Yorkshire Divide - Source to Sea Trail Race Report

Before I start rambling, here’s a summary: Day 1, 193km winding up the west of the Dales; Day 2, 210km across the top of the Dales into the Moors; Day 3, 191km down the coast then back inland and heading south; Day 4, 266km going out east then all the way back west. My official ride time was 3 days 21 hours 9 minutes.

Race Report

I applied for the Highland Trail 550 again this year, but didn’t get in. I thought about riding that as an ITT but really wanted the group start/race thing, so looked for a suitable alternative. Far closer to home than The Highlands, just a county over from where I live, Adrian has a build up a series of races under the Yorkshire Divide brand, with the Source to Sea Trail being his longest.

It’s 850kms long with 11,460 meters of climbing and looks to “Connect [the] trails along the high ground where 10 of Yorkshire’s finest rivers begin their journey”. Coincidentally, the 2024 group start coincided with HT550’s too so the race could also act as a FOMO blocker if so needed.

I headed to Hebden Bridge the night before the race and caught up with a few of the other riders, made a few observations on people’s bike choices and decided I’d not be out of place on my Cotic Cascade. You’re only ever going to ride the bike you’ve with you, but there’s that element of worry that you may have over- or under-biked your selection compared to everyone else.

riders stood in an arc looking at a map

The following morning about I think about 25 of us met up at the start, grabbed thoughtfully provided coffee, bananas, malt loaf, and porridge, before Adrian gave us a quick briefing including a slight detour as a result of the weather making one moorland section a no-go.

At 7:00am we rolled out and near immediately started climbing. Not too steep but steep enough for the pack to quickly get stretched out. There was a little ebb and flow as MTB or gravel bike suited the current terrain, and I to-and-fro’d with a guy called Andy on an out-and-out gravel race bike with 38mm GravelKing tires. He was cursing some of the chunky descents, and I’m not surprised. I caught up with him later in the day and with the terrain and the regular hike-a-bike sections he’d pretty much decided he’d read the race all wrong and was set to scratch.

After a stunning day in the Dales the weather took a turn for the worse. Cam High Road was tricky to ride thanks to it being wet, and it was all getting a bit claggy as it went dark. My bike slipped out from under me multiple times and I was feeling proper tired. I fell sideways into a dry stone wall and caught the back of my head, luckily my helmet did it’s job but sustained a nasty dent, and my helmet light pinged off over the wall into a field. I found that but not the mount which had come detached. I decided to camp up pretty much there and then and found a suitable spot. I was out like a light, waking on hearing a freehub clicking past me at 3:30am, calling ‘Hi’ to no response, then dozed for another hour or so, before getting up an heading down to Hawes.

I rolled past Castle Bolton just as a tour guide was unlocking the place. He didn’t have the keys to the toilet block, but let me use the loo in the main tower. Somewhere around here I lost my glasses. With it being drizzly wearing glasses wasn’t ideal, but these were bi-focal and I needed the lowers to clearly read my GPS display.

stone castle tower above a lightly clouded valley

The rain came and went throughout the day, and I spent a lot of time putting waterproofs on and taking them off again. I passed a cafe with a bike outside so popped in. I met Vaughan tucking into a cooked breakfast and while tempted to stop I pushed on. I climbed to the highest point on the route Tan Hill with Vaughan passing me on the way, stopping again to put on waterproofs then descending towards Reeth. This was where I’d wanted to stop for breakfast and found a café that duly obliged.

While in Reeth, I popped into the Dales Bike Centre and bought a new jersey. The zip had failed on the one I was wearing and keeping it together with a couple of safety pins, while looking punk, wasn’t ideal. All Points North was going on at the same time, and they were a bit confused my by off-road setup till I explained. They told me they’d be dotwatching to see how I got on.

Having ridden through Richmond and Northallerton I caught up with Jade as we neared the Moors, I learned it was her who’d passed me in the early hours, and we rode together for a little while, worrying about a storm that seemed to be brewing before I pushed on ahead.

Climbing up and over, climbing the Cleveland Way steps I remembered descending on the Dales Divide route a few years back. I considered camping at the Lion Inn, just as I had on that ride, but remembered how cold it had got and decided to carry on to somewhere lower down. In my mind there was a bus stop with my name on it, but this didn’t show up and I eventually caught Vaughan again, stopped and setting up camp next to the road. Suitable spots had been lacking so I joined him, despite hoping to have got to Whitby that evening and it looking oh-so-close on my GPS.

