With more secret trails and unridden areas than you can shake a stick at the organisers of the well reputed ‘Ard Rock Enduro have this year put on a new race in the north of England, and this one is called the ‘Ard Moors’. Charley Oldrid went to find out how long his legs would last.

The event was held at Lordstones Country Park over the weekend of the 17th & 18th September, and what an awesome event it turned out to be!

“The ‘Ard Moors Enduro starts from the scenic Lord stones Country Park on the edge of the North York Moors National Park. The highest hills on the moors, old-school classic DH tracks, steep woods and stunning moors to attack until you give-in, or get-on! Scouted out the roughest and toughest areas, and designed a bloody good course, with more secret trails and unridden areas than you can shake a stick at.”

Lordstones Country Park is perched at a high vantage point on the western fringes of the Cleveland hills in the North York Moors National Park, just up the steep hill from the picturesque village of Carlton in Cleveland. The Urra Estate have recently taken ownership of the park and have developed and renovated the site to hold a café, restaurant and shop, camping (with glamping options) and ample parking, making it an ideal base to hold an event like this. The place has a good vibe, popular with walkers on the Cleveland way, cyclists on the coast to coast and hang-gliders and paragliders alike enjoying the thermals produced by Carlton bank.

With a high pressure weather system setting stall over Northern England for the weekend, the whole event was teed up nicely. Saturday saw riders embarking on a ‘practice’ session, where stages 1 and 5 were open to those who were keen to sample a taste of what the Sunday had to offer. The other 3 stages were closed to practice due to the fact that so much of the weekend’s riding was on private land, and with the local shoots happening it was always going to be better to keep bikes and guns on a separate rosta.
The venue was buzzing on the Saturday night with folk sampling local beers, burgers and live music played by Rich Gardiner. Talk spread throughout the site about the riding, how good the two stages were that everyone could practice, and also how nervous some were about what was to be in store the following day.

Some days stand out from the rest. Having woken up in the campsite to a spectacular sunrise, followed by a good coffee and even better bacon butty I knew this was going to be one of those days. Timing chip donned, it was time for my 8.30am departure. Riders were set off in groups every five minutes to embark on the 40km mystery loop. This layout in my eyes is how enduro should be done. It allows for groups of mates to get together for a top class day riding whilst racing the timed stages as you go, surely the essence of mountain biking.

With the venue sitting at roughly 300 metres above sea level, it didn’t take too much effort to get to the top of the first timed stage, which turned out to be a real belter! Some slippery well built corners that have lasted the test of time kept the grin large through the top open section, whilst the gap jumps in the woods lower down cemented that grin further, what a great start!

A leg burning road climb back up the hill followed by a long transition over the moor tops brought us to the top of stage 2, where we were greeted by one of the finest marshals you could wish for, the charismatic Joe Flanagan whose banter never fails to swap a grimace with a giggle. After a detailed chat about Worcester sauce crisps Joe gave the go ahead to chase down the riders in front, firstly along a flat out top gear heather and boulder strewn bit of singletrack before dropping into an ancient cattle drovers gully, a series of corkscrew corners which were wet, loose and totally flat out. Only two stages in and the roadside water, Harribo and Cliff Bars provided by the Ard Events crew was more than welcome.

Another long pull out of Chop Gate took us along the edge of Urra Moor to stage 3 via an ancient boundary line. This area was used as a decoy for the German Luftwaffe during World War II, due to its proximity to the industrial heartland of Teesside and Middlesbrough. Trenches full of fuel were set alight during the blackout period as decoys for industrial activity and some craters can still be seen where the bombs landed.

The singletrack climbing provided a stern challenge, immersed in the riding the feel of the day had shifted from a ‘race vibe’ to a ‘big day out on the bike vibe’. Although there were 500 or so riders participating, the nature of the route allowed one to feel almost alone in the wilderness at times, not a feeling familiar to those who race enduro regularly.

Stage 3 was short, snappy and brilliant. Fresh cut corners, drops and flat out grass meant that the valley below was echoing all day with shouts of excitement and laughter from the large amount of riders pushing hard on trails ridden for the first time.

Another long transition saw riders being greeted by a young brother and sister combo, who with the help of their parents had set out a stall with water, lemonade and chocolate rice crispy cake. It’s these little things that make an event for me. I will remember those friendly faces for far longer than the actual riding. A big hats off to those at Garfitts Farm! Thanks to these guys, the mini hike-a-bike onto the top of stage 4 passed with ease before tackling less than two minutes of raw heather hacking madness. Riding blind on trails that don’t yet exist is a lot of fun and keeps even the most competent riders guessing.

The best, however, was saved till last. After sharing a busy paved path climb for a short section (part of the Cleveland way) to the day’s high point, a truly brilliant stage lay in wait. This is the old Cleveland DH course, which drops away from the moor tops with a fine series of corners, blind drops and flat out singletrack through the high bracken. To add to the awesomeness of this grand finale there was a great crowd half way down whose cheers, screams and heckles could fire up any rider enough to push on hard right to the end. The gruelling road climb back up to Lordstones was made all the easier by a quick pint of ale in the Blackwell Ox Inn. Just shy of 40km and around 1200 metres of climbing total, a proper day out on the bike.

So many factors made the Ard Moors Enduro to be a complete success on its first run out. Joe Rafferty and his team have worked their socks off to make sure that everyone could head home totally content. From building the trails, working with the super helpful Lordstones Park staff and of course the local land owners who have enabled a unique race on majority private land to go ahead successfully, a great effort all around. Thanks also go out to the events sponsors ENVE and Saddleback who were more than willing to sign up to support a first time race. We are really looking forward to the next one, as long as the weather stays good!

Sun 9th Oct, 2016 @ 9:30 am

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