all through the night, and with heavy kit on the bikes it could be even longer. However, the second difference is that the Hot Trod provides a rest stop with an option to sleep at the 314km mark in Cornhill-on-Tweed Village Hall. Most 400s don’t provide a sleep option because they start at 6am and riders are expected to push on through to finish in the early hours of the next day.

The route is very straightforward to follow as it sticks to major roads for much of the time. This could be a problem in many parts of the UK but up in the Borders there aren’t really that many roads to choose from and most of them are pretty quiet. The route has also been very well thought out so that the A-roads that are likely to carry more traffic are tackled early in the morning or late at night for the majority of riders.

We travelled up to Newcastle by train on the Friday afternoon and rode the 15km to our overnight bunkhouse accommodation at Houghton North Farm in the village of Heddon-on-the-Wall. After a quick wander around the village to find the eponymous ‘wall’ we retired to The Swan for a bit of carb-loading with a giant sized portion of fish and chips plus pudding.

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Fully loaded bikes outside Houghton North Farm, Heddon-on-the-Wall

After a very early night we were up early to pedal the 10 miles up to Kirkley. We’d arrived with a good 45 minutes to spare and the cafe was open early so, after signing in, a couple of strong cappuccinos were ordered to help us start the ride with a bit of a caffeine kick.

Around 50 riders had signed up for the event and we bumped into lots of friendly faces. John Rowe and his mate from Stocksbridge CC were riding as well as John, Ian and Gordon who I met when we all rode the PBP with back in 2015. Audax, especially the longer distance events, is quite a small world really so you’ll often end up bumping to the same bunch of people throughout the year.

At 9.30 we were set off by the race organiser and the 50 or so riders were soon dispersed along the B-road that led us over to the A696, so Julie and I were pretty much riding alone from the off. After around 20km we were caught up by a group of riders from the VC167 club including my mate Gordon so we had a bit of a chat with them (mainly about our new Rapha bib-shorts and comparisons with Asos!).

Julie and I had a bit of a game plan as our bikes were fully-loaded with our TCR kit and were very heavy, so we wanted to pace ourselves at a steady 20km an hour, limiting our stops to 30 minutes, and ride alone rather than get caught up in a group and ride at someone else’s pace, so when the group stopped to put on rain jackets we carried on down the road although they soon caught us up and passed us on the steady climb up Carter Bar and the Scottish border.

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It had been drizzling slightly all the way through Kielder up to the border, where we stopped to take the obligatory stop of the bikes by the border stone, but as soon as we crossed into Scotland and turned on to the A6088 to Hawick it was like someone had turned the hose on and the rain came down hard, stinging our eyes and causing us to be more cautious on the descents. Thankfully my old and slightly worse-for-wear Endura waterproof did what it does best and kept my core dry but hands and feet were not so lucky. I’ve really put that poor waterproof through it’s paces over the past three years but it’s never let me down.

Eventually the rain eased off but not before we were completely soaked.  By the time we arrived in Hawick, the second control and first major stop at 89km we’d more or less dried out except for our very wet and cold hands and feet. I’d decided not to bother with bringing any overshoes as it was just more weight to pack but I was starting to regret that decision.

Morrison’s supermarket cafe had been suggested by the race organiser and as we pedaled into the car park and saw all the bikes leaned up against the shop window it looked like everyone had followed his advice. We arrived at 1.30pm – the height of lunchtime for hungry Saturday shoppers – so the queue was long and service was pretty slow-going but we managed to get fed and out within 45 minutes.

After Hawick the route took a turn on to the scenic and deserted B711 and despite the overcast skies and on-and-off showers the landscape was beautiful. Eventually we turned south on to the B709 and climbed steadily, following the the course of the river Ettrick Water upstream to the village of Ettrick. As we started to descend into Eskdalemuir I noticed lots of brightly coloured flags fluttering in the distance by the roadside. As we got closer we were greeted by the very surreal sight of a golden buddha sat in the middle of a pond. We learned that was the Kagyu Samye Ling Buddhist Monastery. This was the first Buddhist monastery to be set up in the West and it’s pretty easy to see why they chose this beautiful, quiet valley to host their retreat.

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At Eskdalemuir we turned onto the B723 which was to take us into Lockerbie and the next control stop. We got caught in yet another rain shower on the way down and by time we arrived in the town it was 6pm and we were wet, cold and hungry. We stopped at a cashpoint to get a control receipt and Julie’s hands were so cold that she couldn’t manipulate her fingers to use the machine. The recommended food stop, Lockerbie Truck Stop, was still another 7km up the road.

