As someone who nearly exclusively rides in Scotland, TransEngland had never been a ride I thought I’d get to do, despite the fact that every year the checkpoints are posted, I always plot a route between them just in case! This year the stars aligned and it looked like I was going to be down in Liverpool to see family for the kids’ Easter holiday. A plan was hatched to leave the kids with the grandparents on Friday, whilst I jumped a train up to Morecambe for the start. My preparation was ideal as always – got down to Liverpool around midnight, couldn’t get kids back to sleep for an hour and a half, then found myself lying awake and unable to drift off till well after 4 am, before being woken at 7 by the kids! I did nothing strenuous for the rest of the day and arrived at Lancaster nice and handy, after a pleasant train journey, speaking to a young lad with a mountain bike and a nice guy in the middle of moving his bike back to Lancaster after spending a few months being put up in Liverpool rather than being allowed to work from home.

Lime Street looking fine in the afternoon sun

I figured riding the short distance from Lancaster to the coast would be a good chance to tweak anything that was off on the bike and also familiarise myself with the bike path I’d use for the first part of the ride to Scarborough. It was sound judgement, as the front brake was scraping and needed adjustment to prevent it annoying me all through the night. The start time was 8pm, so I didn’t need to rush, taking a ride around to decide on where to eat, before settling for KFC, since I could keep an eye on the bike easily. As I was finishing up, a couple of riders deposited theirs next to mine, with the usual appraising scan up and down before coming in to ask me how big my cassette was! I hung around and chatted for a while before heading out into the windy evening to prepare for the start.

They love a cormorant in Morecambe
Gathering out of the wind for the start

I joined the growing throng of cyclists huddling out of the wind behind the cafe building, seeing a couple of familiar faces from last year’s TransScotland. Team Caroline were not just riding TransEngland, she was planning to use it as the start of a DIY 600km Audax! Eventually the clock reached 8 and riders headed to take their start pictures at what they guessed was the official start point. The Collective web page said people could head any time after 8pm, so there were more than a few who went much later in order to minimise their overnight riding. I wanted to be back handy for the kids’ bedtime the next day, so went with the sunset timing of the majority.

Starting just late enough for sunset
Pointing east to Scarborough

I retraced my steps from the jetty and back along the bike path towards Lancaster. After my usual exhaustive research of route options, I’d decided to go for the the long level bike path to avoid the town traffic and give myself as chilled out a start as I could. Obviously, I missed a turn shortly after crossing the river and ended up stuck on a busy road for longer than I wanted, though I eventually got back on the intended path and cruised along the bank, conserving my energy for what was to come.

Got dark quick along the bike path

Eventually I was deposited back on the road, which was nice and quiet as I made my way towards Wray, managing not be tempted into the inviting country pubs I passed along the way. The moon rose ahead of me, large, orange and impossible to do justice to with an iPhone camera. I split away from the national cycle route at Wray, as I my research showed I’d dodge some climbing by swinging slightly north along more main roads, which should be getting quiet at this time of night. This proved mostly true apart from a 50 year old boy racer shouting something out of his Corsa window as I walked past him into the Co Op at High Bentham. Smiling and laughing confused him enough to discontinue any further attempts at discourse, whilst I sorted my Spot Tracker out and packed some snacks away.

Moon over Wray

After some straightforward cycling and a dash along an A road, I finally dropped into Settle, where I knew the climbing would begin in earnest. I’ve been up and around Malham Cove on school trips in the distant past, but never on a bike. Probably never again either, it was brutal! It varied from steep to stupidly steep and didn’t seem to want to end. Still, it was a beautiful clear night and occasionally I would distract myself from the pain by observing the moonlit moor around me. Dropping into Kirkby Malham, I started to see riders coming back towards me, having already ticked off the first checkpoint at Janet’s Foss. It was evident that I was a fair way down the pack, as I hadn’t seen anyone since the bike path near Morecambe. However, they were all going for the long route to the next checkpoint on the tarmac, whereas I was going over Mastiles Lane in full gravel mode to dodge as much climbing as I could. I met my friend from KFC as he left the Foss, headed the same way as me, but I still had to manhandle the bike down there for my picture.

This would be lovely in the day, at Checkpoint 1, Janet’s Foss
Looking rough before I’d even got started

Pictures done, I resumed my path up the road, looking for the track that would take me onto Mastiles Lane. It was stony and rough on the way up, but nothing the 40mm G-Ones couldn’t handle. Once on the lane, there was a solid bumpy surface beneath the wet grass and I made good time, quickly gaining on my fellow off-roader ahead. The remaining climb was pretty easy after what had come before, but the descent was annoying, mainly due to the horrific noises from my brakes. I actually stopped for pee break to let my prey get away from me rather than make him listen to me screeching down the hill just behind him. I made my way down the rest at the usual “Nowhere near the speed you’d go on a mountain bike” pace that a gravel bike results in.

