Day 4: The White Elephant of Humberside - To Hull and Back - CycleBlaze

Day 4: The White Elephant of Humberside

Keelby to camp near Foggathorpe, North Yorkshire

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When it did quieten down and I got into my tent, I actually had a really peaceful and good night's sleep, my head now kept warm by my Louth bandanna. Waking up I felt pretty good: I had another relaxed day ahead, and was looking forward to the star attraction of this part of the coast, crossing the Humber bridge.

East England is deeply riven by the broad and very deep Humber estuary - this collects together and is the outfall for pretty much every important river in region: the Trent, the Derwent, the Aire and the Yorkshire Ouse. This has been a geographical and cultural barrier throughout history: it was considered to be the southern boundary of the Celtic lands in pre-Roman times and of the Kingdom of Northumbria in the medieval. In Renaissance to modern times, it separated Yorkshire, a huge county and regional power with a strong regional identity and definitive (and professional) part of the "North" - from Lincolnshire, part of the Midlands, sparsely populated and less prominent in the national psyche.

This all changed in the twentieth century, when the decline of fishing and the concentration of heavy industry around the Humber - particularly around the two population centres of Grimsby and Hull (officially Kingston-upon-Hull, but universally known by the short name) on either side of the Humber lead to suggests the region should be combined. Originally joined by a ferry, it otherwise took hours and 75 miles of travel between the two by land. A new district that spanned both sides, Humberside, was created virtually out of thin air, and to support the integration a giant bridge, the largest of its sort in the world at the time, was planned to cross the Humber.

It's often been described as a "white elephant" or a "bridge to nowhere", and it didn't really fulfill its strategic mission: after being widely reviled, Humberside was dissolved in 1996 and the regions returned to Yorkshire and Lincolnshire respectively. But at any rate the Humber bridge is a feat of engineering, and is very useful for touring cyclists. It's also the longest suspension bridge you can freely cycle over in the world. Take that, Golden Gate!

First I had to get there. Unfortunately the roads around Immingham are a motorway nightmare, so I had plotted a rather circuitous route that would take me a little into the Wolds again, with lots of off-road sections before following the national cycle route to Barton-upon-Humber, where the bridge begins. 

It was actually a little grey and I had a few spots of rain, but things quickly brightened up. Through the big, prosperous village of Keelby past lots of rather bleary looking kids waiting for the buses to take them to school. I got quite a few curious/envious looks and some even photographed me on their phones. I'm pleased to say I resisted calling out "enjoy school, suckers!".

Along the country road was this evocative dump of school supplies. There's a story here (chucked out a school bus window?).
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Cool metalwork horse
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The sustrans cycle route is not the most direct, but follows fantastic byways. Well surfaced and a pleasure to ride.
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Official marker on the national cycle route. Many of them have a complex design like this, but not all are painted so brightly. I really like the evolution of sea-life to petroleum, reflecting the industries of the region.
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The circuitous route is to get around Humberside airport, which is rather regional and little-used: the landing lights were actually strung out across the bridleway lanes. It was drizzling and poor visibility, so no photos, but I was confident it would brighten up before I got to the bridge. Local strollers gave me a friendly greeting as I went by, so even after a third night in the woods my appearance can't have been too fearsome.

Regaining the backroads, I now had 15km of easy riding due North to get to Barton. This is very indirect, but a much more attractive route. I was also happy to use up the hazy part of the day in the countryside. Soon I was spinning down into Barton, and following the prominent signs for the bridge.

The huge pillars of the bridge become visible over the hills long before the estuary or Barton does
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This is a very well-groomed pet sheep
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Barton is a rather attractive little town
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I had a dubious moment when it looked like the bridge was shut to cyclists - I had to go right up to the barrier before I noticed that the other walkway was open (I wasn't the only one fooled - a young guy on a road bike asked me if it was closed, and gave a wonderful exasperated broad Yorkshire "fine!" when he realised he had to go back to the west side crossing as well).

Then onto the bridge in sunshine and good visibility. It's really an experience: 2.2km long, it was the longest single-span suspension bridge in the world for 16 years and takes you high above the estuary. Hull was visible to the East - I had no intention of going there today, but in the sunshine and with a few gleaming white buildings near the waterfront, it looked rather like a shining metropolis.