We piled into the warm and welcoming truck stop cafe and ordered two massive portions of food and steaming mugs of strong tea. A lot of the other riders were in there so we all had a good old moan about the weather and lined our gloves, socks and buffs across the radiators. The lorry drivers didn’t really bat an eyelid but I bet they all thought we were completely bonkers.

We left around 7.15pm and headed up the road to Moffat which wasn’t an official control but was our last chance to stock up on nibbles before the climb up and over the Devil’s Beef Tub, or to use it’s far duller name, the A701, to the next control at Peebles. The sun was starting to set as we reached the top of the climb and started the long descent along the Tweed Valley and the sunset through the stormy rain clouds reflected up from the puddles making the roads glow with pink light.

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Climbing over the Devil’s Beef Tub

By the time we reached the valley bottom it was starting to get dark. I often find the time between dusk and proper nightfall the hardest time to ride through. It’s not completely dark but not light enough to really make anything out. My eyes don’t seems to adjust very well and it’s harder to see the road surface ahead even with good bike lights. My pace always slows down at this point and this night was no exception. Peebles never seemed to get any closer and we finally arrived in the town at a few minutes to 11pm.

We found a group of riders huddled outside a McColls which was planning on closing at 11pm. We quickly leaned the bikes against the shop window and rushed in but once in there we were both so tired and disoriented that we didn’t really know what to buy. It didn’t matter really, I just needed some sugar and a receipt so I bought a packet of Jelly Babies and a large bottle of Coke. Outside I realised that Julie had decided to leave without buying anything and by then they wouldn’t let her back in to get a receipt, so while I fumbled with my supplies and downed half the Coke, Julie went in search of a cashpoint.

Peebles and the 18 miles to Galashiels was probably the low point of the ride for me. I had a real dip in energy, Julie was riding a good 200m ahead and I just couldn’t muster the energy to try to to catch her up. I rode with a friendly Welsh guy for a while and he spurred me on to Galashiels where we found an all-night garage with a toilet and a Costa coffee machine – heaven! It’s amazing just how much a warm building with a toilet and rubbish coffee can perk you up at 1 in the morning.

Now it was proper dark and we had around 30km to go to the rest stop at Cornhill. The route out of town was well-lit on a main road with street lights almost all the way to Kelso which made the going a bit easier. The coffee had perked us both up and we were doing alright. After Kelso the roads were unlit again but by now in the total darkness my eyes had adjusted to it and I’d settled into a good rhythm. We were joined for a while again by the VC167 group and we hung on the back for as long as we could before their red tailights disappeared into the distance.

At the village of Cornhill it took us ages to find the control as the village hall was tucked away on a side street and we were getting a bit flustered in our tired state and kept missing the turn. The sky was just starting to get light again when we eventually arrived at 3.15am. Once inside, we had our cards validated and were offered a macaronie pie and baked beans. We sat down at the long table with a big group of riders, most of them from VC167. We were all in good spirits considering we’d all been awake for a very long time and were kept entertained by Gordon and his banter. Wet socks, shoes and gloves were removed and piled up on the radiators to dry.

The Cornhill control was at 314km so Julie and I figured that we could get our heads down for an hour and wait for a bit more daylight before heading off on the last 90kms which we’d reckoned on covering in around five hours. And, seeing as we’d carried our sleeping bags and bivvys all the way around the route it was time that we put them to good use! Even though we were indoors I couldn’t be bothered to pull the sleeping bag out of the bivvy and just crawled inside the lot, which meant I’d totally overheated in the next five minutes and had to start wriggling around like a demented caterpillar removing bits of clothing while inside.

I’m not sure that I slept really but Julie was convinced she’d heard me snoring, anyway just being horizontal for an hour was a welcome rest. We were up again at 5am and after a bit of breakfast we thanked the lovely support crew for their help and were out of the door by 5.30am to be greeted by a beautiful, sunny morning.

The route back south was very straightforward, along the rolling A697 which skirts the edge of Northumberland National Park, through Wooler and on to Morpeth. However, to make up the distance there was a final info control at Ulgham which meant that we turned off the A-road at Longframlington and back on to the B-roads. these proved to have a sting in the tail with a couple of short 10% hills on poor road surfaces – not exactly pleasant on tired legs and one hour’s sleep. Along the route we caught up with a father and son pair. The little lad was only 13 – what an amazing achievement to ride 400km through the night at that age and what a great bonding experience to have with your dad.

