Save this ride for a crisp autumn day when the woods around Clumber Park are at their most colourful.
Starting a bike ride near Worksop at a house that was demolished before the war may sound inauspicious but then this was no ordinary property. It was Clumber House, a mansion built by the Duke of Newcastle in 1767 and set in 3,800 acres of woodland and heathland now owned by the National Trust. The estate that remains more than compensates for the building that was lost as I was to find out on my last ride of the season.
A major attraction of the venue for me was its 13 miles of waymarked cycle tracks. Waymarked, that is, if you are travelling in a clockwise direction as suggested by the maps. I, however, unwittingly set off in the other direction and found navigation challenging at times. The route follows tracks, bridleways and – in some places – paths so narrow and winding that I was surprised on one of them to come across a bike towing a baby buggy. Rather him than me. Indistinct though it may be in parts, the route allows you to explore the woods in a depth usually afforded only to walkers.
The House may have gone but there is plenty of architectural interest in the Park not least the perfectly preserved Gothic lodges which stake its perimeter. Lurking in the trees as if waiting for the master that will never return, they are made of stone with ornate black eves, ecclesiastical latticed windows, lots of chimney-pots and practically every feature tapering to a point. Another house I came across even deeper in the woods is the sort where you would imagine that in the olden days a disagreeable old man with a bushy beard would have burned peat fires.
An all together less attractive but just as notable building is the tall chimney of the Lafarge lime and aggregates works at Hodthorpe which is a handy landmark for locating Creswell Crags, a limestone gorge honeycombed with caves and smaller fissures. I lunched beside the lake in the company of Canada geese. Excavations show that previous residents from the Ice Age included wolves, bison, rhinos, hyenas and bears. The availability of all this meat attracted man. In fact, the Crags are among the most northerly places on earth to have been visited by our ancient ancestors. In the 19th century a stream running through the Crags was dammed by the Duke of Portland to form a lake which enabled him to prevent a proposed railway coming through his land. The Boathouse Cave was just that.
My return route passed by Welbeck Abbey where the eccentric and extraordinarily private Duke once lived. He built three libraries and a chapel (later converted to a ballroom) underground as well as three miles of tunnels, one of them reputed to have led to Worksop station to allow him discreet passage all the way to London.
Back at the centre of Clumber Park I admired the exterior of its foremost Gothic building, the Victorian chapel described as “cathedral in miniature”. Sadly I was unable to look inside as it closes at 4pm in winter. I made do instead with a stroll around the grounds. In their heyday they required the services of 100 gardeners but now just two do the work.
All that remains of the House are the steps which would have led from the rear to the lake. A paved path indicates the position of the outer walls. Elsewhere – and still in tact – are a stone landing stage, stable block and walled kitchen garden. The reason for the demise of the House was simple: tax. Unable to maintain high payments the Duke sold its contents at auction in 1936 and had it demolished the following year. My bike in the boot, I drove away along a splendid double avenue of lime trees and under a grand arch. Clumber today is a riddle: so many ways in but nowhere to go.
Distance: 24 miles.
Time: 2½ hours excluding stops.
Directions: If leaving from the bike hire centre, R onto Green cycle route. R at road and over causeway across lake. R into Hardwick village. L up bridleway just after house No 43. Soon after Manton Lodge fork L to clearing where horse boxes are parked then follow track round to R after a large tree stump. On leaving Clumber Pk turn L, then R at Trumans Lodge and L up bridleway (Robin Hoods Way) beside small car park. Pass by lodge and continue onto road. Cross over A60 then in Hodthorpe L opposite Working Mens Club. L in Penny Green then almost immediately R. L at t-junction past chimney to Creswell Crags. On leaving visitors’ centre R along bridleway. R onto A60 then after 500m R to Holbeck. After village at crossroads L. Cross back over A60 to Norton. Pass through village, alongside lake and through Carburton. Cross bridge to re-enter Clumber Pk. First R along estate road back to start.
Tip: Get a map from the cycle hire centre or here and follow my route the other way round.
Bike hire: Available in Clumber Park.