Saturday’s Mackenzie Thorpe sunset over the A66 through Teesside.
Whitby, which lies in Yorkshire’s far east and is the last stop on The Moor Road before people start speaking German, has been along quite a few historical avenues that turned out not to be going anywhere in the long term. First they embraced monasticism in a big way but folks turned out to be not so interested in a life of contemplation and solitude when they found out they couldn’t tweet everyone every five minutes about how awesomely contemplatenous and solituditive they were being right now, and the haircuts didn’t really sell it much either. Then they threw everything in to whaling but the bottom fell out of that when people got too fat to wear corsets any more, and also they ran out of whales. For a time the big thing in Whitby was discovering Australia but ultimately there’s only so many times you can do that and anyway the risk of bringing back another Rolf Harris was just too great so the whole discovering new continents gig kind of faded out after a while too.
This history of picking ultimately unfashionable causes is a bit of a concern as the inaugural Tour de Yorkshire bike race will come through here in a few months’ time on the first of its three stages. Some of us are very excited about this race. The visit to Yorkshire of the Tour de France last summer was a very special couple of days indeed but the race this May promises to be really something because it’ll last three days, it’s brand new, it’s all ours’ and if it works out it’ll happen again next year. There is one trend in popular culture however which really got started properly in Whitby at the back end of the century before last, about the same time as cycling was starting to catch on in fact, which has since gone from strength to strength and, although they wouldn’t drink anything so gross as a cyclist’s energy gel, the combination of fear and misunderstanding yet strange fascination and even attraction the modern vampire seems to engender in the public at large is not a million miles away from the ambivalent reaction people riding bikes sometimes have to deal with. Hopefully therefore this can be taken as a good omen for this spring’s event, for Yorkshire’s mooted Road Worlds bid, and for bike fans in general and although the Tour de Yorkshire is being brought here by a French company I’m sure there the health and safety issues around bringing garlic to Whitby are all well in hand.
I like to imagine that the road builders of old, working as two gangs heading north from Kettlewell and South from Carlton, met up at Park Rash, saw the difference in height between their two bits of newly laid turnpike and the angle of the steep head of the little valley which carries Park Gill Beck down to the Wharfe which they’d need to put a road down, muttered a collective resigned ‘Bugger’ and then ran around holding carrier pigeons above their heads trying to pick up some coverage so they could have a nice friendly chat with the surveyor. These days they would just have blasted have the hill away but what they left us with was the Dantesque descent from the plains of the moors high above Coverdale through several levels of slippy bendy steepness down to the village shop through whose door you would ride if you didn’t have quiet enough rubber left on your breaks when you crossed the cattle grid at the top.
The top of the hill, reached by the deserted winding lane rising up from Middleham, always seems close to heaven because it is so very quiet (there aren’t many houses to start with in the dale and half of those will be empty in the winter as their owners don’t live in them), it’s high and the fells either side don’t rise much higher so you feel elevated, the view south could be something from a John Martin painting and it always seems to be lost in a kind of ethereal gloom which makes for a calming feeling of distance from the worries of the mortal world but which is really crap for taking photos (which is probably why this beautiful bit of bicycling bonkersness hasn’t featured on here before). I would definitely think that if you hung around up here too long wearing cycling gear in winter then heaven wouldn’t take much time to get to at all.
So there you have it; the lovely Park Rash: ride up it if you have big lungs, ride down it if you have big, err, nerves. It can be a wee bit grey at this time of year but I love it anyway. The photos I took may have come out a little dull but I was damned if was going to spend all of this morning freezing my arse off on the bike and not get a blog post out of it. There are a limited number of opportunities, given the challenges presented by winter road conditions, shortage of daylight and surplus of weather and being unable to zip my jersey all the way up due to eating too many mince pies, between now and spring to get out for more than a couple of hours so the dieum had to be carped even if the route was photogenically uncooperative and I still can’t feel my toes. Let’s hope for some snow soon so I can lighten things up a bit.