By the time we hit Morpeth around 9.30am we were very glad to be on the home stretch. Up to this point the roads had been very quiet but there was a bit of traffic in the town centre and a couple of pretty impatient drivers in 4x4s made our lives a bit difficult on the climb back out of the town. The final stretch of road back to Kirkley was into a slight headwind and it felt really tough. I have to say that the Brevet shorts that we’d been given by Rapha had held up really well but no shorts are ever going to feel pleasant after you’ve had them on for 24 hours and 395km so we were getting up out of the saddle quite a bit at this point to ease the pressure points. After a quick glance at our watches we realised that we could just about get in before 10am if we picked up the pace for the last couple of kms, so we managed to find a bit of extra from somewhere and made it back to the farm gate by 9.57am, 24 and a half hours after we’d started.

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Glad to be back

We were warmly welcomed back by the VC167 crew and cafe staff, very tired but very happy with our time and satisfied that the kit we’d carried with us had done the trick. After a good hours rest with big mugs of tea and bacon (me) and fish finger (Julie) sandwiches we were back on the bikes to Newcastle and on the train to Sheffield.

We’d both had our low points on the ride, sometimes at the same time but not always. We’d battled the lousy Scottish weather and got horribly soaked but we’d cycled through some stunning scenery on deserted roads that were still beautiful despite the cloudy, heavy skies. We ate our own body weight in junk food and shared the road with friendly, supportive riders – and that’s what audaxes are all about.

I enjoyed it so much, I’m already thinking about going back to do it next year.

Heading north and back again

Denholme – Carlisle – York over two days

Day one: Denholme to Carlisle – 226km

My friends Sian and Esther are currently training for LEL this summer. Last Sunday and Monday they decided to ride part of the route from Pocklington in North Yorkshire, across the north Pennines to Carlisle and back again. Julie and I decided to cycle up to Carlisle to meet them and ride the route back with them to York the following day.

 

Leaving Denholme, 7.30am on Sunday morning

To get the miles in on day one I’d planned a route that took a detour to Slaidburn as I’m planning a weekend residential there for the Sheffield Cycling UK member group in September and it was a good opportunity to recce the last part of the route from Keighley which is pretty rolling but not too taxing.

Slaidburn

After a quick cuppa and a toasted teacake sat out in the Slaidburn sunshine, we rode up through the trough of Bowland, one of my favourite places to ride. It’s a tough climb, especially after a cafe stop, but worth it. You can even see the sea (and Blackpool Tower on the horizon) on a good day – and today was a good day.

We’d been travelling mainly west with a slight crosswind over to Lancashire but by the time we reached Caton we were heading north and riding directly into a headwind which stayed with us all the way to Carlisle, not too strong but just enough to make the journey a bit more of an effort.

By lunch we’d reached Kirby Lonsdale and as we were trying to keep stops as brief as possible, rather than head into town we pedalled down to Devil’s Bridge, a popular stop with local motorbikers, for another cuppa and a huge cheese, potato and onion cake – basically a massive carb-fest butty – while being entertained by the kids diving off the rocks into the river below.

We continued north cycling through the rolling hills of the Lune Valley, often quite steep at times, crossing the M6 twice, up to the village of Orton. The Lune Valley and Howgill Fells sit in between the Lake District and the Yorkshire Dales. Many people only encounter it while speeding through it up and down the M6 and it often gets overlooked by tourists which means lots of quiet, traffic-free roads perfect for cyclists.

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Carpets of bluebells in the Lune Valley
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The Lune Valley. This lovely, quiet road runs along the other side of the valley from the M6 and West Coast mainline.

We just made it to our last cafe stop of the day in Orton as it was closing. We had yet another cuppa (the coffee machine was being cleaned out) and stocked up on snacks. Portable food options were a bit thin on the ground and I had to settle for a slab of fruit cake which, although tasty, must’ve added an extra kilo to the overall weight of my bike.

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Climbing up out of Orton, looking across to the Howgill Fells

By the village of Morland we dropped down a steep hill to a ford with a footbridge. The local rugby club were having a bit of a party in the neighbouring field with a visiting team from St. Malo. After a bit of polite banter, and the invitation to stop for a pint, the visiting guests insisted on offering to carry our bikes across the footbridge. Julie was having none of it but my bike was whisked out of my hands before I had a chance to put up a fight.

North of the A66, the remainder of our journey took us along the Eden Valley through Kirkoswald and Armathwaite. This section following the River Eden was the flattest part of the route, which was welcome by this point in the day as we’d already clocked up over 3000m of climbing.  Saying that, I’d somehow still managed to unwittingly sneak in a couple more short 15% climbs in the last 20 km!

After 13 hours, 226km and 3850m of climbing, we arrived at the Travelodge in Carlisle just after 8.30pm, feeling tired but still in pretty good shape and definitely ready for our tea.