There had been plenty of rain before the lovely dry conditions of the afternoon

I met my friend again at Kilnsey, where I stopped for a sandwich to give him a headstart before heading into the night for some long hard road riding. I ticked off the place names in my head as I passed – climbing out of Cray I passed several riders in various stages of disillusionment, Kettlewell, Aysgarth. As I descended into the latter, I caught a couple of cyclists and exchanged some brief salutations before leaving the village with an eye out for the bridge I was going to use to switch sides in this valley. This was going to save me a bit of steep climbing later on as this side of Wensleydale would gradually rise above Askrigg to join the last vicious climb to do before the next checkpoint at Crackpot Cottage.

Handy bridge over the River Ure

The climb was dispatched slowly and as steadily as I could manage with my attention grabbing cassette and I blasted down the short descent, taking care not to fly past the next offroad diversion which would take me straight to Crackpot Cottage. I passed through the gate and slalomed and surfed my way down the loose rocky track towards the checkpoint. It was steep and a bit dodgy in parts, but I just about held it together, only hopping off for the very last section as I could see cottages below and really didn’t want to wake anyone up with my horrendous honking brake noises. After a bit of confusion over the checkpoint location, which was further on than I imagined, I got my 2nd checkpoint picture around 3 am. I had yet another reunion with Team Caroline, who had gone for the road route and tried to give some reassuring advice as Caroline was feeling very under the weather. My thought was to head towards the A1 and see if there was a motel along it enroute to recover in – luckily she ignored me and somehow battled on to complete both TransEngland and her full Audax! Made of extremely tough stuff.

Not much to see at this time of night at Checkpoint 2, Crackpot Cottage

I headed away into the night, knowing it would be a long time before I hit the next checkpoint, but the next section was probably one of my favourite bits of the entire ride. The road was good as I cycled high above a valley, with the moon illuminating the scenery around me, which seemed to consist mainly of various tank ranges. I even passed Warcop Traning Camp, where I spent many happy days as an army cadet learning a lot of the skills I put to use on my cycling adventures.

Not much tank activity tonight

Eventually I turned south towards Bedale, where I planned to find breakfast at the motorway services. Unfortunately my progress had been too good, meaning a McDonald’s breakfast would entail a 45 minute wait for it to open at 6. I continued on, remembering someone had mentioned a 24 hour Co-Op in Northallerton which should do the trick. I’m not sure if I went to the right place, but I ended up slightly off route at a Co-Op petrol station where I partially warmed up with a foul coffee from the Costa machine and got myself stocked up with food for the rest of the morning.

Kept getting colder all the way up to sunrise
Co-Op lifesaver

Even though I’d been going a long time, it was still a fair distance to the next checkpoint. I kept rolling on through the country lanes, rising and dropping. Shortly after a scary 200m sprint to get across the A19 I was caught by the same chap I’d met on the bike path out of Morecambe and had a little catch up, before tackling the last big climb before the checkpoint. Finally I dropped down to the signpost with a view, to add to my collection – 4 hours after leaving Crackpot Cottage.

One of the ups
Dropping down soon
Wonky photo of a wonky sign

After a relatively serene overnight section, we were definitely back to the constant ups and down as my route staggered eastward. After one particularly outrageous climb near Hawnby, I glanced over my shoulder at the top to see a sign marking it as 33% – no such warning at the bottom however!

Climb into the sun, one of many

I was now approaching one of my offroad shortcuts, which would involve a short unpleasant climb up a busy B road before taking a track at Newgate Bank that would contour around the ridge above to eventually drop me onto the road to the next checkpoint. The track was in good condition and the climbing fairly gradual, so was definitely the best option for this section. When I regained the tarmac, I had a long steady and seemingly endless climb into the wind to contend with. As the land opened up, I spotted a rider ahead of me that my shortcut had obviously got me closer to, as I didn’t seem to be making any ground on them, just holding them at distance as I gurned into the headwind.

Most useful shortcut of the day
Plenty of time to enjoy the views at the speed I was going up here

My suffering finally came to an end with a speedy descent towards Cockayne, followed by an evil climb to actually get up to the church checkpoint, that nearly had me hopping off to walk it! At the church gate I spotted my distant leader sat on a bench admiring the view, so joined her for a chat as I got some food into me. As we were reviewing the ride so far we had a “Do I know you?” moment and managed to work out that Kirsten had been the lovely person that had handed me a Fab ice lolly at the end of the previous year’s TransScotland in Glasgow and sat round having drinks with her friends in our little post-ride party at George Square. Small world indeed! We caught up a bit more, as I remembered she had been planning to do the Transcontinental last year, which she had done really well in. I got my checkpoint photo done and we both set off within a minute of each other, joined by another rider that had caught us up as we were nattering.

Cockayne checkpoint photo

As the road undulated its way out of the valley, I gradually pulled away from Kirsten and got chatting to my new acquaintance about life and stuff. We finally got the reward for all the climbing and whizzed down to Gillamoor before climbing duties resumed. I was influenced into stopping in Hutton-le Hole for a pot of tea and some decent lunch food at a nice cafe, but was first to leave as I wanted to keep momentum.

