Easter Trail Adventures to York

Following on from Team Sheffield CTC’s resounding success in the Audax Easter Trail last year, I was keen to get another team together to defend our title this Easter weekend.

I should probably point out that the reason we won last year’s Trail was mostly down to us being the only team that entered, but not to be deterred by that minor detail, I planned a 255km route to York and roped in three other teammates to join me.

For those of you wondering what on earth I’m on about, the Easter Trail is a team event organised by Audax UK and last year was the first time that the event took place. It’s the lightweight cousin of the well-established, and much more hardcore, Easter Arrow event where teams set off from 6am on Good Friday and ride 400+ kms through the night from anywhere in the UK to arrive in York by the following morning between 8am and 11am. The team that clocks up the most miles ridden wins.

In comparison, teams taking part in the Easter trail event only have to ride between 201 and 360km but must factor in a stop for a minimum of eight hours overnight on the Friday evening. The team still needs to arrive in York between 8am and 11am the next morning and again the team that clocks up the most miles ridden wins.

Where a team starts from and the route it takes to York is entirely up to the team captain who plots the route in advance and sends it off to be verified by Audax UK a few weeks before the start of the event. There are a few more rules that teams need to adhere to but basically that’s the gist of it.

I’d plotted a route from Sheffield of 255km taking in control stops at Howden, Easingwold, Horsforth (in Leeds) to our overnight eight-hour stop in the village of Cullingworth near Bradford. Cullingworth just happens to be around a mile away from my dad’s house in Denholme where we were guaranteed a good feed and free bed for the night (thanks Dad). The only downside to this otherwise perfect overnight location is that my dad lives at the top of a very big hill. Like ‘all the way from the Aire Valley to the almost the highest point in Bradford’ big.

I’d tried my best to plot a decent route with some nice, cafe-based, control stops that avoided cycling on busy main roads like the A19 and A59. The main thing to take into consideration when plotting DIY Audax routes is that you can only claim distance for the most direct route between any two locations. Taking direct routes usually means travelling on busy roads so if you want to try to keep off main roads then you have to add extra control stops, or you can (within reason) just suck up the few extra kilometres to take diversions on to quieter roads. However, because you’re limited by time constraints, adding too many extra kilometres in this way can really slow you down as those extra kms add nothing to your final distance tally.

This meant that our team’s official distance of 255km would actually be more like 290km but I reckoned that wouldn’t be too much of a problem as a good chunk of our route would be ridden in the flatlands to the east of Sheffield and around York.

Our team, consisting of me, my Transcon teammate Julie, my other-half Ken, and Julie’s other-half Simon, met at Sheffield train station at 7am on a rather chilly and overcast Good Friday morning to collect our first receipts of the day for our brevet cards. Every rider has to collect a receipt (either from a shop or a cash machine) from each control in order to document what time the team arrives.

The route we took out of Sheffield to our first control at Howden is a familiar route out east for us and once we’d climbed the few little lumps out over Wentworth and around the back of Barnsley, after Hooton Pagnell the route flattened out.

We had a quick cafe stop at the Lakeside Cafe at Askern which is a regular haunt for many of the cycling clubs around South Yorkshire, especially those fond of a bargain as the price of a mug of tea and a toasted teacake is just £1.60.

With a tailwind to help us along we made good time to Howden, arriving at 11am. That Tea Room in Howden is another one of our fave cafes and with another 50km before our next stop at Easingwold we decided to call an early lunch. If you’ve not been here I can definitely recommend it as the food is lovely and the staff are always very welcoming. They also have a big room upstairs that you can book in advance if you need to book a big group in.

After lunch, the next leg of our journey took us north, skirting around the edge of York along the B1228 up to the village of Easingwold. Even though it’s a B-road it was pretty busy, probably due to  bank holiday traffic heading into York, and as it’s quite a straight road it means that the cars can pick up quite a speed so we had a few unpleasant moments with impatient drivers having to slow down (or not, in some cases) to overtake us. We were all pretty glad to get back on to quieter country lanes north of Stamford Bridge.

As none of us had been to Easingwold before we were happy to take a stop here and explore the village a bit. We had a decent, strong coffee and cake at the Olive Branch, a quirky little shop with lots of adjoining rooms that sells all kinds of interesting stuff with a cafe at the rear. After a quick pedal around the village, which definitely deserves a future visit, we pressed on west for our penultimate control of the day in Horsforth.

