The Cinder Track

As predicted we awoke to a blanket of cloud, but reasoned that we were on high ground so fingers crossed it would clear as we descended towards our destination of Scarborough to pick up the start of the Cinder Track, which utilises the route of the now disused railway line between Scarborough and Whitby. This was once an extremely busy line which took goods and passengers up and down the coast between 1885 until it’s closure in 1965, a casualty of Beeching’s axe.

Where will it take us?

We had identified an all day parking spot that was also a coach park (and currently partly taken up by COVID testing centre). We tucked ourselves into a corner which gave us room to assemble Twolula before peddling off to the start of the Cinder Track, which we found on the edge of a Sainsbury’s car park. The initial portion of the track runs trough what is now residential and recreational areas before leaving the conurbation of Scarborough behind as well as the tarmac.

The track, now surfaced in a fine black grit, rose persistently for many a mile, we had thought that this was at a 1:59 gradient and were wondering why we were finding it harder work than expected, only discovering afterwards that it is in fact a gradient of 1:39, so no wonder we were puffing!

Although the track travels along the coastline, there is a significant amount of it where the coast is not visible and you are travelling through farmland or a narrow corridor hemmed on both sides by bushes and undergrowth, with the black cinder of the path beneath our wheels. We came into the open with fields and the sea to our right, spying some buildings along the top of the cliffs which on further investigation turned out to be what was left of Ravenscar WWII Radar Station, now looked after by the National Trust.

We were still early by the time we reached Ravenscar itself, this one of the disused stations that are evident along the track. This is apparently the highest point of the track, though it by no means meant that we were downhill all the way from there. We peddled on a straight trajectory through the gate along what was one of the original platforms, too late realising that the cycleway turned off towards the right around what was Station Square. Our error saw us having to navigate a sudden sharp hairpin bend, that was the footpath off the platform. The length of Twolula’s frame though means that she is not an agile gal, and the sharpness of the bend had us taking her beyond the tipping point and us taking a tumble. Fortunately our fall was cushioned by a patch of long grass, once we had righted ourselves we checked that there was no real harm done other than perhaps some future bruises yet to develop and a distinct dampness from the wet grass and a feeling of having been a bit silly to have missed our turn.

We should have followed the highlighted route, and the corner did for us!

We peddled through Ravenscar itself, which only really consisted of a row of a few houses adjacent to the platform on one side of a square green. We had assumed that this is what was left of the town of Ravenscar, but subsequently found out that this was in fact all that was built of what was originally a grand plan for a Victorian beach resort town that was intended to rival Scarborough and Whitby. Evidently all the groundwork had been done with the services (power, drainage etc) installed and the outline of the roads can be seen from the air. The original plans for the resort show that it was intended to be a substantial town built from bricks manufactured at the nearby brickworks, set around a lovely sandy beach. What it omitted to make clear was that the sea can only be reached by a steep 200m trek, and that there is a distinct lack of sandy beach. All that stands testament to this grand plan is the row of villas by the station and a couple of houses that were completed by way of show homes.

Coming out of Ravenscar, it was clear that some bright spark had thought it a good idea to pave the surface with Ravenscar bricks. Alas, what seemed a good idea to showcase part of the history of the area played by the brickworks, has ended up being a stretch of track that is bone shakingly hard to peddle.

Not a good cycling surface!

Travelling on from Ravenscar, the route loops inland following the contour of the land before heading back to the coast to skirt around and down to Robin Hood’s Bay. We had thought to take a detour into the town itself, but on passing through the car park that was already full, with a queue for the ticket machine, we decided that it was likely that the town would be uncomfortably busy, so we carried on up the other side of the bay and on towards Whitby. We crossed over the majestic sweep of Robin Hood’s Bay Road for the last stretch, the track had been fairly well maintained until this point, but the downhill section had been considerably eroded and the going was extremely rough and difficult to safely navigate without keeping our speed down to minimise the risk of skidding. It felt like an eternity but eventually we were on smoother ground, and were soon crossing the spectacular viaduct outside of Whitby where a group of thrill seekers were bungee jumping.

As we approached Whitby, we could see in the distance the remains of the gothic abbey that was the inspiration for Bram Stoker’s Dracula. We had been in correspondence with some friends who by chance were visiting the area and were travelling from Whitby to Scarborough, and as we were crossing the viaduct they were actually at the abbey. It had been hoped that we could meet up, however the Cinder Track took us into Whitby along the opposite side of the harbour from the abbey. Indeed when we arrived in the town itself, the traffic was heaving and backed right up such was the volume of visitors, so we retreated and found a quiet park in which to rest our weary bones and have our elevenses, and had to forego meeting up with our friends today.

Having rested a while, but knowing now what the Cinder Track had in store for us for the return journey, we set off to retrace our tracks. I had not been looking forward to the rough terrain, as though Twolula does have hybrid tyres to enable us to go off-road, such was the erosion and pot holing of the damaged section of the track, that it really was at the limits of manageability. Being behind Mr V, and therefore not able to anticipate the bumps in the road, it can be quite exhausting despite the ‘thud-buster’ seat suspension I have fitted. We got through though without mishap, and it was actually a little easier to control Twolula traversing the terrain on an incline.

Once the surface became smoother, we could again enjoy the lovely scenery as we again circled around Robin Hood’s Bay, which seemed to be even busier than before. Perhaps the best time to visit is in a gloomy October, rather than a gloomy July.

Approaching Robin Hood’s Bay

We headed uphill again towards Ravenscar, the day still chilly and our legs tired from what seemed to be relentless climbing, we decided to treat ourselves to a late lunch at the cafe there and found ourselves day dreaming over what we wanted to order, making tummies rumble in anticipation. Our disappointment was bitter though on reaching the cafe to find that it was closed on Tuesdays, our dreams of cheese toasties with hot tea in a cosy cafe evaporated, leaving us with the emergency rations of tinned mackerel, corn tortillas and the last of the coffee eaten on a chilly picnic bench. Heigh-ho, it was much needed sustenance and reminiscent of our regular lunch fayre when peddling on the continent, though there we would have roggebrood rather than tortillas.

No tea on Tuesdays 😕

Refuelled, we rode on, this time taking the correct route around the platform, and headed back towards Scarborough. It was not long before the sun tried to make an appearance, giving increasingly longer glimpses and a little warmth to the day. From here on in we had the benefit of the 1:39 gradient in our favour and we fair coasted most of the way back, seemingly covering the ground in half the time that it took on the outward journey, passing through former stations that are now quiet residences, but still retaining many of their features from their previous lives.

We reached the Scarborough end of the Cinder Track, and then found our way back to where the van was parked up, keen to get the kettle on for a hot cup of tea to accompany the scones that were waiting to be devoured. Mr V was busy dismantling Twolula at the back of the van, whilst I was inside preparing the tea and scones, when there was a ‘Hello! Can I have a look at your van?’ From behind, and I turned to find a cheery looking chap, with his head poking through the door. It transpired that he has converted a couple of vans already and was thinking that he actually needs a high top like ours and was keen to have a look at our configuration. We made him welcome and talked him through what we had found worked for us and had a time of general van chit-chat, but confess that we were pleased when his daughter came to get him as by this time we just wanted to sit down and enjoy our tea and scones.

Are you going to …?

Once replete, we readied the van and bid Scarborough a farewell, travelling on to our stopover for the night at New Ellerby. Next to what was a railway, but is now a cycle track. I think there is a theme going on here …

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