Day two: Carlisle to York – 212km

We caught up with Sian and Esther over breakfast to hear tales of their journey up from Pocklington the day before. They’d been following a 230km stretch of the LEL route through Upper Teesdale over to Alston – the route we were now going to take in reverse.  Battling a headwind up over Yad Moss with panniers had worn Esther out a bit so she decided to ditch the panniers at the Travelodge for the return leg.

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Leaving Carlisle

We were on the road by 8.30am and made it across the rolling hills to Alston by 11.00am for a quick cafe stop before the big climb of the day. Unlike the previous day’s constant ups and downs, today we had the one big climb across the North Pennines, over Alston Moor and Yad Moss before dropping down to Langdon Beck and Upper Teesdale.

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The cobbled climb up through Alston. A good excuse to stop for a cuppa.

Cycling across the North Pennines is just breathtaking. If you’ve not been up here on a bike then I can definitely recommend it – it’s a bit like the Dark Peak minus all of the crowds. The roads are completely deserted and it feels very remote and rugged in this part of the world even though we were only 40 miles or so from Newcastle.

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Upper Teesdale. Not a soul in sight for miles.

It was pretty chilly on the tops but for the most part we had a tailwind and were soon descending through Upper Teesdale to Middleton and on to Lunch in Barnard Castle.

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Barnard Castle

After a longish lunch we headed steadily south west across the Vale of York to Thirsk. Even though this section of the ride was flat, we were all riding on tired legs and feeling the effects of the day before and the constant pedalling required on the flat was still pretty hard work for all of us.

The flat lands can get a bit monotonous – we all had our low moments but never at the same time and riding together you can keep each other going when it starts to get tough. By the time we arrived at Thirsk we were ready for another rest stop. Arriving at 6.30pm options were pretty limited and we ended up at the local Tesco stocking up on snacks and water for the final leg.

While taking a break, Julie and I had planned the final part of our route as we’d arranged to stay in York Youth hostel for the night and needed to head south rather than continue on south west to Pocklington with Sian and Esther. We agreed to part company just before the village of Coxwold. Esther and Sian headed on for the Howardian Hills and a few more kilometres. For Julie and I the route was fairly straightforward, heading down to Easingwold, avoiding the A19, and eventually on to York, arriving at the youth hostel just after 9.00pm.

With another 212km ticked off we rewarded ourselves with a right good curry in the local pub.

 

Planning your own mini bike adventure

This week I’m having a recovery week which means a few less miles on the bike and a few more hours planning the training weeks ahead. I need to start building up the amount of consecutive long days in the saddle and that means planning a few mini adventures with overnight stops.

Occasionally friends remark about how brave they think I am for taking myself off on multi-day rides and mini adventures, but if I can do it then I’m pretty certain that anyone can.

For me, especially at the moment while I’m training for the TCR, solo riding is a necessity as I need to get the miles in at a time that works best for me. Although it’s always great to have company on a ride, if I had to wait for someone else to accompany me I might be waiting a long time and could miss out on the opportunity.

It’s not really about being brave, as any good girl guide will tell you, it’s about being prepared. If I’m going off for a few days I like to make sure that I spend plenty of time beforehand making sure that I know where I’m heading and what’s in store along the way. That way I can feel confident in my own abilities to deal with whatever comes along.

However, you can’t always be prepared for everything, so I’d say that as well as being prepared you also need to be flexible. Having the ability to pull a ‘Plan B’ out of the hat when needed can often be more important than planning everything down to the last detail. The most important thing is to have a go and don’t worry too much if things go off-plan – I’ve made loads of mistakes but found a way around them and most of them were a good lesson learned for next time.

So, for those of you who fancy taking getting out there on your own mini adventure I thought I’d share a few thoughts and ideas with you to help you start planning. We all know that there’s more than one way to skin a cat and I’m sure other people will have a different approach that works just as well for them, but this is the way that works for me…

Ten tips for planning mini adventures

I could probably come up with at least another ten but these are good for starters…

Come up with a basic outline

Before planning your adventure ask yourself…

How many days do you want to ride?
How far do you want to ride each day?
How many hours do you want to spend in the saddle?
How much climbing do you want to do?
How many stops do you want to make en-route?

Once you’ve got a vague outline you’re ready to get cracking on the detail

Start close to home to begin with

If you’re a bit nervous about giving it a go then you can still have a great multi-day adventure on your doorstep by building a circular route around where you live. You’re much more likely to feel confident if you’re cycling on roads that you’re familiar with.

