Every now and then, someone contacts us to tell us about a recent adventure in the Cold Dark North.
There's no real definition to where the Cold Dark North starts and finishes - we like to think of it as North of Preston and South of Carlisle. From Whitehaven in the West to Hawes in the East. But in reality, it's wherever we want it to be. So at least some of Sam Marshall's Tour de North was always going to cut through the right part of the country. We thought you might enjoy his 5 day epic through the wilds of the North.
We didn't help Sam with his route. He came to us after he'd ridden it. Our advice? Get in touch before you ride next time!
Sam describes himself as "a road warrior searching for a righteous cause (after Mad Max). He is a bike racer from Cheshire aiming to make him mark on the North-West racing scene. Now dabbling in long distance riding and bike packing on his trusty racing steed". A suitable candidate for this madcap itinerary. You can follow his adventures on Instagram too.
When Planning this trip I was inspired by my fellow club mates in the Frodsham Wheelers tackling an epic Coast-2-Coast and back ride back in August. However This felt like a bit of stretch to do on my own. So with a whole week off work I decided to head to Whitby over two days then spend the remaining three days to go the long way home; riding up the East coast and up and over the North Pennines before rolling through the Lake District and then finally slogging it all the way home through Lancashire back to my front door. (Slogging?!- Ed)
The Tour de North was around 700km in total, 30h (moving time) and well over 7,000m of elevation gain over the five days. (Note that there were a number of Garmin errors on Sam's trip so it's a little imprecise - get a Wahoo).
Day 1: Helsby to Shipley, The Easy Day.
I set off following the local club run The Wizard route out to Knutsford before turning left to head towards Manchester, Riding through Wilmslow, Cheadle and Stockport to meet one of my friends, Chris for a coffee and a catch up.
After a flat white and significant wedge of carrot cafe, I continued on towards the distant Yorkshire Dales. Unfortunately this meant riding out of Manchester in rush hour traffic, not ideal. Nonetheless I made it through Rochdale unscaved.
With the A road action out of the way I headed into the Upper Calder Valley and towards Hebden Bridge. The climb out of the town blew me away! Fiercely steep, painfully long and stunningly beautiful. Proper Yorkshire.
The finally kilometers consisted of descending like a brick down the other side of the moor and over to Shipley and my nights stay at my Auntie and Uncles’ house, all the while being treated to a gorgeous sunset.
Day 2: Shipley to Whitby, I Want Moor.
On the first of many cold mornings to come, I left Shipley. Trundling up the main road towards North Yorkshire I resided to the fact that there was going to be more riding on busy A roads (There doesn't have to be! Get local knowledge next time... - Ed).
Eventually, I turned off and headed down some glorious country roads. Alne, Easingwold for lunch, through the Howardian Hills, all the way to Pickering. Gorgeous lanes interspersed with testing climbs in true Yorkshire fashion, all under a prefect blue sky. Although as happy as that made me it couldn’t compare to hearing a young boy at the side of the road shouting to his friend “wow! that's what I wanna be like when I’m older!” He was part of a group of kids doing some sort of cycle proficiency class after school and the thought that I had inspired one of them to keep riding his bike made me very happy indeed. I carried on my jolly way till I got to Pickering, where I stopped for an emergency coffee stop. Cracks were starting to show but nevertheless, I pressed on.
The final approach toward Whitby took me over the Yorkshire Moors proper, continuing the day’s theme of beautiful everything.
Descending Blue Bank I got a taste of the scary crosswinds I’d be battling the next day.
I spent the rest of my day exploring Whitby: out to the bay, up the 199 steps and of course, the real reason I came here, fish and chips for tea!
Day 3: Whitby to Langdon Beck YHA, Hump Day.
This particular Wednesday will be forever engraved into my brain as one of the most punishing, arduous and painful days I’ve had on the bike. My own fault for thinking riding East to West was a good idea. According to Mywindsock.com I spent 84% of a 6 hour ride in direct headwind.
So heading along the coast from Whitby to Sandsend and then unwittingly up Boulby Bank and after a bit more grinding up 20%+ grades I turned East and started the descent into insanity.
To add insult to injury, whilst eating my lunch and resting from the relentless wind I realized my route was in fact 27km shorter than it was supposed to be! This would mean an extra hour and half of riding
My route took me through some familiar places, Stokley and Yarm. Towns I’d been to on a family holiday a few years ago as well as Roseberry Topping, a mountain I’d walked up that same trip. Those fond memories were a welcome distraction from the task at hand. Churning on through the hell that was Darlington in rush hour I and a few more country lanes later I reached my original finish point. The final extra stretch into the sunset and towards the North Pennines was still to come.
