Lying on the field at the National Park Centre yesterday, we pretty much dismissed any notion of cycling the 80 or so kilometres from Whitby to York for our final stopover. Since last night then, we had been weighing up our options which involved either a three hour Whitby to Middlesborough to York train journey; or, a two hour ride to Scarborough followed by 50 minute train journey. With the latter, one concern was that we would have to ride, for some part at least, on the distinctly unpleasant A171 which was as appealing as cycling all the way back to London.
Having safely reached Whitby yesterday evening, we had many more immediately important decisions to make, like what and where we were going to eat, so classified the route as a something to worry about later, and headed in to town. After our Wetherspoon’s food stop, we found ourselves in the Arch and Abbey for a spot of real ale where the beer god presented us with a local guide which, in between the plethora of double glazing adverts, had an article about cycling the 20 miles of the Cinder Track along the former Scarborough to Whitby railway line, avoiding traffic and ridiculous gradients. This did seem like a perfect solution, my only nagging doubt was the author’s assertion that moderate mountain biking skills would be needed as there was the potential for boggy areas and some steep sections which required care. We both have the skills, but would our loaded bikes be up to the job?
It certainly beat a three hour train journey and Sandra’s enthusiasm for the idea won the day. Firstly we had to get out of our hotel room which, being down in the basement, at the end of twisting corridors and through multiple doors, took a while with a relay of luggage and bikes until we finally emerged, looking out to sea over the West Cliff. Ready now for breakfast, we headed back to Spoon’s where we spoke to a man who had once cycled across the dessert in the Lebanon and who was somehow still in awe of our trip.
Unfortunately when we arrived at the start of the Cinder Track we had to climb a thousand stairs to get to the trail itself which took a while with a relay of luggage and bikes until we finally emerged, looking down the path to Scarborough. Interestingly, back in the day, the train to Scarborough departed from the main Whitby Station before circling around up the steep Prospect Hill Spur, away from Scarborough, where the driver would stop, get out and walk to the other end of the train to change direction. The journey was then able to continue across the spectacular Larpool Viaduct spanning the River Esk before making its slow ascent to Ravenscar and finally dropping down to Scarborough.
Our journey started by almost immediately passing an entry point on to the track which didn’t involve a million stairs. That annoyance aside, the terrain was brilliant fun, ranging from tarmac to gravel to large stones and bricks and back down to compacted earth. Nothing Sandra’s 28mm Continentals couldn’t handle, let alone my 32mm bullet proof Schwalbes. And, yes, there were a couple of steep ramps around Ravenscar, as the article said there would be, which if it had been wet, may have been a struggle to cycle up, but in reality the worst thing we had to was contend with were stampeding(ish) cows. Otherwise it was a perfectly pleasant off road ride, past Railway themed B&Bs and cafes on our more than capable road bikes.
There is controversy with this line; closed during the Beeching Cuts in the 1960s, people feel that their opportunity to enjoy the undeniably beauty of this line has been lost. However, this is no longer private land meaning you can now explore it at your leisure whether you have paws and are taking your human for a walk, or just a human with some boots or pedal powered wheels. There were a lot of needless closures in the sixties, but arguably, with drivers having to swap ends part way through the journey; with trains constantly behind schedule as the they struggled with the challenging gradients and further knock on effects on the mainline, at the time of closure this line wasn’t viable. I think if this was converted back to a railway line, we’d now lose a lot more.
A tip if you find yourself in Scarborough with a bike in need of an unexpected train journey. You need to book your bike on the train in advance. Which apparently isn’t, according to the ticket clerk, an hour before travelling (a similar train concept is that you aren’t late until you arrive somewhere more than five minutes after the scheduled time). This left us being advised that we must take our chances with the whim of the train’s guard.
As it happens, the station manager, who must have been witness to this craziness, found us on the platform and presented us with our bike pass explaining that he had checked the reservation status and found there was room for us and the bikes. Not only that, when the train arrived, he escorted us through the crowds to the correct carriage to make sure we got our bikes on safely before the rest of the passengers filled the space up with their rubbish. 50 minutes later we were pulling into York and, after a slightly superfluous tour of the inner ring road, we soon arrived at our hotel.
Whitby to Scarborough