Hell of the North, Darlington, Co. Durham (7 Sept. 2014)

The “Hell of the North” Sportive is organised by Darlington Borough Council and is usually held in early September. A shade under 100 miles, it takes in some of the best roads in Co. Durham, north Yorkshire and even a bit of Cumbria.


Three riders from Cestria CC did the HotN on 7 September 2014. Ian Gardner, Mal Grey and yours truly appeared at the Dolphin Centre, Darlington to sign in (excellent value, £5 on the day or £10 with a T-shirt). You can depart anytime between 0830-0930; while the route is not signposted (and therefore run like an Audax), it is easy to follow wheels all the way around.

We departed Darlington in perfect sunshine at about 0835 and led what became a small group. Having passed through the roundabouts outside Darlington, we then took the lanes through Middleton Tyas and Barton, before crossing the A1 and cycling through Richmond. By this stage the group was quite big, and we had caught a few smaller groups on the road. About 3 miles outside Richmond, and heading into a light NW wind, the first of two fast groups passed, resulting in our hard-working group getting a bit fragmented. At the T-junction near the Catterick, we turned west for Redmire and by that stage we were working nicely with a couple of locals from Richmond. The drop down to Redmire was good, despite being recently resurfaced with loose chippings. From Redmire the route takes the back road to Hawes, and the second fast group passed through but we desisted chasing them again. We also caught up with 6 Houghton CC members and had a brief chat with them.

Hawes was, as usual for a Sunday morning, chaotic with traffic; Houghton decided to stop at the Co-op for sambos but we kept going and would get paninis (get you, Houghton!) at Kirkby Stephen. From Hawes the road gradually rises to the junction at the Moorcock Inn, and we then turned right and parallel with the famous Settle-Carlisle railway line. The road continued to be lumpy but, as before, the road surface was extremely good and there were few serious potholes. We had a strange encounter on the descent into Kirkby Stephen where an oncoming motorist, who possible had had an issue with cyclists, decided to pull onto our side of the road to make some sort of point.

At Kirkby Stephen signed in at the official rest stop, grabbed some water, bananas and Mars bars, and stopped for the aforementioned paninis, while Mal made the stop more interesting by managing to loose a mitt, and then spent ten minutes hunting up and down KS main street for it. A lad from Darlo club eventually spotted it, where it has fallen into someone’s garden while Mal had sat on their wall.

From Brough the road gets serious and riders face the biggest challenge of the day – the climb over the ridge to Middleton-in-Teesdale. We were basically on our own here, although a lad from Darlo club joined us. It is not a particularly steep climb, and we did have the advantage of a light tailwind. I had taken my arm warmers off which was just as well, and Mal led up the climb, followed by Ian and myself. The road rises and falls quite a bit, and there are a few technical descents which tested our bike skills. I will say no more! Again, we caught up with the Houghton riders and dropped with them to Middleton where they stopped for a cuppa. Sitting outside the cafe in the sunshine were the three Ranson brothers and a few other Houghton members, who were returning from a hostel trip in Yorkshire. Having had a brief chat, we departed and hit the final climb of the day up Eggleston bank. Having got safely to the top, we then headed through Kinnivie and Summerhouses before reaching Darlington at about 3pm.

It was a great day – there were a lot more cyclists than the last time I did this (1999 I think). It is excellent value and the route and road quality also massively attractive. I, for one, am determined to do this again next year, and would encourage as many of you to join me. Many thanks to Darlington Borough Council for organising and support it, as well as to my excellent team mates Mal and Ian for their company and craic.
Peter Scott