Hockney Trail: A Cyclist’s Route

David Hockney’s association with the Yorkshire Wolds stretches back to the early 1950s when as a young man he spent two summers stooking corn on farmland in the area. In the late 1990s he returned to Yorkshire to be with his aging mother and to visit the ailing art gallery proprietor, Jonathan Silver. His childhood friend, it seems, encouraged Hockney to paint the East Yorkshire landscape and The Road to York Through Sledmere (1997) and Garrowby Hill (1998) were the result. After both his mother and friend died Hockney settled in the area, moving in to the home he had bought his mother in Bridlington. He began to sketch, paint and capture on iPad his favourite locations, revisiting them many times throughout the seasons; ‘Bigger Trees near Warter‘ needed to be completed during the winter before the trees came in to leaf and other places, most notably along Woldgate, were painted during ‘Action Week’ when covered in Hawthorn blossom.

Even before a well-received exhibition of ‘A Bigger Picture’ at the Royal Academy in 2012, Visit Hull & East Yorkshire tried to raise the profile of ‘Hockney Country’ and bring tourists in to this relatively overlooked part of the county. At some point those responsible for tourism in East Yorkshire and the Wolds, with the help of Rupert Douglas, set about creating eight (later nine) ‘Big Skies Bike Rides’, borrowing a phrase Hockney used to describe the skies over the American West. The Yorkshire Wolds Cycle Route includes a number of Hockney locations; however, despite most of those short, circular Big Skies Bike Rides covering the roads travelled by Hockney, there doesn’t seem to have been any attempt made to combine all of the locations chosen by the man himself and link them all together. This post aims to do just that. ‘Hockney Trail: A Cyclist’s Route’ is a little over 100 miles and (with the exception of the busy A166 at Garrowby Hill) takes in virtually all of the places studied by ‘Britain’s favourite living artist’.

In trying to avoid main roads as much as possible – and to limit going over the same ground – the route falls naturally in to two distinct parts. The eastern section goes out to the coast through Kilham via Thwing and then Rudston and the standing stone there before returning again through Kilham after the shallow climb of Woldgate. The western section sits entirely within the “candidate area” currently being assessed by Natural England for Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty status. (It seems fair to suggest that the epithet ‘Hockney Country’ has given some renewed impetus for this long overdue designation.) The western section is less spread out and is a loop taking in a number of Wolds favourites.

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Cycling Climbs: Painsthorpe Lane

Painsthorpe Lane out of Kirby Underdale doesn’t have the fearsome reputation of nearby Hanging Grimston, but is well worth seeking out if you are in the area around Thixendale and looking to put together a number of superb local cycling climbs. Certainly David Hockney was impressed enough with the view to plant his easel in a bit of a layby and capture what he called ‘Bugthorpe Valley’, one of his many interpretations of the Yorkshire Wolds that comprised his ‘A Bigger Picture’ exhibition at the Royal Academy some years ago. My most recent attempt to pull together Hockney’s locations in to some sort of themed ride took in this climb (Garmin link below) and marks the most westerly Wolds spot for the Hockney pilgrim.

After discussing Hanging Grimston and Uncleby Hill, Roger England, in his excellent Hill Climbs on the Yorkshire Wolds, goes on to describe Painsthorpe Lane:

The third climb is the popular Painsthorpe road which ascends from the church and quickly steepens to 17% as it passes the Hall before easing back to 10% approaching the hamlet of Painsthorpe. From here it is an easy 5% to the top of the wold. This route should be familiar to those who have completed the 70-mile version of the George Herbert Stancer standard ride.

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Cycling Climbs: Green Lane, Helperthorpe

I first glimpsed this climb when riding one of the Hockney-themed Big Skies Bike Rides: Sledmere County from Sledmere. At the bottom of the slope pictured below a left turn (along the actual Green Lane) takes the rider looking for a sub20-mile loop towards Havering and back to Sledmere. But there was something about the way the road disappeared in to the overhanging trees, shrouded by foliage like some lost horizon, that made me want to come back and seek out this modest, yet rewarding climb.

Green Lane, Helperthorpe
Approaching the Green Lane climb from Helperthorpe

And so I put together a few routes that first went right at the T junction that is ultimately arrived at on the way to Sherburn via the twisting descent of Sherburn Grits. From Sherburn I invariably head north to Snainton over the Vale of Pickering before returning to the Wolds via Yedingham and West Heslerton. However, I thought I’d try a left turn at that T junction and I wasn’t disappointed. Though it would make the ride much shorter, the descent of Whin Moor (given the name “Watch Out For The Cars?” by some Strava wag) is an absolute joy, with beautiful pastoral scenery that flashes by on the way back to West Lutton. (To be fair, you really should watch out for the cars on this twisting freefall.)

