The Moor, the Forest and the Sea:
Two Days Bikepacking Yorkshire’s YC Adventure Route

In the North East of England, between vast swathes of exposed moorland and the storm-battered cliffs of the North Sea, a sprinkling of Victorian seaside resorts and ancient fishing villages line the coast. Designed off the back of the already famous road trip, complete with twelve variations, Route YC is the latest addition to journeys by bike in England. It explores some of the best of the Yorkshire Coast.

Starting and finishing in Scarborough, the Adventure Weekender takes in Roman-built upland roads, winding forest singletrack and the sands of wide open beaches. At the tail end of January, in the thick of one of the wettest winters of recent years, Chris Hunt joined the inaugural group ride of the 150-kilometer loop, with the hope of filling-in the blanks for what could only be described as a blind-spot in his geography of the motherland.

Despite standing out of the saddle, my speed drops to walking pace as I fight to stay on top of the pedals. I do my best to ignore the gradient and my lack of progress on it, focusing instead on simply maintaining traction between rubber and asphalt as I force the cranks to rotate. I zig-zag across the full width of the road, drawing an erratic, sweaty line from hedge to hedge. While just a short pitch, this will be the third 20%-er I’ve struggled up in the last hour. Perhaps the fourth. It’s a cruel ending to a long day.

But turning the corner, I saw the crest of the hill ahead of me, the group stood at the top silhouetted against the warm glow of the low sun. I’ve barely unclipped from my pedals as rescue in the form of a fistful of sugar-coated gummy snakes arrives in my hand. Here, at one of the most exposed points of our route, a sea of moorland reveals itself, plunged into deep hues of orange and purple, as long shadows trail from our bikes and bodies.

In the stillness of dusk, the last offerings of warmth and vitamin D are gladly received, soaked up by the sparing patches of uncovered skin between us. I’m not the only one with a grin from ear-to-ear as we admire the evening glow.

Short days, low temperatures and volatile weather systems can make winter in the Northern Hemisphere a challenging time for a bikepacking trip. In England’s North East region, where exposed moorland meets the frigid, wind-battered waters of the North Sea, winter can feel oppressive.

When I was invited to ride the brand new Yorkshire Coast adventure loop in winter, I was keen to hedge my bets on the notoriously slim chances of tailwinds, sun and dry trails. Arriving in the seaside town of Scarborough at the end of a particularly wet January weather front to round off what has been one of the wettest winters on record though, I was a little hesitant as to what lay ahead.

As the sun raised its head over the horizon, our team of twelve kicked things off early—an array of bikepacking experience, bikes and tire widths between us—headfirst into a bitter wind that swept the coast from north to south. Fortunately for us, the old railway, which between 1885 and 1965 was a busy line connecting Scarborough and Whitby, now provides cyclists and walkers with a relatively sheltered and traffic-free alternative. Known as the Cinder Track it’s a wonderfully flat artery, cut into the rolling hills and exposed farmland.

The high-sided hedgerows kept the worst of the wind at bay, allowing us to make light work of the distance between the two coastal towns, while glimpses across the distinctive sand and mudstone cliffs, open-ocean white caps and far off oil rigs provided a tangible sense of place.

Among our group was Dom Barry, who is responsible for developing tourism opportunities within cycling across the North York Moors. Calling this coast and it’s network of trails home, he leads us just a short detour away to the secluded waterfall lined cove at Hayburn Wyke. As the cascading water thunders into the boulders on the beach below, fulmars flutter and swoop in the gusting wind overhead. This is the sense of freedom I think many of us had been looking for when we’d joined the trip.

It’s one of the first group rides of the brand new Yorkshire Coasts (YC) route, a project created by round-world-singlespeeder and gravel pioneer Markus Stitz. It’s an extension of the already well-established road trip Route YC, designed with motor vehicles in mind. With a mind to bring the route to a new community, Markus has developed twelve different cycling route options (ranging from 14 to 418 km in length) to account for different ambitions, time frames and of course widths of rubber. Our group chose the Adventure route which, as you might expect, provides more opportunity to get away from the road.

As the ruins of Whitby’s iconic gothic abbey and graveyard come into view, the dark, threatening clouds of the morning give way to brilliant blue skies. Already in just a few hours of riding it feels as though we’ve experienced several seasons.

