Is it possible to make a bike ride a romantic gesture? Haworth is as good a place to try as any.
For me cycling is an essentially solitary pursuit although I’ve tried to make it romantic on two occasions. One of them was a bike ride near Castle Howard with a female companion. I had a heaving heart, yes, but only because I couldn’t keep up with her. I remember seeing her appear and then disappear as we rode up and down a series of dips on the long road to the obelisk, me always a dip behind. I took a later girlfriend (and now wife) on a ride to the local country pub on a second-hand shopping bike I’d bought especially for the trip. The wheel’s didn’t move freely and, on this occasion, she was the one out of puff.
So when I heard about some Valentine-themed destinations being promoted by Sustrans, the sustainable transport charity, I viewed finding a route between them as something of a challenge.
The starting point had plenty of promise, though: Haworth, home to the Bronte sisters and the inspiration for some of the greatest love stories of all-time, of course. Most of the landmarks associated with them – such as the Bronte bridge and Top Withens – are out of bounds for bikes but there are lots of other places with romantic connections to the east of the village.
The route I’ve devised also gives you the chance to ride along a new cycle path over two grand viaducts. Originally, they formed part of the “Alpine route” from Queensbury that railway historians consider to be the pinnacle of Victorian railway engineering and construction. The first viaduct is at Cullingworth and it is quickly followed by the longer Heweden viaduct. Both were reopened as part of the National Cycle Network last May, 50 years to the day that the last passenger train ran. Built in 1880/81, Hewenden viaduct is Grade II listed and consists of 16 masonry piers rising 38 metres above the beck.
Just after the viaducts look out for a gnarled tree next to the ruins of farm outbuilding overlooking the valley on your right. With a little imagination – well, actually, a lot – this could almost be Top Withens, supposed rendezvous of Cathy and Heathcliffe in Wuthering Heights. Appreciate the full magnificence of Heweden viaduct as you continue along the route towards Hallas Bridge. Now this really is romantic. Leave your bikes beside the footbridge over the stream and walk about 50 yards in the opposite direction to the mill into the woods and you will find the two Goit Stock waterfalls. Take care descending. The handrail on the rocks is more something you hang from rather than lean on. Whether you’re in love or not this is a blissful spot for a sandwich stop.
A long climb then takes you up to The Guide Inn, the highest point on the route. You’re right up on top of the wiley, windy moors now. As you gently freewheel down from Hainworth, a hamlet pinned to the east side of the Worth valley, you get a fabulous scrolling view of Oakworth and south Keighley on the west side.
The dive down ends at Damems Railway Station which lies on the Keighley & Worth Railway featured in The Railway Children film. Watching a train arrive sums up the romance of the age of steam. A perfect place for a close encounter.
On the final leg of the journey call in at Oakworth Municipal Park which is far more interesting than its name suggests. In the Bronte era, it was the site of Oakworth House, home of Sir Isaac Holden, an inventor and textile manufacturer. Now a bowling green takes the place of the house but the former gardens remain. They are honeycombed with grottos, caves, and walkways, some elevated and reached by stone staircases. Holden’s greatest feat, however, was the construction of a winter garden with Turkish bath (no longer standing) at the back of the house for his wife to use in inclement weather. Now that is love.
As the light starts to fade you will be glad to return to the cosy, cobbled glow of Haworth. If the ride has gone well then head straight to Emma’s Eating Parlour and indulge in two slices of hot passion cake with whipped cream. And what if your romantic ride has gone wrong like mine once did? Copy Branwell Bronte and drown your sorrows at The White Lion.
Distance: 13 miles
Time: 2 hours excluding stops.
Terrain: Mainly bridleways, tracks and unmade-up roads. All of the route is passable on a touring bike but you will need to walk for one or two short stretches. A mountain bike would be better. The route is strenuous – but short too.
Eating: Pubs including The Station Hotel, Harecroft and The George, Cullingworth. Lots of cafes and pubs in Haworth.
Map: Ordnance Survey Outdoor Leisure 21: South Pennines.
Nearest bike hire: Blazing Saddles, Hebden Bridge, 01422 844435.
Parking: At car park opposite Haworth station. All day costs £1.20.
R out of car park. At roundabout with A629 take second exit up Bingley Rd. L at t-junction then R at chicken coops down bridleway. After Sugden House Farm pass through fieldgate then R, up edge of field keeping wall on R. After fifth tree follow hoof and bike tyre marks veering L towards a ladder stile beside which is a bridlegate. Pass through and along walled bridleway beside ponds. Pass over ex-railway bridge. At lamppost among rhododendrons turn R up bridleway, passing lake. Pass under ex-railway bridge then L onto track. Just after houses under construction turn L back over ex-railway line then first R down Highfield Terrace. Pass through two bollards, round a football pitch, skateboard park and school playing field to mini-roundabout to join ‘Great Northern Railway Trail’. Pass over the two viaducts. Where cycle track stops turn L up to Harecroft on B6144. Turn L then first R down Bents Lane. Turn L down bridleway signed Hallas Lane. Follow the road round to the R to cross stream. Continue ahead then R up Green Side Lane then R again onto Halifax Rd then L signed ‘Keighley 3’. At Guide Inn, turn L down Goff Well Lane then fork R. At stone sign for Hainworth fork L and pass through hamlet. Just after wooden bench follow track round to right and continue descent. Turn R onto A629 then after 500m L down track to Damems station. Pass over level crossing and uphill to new housing estate. Keep ahead. At t-junction turn L up Goose Cote Lane signed ‘Oakworth Mill’. Turn L onto B6143. (Look out for Holden Pk on R). Turn L down Providence Lane signed ‘Bronte Parsonage Museum’. To reach Haworth centre turn R up North St then L down Chain Gate.