For me personally, the views on long rides like this one make it worth the suffering every time. Day 3 was no exception. To set the scene I was riding up the side of the valley towards Middleton in Teesdale with the sun sat on the clouds casting a shadow in the valley that beautifully contrasted with the blinding light of the sunset. However, the light soon faded and the weather began to turn as I made my final approach to the Youth Hostel. My host, Duncan, fed me well and I slept well that night dreaming of a still day.
Day 4: Langdon Beck YHA to Ambleside, The Short Day. (And the first one in the Cold Dark North proper! - Ed)
The thing I found fascinating was how day after day I felt remarkably fresh every single time I climbed onto my bike in the morning. Even after Day 3's torrid winds, I left the Youth Hostel with high spirits and buckets of energy, the full English breakfast certainly helped with that; a delight to start the day ready for the challenge ahead.
And within about 20 minutes the weather had caught up with my mood and I was again riding in perfect sunshine. The day’s route took me over the rest of the North Pennines, down to Alston then up and over Hartside (the wrong side) to Penrith before heading around Ullswater and up Kirkstone Pass to Ambleside.
The Climb out of Alston over Hartside Fell was notable because together with the persistent 4% gradient and the 20mph headwind it took me a good 40 minutes to conquer! It is also notable because whilst climbing I met a fellow tourer who was riding a fully laden pack mule of a bike, complete with paniers, tent and stove. This guy had been touring all summer from his home in Lancaster! I’ve so much respect for people like him, especially as he was at least 50 - something to look forward to!
After a fascinating chat I carried on my way and was rewarded with yet another stunning view. A grounding vista of the Lake District and Cumbria over the Eden Valley. The decent Hartside was extra special. The road had been freshly resurfaced and was still closed to traffic so I had the whole road to myself! Safe to say that the North Pennines is definitely somewhere I need to go back too (Great Dun Fell next! - Ed). After Lunch in Penrith, I headed towards the ominous gloom of the lakes.
I’ve done Hardnott, I’ve done Wrynose, I’ve done Honister so Kirkstone didn’t seem that menacing in comprison but it bit my legs off all the same. At the foot of the climb your treated to a full view of the brute. the steep valley focusing your gaze on the snaking road before you, no escape, no choice just up. I gave it a bloody good dig despite the extra weight and distance in my legs and descended The Struggle into Ambleside and the YHA for my nights sleep. (Well done Sam, taking on Kirkstone from what we believe is the hardest of 3 ways up! - Ed)
Day 5: Ambleside to Helsby, The Long Haul Home.
So Friday I woke up to the last clear sky of the Tour, but this time it was punctuated by the mirror like reflection from Windermere. The moon perfectly duplicated in the water. I really wish I could have stayed in the Lakes another day but today I was going home.
I could bang on about the glorious roads but the best bit of the ride home was mashing it down the canal towpath all the way too and through Lancaster, dodging pedestrians, prams, swans and other assorted pedestrians. It was an absolute blast! I can see now why people love gravel bikes and adventure bikes but the versatility of the normal road bike cannot be understated. No punctures either! For my lunch that day I met up with my mate Guy for a quick detour to his local caf - the Apple Store in Scorton. Many beans and much cake was consumed.
Next section of my route took me through Preston (not the most enjoyable) but eventually I was back down some quiet lanes and met up with my friend Ed who was kind enough to ride out to meet me and tow me back home through Saint Helen's and Runcorn. His company was much appreciated. About 3km from home, typical, I got the first and only puncture of the whole trip! Pretty impressive for Vittoria Corsas given their reputation.
About 20 minutes later I stepped through my front door to a big hug from my mum, I was home, I'd made it all that way. Steak pie was for tea that night.
So what have I learnt on this trip as a whole? Well for one 39x28 is not a low enough gear for touring.
In all seriousness though I’ve learnt it’s nice to take your time sometimes. I’ve re-learnt why I love to ride a bike, the feeling of freedom and satisfaction of exploring new roads and conquering big climbs! Most importantly I’ve learnt I’m capable of a lot more than I could of ever expected. Pushing myself to new limits has been incredible. I’ve discovered so much about the country I live in and I'm so eager to see more and more. You can bet I’ll be out on another ridiculous adventure next year! But for now, I need a rest.
As you may have heard, we love to help our fellow riders with crazy challenges. Especially when they combine a relentless pursuit of new roads and they don't stipulate "flat" as a criteria!
Sam rode some great roads, but we'd bet we could have saved him almost all the A-roads and given a few more epic climbs - don't blag it, get some local advice!
If you need help planning a route in the #ColdDarkNorth, get in touch, we'd be delighted to help you find the best roads and the finest ways to get to them. Safe miles. And don't try this route at home, kids.