Whenever my husband and I manage a short break without our offspring, I always look forward to a relaxed bike ride. Much to my disappointment, our children never took to cycling with any enthusiasm and family bike rides often involved tears and tantrums. (The children used to get upset as well). These days, however, it’s a whole different ball game; the “children”, now much older, stay at home, while I whisk my husband , Andy, away for fun on wheels.
Our latest escape was a trip to North Yorkshire’s coast. (The route I chose may therefore be of particular interest to customers of our Newcastle, Leeds and Sheffield stores.) It’s often said that anticipation is half the pleasure and I certainly like to take my time researching and planning a ride. This time, I opted for straightforward, easy cycling. (My previous route had taken in a trail centre, where Andy performed an involuntary somersault and sustained scratches and bruises). I’d heard mention of a cycle route, which is a disused railway line, running along the cliff top from Robin Hood’s Bay to Whitby. The internet came up trumps with all the information I needed.
The route is called “The Cinder Track” and it winds from Whitby to Scarborough, forming about 22 traffic-free miles of NCN route 1. No trains have run along here since 1965, but you can still see remains of old sleepers, overgrown and long- abandoned station platforms, as well as plenty of the cinders that formed the track bed and now give the trail its name. Incidentally, while mountain bikes, cross bikes and hybrids are fine on this surface, road bikes would certainly not be suitable. We were going to do a “return journey” and I thought it wise to keep the mileage manageable, as my other half isn’t a regular cyclist. Since the Scarborough end of the trail is described as passing through a housing estate and mundane surroundings, I decided to give it a miss and start at Whitby.The trail has an inconspicuous beginning with no car park or facilities (accessible via a ramp from Southend Gardens). Worthy of mention, is the view of the Abbey, perhaps most famous for its mention in “Dracula,” perched on the cliff top. Setting off along the track, we soon found ourselves on the 120 feet high, 13 arch Larpool Viaduct, which spans the meandering River Esk.
Most recreational trails created from disused railway lines are more or less flat. This one isn’t. The climb is very gradual here and was barely noticeable with our fresh legs. Our next port of call was the old railway station at Hawsker, now home to holiday accommodation and a cycle hire centre. If you’re in need of a drink or light snack, you can pick up something here. We pressed onwards and upwards, destination Robin Hood’s Bay. After more gentle climbing, the track descends fairly steeply and you could sweep down it at speed, but it’s worth taking your time and admiring the view out to sea across the fields.
The Cinder Track drops down to the road here and cyclists need to look out for NCN1 signs, which direct you through a car park, past the old station (now workshops), across a road and back onto the track. It’s possible to visit the village itself and the beach. If 6 ½ miles of riding have given you a thirst or appetite, there are pubs, cafes and very good fish and chips to be had here. However, a word of warning for those of you unfamiliar with Robin Hood’s Bay – the road may be traffic free, but it’s extremely steep. We continued.
Having dipped, The Cinder Track now climbs again – but gently. Although the sea isn’t always visible on this 4½ mile stretch to Ravenscar (the highest point), the scenery is certainly attractive. We cycled past farms, cottages and woodland, the North York Moors over to our right and frequent glimpses of the sea on our left, until panoramic coastal views opened up. We had to stop – not for a rest, but just to stand and look. By now, we were both feeling hungry and Ravenscar seemed a little further away than we would have liked. The finale to the long, gentle pull was a short, sharp, stony climb, which brought us to a National Trust shop and cafe. I was heading for the nearest table with a sense of purpose, when Andy noticed a sign to the Ravenscar tearooms further along the road. We pedalled along another 100 yards or so and located them. I wasted no time in securing a table and placing an order.
Ravenscar is billed as “the town that never was.” A Victorian entrepreneur had plans to develop what was then the village of “Peak” into a resort to rival Scarborough. The railway had been built along the coast, seaside breaks were becoming popular and it was thought that easy access together with the stunning views would attract visitors aplenty. Detailed plans were drawn up, roads laid out and some plots sold. What had been overlooked, was the treacherously steep, 600 foot descent to a rocky beach, along with a location exposed to ferocious coastal winds. This was no place for a Victorian seaside holiday! The building company went bust in 1913 and Ravenscar remains pretty much as it was left.
The tearooms, where we refuelled, are housed in the old station hotel. I can thoroughly recommend them. My coffee hardly touched the sides of the cup and my baked spud didn’t have time to go cold even though we ate al fresco on a breezy day. The ladies toilet was remarkable in offering not only soap and hot water, but also deodorant, talcum powder and hair lacquer – firm hold (presumably to combat the fierce winds). Duly fed and watered, sweet smelling, soft-skinned and coiffeured, I returned to my saddle.
“How far back is it?” asked Andy, as he swung a now stiff leg over his Revolution Cross.
“About 11 miles,” I replied, “But don’t forget we start with some downhill.” And indeed, we did. The climb had seemed very gradual outward bound, but the gradient was certainly obvious on the return leg. We bounced along at great speed, now discovering just how rough the surface is here. We seemed to be back at Robin Hood’s Bay in next to no time. I steeled myself for a difficult gravel grind back up the hill, but found it surprisingly easy going and shot up the track effortlessly.
Had it not been for the time restrictions of our car parking, we would have stopped off at Hawsker to visit Maw Wyke Hole, one of several quiet bays, which are accessible from The Cinder Track. Never mind, it leaves something to discover another time and we will certainly do this ride again.