Most people come to Whitby for the Goth festivals, the fish and chips, the quaint old fishing-cottage alleys, Captain Cook, the Abbey, or the Dracula shtick. Today, I came for a cobbled lane.
Because the rugged harbour gem has a candidate for Britain’s steepest cyclable street. Well, cyclable in theory. Church Road, aka Donkey Track, takes off from the Old Town in its 1-in-2 climb to the ruins of the Abbey.
It runs parallel to a well-known 199-step staircase, and is technically available for motor vehicles for access, and all cyclists. Some people have managed it. However, given the rough brick surface, you’ll need a mountain bike to ride it. With very low gears. And very good brakes. And probably e-assistance. Flexible travel insurance, too.
I was taking advantage of the national scheme, running from January to March, which caps single bus fares at £2. Agreeably, the scheme includes the 840 Coastliner from Leeds to Whitby via York – often cited as Britain’s most scenic bus journey thanks to its crossing of the North York Moors. Thanks also to my Dahon folding tourer, this all enabled a very good value bike trip – especially factoring in the £11 winter deal for stays at Whitby Youth Hostel, dramatically situated by the Abbey at the top of Church Road.
I’ve cycled other candidates for Britain’s steepest street – or attempted to, anyway – such as Fford Pen Llech in Harlech and Vale St in Bristol, both around 40%. But (given those cobbles) this is the toughest, and almost certainly has the sharpest gradient.
At the bottom, by the tea shop, my photographic analysis reckons the slope is 48.5%: 1 in 2.05. (Overall, from bottom to top, it averages out at about 1 in 4 / 25% over around 150 yards/150m.)
I came away from my overnight trip with three things learned.
Tip 1: Stay at the Youth Hostel and you can visit the Abbey free. It usually costs over £11, which is what I paid for my dorm bed.
Tip 2: The quiet winter off-season is a great time to enjoy fish and chips from the iconic Magpie Cafe on the harbourfront: unlike summer, when you queue for an hour, you can walk straight in.
Tip 3: Don’t try to cycle up Church Road. Still less down it.