Exercise War Way of the Roses

Great companions, stunning countryside, a slice of RAF history and very tired legs.  Where and why?  A 170 mile coast-to-coast cycle trip from Morecambe to Bridlington.  This was Force Development the Air Warfare Centre’s way.

Riding coast-to-coast is an alluring challenge; especially on the well-constructed ‘Way of the Roses’ national cycle route, which follows quiet country lanes, cycle paths and tracks from Morecambe to Bridlington.  It is a real challenge both in terms of terrain and distance with the rugged Forest of Bowland, Nidderdale and the Yorkshire Wolds to negotiate.  The very ambitious aim, set by Wg Cdr Chris Cartmell, our coach in the months prior, was to complete it in just 2 days.

With Gp Capt Andy Burton as the team’s navigator, we set out from Morecambe late one August afternoon, heading towards Lancaster along a converted railway line, and occasionally glimpsing the River Lune through the tree lined path.

 

Morale was notably high, with everyone feeling the exhilaration you get at the start of a big ride.  Lancaster swiftly came and went; under the elegant Lune Aqueduct, and then the first real climb began through the striking landscape of the Forest of Bowland.  We stopped at Hornby to meet our support team.   This was the first of many occasions that Sqn Ldr Bernie Carten and Cpl ‘Loz’ Thomas came to our rescue with delicious homemade spicy sausage rolls and cups of tea.  Efforts like this at various pitstops were significant morale boosters.

The rapidly descending evening sun was by now casting a glow over the hills, and the views were fantastic, especially over the valley towards Ingleborough and

Pen-y-Ghent.  After a great downhill section (on which Sqn Ldr Ange Robinson demonstrated unnerving bravery) we arrived in the vibrant town of Settle, with the team keeping together well, and strength remaining in our legs.  This was just as well, as we needed it for the 16-20% climb out of Settle – a seriously steep and partly cobbled ascent.  At the bottom of the climb, the gauntlet was thrown down to the team, when someone dropped into conversation that their 11 year old daughter had cycled to the top of the hill the previous year without stopping.   Having to walk part of it despite my best effort (shameful I know), hers was a very impressive feat.

The long ride down into Malham, with its magnificent carboniferous limestone landscape, was a welcome opportunity to rest tired legs, while anticipating sampling a pint of local ale in one of Malham’s historic and appealing pubs.

After a night at the excellent Malham Youth Hostel, we started Day 2 early.  Cycling on quiet country lanes, we were fortunate to have a glorious morning with almost clear blue skies. With a perfectly timed and delicious bacon bap rustled up by Sqn Ldr Bernie Carten in picturesque Appletreewick, another climb came in the form of Greenhow Hill.  Onward to Brimham Rocks and passing Fountains Abbey, we enjoyed a wonderful descent through Studley Royal.

 

At a memorial plaque at Newton-on-Ouse, close to RAF Linton-on-Ouse, we paid our respects to the casualties of a crashed World War II bomber.  This was the Halifax Bomber, serial number LW 598, from Linton’s Canadian 426 (Thunderbird) Squadron and the story of their 1944 raid into occupied France in support of D-Day, and their

tragic return, makes for compelling reading. Back on our bikes, and afternoon by this stage, we made good progress on the flat terrain heading towards York; with the more gentle topography making it easier to chat as we pedalled. Alongside the River Ouse and into the heart of the city of York, past the spectacular York Minster and a 109 miles down, we started to head out towards the Yorkshire Wolds.

A refreshing couple of rain showers failed to slow our progress as we pushed on.  Flt Lt ‘BJ’ Doherty, our qualified cycling team leader and an RAF Team cyclist himself, offered motivation to the team and kept us firmly on track.

From Huggate we got our first sight of the wind turbines on the Yorkshire coast, just 26 miles away.  We savoured a long descent and soon we were entering the outskirts of Bridlington.  With light fading, we arrived on the promenade just as darkness fell.  We’d made it – 170 miles, 2464m of elevation gained, over all types of terrain and from one side of England to the other in a day and a half.  A great all round team effort.  A special mention must go to Fg Off Jen Miles, a beginner to cycling, who had previously only cycled a maximum of 40 miles.  Jen completed the Way of the Roses through sheer dogged determination – an extremely impressive performance.  As a Force Development activity it was hard to beat.  A mixture of leadership, team work, strenuous physical activity, and RAF history.  It was also another reminder of the stunningly beautiful country we are fortunate to live in.  If you want a challenge, consider cycling the spectacular Way of the Roses – you won’t be disappointed.

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