- Distance 253km (157 miles)
- Climbing 2384m (7822ft)
- Grade Hard
- Duration 10-16 hours
- Maps OS Landranger 122 Skegness and Horncastle, and 101 Scarborough
- Download the route here
Skegness. Ask pretty much any adult in Britain about the town and their answer will usually describe the quintessence of faded seaside glamour – shabby arcades, candy floss, a chill North Sea breeze on a seen-better-days pier. That’s what I’d have said, even though, like many grown-ups with a notion of Skeggy, I’d never been before today.
Three of us are crammed into one room in the town’s Savoy Hotel, and we all fall into the ‘never visited but know all about it’ camp. We’ve arrived late as the lights from the seafront amusement parlours illuminate elderly day trippers wolfing down bags of deep fried potato, so first impressions are that our expectations will be adequately lived up to.
We’re here with a plan: to ride from the pier at Skegness, Lincolnshire, up the east coast to the pier at Saltburn-by-the-Sea, North Yorkshire. A ride of more than 150 miles. In a day. It’s an optimistic plan so we’ll need an early start. Sadly, our landlady tells us that breakfast starts at 8am. That knocks at least two hours off daytime but she’s not wearing a face that invites argument. Pier pressure is on.
Luckily it’s a decent meal, and as the last triangle of toast vanishes to leave a view of coastal wind farms and an oil rig, Skegness isn’t looking too bad. We’ll readily admit that the grandeur isn’t as faded as we thought it would be.
KISS ME QUICK
The reason for our stereotype is clear as we roll off the pier, dip our tyres in the sea for comedy cliché points and press our sandy pedals northwards into the chilly air. While Skeggy itself isn’t that big, it’s surrounded by vast swathes of mobile homes. We’re not talking trailer parks – these immaculate, largely immobile communities are populated by immaculate but largely immobile pensioners. Each tin granny can has its own fence, polished plaque, potted plant and mobility scooter. Five minutes later we pass an old boy hammering along on his in a camouflage-pattern Stetson, his crutches stowed like John Wayne’s Winchesters, presumably ready for a shootout at the Wild Coyote bar we pass a mile on. If you’re into kitsch it really doesn’t get any better than this.
As we spin past the huge waterslides and rollercoasters of Butlins – the first ever, opened by founder Sir Billy in 1936 – and head off the main road towards the coast we go through more caravan communities. Our hoped-for coastal shortcut ends badly though, with sandy heaps on a stepped sea wall complete with pastel beach house bunting. If we’re going to see Saltburn we’ll have to get serious.
A few miles north of Skeggy the pensioner prairies and pound-stretching delights thin out into more isolated pockets. This allows some bits of old Lincolnshire, such as the leaning church tower of Sandilands, to get a look in. It’s still mostly bungalows and beach huts as we head into Mablethorpe though. An old girl with a ‘Speedy One’ race plate on her scooter styles it one-handed past Lidl.
The roads are making us feel young too – flat, fast and with just enough curve to keep us interested. The mileage total climbs encouragingly fast and our average speed rises quickly towards the optimistic target we need to get across the moors before sunset. This is the kind of country that deep section wheels and full size chainrings were made for, and Alex is loving the Reynolds hoops and sculpted chassis of his Litespeed CR1 as we fly towards Grimsby and Cleethorpes. The architecture is getting more interesting too, with derelict farmhouses held up only by the trees through their windows, and cottages buried under blooms of ivy.
The drainage channels vital for keeping this low-lying area dry enforce a dramatic road layout change. Suddenly everything goes Etch A Sketch, with right-angled corners joining long straight lines. Ancient churches crouched in clumps of woodland share the vast expanse of sky with the Wolds in the west and wind farms to the north. Saltfleet brings tiny dinghies in tidal creeks, terraces with mossy windows, and salmon pink farms picked out with red windowsills like a kid’s painting. You’ll be paddling at your peril on this coast though – red flags indicate that the Donna Nook offshore bombing range is open for ballistic business.
We tuck in behind a tractor at a steady 20mph, its bouncing tyres strangely hypnotic for a few miles. Skylarks pipe up as we reach the bands of blue we’ve seen in the north all morning, and a solar shoulder massage eases the aches of our clock-watching charge. It’s even doing a decent job of making normally eponymous Grimsby look cheerful. Fans of maritime architecture will appreciate the tipper bridge you duck over to avoid the main dual carriageway to the Humber Bridge.
NOT SO GRIM UP NORTH
From here to Hull it’s industry that’s the main preoccupation. The low horizons are dominated by clouds of steam, steel chimneys, refinery storage tanks and other industrial plumbing systems. But keep your eyes down and there are some pockets of prettiness to leapfrog between. The area’s major trunk routes mean even the main roads they’ve replaced are relatively quiet. The north end of the Lincolnshire Wolds adds a bit of elevation, though most of the rises are still low enough that you can see over the top if you stand on the pedals. They’re no threat to our big ring charges.