The day started to get a little tougher as we were now traveling directly into the westerly wind that had been helping us out so much in the earlier part of the day. We decide to start taking turns on the front to give each other a bit of respite across the vale of York to Wetherby but we were still going strong and making good time.

After Wetherby the landscape became a little more rolling with a few punchy little climbs, dropping us down into the Wharfe Valley north of Leeds. These are all familiar roads to me as I grew up in the area between Leeds and Bradford so I knew what to expect. Our first tough little hill of the day, Weardley Bank, climbs out of the Wharfe Valley into North Leeds. At the top of Weardley is green wooden bench placed there by Leeds St. Christopher’s Cycling Club to honour the memory of club member Peter Gannon. LSCCC was also my dad’s cycling club and Peter was my dad’s riding buddy back in the 1960’s so I always stop and take a moment to have a rest on Pete’s bench and today was no different. After pedalling 70 km into a headwind for the past couple of hours it was a pretty welcome rest.

We dropped down into Horsforth at around 6pm and grabbed some supplies and a receipt from the local Tesco. From there it was only around 30 km to my dad’s but anticipating the climb ahead I tried to convince the rest of the team to take on some sugar for a bit of an energy boost as we were all feeling the effects of the headwind. Convincing Ken to eat is never really a problem but Julie struggles to find the right kind of food to keep her fuelled up and by this point was a bit fed up with all of the over-processed, sugary crap that we’d been piling in to keep the speed up.

I swapped the water in my bottle for Lucozade for the final 30km and I’d still got a few lumps of flapjack in my little top tube bag in reserve just in case. The final leg of the day took us through the north Leeds suburbs that drop down into the Aire Valley at Apperley Bridge and on to the main road through Shipley and Bingley. It was pretty busy and we encountered a few more inconsiderate drivers – they’re always a bit harder to negotiate when you’re tired.

The final big pull of the day started in Bingley with a steep, twisty 10% climb out of town up to the village of Harden. At this point it started to rain pretty heavily but climbing was hot work and with only a few uphill miles left to ride it didn’t seem worth stopping to put on a waterproof. We pushed on through Harden to the final control of the day at Cullingworth Co-op, arriving by 7.15pm. Our official milage between the four controls was 190km but the actual distance we’d covered was 220km.

We were done for the day in terms of recording distance but to get up to dad’s we had one final climb, Manywells Brow. It’s less than 100m long with an average gradient of 8% but it gets steeper as you climb, topping out at 15% around two-thirds of the way up so it’s a bit of a killer even on fresh legs, never mind ones that had 200km of cycling in them, but the Lucozade in my water bottle worked a treat and gave me enough energy for that final push.

Manywells conquered, we piled into dad’s for a hot shower, plenty of pasta and a good night’s kip, albeit a short one as we needed to be up around 5am to finish off the last leg to York.

We awoke on Day two to be greeted by a pretty impressive sunrise and after a huge bowl of porridge we were back out on the road for 6.15am. After heading back down to the Co-op in Cullingworth to pick up our only receipt of the day, Saturday’s route retraced our steps as far as Adel in north Leeds before heading east around the north of the city, through the village of Thorner, over the A1 to Boston Spa, Wighill and finally to York. Our official ‘shortest route’ distance from Cullingworth to York was 64km but we were actually going to ride 75km.

The first few climbs of the day were pretty tough on tired legs but we soon got into our stride. Retracing our steps meant that most of the climbs were done with in the first 15 miles and with the help of a fierce tailwind we were soon flying along the flattish roads through north Leeds. We’d planned a quick cafe stop at another fave cafe, Moo in Boston Spa and got there in good time just before 9am for warm scones and strong coffee.

From Boston Spa, we only had 25km to go and we pushed on through at a blistering pace (well, blistering for me). The end was in sight now and still aided by that tailwind we managed to cover the final 25 in 50 minutes, arriving in York just after 10am with an hour to spare and feeling pretty pleased with ourselves.

Another Easter Trail in the bag for Team Sheffield CTC, we headed over to Your Bike Shed cycling cafe for a celebratory bacon sarnie and our final receipt to prove we’d made it. As there was no formal finish control this year we don’t know how any other teams took part or whether our distance of 255km will be enough to retain our Easter Trail winners title, but no matter what the result we had a brilliant time taking part and are looking forward to doing it all again next Easter. What better way to justify stuffing your face with Easter Eggs all day on Easter Sunday?