If I’m cycling in an area that I know very well, like the Peak District and Pennines, I rarely take a map or plot a route because I know the roads, how to get myself home from there and how long it’ll take, but if I’m heading over to an area that I don’t know well then I’ll spend a lot more time on route preparation and familiarisation.

Learn how to read a map confidently

You might think that these days when most of the routes that we plan or follow are loaded up onto a GPS device like a Garmin or phone, figuring out where you’re going on a map is less important than it used to be – it’s not.

I find it much easier to visualise the route that I’m on if I’ve initially plotted it on a real-life OS map. As I’m cycling through towns and villages there’s something very reassuring in the process of recalling that I’ve seen the name of said village previously on a map. Maps are also the best way to check out hill contours and those little ‘double-arrows’ if you’re trying to avoid steep hills.

If you need to brush up your map reading skills the YHA run some excellent navigation courses at Edale Activity Centre (http://www.yha.org.uk/edale-activity-centre). They’re primarily aimed at hill walkers but the core skills are the same for any outdoor pursuit.

Learn how to use your GPS device properly

If you’re going to rely heavily on a piece of tech then you need to make sure that you’re comfortable with how it works and that your routes are loaded correctly before you set off. There are lots of different brands and models out there. I use a Garmin Edge 510 because I like the simplicity of following a clear line and the battery lasts a bit longer. Other people prefer models with maps as they’re useful if you need to take an unplanned diversion. I have to say that although the tech is improving all the time, they all have their little foibles and the only way you can learn what they are is by getting out there and using your device.

Take a back-up map

Remember that sometimes your electronic device can go wrong, run out of juice, or for some reason you may need to take a detour, cut your journey short and take a short-cut to the nearest train station. I’m not suggesting that you cart along several OS maps with you – they’re bulky and weigh too much – but as a back-up I always take along the relevant pages from a road atlas. They don’t take up very much space (you can slip them in your jersey pocket inside a little plastic bag). If it’s a few pages, to make life even easier, I draw the route on with a highlighter pen so that i can orientate myself quickly if I need to.

Plot your own routes rather than use someone else’s

You’ll feel much more confident about the route that you’re taking if you’ve plotted it yourself. You can plot your own course with the Garmin Connect software or with a third-party app like Ride with GPS or Strava. I tend to stick to the Garmin software because I’ve had a bit of trouble with my Edge 510 corrupting after importing courses from other apps in the past.

When you’re plotting rides online always keep an OS map handy to check that the route you’ve chosen is actually a right of way. Both Garmin Connect and Google Maps often shows bridleways and tracks as roads and I’ve often ended up riding on a track that looked like a road on screen when I was plotting the route. If you want to check the surface of a road then Google Maps Street View is also a good resource. Strava also has a useful option that enables you to look at the most popular routes taken by other riders.

If you have to use a route that someone else has plotted, familiarise yourself with it and draw it out on a road map before you set off.

Don’t rely too much on NCN Cycle routes you’re unfamiliar with

NCN cycle routes can be a bit hit and miss (http://www.sustrans.org.uk/ncn/map). Some of them are great – like the on-road NCN 6 from Preston to Lancaster – but some of them are a bit rubbish – like the off-road NCN 68 between Whaley Bridge and Buxton, which is pretty impossible to ride on a road bike. Poorly-surfaced tracks and bridleways can end up adding a lot of time to your journey and unless you know in advance you can get caught out. Trust me, I’ve been there.

Make a note of the addresses and phone numbers of your accommodation on a slip of paper

Again, I’ve learned this the hard way. I used to keep all the info I needed on my phone but if you get delayed and it runs out of power, or it accidentally gets damaged, then you’ve not got any way of getting in touch with your hosts to let them know that you’re still on your way.

Take an external power supply with you

You might not be able to get access to a plug to charge your devices when you stop. A little portable power supply like an Anker Astro Mini only weighs 85g and will set you back a tenner from Amazon. It’ll charge your Garmin or your smart phone a couple of times while you’re on the road.

And finally, the last one isn’t really a planning tip but just a good bit of advice for any rider

Learn how YOUR bike works and how to fix it

Lots of bike shops run maintenance sessions where you get to watch the shop mechanic run through a few basic maintenance skills in an hour or two – what a waste of time! You need to be able to practise doing it yourself on your own bike in order to learn. Try to find a local beginner’s maintenance course where you get to work on your own bike in a supervised environment. This type of course may be longer in duration but you’ll learn so much more. Alternatively see if there’s a local bike kitchen or drop-in workshop where you can hire tools and practise maintaining your own bike.