Connecting the abbey to the town of Whitby are the famous 199 steps, which feature in Bram Stoker’s Dracula. In one of the book’s most memorable scenes, it’s here, having arrived in Whitby, that the vampire climbs to the ruined abbey where he is finally destroyed. Alongside the steps is an impossibly steep cobbled road. Said to have been in place since 1370, it measures as much as 45% in places, and it’s every bit as uneven as you’d imagine any cobbled road from the 14th century would be. Regardless of our heavily laden bikepacking rigs, climbing it isn’t in the cards. Descending it, however… well it would be rude not to. With the unmistakable screech of collectively red hot disc brake rotors, we crudely announce our arrival onto the busy streets of downtown Whitby.

From here, we climb up onto the North York Moors. An exposed upland, this region is home to one of the largest expanses of heather in the country. While we might be out of season for the iconic blanket of pink and purple, the huge burning sky more than makes up for any muted colors across the heath. Fiery orange through soft pink and deep purple into intense navy—it’s spectacular.

Temperatures plummet as a gentle tailwind guides us along the Wheeldale Roman Road. Stubborn to our own rhythms, we spread across the remaining kilometres, rolling over cobbled bridges and through shallow fords. The day has felt joyfully long, my face hot from the relentless bombardment of wind.

A winding descent leads us into Cropton Forest and beneath towering pine, spruce and larch, through what remains of the dappled light. The quiet hum and ripple of tires on cinder alongside the last of the woodland birdsong provides a gentle calm as the dull flicker of rear lights ahead illuminates the way.

Long after dark, we arrive in Lockton, where we warm our bones in front of the log burner at the local Youth Hostel. Beer in hand, with a strong visual glow in each of our cheeks, we fill our bellies and relive the day, recovering ahead of another to come.

We wake to a thick frost and, over an extensive breakfast (not light on coffee), we take our time. Eventually, we reload our bikes to make our descent into Dalby Forest, the slate roofs, dry stone walls and bracken which line our trail still dressed in white.

This is an area known for its extensive mountain bike trail network, but it’s the forest roads and fire tracks that we’re here for. We make fast progress through the trees. Short descents into ancient glacial valleys besides icy trickling streams are followed by steady climbs. Just enough to ensure we don’t surrender too much of our hard-earned warmth.

With another distinct shift in landscape and mood, we break out from the shelter of the rolling forests and steep-sided valleys. The winds have also notably shifted. The bitter northerly traded for a warmer, albeit much stronger southerly. We’ve lost the stillness of the frosty morning, in its place now a howling crosswind. Surrounded by miles of much flatter farmland, it feels like a snapshot of the Spring Classics.

Amongst an energetic subsection of our larger group, I struggle to hold the thinner carbon wheels of the riders in front of me bringing to question my decision to ride a hardtail. Each turn feels like a lottery as we rotate between head, tail and crosswind. Any earlier gains in comfort are now overridden by poor aerodynamics and inappropriate gearing as my legs spin into oblivion.

At the most southern section of our route, we head east towards the historic fishing village of Filey. Five miles in length, the remarkably flat sands of Filey Bay are impressively expansive. While the tide is low, there’s plenty of hard sand on which thick rubber faces little resistance. We ride as far as the beach will take us, before the beach becomes cliff. From here, it’s tailwinds the whole way home.

With one final singletrack climb we reach the smooth tarmac leading to Oliver’s Mount, which has hosted various iconic motor and cycling races over the years, not least featuring in the 2016 Tour of Yorkshire. From the summit, we marvel at the town from which we started just the previous morning, retracing with our fingers our route out and along the coast as we celebrate our collective journey.

Across the 48 hours, my cycle computer clocked a total of 158 km,  but rides like this refuse to be quantified in such simple terms. This wasn’t a journey of epic proportions, not filled with impressive feats of human endurance or highlighting some ability to suffer. After several, cold, wet, dark months, its value may have been as simple as a welcome pause from the city and a long overdue return to long days outside on two wheels. Or, perhaps, in experiencing a carefully crafted route, guiding us through a snapshot of history alongside modern life across coastal Yorkshire, from the shorelines to the exposed upland moors, deep into forested valleys and back again.

Probably though, its highest value lies in the form of its people. Shared experience with minds alike and different in equal measure, trading in the currency of personal stories and local knowledge. Each of us returning to our respective day-to-day with our 2024 bikepacking accounts newly opened, along with it a renewed sense of place and community and as with every additional adventure, a subtle alteration to the way we qualify our experiences both on the bike and otherwise.