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Cycling Climbs: White Gate (West Heslerton Wold)

If, as I do with my ride buddies from time to time, you find yourself cycling over the North York Moors towards the Yorkshire Wolds, it is likely that you will have a hill to climb after passing through the Vale of Pickering. Usually we will ride up Leavening Brow, but most recently we have carried ourselves up West Heslerton Wold, also known as White Gate. This is not the stiffest hill in the area – and it isn’t on a par with the North York Moors roads out of Egton Bridge, or Murton Bank out of Hawnby – but with a fair few miles in the legs it is a testing climb.

I also like to climb this hill on longer rides from my home on the flatlands of East Yorkshire. A ride out to the foothills of the North York Moors is a rewarding return for a long day in the saddle, and White Gate is a deserved treat after those flat miles between the Moors and the Wolds. Pedal smartly away from the staggered crossing of the A64 and start to sort out your gears ready for slipping on to a larger rear sprocket. (I should point out that there appears to be a roadside cycle track along the A64 between Sherburn and West Heslerton, but I prefer the loop to Snainton rather than having my nerves shredded by the rumble of (fairly close) passing lorries and countless motorcars.)

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Cycling Climbs: Grimston Brow (Luddith Road)

My first recollection of this deceptively strength sapping climb was actually as a descent. I had ridden with a club to Malton and one of the newer members had wanted to complete his first 100-mile ride. So with a slight detour from the planned route we were able to incorporate the Thixendale Big Skies Bike Ride in to the day’s trip and tick both boxes. I typically approach this climb having passed through Settrington, heading south for a short stretch of the B1248 and popping over the little bridge with its unusually specific 25mph speed limit. Soon after there is a left hand bend and a junction on that corner. The signposted turnoff points to Birdsall, but we want the unsigned road along which a cottage and a utilities building can be glimpsed.

Beyond the buildings the road soon opens up a rather lovely view and a very satisfying sense of remoteness. Whenever I write about this hill I am at pains to point out that cows – and, we’re told, a bull – roam the open-gated fields between the cattle grids at the top and bottom of this climb. (The recent judicious use of a partly worn non-scratch scourer on the underside of my brake calipers is a reminder that the road is far from out of bounds for these roaming bovines.)

I’ve actually never turned around having seen loose cattle, but returning to that junction and following the signs to Birdsall – with the prospect of climbing Birdsall Brow – is a pleasant enough alternative, so it’s not the end of the world. One time on a solo descent, having passed the point of no return, I inadvertently triggered something of a stampede reminiscent of a scene from Jurassic Park, and was relieved to reach the sanctuary provided by rolling over the lower cattle grid. But I digress.

LuddithRoad_PaulRob
On a rainy ride from Sledmere with friends, in the days before the road was resurfaced

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Thixendale Hills: A Taster Ride

Thixendale is a picturesque, remote North Yorkshire village just over the border with the East Riding of Yorkshire. Almost all sportives I’ve ridden (and all challenge rides I’ve organised) pass through the village, many along Warter Dale which ramps up out of Thixendale heading north west. However, all six of its notable hills are well worth taking. Some, such as the road to Fridaythorpe, are arguably more suited to descending, albeit with particular caution. That climb is rather narrow and goes upwards for what feels like several hundred metres; I don’t like going slowly up busy or narrow roads. All ways in and out of the village offer wonderful views and recently I thought I’d put together a short route taking in each of them. Unsurprisingly, others have come up with their own take on the same theme (more on that later), but on the day I did this ride I had a specific need make the route less than fifty miles.

In 2022 a free car park opened just outside the eastern edge of nearby Huggate, that would make an ideal start point. This isn’t a long ride, but you would be forgiven for taking refreshments in the newly refurbished Wolds Inn afterwards. So here is a suggested route. What’s yours…?

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A Yorkshire Wolds 200km Audax (ride report from 2016)

(On this day in 2016 I organised a series of Challenge Rides. Here is Graeme Holdsworth’s ride report on the 200km event. His report was originally published an a now deleted web site.)


Ignorance is bliss – but perhaps the warning signs were there on the start line. There was a 75% DNS (Did Not Start) rate on the longest of the four CTC Challenge Rides which meant I’d be doing this 200km route alone.

