Some hills, like wasps, seem to serve no function other than to cause pain. Cycle in certain parts of Devon, which swarms with pointless little stinging ascents, and you’ll know what we mean.
The North York Moors is also a hive of activity for makers of ‘1 in 3’ road signs, but you are richly rewarded for your climbing efforts. Its bubble-wrap topography means you’ll always have a short, sharp climb on a winding filament of tarmac out of the village or up from the main road; but fifteen minutes later, you’re on a wonderful long flat ridge across the top of the moor. You can enjoy the sheepy solitude, the calls of curlews and snipes, and often nothing human in sight or sound. In late summer sun the vast heather glows with potassium-permanganate purple; in the rain it hisses malevolently and you become another ghost wandering the stratus.
Just as well that, despite your apparent isolation, you’re only a five minute swish down that tarmac chute to a postcard-perfect village with cottage teashop, pub, and chirpy local folks. (Who, in my experience, are good-humoured, no-nonsense outdoors types, and not at all fazed by muddy, thirsty, steamy-spectacled, waterlogged cyclists.)
Chimney Bank, which takes off from the village of Rosedale Abbey like a startled pheasant, is just such a road. There are countless ‘1 in 3’ signs topping out hills across Britain. But according to Guinness, this is the only genuine article (with a gradient of “not quite 33%”, they quoted the surveyor as saying, like a pernickety schoolmaster at parents’ evening). It’s officially Britain’s steepest road.
You’re unlikely not to find it. It’s down the south end of Rosedale Abbey, by the Milburn Arms Hotel pub, and lavishly supplied with warning signs: Rosedale Chimney Bank ½ mile ahead Gradient 1 in 3 Unsuitable for lorries (hip!) & caravans (hip!) Coaches prohibited (hooray!), it says. The warning is repeated, in red this time for emphasis, further up. The tarmac elevator is about to whisk you up to the top floor.
It’s tough, yes, but certainly rideable. And – on a sunny day – glorious. With every metre of height gained, the gorgeous scenery below you unfolds ever further. There are three techniques for making an uphill hack go by quicker: (1) Guess how many pedal revolutions it will be to the top, and count down; (2) Swear copiously; (3) Get off and push.
There are several bends and hairpins, but it’s actually not too long a slog: 176m of climb. It’s an investment you can now cash in.
It’s obvious when you reach Bank Top. You’ll see a bench on your left, a gravel car park on your right, and the sign warning downwards traffic to engage low gear, and cyclists to dismount, which will happen automatically if you try any of the descent’s corners on an icy day.
This is the Spaunton Estate, and with a long gentle downhill, you can take things easy and enjoy the views. You’ll often want to stop and take it all in. Right at the junction brings you down to Hutton-le-Hole, another sturdily beautiful village endowed with pubs and greens where you could set a 1920s period drama.