The North York Moors National Park is a landscape of high moorland fringed by a spectacular cliff-lined coast, dotted with patches of ancient woodland and some lovely old towns and villages. It all makes for some fabulous road cycling, writes Pickering-based cycle enthusiast Mike Hawtin.
Not be confused with the Yorkshire Dales further to the west, the North York Moors is an area with a distinctive character all of its own, consisting of a high rolling plateau cut by deep, wooded river valleys. It’s a remarkably satisfying and challenging destination for keen cyclists and one that for a long time been the secret of those in the know.
Covering almost 1500 sq. km, the national park has one of the largest expanses of heather moorland in Europe and in the summer months displays a beautiful blanket of purple as you make your way through the hundreds of miles of quiet moorland roads.
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Mike Hawtin has been running cycling tours from his B&B in Pickering, Eleven Westgate, for almost ten years. He specialises in guided road bike and mountain bike holidays as well as skills days; in his spare time he tends to use the road bike to explore the beautiful North Yorkshire countryside.
The Eleven Westgate B&B has all the facilities that a cyclist needs, with secure storage, a...
You're spoiled for choice when it comes to deciding on a route in the North York Moors, and the following recommendations are just a small selection of what's on offer. These itineraries can be combined or elements swapped, providing endless options for some excellent rides.
Route 1: The south-central moors
Starting in the market town of Pickering, the ride heads steadily up through the green fields around Swainsea Lane, turning to Cropton and passing close to the famous Yorkshire brewery with a fast blast down Cropton bank (a local cycling challenge both up and down!). At the bottom you have the option of heading straight on towards ‘the big one’ or cutting the corner through Lastingham if your legs aren’t up to it.
Nobody forgets their first time up Chimney Bank. Over the bridge south from Rosedale Abbey, the road starts to kick up on the long drag past the White Horse pub. Be careful not to spin the rear wheel over the cattle grid, then it’s into the first hairpin. Round the outside is easy compared with the inside of the second (stay wide if you can), which is actually steeper than 33%! It's steep right up to the summit, where the sign reminds cyclists to dismount. Never a truer word!
There are many road sections on the North York Moors where you feel literally in the middle of nowhere. Often you might not have seen any evidence of other recent humans for up to an hour. So when you head over the remote Wheeldale moor and pass the remains of a Roman road you can only imagine what it took for them to get the stone and build a road up there. No matter how amazing the feat, when you see the remains, you’ll be happy that tarmac was invented!
National Road Race Championships
There are many cycling events held in the North York Moors and surrounding area but on of the most memorable was when the best of British came to the roads surrounding Ampleforth Abbey. We were lucky enough to get a ride in a lead team car, which was truly terrifying. Flying round the tight country lanes at up to 60mph on the wrong side of the road gave an incredible impression of the speed and the risks that pro riders take in pursuit of their goal.
Any serious rider who comes to the North York Moors wants to tackle ‘the chimney’, but there are lots of other challenging climbs including one that starts in the same place (Rosedale Abbey) but climbs up the opposite side of the valley. Starting off steady and then increasing to 25%, Heygate is enough of a challenge for most. Stop at the summit and Millennium Cross, with an incredible view looking back over the green valley at ‘the big one’ waiting for another day.
Often described as one of the finest views in England, the view from Sutton Bank is a sight to behold for all who experience it. Although it’s a challenge many want to tackle, the climb is on quite a busy road, so climbing out of Sutton Under Whitestonecliffe is only for the most experienced rider - but there are many options for rides starting from the National Park Visitor Centre at the top, just be sure to get a photo before you continue!
Best times to go:
With all types of cycling available, you can cycle in the National Park year-round, especially with the world class off-road trails in Dalby Forest to keep you active through the winter. For the best road cycling experience, however, you need better weather and warmer temperatures for the high and remote moorland routes to appreciate the fabulous views. This means the best time of year to ride would be June to September, weather permitting and August is usually the best month if you want to experience the heather in full bloom.
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