My very first Audax UK event was a Joe Applegarth event, in 2009.
My mate Martin suggested it as my first, and I rode the 40 km to Newbottle Village Hall, near Sunderland, to ride Gilpin’s Gallop 200. Martin had to remind me to go and collect my brevet card, I was that green.
I remember Joe being very offhand about the route, which was south, down the Vale of Mowbray and the Vale of York to Boroughbridge, then back again. I liked the vibe, and the mix of cyclists, bikes and attire on the road, from full-on roadies carrying nowt and riding with their clubmates in matching kit, to tourists with wooly hats and mudguards.
When I came back to ride Joe’s other 200, I realised why he’d been a bit dismissive of the route. His heart wasn’t in flat main road bashes, he wanted us to go up into the hills. Actually, I remember meeting Joe that year while on a different ride, from Wigginton near York, which went around the Howardian Hills and through Oldstead and Kilburn, which is pretty-much the foot of White Horse Bank. Joe went and rode up White Horse Bank to the Gliding Club cafe at the top, on his tourer, with a single Carradice pannier on the outside. No one else did. I think Joe’s comment was “I may as well make an interesting ride of it”.
Joe’s other 200 was the Durham and Northumberland, also from Newbottle*. It wasn’t up n down the Vale of York, it was definitely a ride full of interest, going west and north, to where the hills are.
I couldn’t find the routesheet, but I’ve dug out my brevet card, and I think this is pretty close to the route: https://ridewithgps.com/routes/31788089
I asked Joe for his permission to re-use the name, and he was happy for me to do so, but said that the route was nothing like his. You can kinda see what he means, but there are similarities, and it’s the same terrain once you sub Darlo in for Sunderland. I’m pleased to miss out Ebchester Bank as a climb (I hate that climb), but it’s still in as a descent.
Joe also asked me to remind any prospective riders not to bring an old routesheet. I nearly pointed out that hardly anyone uses a routesheet nowadays, but I quite enjoy writing routesheets, and there will be one for you on the day, to guide you through the southern edges of the Durham coalfield where you’ll pass through Bishop Auckland, Willington, Cornsay, Lanchester, and around Consett to cross the Tyne at Stocksfield.
The terrain of this part of County Durham is best described as “choppy”. It’s constantly up and down, with some steep thrown into the mix.
Across the Tyne Valley, to the lovely cyclists’ cafe at Capheaton and back to re-cross the Tyne at Hexham, it’s rolling, but not tough.
After Hexham, things start to get serious. You’re straight up Gallows Hill, then up and down some more, crossing the watersheds between the major valleys of the Tyne, the Derwent, the Wear and the Tees, the great northern rivers, and never far from the watershed between the Irish Sea and the North Sea.
The route tops out at over 600 metres at Swinhope Head between Weardale and Teesdale. Here, you can relax into the final control at Middleton-in-Teesdale. Well, relax apart from the gate on the descent. From Middleton, you’ll just have to get up Toby Hill and up to Folly Top, from where it’s downhill all the way to Darlo (with just a few clicks along the way to keep you honest).
I should say that spring is my favourite time in Teesdale, when the gentians and other ice flowers bloom, and when there’s still a hint of snow on the tops.
We’ll have some decent scran at the finish – like Joe’s events, I can guarantee pease pudding sarnies and cake, and there’ll be some other stuff too. I hope to see you there.
*I rode through Newbottle the other week, and was saddened to see that the village hall, which doubled as Houghton CC’s club room, is no more, and has been knocked down. When I mentioned the place to my dad, he went off into a reminiscence about a dance up there in the Fifties, and how the local miners had to put them up when their bus home broke down.