Sample Chapter. Ride 008: Up Shitlington
The title says it all. In soggy weather, this little ride up to the ridge between Wark and Bellingham can be quite unpleasant.
It features a boggy ‘Byway Open To All Traffic’ after a very scenic trundle up an almost unknown valley.
￼There’s no disguising it. You are going to get muddy on this ride: well you couldn’t visit Shitlington and fail to come back with a souvenir, could you?
The ride does at least start in a fairly civilized fashion. Starting at the Battlesteads Hotel, turn left and follow the main B6320 through Wark towards Bellingham.
There’s a gentle climb to the Parish Church and graveyard at the north end of the village, then some undulating road past Houxty House and down to river level.
In season the smell of wild garlic in the woods here is very noticeable: it clears the airways. Which is all to the good, because you are shortly going to need every molecule of oxygen you can get. You are about to make the acquaintance of Houxty Bank. This angry little piece of road is the very steep uphill starting at 3km on the profile below.
No matter how much momentum you carry off the downhills to the bridge before it starts, Houxty Bank will try its hardest to get you off and pushing. Safety-wise, don’t get too slow and start wobbling before you decide to dismount – empty log wagons come tearing up here, racing against the tacho to squeeze another payload of trees into a working day. If two trucks meet on this twisty and steep section of road, it will get very tight in the gutter. And you’ll be lying in it.
Houxty Bank does at least have the saving grace of brevity. Whilst steep, it is not a long grind like the road out of Wark up to Hetherington. On reaching the top, there’s even a nice little dip to rest your legs.
￼You will shortly see a gated single track road, leading off left into a flat, lush valley. The gate is also identifiable by its notable collection of wheelie bins. And they should give you a clue about Shitlington: not even the dustbin lorry dares to go up there.
Although you are within a couple of miles of the villages of both Wark and Bellingham at this point, turning down the track to Shitlington conveys the feeling that you’re about to go somewhere really remote.
Continue straight down the road, passing a number of gates. After nearly a mile, follow the road round to the right and ignore the turning left to Shitlington Hall (no, honestly, I’m not making this up). After a further quarter mile, you will come to a junction between a cottage on your right and farm buildings on your left.
At this point, you can turn left and ride over the very stony and bumpy track to the gates of the house with the Shitlington Bunkhouse sign, if only to photograph it for its comedy value. Do not enter the driveway beyond the cattlegrid, the house and grounds are private property. And the bunkhouse itself is no longer in operation.
Return down the track to the junction by the cottage (marked ‘Shieldfield’ on OS maps). At this point, if you don’t fancy cycling through a bog, you’re best advised to return to Wark the way you came. However, if you have a half-decent off-road bike and a certain attitude of mind (basically “I’m not going to let all this Shitlington grind me down”) keep the cottage to your right and carry along on the very broken track leading up the hill.
This is a Byway Open To All Traffic (BOAT), so be aware it can be used by 4x4s. The locals say they see a party of recreational off-roaders only about once a month.
On the day I rode it, inevitably, I had the misfortune to follow about 15 minutes behind the first group of Land Rovers to have tackled the BOAT since winter had thawed. They had pretty much destroyed the path in some places. From personal experience, I would earnestly advise you not to do this route in such circumstances.
￼Needless to say, I failed to heed my own advice and ploughed on, following the rapidly deteriorating path round the left hand bend above the cottage. Ploughing isn’t quite accurate. A plough would just sink in. Sink into the material you are now discovering is only partly mud – that cow over there has got a real glint in its eye...
Anyway, never mind: keep the dry stone wall to your left, and keep the TV transmitter on the ridge in sight at about NNW on the compass. Eventually you will come to another stone wall on the high ridge. Pass through it, and turn right then keep this second wall to your right. The terrain is flat now. After some further squelching, you will come to a small tarmac lane. Turn right on to the tarmac. The entire off-road section is only one mile in total: but it feels a great deal longer.
From here, enjoy the descent via Ealingham Farm, back to the B6320, then down Houxty Bank along the river and back into Wark. Don’t hit the sheepdog at the farm, who launches himself ballistically at bike riders. As this bit is downhill, you can probably outpace him in the end, but be aware that he’s lightning fast over the first ten yards.
As we learned on an earlier ride, don’t let the natural splendour distract you from avoiding collisions with shepherds on quadbikes: the sheepdog is much more important than you are. You will absolutely not be the one getting a consoling stroke and choccy treat if you both end up on the deck. In fact, you’ll probably be grateful for the padded gusset of your cycling shorts – the pointy end of shepherd’s crook can wreak havoc if used in anger.
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