Cestria CC does the “Hell of the North”

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Club Vice-Chair Ian Gardner enjoys some downhill, shortly before the turn at the Woodcock pub. In the background may be seen Stuart “Chester” Cook and Adam Dunn.

A few of us have been doing the Darlington Borough Council’s “Hell of the North” for some years now, and for good reason. Despite the name, and the Council’s proviso that it is for experienced cyclists, it is a super way to get a ‘ton’ under your belt since it has no really steep climbs. We gather at the Town Hall car park in Darlington at about 0830 on Sunday 4 September 2016, and after wrestling with Adam Dunn’s inner tubes for 20 minutes, we registered (£12 on the day, including a free T-shirt) and set off at about 9am. Heading south towards Scotch Corner and with a moderate tailwind, we got into a useful group of about 10 riders and cruised into Richmond which was thankfully quiet at that hour. The next section to Redmire uses the famous ‘tank road’ (because they transport tanks on it to the nearby firing ranges, of course!), and after a cautious descend into Redmire, we headed west along the glorious back lanes to Askrigg, avoiding the main valley road. Around the junction to Bainbridge, we passed a somewhat frustrated Cestria CC rider Steve Gee who had cycled from home (vicinity of Houghton), and who had experienced his second puncture at that stage. Richard Barnett was also doing the event, but I think he had disappeared over the horizon at this stage, recording an average of over 18mph for the completed course.

With everyone sharing the work (Ian Gardner, Stuart “Chester” Cook, Adam Sunn and myself), we caught a group led by Spennymoor CC riders and chatted with them until near Hawes, where there was a major discussion as to where the route went. Being sticklers for routes, we followed the approved route into Hawes (stopping to “powder our noses”) and then headed straight out towards the turning point north at the Woodcock pub. This section of the route is lumpy; nothing massively high but enough ups and downs to challenge the body. We passed a number of ladies doing the cycle who were sensibly pacing themselves at this point. Here we met relatively new member Peter McGowan who was doing the event for the first time (and it was his first 100-mile attempt), and was also pacing himself carefully, having started at 8am.

Having regrouped again at the Woodcock, we then turned north towards the 12 miles or so to Kirkby Stephen. Surprisingly, the side/headwind was not too bad at this point and, miraculously, we had missed all the short, sharp showers as well. Reaching Kirkby Stephen at about 1245, we found the checkpoint, took some water, Mars bars and bananas from the helpful people from Darlington BC, and then had a quick stop at a cafe for sandwiches. Adam, mindful of the calories required after Brough, ordered a double egg and chips, while Stuart had a coffee and an energy bar – goes to show you that each cyclist’s food requirements can be quite diverse!

Five of us set off from Kirkby Stephen at about 1.30pm and took the easy but busy road to Brough. After the T-junction in the town, the serious and most challenging climb begins. While it is somewhat long, it only hits more than 12% in a few, very short, sections. Again, we regrouped and then descended cautiously towards Selset reservoir before the final climb before Middleton. This was the only section of the ride where we needed to don capes and gillets, and took them off again after the climb from Middleton. From here we were benefitting from the effects of a healthy tailwind, and once we had tackled the Eggleston climb, it was more-or-less downhill all the way to the finish. Again, the group broke up a bit, but nobody was allowed to cycle on their own for any great length of time. We all reached Darlington in good time, with Stuart, Adam and myself getting in under 6 hours riding time. Top marks to Peter McGowan for completing the event; he is a “graduate” of the club Steady Rides and goes to show what you can achieve with a bit of determination and help from club members (Ian Gardner in particular).

Finally, many thanks to all those who organised and sponsored the event; Darlington BC, Solon Security and Durham Police’s Operation Spoke, particularly those staff who gave up their Sundays. It would be great to have a decent group from the club next year; local events need our support and it would be a great shame to see this event drop from the calendar.