DISTANCE 44.5 miles or 71.5km
MAIN CLIMBS Saltburn, Skinningrove, Staithes, Westerdale and Kildale
TOTAL CLIMB 1,423m
ACHTUNG! Descent of Skinningrove. Sheep wandering on roads over moors. Footbridge at Hob Hole ford, which can be very slippery
Great Ayton was the boyhood home of Captain Cook, the great 18th century maritime explorer, and is the start point for our voyage with junior BBAR champion Richard Meadows.
It’s well below freezing as we leave the small North Yorkshire village with the river Leven running through its heart. Rime frost clings to hedge and tree and a watery sun tries to break through the mist as we pass the distinctive peak of Roseberry Topping en route to Guisborough, in the district of Cleveland.
“I’ll use this route at least once a week during the winter, though I generally extend it by going round Helmsley or I’ll do an hour’s time trial effort afterwards,” Richard tells me as we head towards Upleatham. “It fits in well with my training programme over the winter. In summer I’m racing quite a lot so generally I don’t have to train as hard by using this route.”
We pass the diminutive St Andrew’s church, reputedly the smallest church in England, on the main road past Upleatham village. Mist rolls in as we near the coast and the Victorian seaside town of Saltburn-by-the-Sea. The grand old Zetland Hotel, now apartments, overlooks the seafront, which has a water-balanced funicular tramway lift from the pier below.
We drop down the one-in-four hill to Saltburn Sands. The five-mile stretch of hard sandy beach was used for motor racing and speed trials between the wars and was where Malcolm Campbell set an unofficial land speed record in the 1920s.
“It’s quite a hard ride with getting in all the hills,” says a knowing Meadows as we test the legs on the first climb up from Saltburn to Brotton. We then drop down to Skinningrove through some steep hairpins. We pass the steelworks here before we take the one-in-four climb back out as we head for Boulby.
Cleveland means ‘land of cliffs’ or ‘cliff-land’ and the highest sea cliffs in England are found along this stretch of coast. With its many headlands and hideaways it made it ideal for smuggling in days gone by, the history of which can be explored at the Smuggler’s Heritage Centre in Saltburn. Interestingly too, Skinningrove was bombed by three Zeppelins during the First World War. As a site for the manufacture of TNT from the by-products of the local steel industry, it became a prime target for the German airships.
The Skinningrove climb is a reference point for Richard: “How quickly I can get up the initial section gives a good indication of how I’m feeling. I know I’m going OK if the climbs don’t feel too bad, and I know by halfway round the route whether I’m feeling alright,” reveals Meadows.
Over the top we pass briefly into sunshine before the mist rolls in once again as we pass Boulby’s deep-shafted potash mine before taking the turn down into Staithes. The road into Staithes follows the North Yorkshire boundary as it drops into this much painted and photographed fishing village nestled in a steep-sided cliff inlet.
We cross the footbridge across an inlet harbouring small fishing boats and enter Staithes. It’s where the young Captain Cook got his love of the sea during his time as an apprentice grocer in the village.
“I enjoy riding over the cobbles coming out of Staithes,” Richard tells me as we rumble over them before tackling the steep climb back out towards the main road. There’s even a cobbled pavement with a handrail to aid pedestrians on a section of the climb.
Change of scenery
The next part of the route is in complete contrast to what has gone before. We ride inland to sunshine and over the high moors of the North York Moors National Park before dropping down to Danby in Esk Dale. Taking a left turn in Danby we pass the Moors Centre, the park’s flagship visitor centre on the banks of the river Esk. “It makes a good cafe stop.” Meadows tells me. “Ideal if you want to make the ride a day out on the bike. There’s an exhibition, gallery and gift shop too.”
We next head towards the 14th century Duck Bridge, close to Danby Castle. The old pack horse bridge crosses the river Esk here along with the adjoining ford for motor vehicles. Our route takes us back up to Danby before we head to Castleton and Westerdale.
