The First of many days

  • Journal

The day started like any other. A Saturday with nothing unusual or abnormal except for the collection of bags by the back door; bags I’d packed the night before in my excitement for the trip. Although the day was the same as any other August Saturday, my weekend excitement levels were above their norm. It was the first multi-day bikepacking trip I’d go on. The first chance to test the kit and my legs over several days.

Over the last few months I’d spent some time with a good friend to learn the ways of bikepacking. Knowing which kit to take and how to fit it into bags on the bike had been a learning experience of its own. Sometimes I’d take too much and slog round the route feeling achy once we’d returned from the overnight trip. Other times I’d take too little and spend time shivering in the cold night air before climbing into my sleeping bag to warm up. These one night microadventures were valuable in learning exactly what I’d need and what I wouldn’t. Or so I thought.

We met in the sunshine at a car park of an unremarkable village hall. A village we’d both worked in previously and knew the parking would be free. My new bottle cage was fitted to the bike in the car park before the realisation was made that I would only be able to transport one bottle even with the new cage. The frame bag I’d been using for almost a year was just too big for any of the bottles I’d brought. My first mistake. Rather than whining, I decided that one bottle would simply have to do and strapped the rest of the bags to my bike. The now familiar routine of clipping and tightening each bag whilst remembering what I’d put inside reassured me. Then we were off.

At first, the journey was familiar. We weaved down country roads connecting hamlets of two or three houses. Fields on either side stretched out, some with tractors collecting a harvest, others bare where the yield had already been taken. There was very little elevation in the first miles and the going was easy.

Eventually we climbed and began our ascent towards the Howardian Hills and the North York Moors beyond them. We wouldn’t quite reach into the hilliest part of our ride on the first day though; instead stopping at a campsite just a few miles from the start of our journey. It was very much a deliberate act to stop either of us developing any negativity so early on in our journey. I had been in the Peak District two days before the trip, walking slightly more than a 10 mile loop over Kinder Scout whilst Scott had arrived home no earlier than 3am the very Saturday morning we left after playing a gig with his band.

Rather than push the distance, we pitched and took a moment to refill our bottles, eat a snack and familiarise ourselves with the campsite. Two large fields with motorhomes and tents dotted around would be our home for the night, although we wouldn’t see it in the light much that first night. Instead, with bags safely stowed in tents and only carrying the essentials, we swung our legs back over our bikes and headed out to the nearby town of Malton. The bikes seemed to fly without the additional weight of our kit and the five miles seemed easy despite the climb. 

It turns out Saturday nights in Malton during school holidays are particularly difficult to find places to eat. We tried several restaurants before finding outdoor seating at a central building called the Stew and Oyster. The town, initially quiet, began to come alive with echoing sounds of bars and dance music whilst we watched on, quietly eating our dinner. Well fed and with pockets of more snacks from Sainsburys, we began the pedal back to the campsite in fine drizzle.

The following morning was wet. It had rained overnight and the grass was covered with a relentless layer of fine mist which, no matter the effort, would not shift from the tents. I managed to eat a packet of porridge even though I’d lost my spoon from the night before. A makeshift device from the packaging of some Jammy Dodgers worked just fine.

After plenty of faff on my part, we began a second relaxed day to our campsite near Helmsley. The second day allowed us some bridleway fun on what was best described as excellent gravel. It made a nice change to be totally away from roads and the thought of causing a nuisance on the single lanes of tarmac we’d been using until this point. The weather forecast of rain held off and we moved along at a comfortably slow pace, using the time to chat and laugh. Over the course of the day we passed through plenty of hidden gems; villages we’d never have had the pleasure of seeing if it weren’t for our slow-life adventure.

In contrast to our first campsite of the trip, we arrived at our second stay over to find an enormous family spot complete with glamping cabins, a shop and an on-site restaurant. Entirely the opposite of the sort of place we’d actively seek out but also the only available campsite in the area for that evening. Discussion over the night turned to the thought of wild camping to escape the crowds but, perhaps hypocritically of us, we made full use of the easy pickings that evening and booked into the restaurant for tea. It was early to bed after watching the sunset.

Our final day – although we didn’t know it when we woke – would see us cycle into Helmsley for breakfast. We sheltered from the rain at a cafe overlooking the castle. Hidden from the inclement weather, it was here we made the decision to use the day to cycle back to our start point rather than spend the extra night. We’d done what we’d set out to do – test the kit for more than one night and have a good time in doing so. Truthfully, after Ard Rock, a hefty North York Moors route on the hardtail, an overnight bikepacking trip, paddleboarding and the aforementioned hike all in the space of a week, I was ready to head home at this point. Throw in the wet weather and we were fixed on the matter. Over my fruit scone and coffee, I found a quiet route for us home which seemed to avoid the main roads and worst of the climbs for the most part.

Kirkham abbey and the river Rye, which runs right past the ruins, were perhaps the most beautiful of the sights on that final pedal. Castle Howard also gave us a decent dose of grandeur although it did mean we had a short stretch right next to the busy A64. The rain, which had been an influencing factor for finishing our ride a day early, gave way to blistering sun. Of course it did. And then we arrived at the base of Garrowby hill. A tormenting final climb (only partially, thankfully) put us back on the road to the car park where we said our farewells and headed home.

With bags unpacked and photos viewed, our little bikepacking adventure seems like it may be underwhelming to most. For me, it was a perfect, slow adventure around a corner of Yorkshire I thought I knew well. Finding out that there was so much left I’d not seen was an adventure in itself. Sharing that with a friend was a laugh and a pleasure. And doing the whole thing by bike with my own kit added a sense of adventure that driving in my car simply doesn’t provide. Was it epic? Not to most. Was it fun? Absolutely.

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