When you live ‘life in the fast lane’, there’s a great way to ‘take it easy’. Rally co-driver Seb Marshall gets behind the wheel.
Endeavour, Adventure, Resolution, Discovery, the evocative names given to the great ships captained by British explorer James Cook. The famous Yorkshire pioneer has a long association with Whitby and so it’s perhaps appropriate that today we should be on our own journey of discovery, tracing the route of the 840 Coastliner bus on a road trip across the North York Moors to Whitby.
This however, is no ordinary bus route. Tourists and commuters alike were so taken with the scenic journey, that the stretch from Pickering to the coast, was last year voted Britain’s most scenic bus route - beating off stiff competition from over 100 other routes, including Scottish favourites like Glencoe, Skye and Loch Ness, plus the renowned Dorset coastal trail.
The 840 takes passengers from the centre of Leeds to the dramatic Yorkshire coast via sites as diverse as Eden Camp, a heritage railway, a national park and literary legend locations. It all seemed like the perfect excuse for a day trip to see what made this part of my home county deserving of such an accolade.
It’s fair to say I’m more accustomed to a faster mode of transport in my day job, competing in the World Rally Championship (WRC), navigating for New Zealand driver Hayden Paddon as part of the Hyundai Motorsport team. Today however, I’ve swapped calling the notes in our 380 bhp Hyundai i20 WRC rally car over rock-strewn gravel tracks, to a far more comfortable and sedate pace driving a fabulous 1960 Morris Minor 1000, courtesy of Classic Car Hire North.
At the start of my journey I meet my ride for the day, affectionately known as ‘Betty’, at her home at Ampleforth Plus – a social enterprise business set up by Yorkshire based charity Autism Plus. The charity is seeking to create welcoming and stimulating environments, where adults with autism and associated learning disabilities are given the opportunity to experience work in a variety of commercial ventures, from horticulture to chocolatiers. Having ‘road tested’ some of their aforementioned confectionery as part of the car hire package, it certainly passed the taste test. Yum!
I pick up the award-winning route in Pickering, home to the North Yorkshire Moors Railway, something that I’ll cross paths with several times today and head out along the A170 towards Scarborough. A more agreeable start to the journey is hard to imagine, as I’m surrounded by the winding hedgerows and thickly blanketed crop fields, similar to those of the neighbouring Wolds, immortalised so vividly by Yorkshire’s David Hockney. In no time, we roll into the picturesque village of Thornton-le-Dale. Clichés here are hard to avoid. It really is the stuff of chocolate boxes (those again) and picture postcards, with an immaculate village green flanked by a babbling brook, a row of quaint Almshouses and its famous thatched cottage, a quintessentially tranquil English scene.
It would be oh so easy to linger, but the road beckons. Leaving Thornton-le-Dale and the relatively flat landscape of the Vale of Pickering, we immediately start climbing through the dappled light of wooded lanes, up onto the wild moorland. Seeing a sign for Dalby Forest, I can’t resist a short diversion onto the Forest Drive.
The forests of North Yorkshire are somewhere I’m well acquainted with, having marshalled and competed on many motor rallies along these fast and fearless gravel tracks at the very start of my career. Today the forests are a little quieter - if no less adrenaline fuelled - as Dalby has established itself as one of the country’s top destinations for thrill seekers, with an extensive network of mountain bike trails and the exciting Go Ape! aerial adventure course.
Detour complete and nostalgia fully indulged, ‘Betty’ and I emerge from the forest and rejoin the open expanse of the moors, as the road gradually climbs towards one of the highlights of our route. One can’t help but do a double take as the Hole of Horcum rears into view; in place of the summit I’m expecting, a vast natural amphitheatre some 120m deep and 1.2km wide arcs away from the side of the road. Folklore has it that this ancient geological depression was formed when Wade the Giant scooped up a handful of earth to throw at his wife during an argument. We’ll not dare to contest that one!
Taking the chance to stop off at the panoramic viewpoint near Saltergate and marvel at Yorkshire’s very own mini-Grand Canyon, its sheer scale is truly a sight to behold. It’s surely enjoyed even further by the footpath that traverses its depths - the perfect trail for any budding explorer. Yet our imaginary bus conductor again calls time, so I swiftly return to the car and continue on my journey of discovery bearing north, onto the most rugged yet beautiful part of the route.
Plunging downhill through hairpin bends and onto a mini roller-coaster of a road, flowing curves and gradients take us past the dramatic presence of RAF Fylingdales. There’s been a military base here since the early 60s and the Cold War looms large in the form of its distinctive, towering brutalist ‘wedge’ structure (a cheese shaped one, at a push). Part of the country’s early warning radar defence system, its motto is “Vigilamus” – latin for ‘we are watching’. Yet for all its utilitarian looks and controversial purpose, it actually appears strangely peaceful and sculptural up here in its lofty and isolated spot.