The East Yorkshire CTC run a series of Challenge Rides: 70km, 130km and 170km. This year, however, the organiser (Chris) had added a 200km route which could be ridden as an entry level Randonneur event. New rules from Audax UK allow for routes which can be both planned and validated by GPS devices. Traditionally, Randonneur events [Audax in the UK], are ‘allure libre’; meaning you can take any route you like between control points. I like this approach but if you want a more convoluted route it can be difficult finding appropriate controls. The “Mandatory DIY by GPS” rule meant that I could take Chris’ route and submit it as my DIY 200km Audax.

My ride had actually started by leaving Welton and climbing Welton Wold to reach Cottingham, it was promising to be a beautiful day for this 210km route. In Cottingham I met other riders who’d travelled from as far as Harrogate to take part, and everyone turning up early in the morning was given a warm welcome by Chris and treated to some delicious coffee he’d prepared for us the evening before.

Although I was the only 200km rider on the start line, there was a good turnout for the 170km route and Chris set us off together at 8am. In the enthusiasm of group riding we did set off at a cracking speed, keeping the pressure on over the first early climbs through Little Weighton to High Hunsley. There was great communication in the group, pointing out surface hazards and calling out junctions. We took a sharp right on a steep downhill into North Newbald and stretched out a little on the climb of Newbald Wold. The views opened out before us and we had a brief respite rolling along fast together towards Etton and into South Dalton.

I was beginning to think about dropping off the back of the group now as I had an extra 40km to ride and some locally infamous hills to experience. These riders were all strong, but when *the fairy who shall not be named* deflated Richard’s rear tyre we all pulled up to wait. I made my apologies – they were on a different ride to me – and I just carried on. I had a feeling they’d be passing me before long anyway.

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Sykes Churches Trail – A Cyclist’s Route

Visitors to the high wolds – the countryside around Sledmere on the Yorkshire Wolds – can’t fail to notice the links to the Sykes family. The impressive Sledmere House, the memorials and the Sykes estate properties with their distinctive red paintwork are very visible reminders of the family’s association with the area. However, almost entirely hidden behind a stand of trees is another remarkable feature: St Mary’s church. Built between 1893 and 1898 at a cost of at least £60,000 – equivalent to more than £5,000,000 in 2022 – it is the grandest place of worship on the Sykes Churches Trail.

From a display board in St Mary, Sledmere:

Between 1856 and 1913 Sir Tatton Sykes, 4th baronet (1772-1863) and Sir Tatton Sykes, 5th baronet (1826-1913) of Sledmere built, rebuilt or restored 18 rural churches in East Yorkshire, chiefly on the Wolds. It was the aim of Sir Tatton Sykes II, ‘perhaps the greatest English church builder of the 19th century’, to create centres of ‘Christian Art and Worship’ and he spent a fortune to produce some of the finest village churches in Britain. Three of the greatest Gothic Revival architects were employed: John L. Pearson, later architect of Truro Cathedral, George Edmund Street, best known for the Royal Courts of Justice, Strand, and Temple L. Moore, whose career began in the East Riding.

The glory of the impressive architecture of the Sykes churches is equalled by the splendour of their Victorian and Edwardian furnishings by leading craftsmen and artists of the age. On sunny days the churches are flooded with colour from stained glass by the firms of Clayton & Bell, Burlison & Grylls, Kempe & Co., and H.V. Milner. The roofs are painted, the floors covered with decorative tiles, and the ornate wooden or wrought iron and brass screens divide nave from chancel.

The Sykes Churches Trail appears to have come about in 2013 to mark the hundredth anniversary of the death of Tatton Sykes II. It is separated in to a southern circuit and a smaller northern circuit, with Sledmere appearing on both. Over the summer of 2022 I completed several shorter rides in order to devise a single manageable, but challenging, Sykes Churches Trail suitable for road and touring cyclists. It covers a little over 100 miles.

Not all of the Sykes churches are included in the resultant route. I originally visited North Frodingham and Wansford but discounted them as, well, this is a web site celebrating cycling on the Yorkshire Wolds and these two villages are on the Holderness plain. (Similarly, the church of St Margaret, Hilston sits on the North Sea coast and was in any case destroyed by a bomb and rebuilt in the 1950s.) St Peter, Langtoft and St Andrew, East Heslerton failed to make the cut because of their proximity to unsuitable main roads. None of these roads is free from risk but, ultimately, safety won out over completeness.

