Sunday, 4 April 2010

Marske: Assault On Fremington Edge

How would the weather treat us today? The forecast had been all over the place for the three days leading up to this ride, promising anything from sunshine to a little bit of drizzle and the day as we set off was looking "changeable".

Five of us set off from the small car park in Marske, heading west along the road before turning off left about a mile into it onto the bridleway to Hollins Farm. We had a bit of puzzling when we got to the farmyard, trying to figure out if we go in front of or round the buildings. Asking the farmer reveals that we go round them, but that the way ahead is "pretty shitty". At this point we don't realise just how literally or severely he meant that statement!

So round the farm buildings we go, through a gate to come out into a field that is basically just liquid cow slurry. It's up past our ankles, green, smelly and too deep and slippery to ride - and the last thing you'd want to risk is falling off in it. To make matters worse there's a whole herd of cows with very small calves blocking our path. We skirt around them, taking to the deeply ploughed and rutted field, treading nervously as the cows start bellowing defensively.

Eventually we're past them, it's taken us 12 minutes to negotiate 100m of field and we all need to stop at the first available puddle to wash what we can of the green slime from our feet and bikes.

Horrid green slime!
After a few more gates we progress a little faster now, with the short and speedy descent down to the road, remembering to keep our mouths firmly shut as green debris flies up off our tyres. Right at the road then sharp right just a few yards on, onto a bridleway that skirts the river Swale. It's a picturesque spot and I'm eyeing up the river for an opportunity to dip the whole bike in and give it a good clean. No suitable spot emerges though.

At Low Oxque we start another long, slow climb/push up a muddy, rutted farm track that gives little grip and pass through yet more gates. Already this ride is being dubbed "the ride of a thousand gates" and with all the mud, slurry, gates and pushing, so far it isn't high on our list of favourite rides!

Once at the top of the hill there's an interesting traverse along the side of it. Clinging to a path just a few inches wide we follow the edge of the hill before gradually working our way down to the track below. It was a tricky little section and quite fun, but despite having two GPS units and at least one person who's ridden it before, we've taken the wrong track and gone a bit "illegal". We should have stayed higher up, nearer the wall where the track is more obvious and easier.

We were all off-track, none more so than Stewart!
Once down at the base of the hill we followed the track past Nun Cote Nook to emerge at the road, where we had a brief stop for some carbo loading. Only five miles in and already we were snacking.

So off we head to Marrick, looking forward now to the delights of the climb up to Fremington Edge. At Marrick we miss a turning just before Helmsley House and have to back track, eventually taking the correct route, a narrow, rutted and slippery track between two stone walls. The proximity of the walls means it's not somewhere you really want to lose it!

Bearing right at the end of this track we follow the byway past Marrick Abbey, staying parallel to the river until we reach the road at Ewelop Hill.There's a lot of walkers about, many of them carrying painted Easter eggs, perhaps there was some event on at the abbey.

Just before the road junction at Low Fremington we turn right, up a steep path to rejoin the road a few yards up. We follow this road now for as far as it goes. The tarmac eventually begins to break up before vanishing completely to leave a track of loose stone. Welcome to the hell that is The Climb Up Fremington Edge.

If you're fit enough, it's all rideable (though none of us managed it this time, "photo stops" got the better of me. I'm determined to try again later in the year). The tarmac section is "easy", the looser sections more troublesome, easier if you can stay clear of loose stuff by sticking to the edges of the track. The very loose and rocky bit at the top is the biggest challenge and having ridden/pushed so far it seemed a shame not to be going down it! So I did, taking on the most interesting 300m section and then having to come back up again.

It was a fine effort by Sam.
It's quite a nice feeling to be riding past people who are having trouble just walking it! This climb goes straight in at No. 1 in my "Most Challenging Climbs" list. At the top we stopped for more food, including Easter eggs courtesy of Tony, and some interesting chat with some walkers who were up on holiday from Southampton.

A well earned rest at the top!

Setting off once more we crossed Marrick Moor towards Hurst. Half way across we met a renegade group of Muddybums, a couple who haven't been out with us for a while and one who's usually a regular (a further one had had to abandon due to bike failure). Apparently the thought of the climb up Fremington edge had led to this mutiny, they much preferred the thought of going down it!

Renegades to the left, regulars to the right.
The area around Hurst is one of my favourites with its mining spoil and picturesque disused chimneys. It also provides us with a much needed high-speed descent - there's been far too much uphill lately!

On reaching the road we turn right and keep with it through Washfold, going down and over the very picturesque Goat's Bridge.

Up the other side of the valley and we're eventually at a crossroads and a decision point. The original route was going to go right here, down to Helwith, along to Telfit Farm and crossing Marske Beck at Orgate Bridge. I'd spotted a track that crossed some altogether steeper contour lines though, and was prepared to form my own mutinous breakaway group, but in the end it was decided we'd all go that way. So off we went, staying with the road we'd come along as it bears left, dropping down and over the beck at the head of the valley where it hairpins right and continuing on through the MOD "Danger Area". Eventually, after the woods and farm buildings on the right, we turned off onto a bridleway that appears to have been landmined!

Let's hope our navigation skills are up to it!
The track begins as a dead straight farm track then turns 45 degrees left after passing through the first wall and becomes quite indistinct singletrack, though there's enough on the ground to work out where your supposed to be going. Just as well, considering the warning signs we saw earlier!

After passing through the gate at the far end of this track it becomes a bit more indistinct, but thankfully by now we're out of the Danger Area, and just as well as we weave aimlessly across the moor before spotting the gate in the far corner and making a beeline for that. Well, we're at the top of those steep contour lines now, so what lies ahead is a feast of fun, but not before we take in the magnificent views across the valley.

Off we go, speeding down the undulating grassy track as it hugs the hillside down towards the valley bottom. A little too much speed almost sees me parking in one of the disused out-buildings near Orgate Farm, but skilful bike handling has me back on track and whooping it up! A few lumpy sections give us the chance to catch some air, but at this speed the fun doesn't last long and in under 3 minutes we're back on level ground.

On past Orgate Farm and into Clint's Wood for one last chance to get the bike nice and muddy. We emerge onto the road in Marske, looping round to the right on this to end up back at our cars.

After the inauspicious start, where we bust our lungs on a steep road climb simply for the honour of immersing ourselves in cow dung, it's been a great ride. When the sun shines on this corner of the world, it's hard to beat. Most of the climbs have been tough, Fremington Edge very tough, and the downhills have been short and undemanding, but it's been fun and surprisingly none of us are reporting undue aches or strains. Being out 6 weekends in a row is obviously starting to pay off.

For afters we try the tearoom in Marske that we just spotted as we rode by, The Lodge Tearoom. Set in a large conservatory attached to an even larger house, and with a large garden too, it's a very welcoming place. No scones for the scone lovers amongst us (i.e. all of us) but the Yorkshire Rarebit was the best I'd ever had and the bacon buns, chocolate cake and custard pie seemed to go down well with the others.

Marske - Marrick - Fremington Edge - Hurst
18 miles, 2700' of ascent in 4 1/2 hours, with quite a few lengthy stops!
(I seriously think I'd avoid Hollins Farm in anything but the most prolonged of dry spells and head south on the road out of Marske and pick up our route beside the river at Sour Nook)


  1. I spent all my childhood summers in Hurst going up and down Fremmington edge- great to see your photos. What a blast from the past. thanks