At this point, we spear left off the A169 and follow a smaller but no less enjoyable road to Goathland. Progress may not be the most rapid aboard Betty but with the hood down, sunglasses on and the wind in my hair I don’t mind in the slightest – and neither it seems do the vehicles who pass and give a friendly wave as we continue on our way through the vibrant purple-hued heather moorland. Driving towards the Mallyan Spout Hotel I spot another Morris Minor parked outside, so figure it’s the perfect time to park up for a spot of lunch whilst soaking up the sunshine in the hotel’s garden.
If this pretty little village with its tearooms and vintage petrol pumps has an air of familiarity, it’s for good reason. It is probably better known to many as Aidensfield, the fictional village at the centre of TV drama Heartbeat. Eagle-eyed Harry Potter fans will be able to spot Hogsmeade Station from Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone too. With a distinctive toot toot echoing across the village and steam rising from the North Yorkshire Moors Railway, it’s hard not to feel as though I’ve been transported back on set – certainly ‘Betty’ is receiving a lot of attention as we pass through! The village really has a look straight out of a Hornby Model Railway catalogue and whilst by rail is a fantastic way to see the beautiful scenery between Pickering and Whitby, today is, mostly, about four wheels.
Leaving Goathland we launch straight into a wickedly steep hill back up towards the A169. Despite having only 4 gears and nearly 60 years of service behind her ‘Betty’ is more than up to the challenge provided by the taxing gradient; however, my memories of this hill are somewhat slower and more painful. It was by pedal power alone that I last ascended this fearsome gradient, just ahead of the professionals in the 2017 Tour de Yorkshire - they managed to make the ‘Côte de Goathland’ look as effortless then as it was for me driving up it today. It’s testament to the spectacular landscapes here that the North York Moors has become a firm favourite for the annual cycling extravaganza to visit, with the roads providing a challenging and exciting route to welcome some of the world’s best bike riders.
Having spent the majority of our route in the uplands it’s time to head back to sea level as we crest the ridge of Sleights Moor and begin the long descent. This is the point at which it’d definitely be an advantage to be sat on the top deck of the 840 bus and take the time to appreciate the superb vista over to our final destination in Whitby and out to the North Sea. I decide though, it’s best to keep my eyes on the road!
Upon reaching the bottom of Blue Bank Hill we follow the banks of the River Esk (look out for leaping salmon), then on to Ruswarp. One final twisting climb takes us back up hill to the fringes of Whitby and the climax of our road trip. Whilst the bus service terminates at the station I make a short loop around the town before parking up for a wander on foot; exploring the small cobbled streets, a photo at the iconic Whalebone Arch and visit the memorial to the most celebrated former resident, Captain James Cook. Navigating across oceans, after a torturous two-year voyage he became the first recorded European to set foot in East Australia in 1770, having travelled thousands of miles… it’s certainly a very long way from Whitby.
Teatime is now upon us and as they say, when in Rome! With the late summer sun still providing plenty of warmth, it’s surely compulsory to sit by the water’s edge and indulge in a portion of Whitby’s finest fish and chips. Out on the balcony at Abbey Wharf restaurant, I’m afforded a view of what makes this such a much loved seaside destination for so many. Fishing boats sail past on their way to the historic harbour mouth, seagulls circle looking for a chip or two and the red-tile roofed cottages pile one upon another, climbing vertiginously up to the crowning gothic glory of the ruined abbey. Breathing in fresh salty sea air whilst tucking into some of the tastiest cod I’ve ever had, I’m not sure it gets much better than this.
Having been sat down most of the day and now feeling a little gluttonous, I resolve to round off my trip by burning some calories climbing the leg-busting 199 steps to the clifftop and paying a visit to the striking 7th century Whitby Abbey, perched above the town. Writers, artists and romantic-minded visitors have been drawn to Whitby for centuries and Irish writer Bram Stoker visited in 1890. So taken was he with the atmospheric setting and steeped local lore of smugglers and shipwrecks, it was here that his most famous character of Count Dracula was born. As the shadows lengthen and such stories stirred my imagination, it’s almost time for home. A fitting place to reach the end of one of Britain’s most scenic ribbons of road.
Returning from a fantastic day out I can’t help but think that, despite being fortunate enough to see some of the most challenging terrain in the world as I navigate the stages of the WRC, it’s clear from today’s drive that you don’t have to venture far for an unforgettable road trip experience right on the doorstep.
Make mine a return ticket.
This article was taken from This is Y 2019.