I left Vaughan and got on my way. I’d totally misread my GPS—remember I was squinting thanks to losing my specs—and it was a good 90 mins ride (and hike-a-bike) to the coast along a really horrible to try and ride slippery mixed mud and paved path.

Too early for breakfast in Whitby I pushed on to Scarborough. The bank holiday was in full swing by the time I arrived and the first couple of places I tried had over an hours wait for food. I found another, more takeaway like place and got a couple of breakfast rolls. Not the full English I’d hoped for and pretty grim, but hey, sometimes calories are calories.

Back onto the Moors and having made some good distance on forest tracks it then became slow going over boggy ground. Picking a hopefully solid line through bogland is perhaps my least favourite type of riding and I felt I was getting nowhere. Once back on the road, progress to York felt fast.

I stopped to enjoy the evening light on the Minster, then pushed on along the cycle track towards Selby, where I’d considered stopping for the night.

I found a good spot to camp in a nature reserve. It was finally dry when setting up which made things far more pleasant and made for a relaxing end to the day.

At first light I pushed on towards the Humber Bridge. This flat terrain would set the scene for much of the next half-day’s riding. I stopped at a filling station for breakfast. Oh the glamour!

I crossed the bridge and then turned west: Homeward bound.

The next 90km or so really dragged, and due to it being a bit of an easy (as in non-technical) ride I just sat there and pedalled, perhaps not moving about as much as I ought to and before I knew it, a slight hot spot I’d felt the day before really started to hurt. I’d put that down to needing to ride in over trousers pretty much all day, and had thought it was sorted now I was back in just bibs. This wasn’t a regular saddle sore type but more a friction rub. Odd, and increasingly painful.(†)

I totally lost any sense of direction as the route neared Castleford and Wakefield. It followed urban cycle lanes, canal side tracks, and woodland trails and didn’t seem to be going anywhere fast. It was a relief to finally pop-out and reach the open country side around Yorkshire Sculpture Park.

I’m not a racer, but I had been keeping an eye on the tracker. Vaughan was gaining on me and Jade wasn’t far behind. I looked at the route and could see I was on a final loop before the finish, so decided to properly go for it. I’m never at the top of a leaderboard(‡) and it made for a nice challenge to hold that position.

Climbing a not too rocky, considering all that had gone before, track I managed to puncture my front tyre. It didn’t seal and I needed to stop. I put a plug in but that wasn’t enough and it took a second. Luckily that held and I pushed on into increasingly strong winds and occasional heavy rain showers, all the while knowing I was being chased down. No time for photos now, just head down and a final push to the finish … 

… except it wasn’t. My tired eyes on top of blurred vision had totally misread things. The fast and fun final descent into Hebden Bridge as I saw it was in fact a descent into Marsden, still ~30km from the finish with a fair bit of climbing to do, including plenty of hike-a-bike in what was now pouring rain. In my mind Vaughan was now breathing down my neck, but my phone had died and I didn’t want to waste time digging out the battery pack in this weather so had no choice but to dig deep and push on. I could now no longer sit properly, so had taken to half-walking, half-rolling side saddle, as I continued at a snails pace over the moors towards the M62 crossing and beyond.

Hitting the canal was a relief. I knew that this would take me all the way back to the marina we started at, and while it did feel to go on and on made for far simpler navigation. There was one final and I could say spiteful climb up around Todmorden before hitting the canal again and I crawled carefully along slippy towpath paving back to where it had all begun less than 4 days prior. I sat in the rain and plugged my phone in to charge. Once it rebooted I checked other riders’ positions and my efforts had paid off. I had more time in the bank than I’d realized with nobody quite as close as I’d feared.

I painfully pedalled the couple of kilometers back to my van, threw my rancid smelling kit underneath it. and crashed out for a good few hours sleep. I woke and checked the tracker again to see that Vaughan was stopped but Jade wasn’t far from the finish now. I had a shower at the leisure centre I was parked at then went back to Hebden Bridge, arriving just as Jade rolled in. We went and got breakfast and compared notes. We learned that Vaughan had scratched overnight, done for but apparently happy with his achievements. I think this race was his first time riding ‘up north’, and what an introduction that must have been.

†. In sorting my kit out on arriving home I got to the bottom (pun intended) of the source of the friction problem. There was a chunk of lint trapped between the chamois pad and outer lycra layer. It’s really annoying that I didn’t notice this en route as it was actually easy to move it to a position away from my sit bones.

‡. Not all riders were carrying trackers. I believe there were two riders up ahead of me, and while I very much doubt I could have gone any quicker, it’d have been nice to see how far ahead they were.