Photos by Michael Kirkman
There are plenty of people reading this who know all about Boltby and its place in mountain biking history. There’s probably a fair few out there who took part, 20 or so years ago. High Paradise Farm, the venue for the “back in the day” Boltby Bash event, is now the new home of the True Grit gravel event. The farm has had some improvements and investment—there’s a nice tearoom and a B&B there, as well as a working farm.
There’s also plenty of room for a couple of hundred cyclists, their cars and a load of tents. An ideal venue for an event such as True Grit, then.
Set over two days, Yorkshire True Grit comprises a long route and a medium-sized route on the Saturday and a short route that is held on Sunday. The long route, the one I put my name down for, is a big day out on a gravel bike—60 or so miles long and over 6000 feet of climbing in total means that this isn’t even remotely flat. In fact, it’s really, really lumpy.
Welcome to Yorkshire.
Not long after the ride started and we were all lulled into a dusty false sense of security as we rode along sun-baked, fast sheep trails across the moor, the first descent quickly turned into a very deep and quite smelly bog. Those riders (me included) who put a foot down were treated to a shin-deep bath in brown liquid. And I don’t mean coffee. Everyone seemed to be riding sideways.
The early advantages of cyclocross and gravel bikes were soon eclipsed by the mountain bikes with suspension as a tyre and wrist-preserving line had to be taken down the rocky and incredibly muddy slope. I only crashed once though…
Welcome to Yorkshire.
That over with, nerves settled down and the course took a less-sketchy route along stony farm tracks and ancient moorland paths. Eventually the course took a hard right, passing a “No Dogs, No Bikes” sign that we were clearly ignoring. Normally off-limits to pretty much everybody, the three- or four-mile-long trail (which I won’t name here to avoid future conflict and cheekiness) traversed a high moorland plateau and was, quite honestly, one of the most amazing places I’ve ever ridden. The firm tailwind was probably helping, but I still made a point of congratulating Andy, the event organiser, afterwards for gaining permission to use that bit.
The steep climbs and even-steeper descents (some of them had me crying out for a dropper post) kept coming until I and several others seemed to ride the wrong way…
The trouble with organising a cycling event in this country, especially in a national park, is that from time to time the signs that have been painstaking placed at key points around the route might sometimes be moved, kicked over or even taken away by ‘persons unknown’. It’s not for me to point fingers, but if you’re an outdoorsy type of person who wants the countryside all to themselves, then forcing others to spend longer in your countryside BECAUSE YOU MADE THEM GO THE WRONG WAY seems counter-productive and, well, stupid.
But anyway, I don’t think any search and rescue helicopters had to be called and in fairness, a GPX file was made available on the True Grit website the week before, and everyone was handed a full-colour map when they signed in.
Eventually back on the correct route (after arriving at a slightly-bemused marshal point for the second time in an hour), the long route riders started to catch up with some of the medium-length route riders. This is normally a sign that the ride is almost at an end, so there was probably only a couple of climbs left to overcome.
I think I lost count at six more climbs after that (Welcome to Yorkshire), but it wasn’t too long until the welcome sight of High Paradise Farm could be seen in the distance.
At the end, a half pint of beer was thrust into my hand as well as a commemorative lump of timber.
2018’s True Grit will be held once again at High Paradise Farm, Boltby on Saturday 23rd and Sunday 24th June. My name is already on the list.
Once my legs had started to recover from 6000 feet of ascent in 60 miles, I mithered True Grit organiser Andy Wright for some insight into his world.
Grit.CX: Tell us a bit about yourself.
AW: I’m Andrew Wright and I own a bike shop called Bikewright in the market town of Easingwold, between York and Thirsk. My day job involves building and fixing bikes!
Grit.CX: Who’s doing all the work here?
AW: Not just me! Debs Goodall (co-organiser) pretty much organises all the stuff in the run up to Yorkshire True Grit; I come up with the route ideas, a few of us ride them and check that they are still in good fettle.
She sorts all the permissions and gets everything running smoothly. As we get closer to the event, then a team of mates that I ride with get involved to help with signage creation, and putting out the signage; then there are the volunteers who give up their time to help over the weekend, whether that’s marshalling or helping out at the feed station or working on registration.
Grit.CX: How did all this begin?
AW: I’ve a great love of cycling in all forms but think that gravel and adventure cycling is fantastic as it gives us an opportunity to showcase the fantastic trails on the North Yorkshire Moors.
I just want people to have a good time and enjoy themselves whilst taking part. I guess some of it is allowing people to discover what they and their bike can do. We ride gravel bikes a lot on the North York Moors and they can handle more technical stuff than people think.
Grit.CX: The event location this year has a bit of mountain biking history—what’s that all about?
AW: High Paradise Farm has been used for various cycling events over the years, and it’s great to be working with the new generation team there for Yorkshire True Grit. It’s ideally located for access to some great trails, we ride there a lot—although that might say more about our coffee-and-cake habit than our riding!
Grit.CX: Do the authorities and the locals welcome True Grit or is it merely tolerated? (Let’s ignore the naughty sign-saboteurs for now…)
AW: Without the support of North York Moors National Park, Yorkshire Water, Snilesworth Estate, and other private landowners, then this event simply wouldn’t take place. We work with these teams to ensure that they welcome the event. Local farmers and landowners are all supportive—we do go and talk with them all to discuss if they have any special requirements. The main worry is always about stock getting out of fields; if necessary we position marshals in key points. It is important to build positive relationships with these people—without their permission then Yorkshire True Grit couldn’t take place.
Grit.CX: I heard rumours of other True Grit-type events in the future—do you want to spill the beans?
AW: Hahaha, Debs has some ideas that she is keen to persuade me on, so we ran some surveys at this year’s event. She’ll be working on which ones have potential and which ones don’t. She has some crazy ideas sometimes—watch this space to see which ones come to fruition!
Photos by Michael Kirkman