Ah, Scarbados! Yorkshire’s Blackpool, its national beach resort. A bit cold for a dip today, but there were consolations. A ludicrously long bench. A superb, if frustrating, cycle path. And a Tile Map.
The bench first. It’s on Platform 1 of Scarborough station, and ideal for introverts. Because it’s 139m (456ft) long. Two emotionally repressed men can sit down on it so far apart that there’s half a second time-lag between speaking and being heard. Social distancing is no problem here.
It’s not the longest bench in the world. I’ve seen longer ones (outside Budapest castle, for instance, there’s a 420m long one, though you’ll search in vain for a nearby Greggs to enjoy a chicken bake sat on it). But it’s probably the longest railway bench.
Tile Map 5/9: Scarborough
Anyway, having tested various places on the bench to find the best spot – about 57m from the left, I reckoned – I could concentrate on the Tile Map. This one, alas, was tricky to see square-on because the station is currently smothered in nets and scaffolding, but I could see enough of it to know it’s in good nick.
Now I could enjoy one of Britain’s most remarkable railtrails: the Cinder Track, running twenty miles from Scarborough to Whitby along the old railway line hatcheted by Beeching. ‘Where will it take you?’, asks the information board at Sainsbury’s, where the trail starts in the city centre near the station.
The answer, based on my experience, is ‘A&E’: twice I’ve had a cycling companion come a cropper on the track and require hospitalisation. (It was the same person each time, which may invite some theories.)
After a couple of miles of tarmac conveyor belt to the edge of Scarborough, it’s unsurfaced mud/gravel to Ravenscar. From there it’s bumpy, stony track to Robin Hood’s Bay, and after that, a decent gravel surface to Whitby, with the last mile or two on tarmac.
Ravenscar is a place with a story of its own: a planned seaside resort that ended up a financial disaster, possibly due to the beach being 100m down a sheer cliff and freezing cold. The Cinder Track from Scarborough to here is a bit dull, but once you pass the fine hotel on the headland, you are rewarded with equally fine views down over the coast and over to Robin Hood’s Bay (RHB). The hotel is a great place to wait for ambulances, by the way, and they have a first aid kit.
I was surprised and delighted to encounter a touring cyclist coming the other way, clearly loaded up for a major trip. I was even more delighted when it turned out, by coincidence, to be an old friend of the family, Ricky, who had just set out to ride the entire Coast of Britain. Hats off! Except it was a bit cold, so I put it quickly back on.
The surface to RHB isn’t quite as rutted as it was, but it’s still horribly bumpy down the long slope from Ravenscar. RHB is a honeypot, and we’re all a bit suspicious of honeypots these days, when many of them apparently just contain sugar syrup.
But today it was glorious in the sun. RHB looks for all the world like a Cornish fishing village that ended up in North Yorkshire by some freak satnav error. I took my bike down through the winding cobbled lanes and past the skewiff cottages to the beach, to dip my wheels in the North Sea, as if I’d cycled the Coast to Coast in the manner of Wainwright’s walkers.
More lovely views over the cliffs from here to Whitby, on a decent surface. This bit is a gem of the cycle network. Cobalt skies, emerald fields, pearly sheep, fluorspar sea. Probably ruby cheeks, too: it was life-affirming stuff on this bright, breezy morning.
At Hawsker the distant silhouette of Whitby Abbey’s ruins comes into view, and soon I was crossing Larpool Viaduct, the grand old railway crossing of the Esk, with Whitby’s harbour way down below. I’ve cycled in and around Whitby many times, most recently to investigate Britain’s steepest and toughest street, and enjoy the Magpie Cafe’s legendary cod and chips, often cited as the country’s best.
But today I had other fish to fry: the North York Moors Railway. This is, in my humble but nevertheless correct opinion, Yorkshire’s best, therefore the country’s best, therefore the world’s best, heritage railway. Britain has over a hundred, so that’s saying something.
Tile Map 6/9: Whitby
First I had a quick look at Whitby’s Tile Map, an original in good condition, cautiously fenced off by iron rails from the curious passengers awaiting the North Yorkshire Moors Railway steam train.
The NYMR is something very special. It runs 18 glorious moorland miles from Grosmont to Pickering, offers several daily services outside winter, and photographs of its effervescent steam engines pulling good old-fashioned carriages through the winding green-brown-and-purple valleys of the North York Moors are a Yorkshire-calendar staple.
The Pickering to Grosmont line was one of Beeching’s most notorious casualties, but thanks to generations of volunteers, the line has been saved as one of Britain’s great time-travel experiences.
No wonder it features regularly in films, notably Harry Potter at Goathland. The NYMR is a must-do, it really is.
Some of its services go from Whitby, conveniently for me. Even more conveniently, their ancient rolling stock has a guard’s van, with plenty of room for bike and cyclist.
I could keep switching sides as I leaned out the window, in defiance of the warning sign, to see the loco up front doing its steamy thing as the train snaked this way and then that.
Tile Map 7/9: Pickering
Pickering station – in keeping with the carefully-curated, tasteful period reconstructions and decor – has a replica Tile Map. I sipped a coffee from the adjacent cafe and gazed at the railway network of old for the thousandth time as passengers embarked, disembarked, and occasionally barked, around me.
Which reminds me: the NYMR does have special bike tickets, but for expediency today I was issued with one for a dog for the same price. So my bike was a dog today.
It had been another glorious day of bikes and trains. From here I’d return to Whitby, and tomorrow I’d conclude the Yorkshire Tile Maps set by heading from there to Middlesbrough…