The climb out of Westerdale takes us over the Westerdale Moor before dropping down to Hob Hole ford. This is where Andrea Tafi came off on the ford’s slippery cobbled bottom in the Kellogg’s Tour of 1990. The road climbs again over Kildale Moor and down in to Kildale itself. We stop at the Glebe Cottage tearoom for a tea and homemade flapjack. Richard’s dad joins us there too.
It’s a moment to catch up on how Richard got involved in cycling. Richard’s dad Phil begins: “I used to coach down at Claireville Stadium in Middlesbrough every Wednesday evening.
Richard and his elder brother Lewis used to come down and do a bit on the track.” Phil continues, “Richard has tried fell running too. I used to take him running down on the beaches. On a frosty winter morning like today, we’d run to Tees-Mouth and come back via the sand dunes. It was a hard workout but without the hassle of worrying about ice on the roads. There is a historic precedence with both Erik and Roger de Vlaeminck running on dunes in their training. I think we are in good company,” Phil smiles.
Richard adds a note here too: “Running on sand doesn’t jar the legs so much either. It was a good workout. You could really feel your thighs hurting afterwards.”
Richard joined Cleveland Wheelers and started time trialling and tells us, “I wouldn’t say I particularly like time trialling but it’s what I’m good at. Road racing is what I prefer.” Meadows has raced with some success on the road too.
“In October of 2006 I started being coached by Dave Lloyd. I feel I have made good progress and I’m feeling a lot stronger, especially in the longer races,” Richard tells me and adds, “I use my HRM in training and Dave gives me zones to work in.” Richard joined Liverpool Mercury for 2007 and went on to take his second consecutive junior BBAR title.
We leave the tea room and head back to Great Ayton. Richard jokes, “It‘s the best bit of the ride coming down Kildale when you know there aren’t any more climbs. It’s downhill all the way from here.”
TO BELGIUM WITH PEZULA RT
At the end of December 2007, Richard signed for Pezula RT, the leading Irish track and road team, with current Irish road champion Dave O’Loughlin in its ranks. The main team sponsor Pezula is an established Irish construction contracts management company and their bike sponsor and supplier is Terry Dolan.
With Richard getting to know Terry through Liverpool Mercury, Terry suggested Richard’s name when the team were looking for a young rider to develop within their team structure. “I was going to stay with Terry and Liverpool Mercury for 2008,” explains Richard, “but when Terry put me forward for the Pezula RT it was really good.”
Richard is still doing A-levels at the moment but will join up with the UCI continental registered team in Belgium in June once all his exams are out of the way. “I can do what I want until June,” says Meadows, “I’m riding the Tour of the Reservoir, as it’s local and I’m aiming for the Rudy Project series. Then it’s off to Belgium to join up with the team and I’ll follow their programme. There could be a chance of riding the Tour of Ireland or Tour of Britain. I’ll see how it goes.”
YOUR GUIDE: RICHARD MEADOWS
* Richard is 18 and lives with parents Phil and Leslie and brother Lewis (21) in Eston, Middlesbrough
* Born in Middlesbrough
* Currently finishing A Levels in Design and Technology and PE
* 2006 and 2007 Junior BBAR Champion
* Junior National 10 Champion 2006
* Started his cycling with Cleveland Wheelers. Had 2007 with Liverpool Mercury but will ride for the Irish team Pezula RT in 2008
* Coached by Dave Lloyd
Start in Great Ayton and head out on A173 direction Guisborough. Turn right (TR) through Guisborough to roundabout crossing A171 to join A173. Turn left (TL) on to B1268 towards Upleatham. Cross A174 to continue to Saltburn-on-the-Sea. Descend to coast and take the road out to Brotton. TL on to A174 to TL to Skinningrove. Climb out of Skinningrove towards Boulby. TL onto A174 to TL into Staithes, crossing inlet by footbridge to TR out of Staithes.
TR to TL taking road along Roxby Beck to Scaling. TR on to A171 to TL over Danby Low Moor to Danby. TL to pass the Moors Centre. Bear right and continue to Duck Bridge bearing right to then TR back to Danby to TL to Castleton and Westerdale to TR up Westerdale Moor and Kildale Moor to crossroads to TL to Kildale. Continue to Easby to TR back to Great Ayton to finish.