Once you’ve been on a course, keep practising so you don’t lose your new skills. You can always keep an old inner tube at home to practise fixing a puncture on while you’re sitting at home watching telly. Even if you’re taking a few spare tubes with you, take a puncture repair kit too (a proper one, not self-adhesive patches) Sometimes you can be really unlucky – I once had four punctures in one day.

 

Five ride out to Cheshire

icecreamwensdae

For the last month or so I’ve been trying to make sure that my weekly mileage is hitting the 400km mark and that usually means getting at least one 200km ride in every week. I like to go on varied routes in order to try and avoid the boredom of repetition but planning rides, especially long ones, can take up a lot of time and sometimes the last thing I want to do when I’ve been at work all day is sit down in front of the computer plotting out more routes. So when the opportunity to ride a mid-week audax comes along it’s definitely one worth taking.

Such an opportunity presented itself this week with the ‘Ice Cream Wensdae’ 107km audax from Marple so I decided to book a day’s annual leave to do it. All I had to do was figure out the route over to Marple from Sheffield and the rest of it would be mapped out for me. To bring the distance up to 200km I decided to do the event as an official extended ‘ECE‘ ride which means that I’d need to plot a route to the start of the event that was at least an extra 100km and send it off to Audax UK to be verified before riding it.

I needed to make sure that the route out and back was at least 50km in each direction and I decided that I’d just ride the same route and and back so that I’d only have to plot the one route. I also wanted to avoid busy roads like the A57 and A623 as much as possible as the audax started at 10am so I’d most likely be travelling there and back during rush hour periods.

The audax itself was a pretty flat route out over the Cheshire plains so I figured that plotting a reasonably hilly route to get to and from Marple would be ok and my U-shaped route took in Eyam, Tideswell, Wormhill over to Chapel-en-le-Frith, New Mills and finally Marple, clocking up at 61km each way, giving me a total mileage of 230km.

I’d planned to set off from Sheffield at 6am for the 10am start, leaving lots of time for any en-route mechanicals. My other-half, Ken, was coming along for the ride and we’d arranged to meet my Transcon partner, Julie, and two other regular riding buddies, David and Peter, along the route at Windmill as they didn’t fancy riding the full 230km with us. This was to be Peter’s first major solo ride since recovering from a broken collar bone earlier this year but as he is hoping to ride LEL in 12 weeks time he is trying to build up his mileage fast.

Now, anyone that rides regularly with me will know that I like a nice hill but in order to make sure that my friends keep riding with me, occasionally, I have to tone my routes down a bit. Trouble is, I’m not too good at checking hill gradients when I’m route planning and this can sometimes get me into trouble.  Let’s just say that my route over to Marple was a wee bit hillier than expected (1200m of climbing) and by the time we’d arrived at the start of the audax everyone apart from Ken had already decided that they weren’t going to be riding the same route back with me.

Despite the hills we arrived with plenty of time to grab a cup of coffee to warm us all up before the event started as it was a chilly five degrees. The audax route headed out through the villages of Poynton, Wilmslow and Knutsford and before long we were deep in the heart of WAGland, cycling past huge houses with Bentleys sat on the drive. Coming up to the halfway mark I wondered why I was finding it such hard work keeping with the group until I realised that I’d got a slow puncture so we took time out for me to sort it out before pressing on to lunch.

The turnaround control point and cafe stop was at the Great Budworth Real Ice Cream Farm, that gives the audax its name. Being Easter-week the cafe was pretty busy and although I’m sure they were glad of the extra custom, having another 47 cyclists turn up all at roughly the same time meant that the kitchen staff were struggling to keep up with demand. This meant that we had a slightly longer-than-planned lunch stop and were all ready to gnaw the waiter’s hand off when the food finally arrived. The temperature had now warmed up to a balmy eight degrees – just the right temperature for ice cream and it was well worth it. The rum and raisin was super-yummy and Peter tells me that his blackberry was pretty delicious too.

Fed and watered, we were ready for the return leg, through the villages of Lower and Over Peover where we stopped to take photos of an amazing little tree house that had been carved into an old tree stump and on through Prestbury to our last control at Bollington. We were all a bit knackered by the time we arrived back in Marple just after 4pm and were glad of the sandwiches that had been laid on for us by the Ring O’Bells pub.

After a bit of a rest we still had that minor issue of the return leg to Sheffield to deal with. Unfortunately I’d not managed to convince anyone to change their mind and join Ken and me on the hill-fest home. Instead Julie, Peter and David came with us as far as Chapel (which was still pretty hilly) and then went home via Rushup Edge. David and Peter opted for a descent down Winnats Pass while Julie got some extra miles in down Mam Nick and through Edale.