This, entirely unofficial, cyclist-friendly Sykes Churches Trail incorporates both northern and southern circuits and fourteen of the Sykes churches. A photograph and description of each church is given below. The cyclist’s cardinal sin of going back over the same roads is kept to a minimum, and is limited to the final spur at Bishop Wilton (a place that would make for an interesting start point). A desire to avoid uphill sections on the busier roads, and to miss out less scenic views, led to some slightly extended loops and route-making decisions. (For instance, as a risk averse cyclist I never ride uphill from Fimber to Sledmere, or from Sledmere to the Cowlam crossroads, and I avoid the featureless drag from Wetwang to Huggate.) Ultimately, the choice of route – and the decision to drop some Sykes churches from the list – was determined by a mixture of safety concerns, a need for quiet roads and a wish to take in the varied and pleasant scenery of the Yorkshire Wolds.

A suggested cyclist’s route for the Yorkshire Wolds Sykes Church Trail as a Garmin Connect course. (Note that East Heslerton and Langtoft are omitted because of their proximity to unsuitable roads.)

You can also view the Sykes Churches Trail – A Cyclist’s Route as a Strava segment and as a Garmin Connect activity.
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The Big J Sportive 2022

‘Big J’ is Joel Wainman, a highly regarded former member of Hull Thursday Road Club who has been diagnosed with Motor Neurone Disease. Joel has two young sons, and a friend of his has set up a Just Giving page to help during this terminal illness. Sunday 21st August 2022, is the date of the Big J Sportive, organised by Hull Thursday Road Club.

I’ve ridden two Hull Thursday Road Club sportives and I hope to ride this one next month. So I revisited the now defunct web pages I blogged back in 2013 and 2016 to remind myself of both events. I reproduce them below in case they might be vaguely useful to anyone thinking of entering any of the 2022 distances. I understand that the routes for the Big J will follow those of the Big G, but they don’t appear to be detailed as yet on the events pages. So I’ve included my Garmin Connect and Strava activities should anyone wish to view either the 100km or 150km routes. (Note that my ride from 2013 was from the old event headquarters in Molescroft; subsequent rides set out from Bishop Burton.)

100km Big G Cyclosportive 2013

Big G 2013 polo shirt 100km

Yesterday, I finally managed to take part in the Big G Cyclosportive after illness, holidays, a wedding and other distractions prevented me from giving it a go in previous years. This was only my second sportive after completing the Heart of the Wolds back in April. Once again I was unprepared and carrying a bit too much weight, but I enjoyed a dash around the Yorkshire Wolds with some faster, younger cyclists.

I quickly latched on to a group of riders from the Beverley Knights and Hull Thursday clubs. As with my previous sportive, the help of others in sharing the work would prove invaluable; I was rather optimistically hoping for ‘Gold’ in this event. Thankfully, the weather provided a break from the recent heat wave; a few minutes after I had applied sun cream we found ourselves getting rained on as we left Molescroft.

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Shorter Loops: Thixendale Big Skies Bike Ride

In 2010 a series of eight Big Skies Bike Rides was launched with the aim of encouraging cyclists to discover the varied and interesting terrain of the Yorkshire Wolds. ‘Thixendale from Malton or Norton on Derwent’ is an at times challenging ride of just over twenty miles. It includes the stiff climb out of Birsdall; the wonderful Water Dale descent in to Thixendale; Burdale, with the short but punchy Fairy Dale climb up to Wharram Percy Wold; the reward of an enjoyable descent of Grimston Brow, and the final downhill stretch over Langton Wold as the route is retraced back to the start.

The only criticisms of this route – levelled by one of the group of cyclists who rode with me one day way back in 2012 – concerns the same road: the route over Langton Wold to and from Malton. It’s a fast descent but, unsurprisingly, a correspondingly slow ascent, which isn’t a problem with the other, quieter uphill stretches on this ride. It’s just that this can be a busy road and, for me at least, there is a greater sense of vulnerability as I puff and pant uphill with motor vehicles whizzing past. The other objection on the day was Langton Wold is effectively and ‘out-and-back’; a circular route is generally preferred by the majority of my ride buddies. Still, the same climb forms part of the Pock Pedal, following refreshments in a community centre or similar in Malton/Norton. Perhaps it’s an age thing.

Once over Langton Wold from the start in Malton there is a descent towards Birdsall and pretty views to be had through the estate of Birdsall House, one of an increasing number of Yorkshire country houses now offering its services as a film set.

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