Following in the footsteps of medieval monks, Paul Kirkwood pioneers a bike ride route around a little known corner of the Yorkshire Dales.
Appropriately for Remembrance Day, I began my journey looking up to the heavens at the Cracoe War Memorial, a glorious way to remember “the glorious dead”. The walk up to the ridge where it stands then along to Rylstone Cross is one of my favourites in the Yorkshire Dales but, on this occasion, I was travelling westwards and by bicycle – on a 17-mile loop to Malham. The route is highly recommended but, as I found out, one better suited to drier conditions and a mountain bike.
The outgoing section was straight-forward enough, an early descent ending in Airton. The lower part of the village consists of a former water corn mill with a chequered history. It used to make Dettol during the Second World War, then housed chickens and, for the last 30 years, has been apartments. Riverside Cottage next door used to be the mill owner’s house. It’s hard to image industry in such a peaceful place. Nothing stirred around the green other than smoke from chimneys. One property is dated 1696, another has dovecotes in its roof and what appear to be two safes are embedded in the outer wall of a house over the road.
I left Airton heading towards the distant sight of Malham Cove and the sound of church bells. The sound drifted in and out of earshot until, after one last corner, the tinkle suddenly became a clang and I found where it was coming from: the medieval church of St Michael the Archangel at Kirkby Malham. Oliver Cromwell was once a witness at a wedding held here and his second-in-command during the Civil War, Richard Lambert, lived at nearby Calton Hall which I had passed earlier.
My lunch stop was in Malham at Beck Hall, originally a Dales yeoman’s cottage and reached via a clapper bridge. The mugs on the wall in the dining room made for a motley collection. Among those commemorated were Prince Andrew and Fergie, The Beatles … and Maggie Thatcher. There can’t be too many of those in existence.
A more noteworthy rarity is the village’s pinfold which was restored by volunteers from the neighbouring youth hostel earlier this year. In the past the pinfold was used to impound any stray animals found wandering around the village. Some pinfolds – such as the one at Malham – includes inner compartments for holding animals in different ownership or found at different times or places.
History lesson over, it was a case of onwards and upwards. Throngs of walkers heading to and from Goredale Scar disappeared as I entered the mist at the top of a very steep incline that delights in the name Smearbottoms Lane. I was bound for Bordley but first had some tricky tracks to negotiate.
The moisture in the air mixed with the perspiration on my brow as I cycled, pushed and paddled my way along bridleways of grass, stones and mud. Stopping to open gates at regular intervals, I made slow progress. Twice I passed mountain bikers. On the first occasion I was blaspheming as my panier had bounced off and, on the second, my son in the child seat was clearly unhappy about the terrain and moaning for his mother. Gritting my teeth, I wasn’t a good advert for cycle touring.
Bordley consists of just two farms and, until recently, was accessible only via a farm track. Ironically, proximity to the old drovers route of Mastiles Lane was the reason for the hamlet’s initial development. Monks from Fountains Abbey near Ripon were among the first inhabitants, using the Lane to reach their grazing land on the surrounding fells. In the 16th century over 60 families lived in the valley. Plans to update the Lane to a road linking Malham and Grassington in the 1960s floundered in the face of public opposition leaving Bordley to its splendid isolation.
So compact and hidden in a hollow, Bordley today looks like something from a children’s story book. A young man was taking two children for a ride in a trailer pulled by his quad bike and another group were trying to encourage cattle either into or out of a barn. I couldn’t work out which.
For me it was make your mind up time too. Either I followed a longer route back via the road or a shorter route via a bridleway. I pondered for a moment then swung open a gate and headed off down the latter which runs parallel to Bordley Beck. I was glad I did. The sense of remoteness was wonderful and, after a few hundred yards, I reached a firm track which made the going much easier too. Over the brow of a hill Winterburn Reservoir came into view framed by the branches of a tree overhanging the lane and the sun’s rare rays gave the tussocks of grass on the valley side an orange tinge. I stood up out of the saddle and juddered my way downwards and car-wards, feeling that I had discovered my very own Yorkshire Dale. Bordleydale, I suppose.