I think I’d blanked out just how hilly some of those hills were, especially the climb out of Chapel and the pull up out of Monk Dale which is 20%, just what you need after cycling 190km. Ken is a much stronger rider than me and by the time I’d got half way up Grindleford he was just a speck in the distance.

I made it home for 8pm, around 15 minutes after Ken, but just long enough for him to get the tea on.

Easter Trail Adventures to York

Following on from Team Sheffield CTC’s resounding success in the Audax Easter Trail last year, I was keen to get another team together to defend our title this Easter weekend.

I should probably point out that the reason we won last year’s Trail was mostly down to us being the only team that entered, but not to be deterred by that minor detail, I planned a 255km route to York and roped in three other teammates to join me.

For those of you wondering what on earth I’m on about, the Easter Trail is a team event organised by Audax UK and last year was the first time that the event took place. It’s the lightweight cousin of the well-established, and much more hardcore, Easter Arrow event where teams set off from 6am on Good Friday and ride 400+ kms through the night from anywhere in the UK to arrive in York by the following morning between 8am and 11am. The team that clocks up the most miles ridden wins.

In comparison, teams taking part in the Easter trail event only have to ride between 201 and 360km but must factor in a stop for a minimum of eight hours overnight on the Friday evening. The team still needs to arrive in York between 8am and 11am the next morning and again the team that clocks up the most miles ridden wins.

Where a team starts from and the route it takes to York is entirely up to the team captain who plots the route in advance and sends it off to be verified by Audax UK a few weeks before the start of the event. There are a few more rules that teams need to adhere to but basically that’s the gist of it.

I’d plotted a route from Sheffield of 255km taking in control stops at Howden, Easingwold, Horsforth (in Leeds) to our overnight eight-hour stop in the village of Cullingworth near Bradford. Cullingworth just happens to be around a mile away from my dad’s house in Denholme where we were guaranteed a good feed and free bed for the night (thanks Dad). The only downside to this otherwise perfect overnight location is that my dad lives at the top of a very big hill. Like ‘all the way from the Aire Valley to the almost the highest point in Bradford’ big.

I’d tried my best to plot a decent route with some nice, cafe-based, control stops that avoided cycling on busy main roads like the A19 and A59. The main thing to take into consideration when plotting DIY Audax routes is that you can only claim distance for the most direct route between any two locations. Taking direct routes usually means travelling on busy roads so if you want to try to keep off main roads then you have to add extra control stops, or you can (within reason) just suck up the few extra kilometres to take diversions on to quieter roads. However, because you’re limited by time constraints, adding too many extra kilometres in this way can really slow you down as those extra kms add nothing to your final distance tally.

This meant that our team’s official distance of 255km would actually be more like 290km but I reckoned that wouldn’t be too much of a problem as a good chunk of our route would be ridden in the flatlands to the east of Sheffield and around York.

Our team, consisting of me, my Transcon teammate Julie, my other-half Ken, and Julie’s other-half Simon, met at Sheffield train station at 7am on a rather chilly and overcast Good Friday morning to collect our first receipts of the day for our brevet cards. Every rider has to collect a receipt (either from a shop or a cash machine) from each control in order to document what time the team arrives.

The route we took out of Sheffield to our first control at Howden is a familiar route out east for us and once we’d climbed the few little lumps out over Wentworth and around the back of Barnsley, after Hooton Pagnell the route flattened out.

We had a quick cafe stop at the Lakeside Cafe at Askern which is a regular haunt for many of the cycling clubs around South Yorkshire, especially those fond of a bargain as the price of a mug of tea and a toasted teacake is just £1.60.

With a tailwind to help us along we made good time to Howden, arriving at 11am. That Tea Room in Howden is another one of our fave cafes and with another 50km before our next stop at Easingwold we decided to call an early lunch. If you’ve not been here I can definitely recommend it as the food is lovely and the staff are always very welcoming. They also have a big room upstairs that you can book in advance if you need to book a big group in.

After lunch, the next leg of our journey took us north, skirting around the edge of York along the B1228 up to the village of Easingwold. Even though it’s a B-road it was pretty busy, probably due to  bank holiday traffic heading into York, and as it’s quite a straight road it means that the cars can pick up quite a speed so we had a few unpleasant moments with impatient drivers having to slow down (or not, in some cases) to overtake us. We were all pretty glad to get back on to quieter country lanes north of Stamford Bridge.

