Ever since I did the Dunwich Dynamo last summer I’ve been contemplating possibilities for similar rides starting nearer to home. Of the various ideas I came up with, a ride out to Scarborough seemed the most promising, with several factors in its favour: any realistic route there heads in a predominantly north-easterly direction, putting the prevailing wind and weather at your back; there are no massive hills in the way; there are numerous quiet back lanes for much of the distance; and Scarborough has a main-line rail station with direct, fast connections back to my home town. When a friend mentioned that he wanted to try to ride a century this seemed to be an obvious candidate. Doing the ride at night in January would add a little bit more challenge and novelty without making the undertaking too difficult. We set a date, finalised the route, and booked some train tickets back home.
The rain was coming down fairly heavily when we set off at 8.30PM, but the roads were already growing quieter and it was quite mild. We dispatched the only two hills of any note quickly and rolled down towards the flatlands that stretch out from the foot of the Pennines towards the sea. As we made our way towards the far edge of West Yorkshire past Huddersfield and Mirfield the traffic thinned out steadily. Cutting the corner between the M1 and the M62 we saw only a handful of cars, and by the time we’d crossed Castleford it seemed that nearly everyone had gone to bed. We stopped to eat some of our food on a bench in a posh dormitory village, and with a little mental arithmetic determined that we were actually going too fast and would arrive at least a couple of hours before the first train home at 6.30AM. We reduced our pace a little in spite of miles of smooth, brand-new tarmac inciting us to race onwards. The rain had stopped by now, but we could see the weather front rolling ahead of us, depositing large amounts of water on the roads, which remained wet for the whole night.
After slipping through Sherburn-in-Elmet we were engulfed in the stench of burning tyres from a massive recycling plant fire, but this only persisted for a few minutes. Once past this final industrial area the traffic effectively vanished. We saw only one or two vehicles an hour from now on, apart from on the odd short sections of A-road which had to be crossed, and even these were quiet. The back lanes were often rough and standing water hid potholes and debris, but with no-one else on the roads it hardly mattered, and we rode two-up most of the time, chatting occasionally. Passing through Wheldrake and Elvington I recognised landmarks from my days at university when I used to ride my mountain bike (and only bike) along featureless, flat bridleway tracks in search of anything worth exploring. I never did find anything fun off-road hereabouts. I would have been much better off with a road bike in those days, this area has to be much more engaging when covered at the higher speeds possible on skinny tyres.
We stopped again at Stamford Bridge to take on more food, and noted that in spite of our efforts to take it easy we were still on schedule for a very early arrival. Going much slower would have resulted in us getting cold, so we decided to just carry on and trust to finding somewhere to shelter at the end. The riding itself was positively enjoyable, the roads undulating but not tough, and in the forty minutes or so between Stamford Bridge and Malton we saw only one car. Beyond Malton our route deteriorated to very rough single-track lanes with deep puddles, thick layers of mud and farm debris all over, but still completely deserted and otherwise very easy going. I was a little apprehensive about the 7km stretch of the A170 that we had to cover, but at 4AM even this was totally silent. We saw one van just outside Scarborough, and other than that we had the entire world to ourselves. The contrast with the normal experience of using the roads in this country could not have been more marked. It struck me just how sad it is that road cycling is so frequently ruined by the impatience, inattention or plain, straight-up hatred of motorists. Riding these silent roads, flying along under our own power without constantly having to be on guard for murderous or ignorant drivers was a revelation. It’s pretty tragic that the only way to experience this in the UK is to do something like taking to the back lanes of North Yorkshire at 3AM in January.
Turning off for the final stretch down Forge Valley we plunged into misty woodlands, chilly and eerie, and a much more interesting approach to the town than the obvious drag along the main road. We took a couple of wrong turns in Scarborough itself, but eventually found our way down to the seafront having clocked up just over 100 miles in seven and a half hours or so of riding. There was not a soul around as we made our way out to the sea, which was inconsiderately lurking an extra quarter of a mile out from the promenade. I polished off the last of my flask of coffee and took a few snaps, trying (and failing) to capture the outline of The Grand Hotel against the clouds, before we hauled ourselves back up to the centre of town and the station.
Unfortunately the station was closed and we huddled outside the door, wearing every extra layer we had with us, for a good hour and a half before the authorities decided to open up (typically, twenty minutes late and with thirty of forty grumbling people milling about waiting to be let in). We ensconced ourselves near our bikes in the single designated bike-storage section, and within about five minutes I had passed out. I awoke briefly at Leeds, and then again as we drew into Huddersfield. A few more miles on the stopper, a roll down the hill, and I was back before 9 o’clock, exhausted but very satisfied with the first century ride of the year.