It’s the tall towers of the Humber Bridge we’re scanning for, and its humpbacked span proves to be the biggest hill so far. It’s still shallow enough for a spirited gallop over the broad, brown estuary, and there’s enough handrail on the separate cycle lane to stop vertigo. It seems a good place to stop, so we drop down to the foreshore café.
The clock is ticking remorselessly though, so tea and butties are downed and we take the fast and dirty option up the main road to Beverley. There are prettier ways to get there but we’re well into the afternoon as we leather it between the roundabouts of the A164. A truck helps us hoist speed up to 30mph before we sneak onto the cyclepath with legs howling.
The charming oasis of Beverley is the real surprise. On a bright day the broad streets and old townhouses around the marketplace make it look charming. The rolling road north is a lot flatter than we feared too, keeping our gears tall and cadence high despite an ominous fuel switch from stored energy to whatever we can find in our pockets.
Driffield is another forgotten gem. To the north, the Yorkshire Wolds are a total contrast to the brash world we started in. While only sparsely populated, they’re teeming with history, from Bronze Age barrows to lost medieval villages. They’re draped over a beautiful rolling landscape that’s a lot like the South Downs – lovely unless you’re scraping glycogen barrels. The banter stopped a while ago and as the swell of the geology grows we’re finally forced out of the big ring as the road dives and climbs across grassy valleys.
As we drop down through the hamlet of Fordon a tiny chapel under a raucous rookery catches our eye before the last climb out of the Wolds. The temperature is dropping as fast as our energy and we hug the right-hand gutter, trying to catch the last heat from the sun. Topping out above the Mesolithic marshlands of Seamer Carr, Saltburn is still 50 rolling miles north. We exchange glances to confirm that tired legs and a lack of light mean we’re more likely to cash our chips in than earn a distant fish supper prize.
The pier pressure is off and it’s easy to see why this area has always attracted people. It’s a fantastically fertile corner of the world and there’s a fascinating building around ever corner. Yet the place is almost deserted. It makes for perfect riding territory whether you’re passing through or stopping and touring about.
We drop off Seamer Bank in one last 50mph swan song but the road into Scarborough is a lot less deserted and a lot less lovely. We’ve readjusted our sights on a nearer target. Swinging onto the seafront, our minds are fixated on the Harbour Bar, with its homemade ice cream. We reckon we deserve at least one of them each, but the diner staff are just clearing up for the day. The monster cones of ice cream from the take-away window are big enough for consolation purposes though, and we collapse onto a bench overlooking the site of Scarborough’s long lost pier – England’s first, it was opened in 1869 but destroyed by storms in 1905.
It’s not the end of the day we were hoping for, but 24 hours ago we’d never been to Skegness, never ridden over the Humber Bridge and had forgotten how beautiful the Yorkshire Wolds are. Besides, we’ve still got some summer ahead and we know to take a few more sticks of rock to keep us going next time.
BESIDE THE SEASIDE
One of the great things about riding in the UK is that coastal paths are never too far away…
If you like your cycling to include a bracing breeze and a bit of candy floss, there are several cracking seaside-themed, pier-based rides we can think of. Up north, a coast-to-coast from Blackpool to Saltburn-by-the-Sea will take you over some of the best riding in the Yorkshire Dales and North York Moors. Those who prefer busier rides should head south, taking in the Brighton, Eastbourne, Worthing and Hastings piers. Or go south east – the Southend-on-Sea, Clacton-on-Sea, Harwich and Felixstowe piers are all a short trip from the capital. Or perhaps you like scenery and don’t mind some brutal climbs? Head for the piers at Teignmouth and Torquay in Devon, Bude in Cornwall and Aberystwyth or Colwyn Bay in Wales. Less strenuous, the Gower has the Mumbles pier and is a favourite riding destination. And the seasides of Suffolk and Norfolk offer miles of deserted roads connecting equally deserted beaches, plus fresh crab as a bonus.
Food and drink
The route is fairly well populated with eateries along its length, with snack or proper full-plate opportunities at conveniently regular intervals. Scarborough’s Harbour Bar is a great pit stop.
Where to stay
Because Skegness, Scarborough and Saltburn-by-the-Sea are all popular holiday destinations there’s plenty of accommodation to be found along the route, from Butlins to proper boutiques. Try the different Tourist Information Centres for more details. Skegness TIC ☎ 0845 674 0505, Scarborough TIC ☎ 01723 383636 www.scarborough.gov.uk Saltburn TIC ☎ 01287 622422 www.visitnortheastengland.com
Skegness Halfords ☎ 01754 898141 www.halfords.com
Kingston-upon-Hull Ken Ellerker Cycles ☎ 01482 446341 www.kenellerkercycles.co.uk
Hull Freetown Sports Trading ☎ 01482 589066www.freetownsports.co.uk
Beverley Minster Cycles ☎ 01482 867950 www.minstercycles.co.uk
Scarborough Richardson’s Cycles ☎ 01723 352682 www.richardsonscyclesscarborough.co.uk
Images: Russell Burton