As none of us had been to Easingwold before we were happy to take a stop here and explore the village a bit. We had a decent, strong coffee and cake at the Olive Branch, a quirky little shop with lots of adjoining rooms that sells all kinds of interesting stuff with a cafe at the rear. After a quick pedal around the village, which definitely deserves a future visit, we pressed on west for our penultimate control of the day in Horsforth.

The day started to get a little tougher as we were now traveling directly into the westerly wind that had been helping us out so much in the earlier part of the day. We decide to start taking turns on the front to give each other a bit of respite across the vale of York to Wetherby but we were still going strong and making good time.

After Wetherby the landscape became a little more rolling with a few punchy little climbs, dropping us down into the Wharfe Valley north of Leeds. These are all familiar roads to me as I grew up in the area between Leeds and Bradford so I knew what to expect. Our first tough little hill of the day, Weardley Bank, climbs out of the Wharfe Valley into North Leeds. At the top of Weardley is green wooden bench placed there by Leeds St. Christopher’s Cycling Club to honour the memory of club member Peter Gannon. LSCCC was also my dad’s cycling club and Peter was my dad’s riding buddy back in the 1960’s so I always stop and take a moment to have a rest on Pete’s bench and today was no different. After pedalling 70 km into a headwind for the past couple of hours it was a pretty welcome rest.

We dropped down into Horsforth at around 6pm and grabbed some supplies and a receipt from the local Tesco. From there it was only around 30 km to my dad’s but anticipating the climb ahead I tried to convince the rest of the team to take on some sugar for a bit of an energy boost as we were all feeling the effects of the headwind. Convincing Ken to eat is never really a problem but Julie struggles to find the right kind of food to keep her fuelled up and by this point was a bit fed up with all of the over-processed, sugary crap that we’d been piling in to keep the speed up.

I swapped the water in my bottle for Lucozade for the final 30km and I’d still got a few lumps of flapjack in my little top tube bag in reserve just in case. The final leg of the day took us through the north Leeds suburbs that drop down into the Aire Valley at Apperley Bridge and on to the main road through Shipley and Bingley. It was pretty busy and we encountered a few more inconsiderate drivers – they’re always a bit harder to negotiate when you’re tired.

The final big pull of the day started in Bingley with a steep, twisty 10% climb out of town up to the village of Harden. At this point it started to rain pretty heavily but climbing was hot work and with only a few uphill miles left to ride it didn’t seem worth stopping to put on a waterproof. We pushed on through Harden to the final control of the day at Cullingworth Co-op, arriving by 7.15pm. Our official milage between the four controls was 190km but the actual distance we’d covered was 220km.

We were done for the day in terms of recording distance but to get up to dad’s we had one final climb, Manywells Brow. It’s less than 100m long with an average gradient of 8% but it gets steeper as you climb, topping out at 15% around two-thirds of the way up so it’s a bit of a killer even on fresh legs, never mind ones that had 200km of cycling in them, but the Lucozade in my water bottle worked a treat and gave me enough energy for that final push.

Manywells conquered, we piled into dad’s for a hot shower, plenty of pasta and a good night’s kip, albeit a short one as we needed to be up around 5am to finish off the last leg to York.

We awoke on Day two to be greeted by a pretty impressive sunrise and after a huge bowl of porridge we were back out on the road for 6.15am. After heading back down to the Co-op in Cullingworth to pick up our only receipt of the day, Saturday’s route retraced our steps as far as Adel in north Leeds before heading east around the north of the city, through the village of Thorner, over the A1 to Boston Spa, Wighill and finally to York. Our official ‘shortest route’ distance from Cullingworth to York was 64km but we were actually going to ride 75km.

The first few climbs of the day were pretty tough on tired legs but we soon got into our stride. Retracing our steps meant that most of the climbs were done with in the first 15 miles and with the help of a fierce tailwind we were soon flying along the flattish roads through north Leeds. We’d planned a quick cafe stop at another fave cafe, Moo in Boston Spa and got there in good time just before 9am for warm scones and strong coffee.

From Boston Spa, we only had 25km to go and we pushed on through at a blistering pace (well, blistering for me). The end was in sight now and still aided by that tailwind we managed to cover the final 25 in 50 minutes, arriving in York just after 10am with an hour to spare and feeling pretty pleased with ourselves.

Another Easter Trail in the bag for Team Sheffield CTC, we headed over to Your Bike Shed cycling cafe for a celebratory bacon sarnie and our final receipt to prove we’d made it. As there was no formal finish control this year we don’t know how any other teams took part or whether our distance of 255km will be enough to retain our Easter Trail winners title, but no matter what the result we had a brilliant time taking part and are looking forward to doing it all again next Easter. What better way to justify stuffing your face with Easter Eggs all day on Easter Sunday?