Today (i.e May 20) marks the fifth anniversary of the North Sea Cycle route which covers 3,800 miles around the coasts of Germany, Belgium, Holland, Norway, Sweden and the UK. Cyclists across Europe are pedalling the whole route between them in a day. Paul Kirkwood sampled just a few miles of it in North Yorkshire.
On a cycling holiday in Cornwall many years ago I barely needed pedals. I was either freewheeling into a cove or pushing the bike out of one. The same could be said for sections of this scenic ride along the North Yorkshire coast which takes you from its industrial past to its seaside present. Part of the reason I headed seaward was curiosity. Everyone knows Robin Hood’s Bay, Whitby and Staithes but what about the next village up on the map, Skinningrove?
The Shell Book of the British Coast says that Skinningrove “although decayed retains a certain fascination“ which is a good way of summing it up. The small fishing village was transformed when the mining of ironstone for the iron works of the north-east began here 1848. The mine closed in 1958 – it now houses The Tom Leonard Mining Museum – but the sense of a close-knit community still very much remains. There are few cars even on the huge main square but lots of people – many of them in their front gardens talking over the hedge or outside Timms Coffee House. A man on a bike seemed to be a rare site. I’ve never felt so much of a stranger in my adoptive county. I reached the end of the village and the start of the sea, swung to the right and away from the red-stained rocks on the shore for the first of four steep climbs.
Thankfully, the mast in front of me turned out to be the summit. I read afterwards that I’d be going over the highest headland in England, higher even than Beachy Head. I plunged down, gripping the brakes as tight as I could to avoid losing control. I was taking route one – quite literally as this stretch follows part of the No 1 route of the National Cycle Network which forms part of the North Sea cycle route. One of its many plus points is that it takes you into Staithes via Cowbar along a cliff top road which is prohibited for vehicular traffic. The cycle route hugs the cliff top – for now at least. If there’s much more erosion it could disappear.
I pushed my bike over a footbridge and then found myself in the familiar surroundings of Staithes. Here too erosion is a problem. The Cod and Lobster Inn has been washed away three times and the drapers shops where Captain Cook was apprenticed has also been lost to the sea. The sound of seagulls echoed in the narrow, cobbled passageways and a fisherman mended his lobster nets sitting outside his cottage. It was like being back in Cornwall again. I laid my bike on the sand and enjoyed my sandwiches.
Staithes used to benefit from a railway between Scarborough and Loftus, a viaduct spanning the ravine. All that remains of it today is a stone abutment which you can see opposite the car park on your way out of the village.
Just three miles later I was back on the beach at Runswick Bay. Upturned boats lay on a bank in the sun like lazing whales. Sitting in front of the lifeboat station I could see yachts to my right and to my left a pretty white, thatched cottage beside the harbour wall. James Herriot stayed there one weekend. At the end of his holiday he instructed his family to walk up the steep slope from the beach while he drove his old Austin A70 as he thought he’d stand a better chance of reaching the top without them. The gradient is, indeed, perilous.
After the seaside bustle and traffic of the A171 I was glad to slip back into the country along a narrow windy road. My return inland took me through the pleasant rolling pastoral landscape of Borrowby. Often with coastal rides the sea section is the attraction and the inland section is an obligation – but not on this one. The road was so little used grass grew in the middle in places. As I laboured up my final hill I wished the other person on my bike was the rear rider on a tandem rather than my son Bertie in the child seat, bless him. He pushed on my waist but it didn’t help. At the top I spotted yachts on the Scaling Reservoir where I had parked. My ride hadn’t been plain sailing but the seaside stops had more than made up for the hills.
Distance: 23 miles.
Time: 3 hours excluding stops.
Parking: At Scaling Reservoir on the A171 to Whitby. Free.
L onto A171 then first R signed Easington. First L signed “Local traffic” into Loftus. L at A174 then R up Duncan Place which bears L to become Coronation Rd. R at end up Deepdale Rd and ahead onto cycle track into Skinningrove. At large square in village centre R then L (not crossing the bridge) to shore. Follow road round to R and upwards. At t-junction R and immediately L. At the end of descent L onto the A174 at Boulby and, after 100m, L signed Cowbar. Push bike over footbridge into Staithes. To leave village turn R and uphill. L onto A174 again, through Hinderwell and then L to Runswick Bay. After visit to beach retrace route then, in front of Runswick Bay Hotel, L signed Ellerby and Whitby. R at A174 then first L signed Newton Mulgrave. Pass through the hamlet and, at t-junction after steep ascent, L through Borrowby. L at t-junction then R at A171 back to car park.
Map: Outdoor Leisure 26: North York Moors (Western area).