Great recharge stop

A section I had spent a long time thinking about was coming up, which was the approach to Levisham station. There were lots of contour lines close together and plenty of paths crossing to it from the nearby village, but no obvious winner. I’d plotted a vague route but was planning to play it by ear. I took the turn from the edge of the nearby village as planned and took a look over the edge at one of the direct paths. This involved falling down a steep grassy hill as far as I could see, so I decided to make up some switchbacks on what looked like a marked path near the campsite through the trees. The track was pretty muddy and messy, but it was worth the slight extra distance to have a track with a firm base and much less of a gradient to deal with. This eventually deposited me on a good wide track next to the railway, just a few hundred metres along from the station.

Following the vague path signs did the trick
Penultimate checkpoint completed

There was a fair gathering of dishevelled cyclists gathered at the station for a late lunch, most of whom seem to have tales of horrific mud baths, so I tried my best not to be too smug about my route down. I didn’t hang around, since I’d already had my stop earlier and wanted to get this next climb done before my legs got used to the rest. I expected this bit to be tough and it was – steep immediately, then easy then steeper! As it was a single track road I wanted it done as quick as possible to avoid a convoy of cars behind me. Luckily my timing got me to near the top of the worst bit with just one tail, who was able to pass at a slight widening, without me needing to stop. Once out of the valley, my route was about to differ from most, as I had devised a way to avoid some upcoming steep road climbs by following a track over Levisham Moor to take me round the Hole of Horcum, which would keep my height. I’d been in two minds about going this way the whole time, but wanted to get my money’s worth out of the gravel tyres and see something a bit more interesting than more roads.

Grassy track heading for Hole of Horcum

It was mostly pleasant riding, but I could tell my legs were tired, as the easy gradient felt like hard work. Once it levelled off, I picked my way along through the muddy bits, taking in the view before emerging at an A road, which was handily bypassed by staying on the parallel track before crossing it to reach the Old Wife’s Way. This would take me into the edge of Dalby Forest, whilst having saved myself a couple of hundred metres climbing.

Looking into the Hole
Bit muddy on the Tabular Hills Walk
Start of Old Wife’s Way

I ate the last of my sandwiches after crossing the road, figuring I was done eating anything substantial till the end. I weaved my way along the track around puddles and in potholes, coming to the realisation that though it was interesting and shorter, I was definitely going slower than I needed to stay ahead of those I’d left behind. I was soon hugging the edge of Dalby Forest eventually mixing in with mountain bikers and one e-biker who felt the need to show his superiority by giving me a close-up flyby at max speed. I took a right on a new but of forestry track which would get me to the tarmac sooner than my original route which looked like it would involve slipping down a muddy track through the trees. The track was smooth and quick, so I joined the road quickly and started to get a wriggle on in the hope of catching anyone that had nipped ahead whilst I was exploring.

One of the nice bits of the Tabular Hills route to Dably

Any attempt at haste was short-lived, unfortunately – dropping out of the forest on a steep tarmac section my front brake pads decided to disintegrate and eject themselves from the calliper! I somehow managed to bring myself to a halt with just the back brake and got to work on replacing them sharpish. Somehow in my haste I also managed to pick up a large amount of dog turd from the verge on my wheel, which also required removal before I could finally resume progress. It wasn’t long till the last checkpoint, where I got my photo before wasting yet more time trying to clear the rest of the unnoticed dog mess off my shoe and pedal in a large puddle – still no idea how there was so much lying somewhere in wait for me beside the road!

Final checkpoint, smell not included

I now had to reach the finish in Scarborough, where I had again taken a slightly different route into town to cut out distance and climbing whilst also avoiding busy roads for longer. My turn off took me along the Low Road and then onto various bike paths before re-joining the road within sniffing distance of the beach. Once I dropped onto the sea front, the culture shock was immense after a night out alone on a bike. All the usual British seaside trappings of fair rides and arcades, with the added bonus of too much traffic and crowds of over age mods hanging around their parked scooters and heckling passers by. I navigated my way to the Diving Belle relatively successfully and got my shots, before chatting with fellow riders who were milling about.

Final shot and time to ditch this joint

Kirsten had come in four minutes before me, my brake pad/dogpoomageddon proving decisive in dropping me a place in the standings. She had a B&B booked and I had a train to catch, so we decided to skip the post ride drinks party as the general atmosphere wasn’t really to our liking! I headed to the station with time to spare, only to find that my train was cancelled and I had another two hours to wait for an alternative train to York. I headed to a chippy for my recovery meal and whiled away the time wishing I was anywhere else. I met another rider at the station and had a good chat about riding and life before going our separate ways. My wait at York was punctuated by an out of his face traveller nearly getting hit by my train after he jumped onto the tracks to retrieve his vape after dropping it for the 10th time. If I hadn’t shouted to warn him, it could have been a very traumatic end to the day. Once he realised his predicament he started climbing up only to try and fight off the young girl who was close enough to try and help him do it. He just made it, despite the train making no effort to brake and some staff finally escorted him away for his own safety!

Safely on the train with no-one under it

I got back to Liverpool fairly late, but still early enough to read the kids a story and get a brew before bedtime. This was a properly tough ride, with climbing more relentless than anything I’ve done in Scotland, but it was great to get a proper ride in England for a change, especially as a bonus I wasn’t expecting to enter! I may be back…

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