I had a big smile on my face as I crossed over into Yorkshire and negotiated my way down to the bridge's piers and the cycleroute (the transpennine way) that runs west along the Humber.

Approaching the bridge. You can just walk or cycle onto it - there are no tolls for cyclists.
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Looking down at the huge, muddy Humber from the bridge. There are people who swim this every year (and apparently one bloke who has *walked* across on the mud).
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On the bridge
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This gives a better sense of the scale. It's really big - the towers need to be adjusted by a few inches to take account of the curvature of the earth.
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After a fiddly section trying to get back to the West: signs indicated the cycleway was shut; it was in fact open but was unreachable behind a construction fence; and I then had to wait 10 minutes for some interminable traffic lights in the long and narrow road that was part of the construction - I got onto the transpennine. And almost immediately noticed my mirror had dropped off. After some frustrating backtracking, I gave up and made my way back to where I'd turned back - only to immediately find it again. Relief - I've really come to rely on it on the roads!

My plans were pretty loose for the rest of the day. Originally, I'd scoped out a place to camp near South Cave - but this would be an extremely short day, and I had an ambitious plan B that would take me to the vicinity of York. Either way I would proceed west along the Humber, following the signed cycleway which promised to keep me away from the fairly horrendous road (A63) that is the only real highway linking the cul-de-sac of Hull with the rest of the country (Lincolnshire excepted). 

Restored lighthouse on the Humber
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The cycleway took me along a long promenade, and I emerged near a stall selling rather fancy cakes and - to my delight - soup. I got a cup of carrot and coriander and a date slice, and took a break while eavesdropping on the locals, who were evidently using it as something of a pandemic outdoor meeting place. After so many months of being indoors and away from people, even hearing the local ladies of the East Riding discussing their dating lives seemed pretty interesting.

It also made me think about the regional differences I was seeing. Eastern England seems to have a particular dense patchwork of regional accents, dialects even and even in a half-day of cycling I could hear changes in the local speech. Likely to be a legacy of long contact with Norse - the place names in particular are very distinctive, and Yorkshire, as Jorvik, was an established Viking kingdom. The accents are poorly known outside the UK, but immediately discernible to locals. 

The last vestige of the typical southern accent, with long 'A's ("barth" etc) which is pretty universal in Bedfordshire is left behind North of Cambridge. In central Lincolnshire, the East Midlands and rural Norfolk-like accent combine - though I never heard anything as broad as the stereotypical "wah-ter", I advertised myself as not being local the moment I opened my mouth. Now, crossing the Humber the strong East Riding ('ull) accent was ubiquitous, albeit softened in these villages. It's amazing such linguistic and cultural differences still exist within miles of each other in the days of mass transit. The failure of the Humberside region to grip local imagination is sometimes blamed on the strong Yorkshire and Lincolnshire identities which didn't want to be subsumed.

The other is the infamous North-South divide. It's a shopworn and somewhat lazy way of dividing up attitudes and identity in the country, usually replete with silly stereotypes which are an old joke in themselves (the Northerner with a flat cap, whippet, association with mining, etc; the Southerner with suburban house in the home counties, obsession with bourgeois manners, etc). Most of these things are relics of the (sometimes distant) past - most of the mines are long gone, for instance, and there's far more wealth in Cheshire, say, than Cornwall  - but it's surprising how much cultural purchase there still is. Like many of these odd English identities there's a weird acceptance that neither is better (or at least the hypocrisy that one is so obviously better that it would be bad taste to point it out) but the sense of difference remains.

Lincolnshire is debatable - but anywhere in Yorkshire or north of the Humber is unquestionably "The North". If you really want to annoy a Yorkshireman, try describing any part of Yorkshire as "The Midlands".

None the less there are still real differences. Houses go for a quarter in Hull than they do in London. I was astonished when my soup and date slice cost me £2. I would have payed three times that in Cambridgeshire.

After these musings I pressed on. The transpennine way took me in a rather indirect route, crossing and re-crossing the A63 and sometimes running alongside it, but crucially keeping me away from it. Just before South Cave it climbed rather high up above the Humber - geologically, the Wolds actually continue over the gap into Yorkshire, making the East Riding generally quite hilly and pleasant - and I stopped at a convenient bench for lunch.

I'd never seen a sign like this. One part of the cycleway is only supposed to be used by students at the very fancy school through it passes. I hesitated, then a bloke who was clearly several decades too old to attend blithely went through, and I followed him. I didn't end up in detention.
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You're going to need a bigger drive!
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Looking down over the Humber from my lunch viewpoint
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Now that's a garden wall!
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Kathleen JonesWould like to know the story on that one.
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1 year ago
Humber Prison (HMP = her majesty's prison). I was somewhat amused by the cheery "pride in our service, hope in your future!" slogan added as standard by the council.
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It was still early - just after 2 - and a really fine day, so I decided to press on towards York. After scoring more water at a graveyard - being actively tended to by two nice ladies, who offered to fill up my bottle - I left the Humber behind and peeled off to the North. 

I would roll out of the Wolds now, and down into a large expanse of low-lying land around the river Derwent. This part of Yorkshire forms the drainage of multiple rivers into the Humber, and is notoriously bad for flooding. To cross one of the major waterways, actually the Market Dreighton Canal, I had plotted a long off-road section. The sun was shining, and it was a really beautiful ride.

Back onto the offroad tracks near Hotham
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The trails were pretty unmarked, but this little bridge is a good way to cross the canal in this fen-like landscape
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The day was really fine now
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Emerging some 10km later in Holme-on-Spalding-Moor. Land of Nod is a real place name, not a theme park.
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To get to the west I planned to follow a rail trail, open to bikes but rather poorly marked on maps. I found the entrance down the back of an enormous industrial dairy smelling strongly but not unappetizingly of cheese. It was muddy going at first, but then the surface hardened up and it was good riding.

Picking up the rail trail west towards Bubwith
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The trail was quite deserted - I passed one walker near the village and then nobody else for miles. I started to look at sunny corners and sizing them up for camping - I didn't really need to head another 10km north, as I'd just need to reverse it the next day.

A particular nice niche, just off the path drew my eye. It was only 4pm, but I figured I was owed something of a rest, and I'd still covered a respectable 90km. The only snag was I'd not stocked up on supplies, and was now some miles from any village. Loathe as I was to backtrack, I figured that if I left my big pannier here - I hid it in some long grass - I could make it back to Holme and the convenience shop there. As usual, unloaded the bike felt incredibly light, and I covered the distance there (and back) very quick, laden with beer and crisps and other snacks.

I took it easy for a couple of hours, and had a simple grain-and-quinoa salad thing I heated up in my pan for dinner. To my slight annoyance, as the light started to really go, dog walkers started appearing in numbers. I said hello to a couple of them and then - as it quietened down - figured I really was too tired to go further, and I'd just set the tent up as it got dark (it was not particularly hidden or stealthy).

I'd just got the tent half up, and it was properly dark now - I could see by the light of the full moon, but there was no daylight left- when more dog walkers appeared with torches. I sat still, and there was an awkward/comical moment when one guy shone his torch directly at the tent, in evident puzzlement. I'm not sure if he saw me - and I didn't particularly want to get into conversation, so I kept quiet. He almost certainly would have been friendly, but I just thought it would be complicated to explain what I was up to.

Anyway, after that I really was left as alone as I'd been in the sunshine a few hours ago. I considered whether it was silly to continue to camp here - but figured the worst that would happen is I'd be asked to move at some point. Fell asleep without any real worries!

Today's ride: 90 km (56 miles)
Total: 411 km (255 miles)

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Kathleen JonesDear Humber Bridge,
We bow to your superior length and beautiful bike lanes. We will have to comfort ourselves with our views.
Golden Gate Bridge
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1 year ago
Jon AylingTo Kathleen JonesAnd indeed the destination! I'm not sure anyone's every thought of Hull as the "San Francisco of the North" (or indeed compared Barton to Sausalito)...
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1 year ago