This is the self-devised route that I’m most proud of. I think it should be made into an official route called The Harrogate and Knaresborough Round. Sadly, the local council didn’t share my enthusiasm when I suggested it.
As a tour of some of the most desirable neighbourhoods of Harrogate this route takes some beating – and as bike ride it’s pretty good too. Estate agents and cyclists alike will drool. You slip in and out of the suburbs like a fox in the night, stringing together bridleways, cycle routes, tracks and little used roads. The route is a sort of cyclists M25 of the town but far from being a road to hell it’s an orbit of discovery.
From Knaresborough I set off in an anti-clockwise direction towards Harrogate on the cycleway dedicated to Beryl Burton OBE, seven times world cycling champion. I made my first stop at the listed 17th century Spruisty Bridge in Knox. A plaque records how it once carried packhorse traffic between Knaresborough and Ripley. It’s hard to believe that such a quaint place could exist just a mile or two from the centre of one North Yorkshire’s principal towns. All that was missing from the scene was a vintage car, picnic rug and children paddling in the ford.
Kent Road in Harrogate is the ultimate in gentrified suburbia, a broad, peaceful street with barely a parked car in sight. They have garages behind electric gates for that sort of thing around here. A little further on, while exploring a lane on the western fringes of Harrogate, I came across two towers side by side, one round and the other square. As I pondered the purpose of the square tower the owner of the house semi-detached to it came out and kindly invited me inside.
The Harlow Hill Tower Observatory to give the tower it’s full name was built in 1829 and now Grade II listed. I plodded up the 92 steps in semi-darkness since the few small windows have been sealed off at the request of neighbours. At the top, 700ft above sea level, the view extends on a clear day as far as the Humber Bridge and York Minster. Through an old pair of battleship binoculars mounted on a BBC TV tripod I could even see right into Ripley Castle. During the Second World War the tower was used a machine gun nest set up to protect Leeds. Council owned, the tower is now the headquarters of the Harrogate Astronomical Society and is opens to the public four days a year. Incidentally, the ornate round structure next door is a water tower built precisely a century ago. “It rather gets in the way of the view but I’m very grateful for the water supply,” said my guide.
With that it was back into the country. Just after The Squinting Cat pub – an ideal stop for anyone with children – the view over the fold of the Crimple Beck valley towards the wart-like hulk of Almscliffe Crag is superb. A glorious freewheel follows. For a moment you could be deep in the Dales.
The route then takes advantage of roads that became almost redundant after the construction of the Harrogate bypass. There are great views of the 31-arch Crimple Valley railway viaduct on the way to Follifoot. The village’s name is thought to derive from the Norse meaning “place of the horse fight” indicating that it was possibly used as a centre for training horses and the staging of fights, a sport made popular by the Vikings and which continued into medieval times. Horses still features prominently in Follifoot. Opposite a riding school lives a lady advertising fine animal portraits. I thought she perhaps ought to link up with the Bilton Pets Hotel (sadly no longer called the Bilton Hilton) that I’d passed earlier. On the eastern edge of the village I passed an enclosure for less coveted beasts: a circular animal pound dating from 1688.
The village’s character is summed up by some of the house names: Manor Cottages, Forge Green and the Bolthole. The school has an Owlet Wing and the village stores has a large bay window straight from a Dickensian Christmas card. At the top of the green is the grand old main entrance to Rudding Park and nearby is a pair of stocks. Although I have no reason to doubt their authenticity they’re so well maintained could be brand new. They are located behind a freshly painted black railing and shelter below a neat little wooden roof stained to match the colour of the stocks. A rotten tomato would be most out of place these days.
The highlight of this circuit goes back even further in time having been mentioned in the Domesday Book. I refer to Plompton, a hamlet previously part of a manor held by the de Plompton family for 700 years. It was sold to Daniel Lascelles in 1760 who demolished the mansion and other buildings with the intention of building a new house. He never completed the work and moved to nearby Goldsborough Hall. All that remain are the pleasure grounds and lake named Plompton Rocks. Thankfully, they have been maintained and now provide a magical place to explore.
Looking at the lillies on the lake, little wooden jetties and huge, bulbous rocks like those at Brimham, this place could provide the setting for a re-enactment of Swallows and Amazons. As I brushed through bracken and rhododendrons and crept around fissures in the rocks I half expected to come across Roger and Titty on a secret mission. Around one corner was a thick wooden door with a barred window that begged inspection. Through it I could see a rowing boat, one oar propped lazily on a ring, in a tunnel-like boathouse. Perhaps that’s what they would’ve been looking for. It came as no surprise to find out that Plumpton has been the location for various TV productions including Blake’s Seven, Heartbeat and, bizarrely, the Muppet Show.
I headed back to Knaresborough on a bridleway through an attractive wood and then along Abbey Road which is almost as quiet. Right down at river level I found St Robert’s Cave. With its sitting out area it’s very bijou – if you’re Stig of the Dump. Reputed for his herbal cures and a friend of the poor, the saint died here a hermit. At the other end of the road the four-storey 18th century House in the Rock is just that. Previous names were Swallows Nest and Fort Montague both of which are very suitable for such a lofty structure. The man who completed its construction, the self-knighted Sir Thomas Hill, flew a Union Jack, printed his own bank notes and fired a cannon from the battlements on public occasions. Having been open to the public in the past and once served as a tea room, the House was restored and became a private residence again a few years ago.
Chosing a property on this route would be difficult but Abbey Road is where I want to live when I’m rich. My favourite house has fabulous looping Dutch gables, balconies outside the first floor windows with river views, a pagoda, glorious garden, and the all-important landing stage. After so much unintended house hunting it’s hardly surprising I finish my descripton of the ride sounding like an estate agent.
Distance: 20½ miles.
Time: 3 hours.
Turn right out of the car park, push your bike over bridge and turn right onto Beryl Burton cycleway. After 1½ miles enter Bilton. Turn right onto Tennyson Ave then, as road bears left, right onto Hall Lane which becomes Bachelor Gdns. At small triangular green turn right onto Knox Lane. At the bottom of the hill push bike over packhorse bridge and turn left onto Knox Mill Lane. At the end turn right briefly onto the A61 then immediately left down a rough stony track. (This is a footpath not bridleway so officially you should push your bike). Where the track bisects take the right-hand option and soon rejoin the track via a gate. At the end of the track turn left onto the A59 and soon right onto Harewood Rd. Just before t-junction turn left onto a cyclepath. Beside the Hydro swimming pool turn right down an underpass and continue ahead and uphill on Oakbank. Turn left at the end onto Oakdale Ave then right to push your bike along the path beside the A61. After 100m turn right down Kent Rd. Turn left onto Hereford Rd then, at crossroads, right onto Duchy Rd. At t-junction with Cornwall Rd turn left and just before the Harlow Moor Drive turn right towards nurseries signed ‘Public footpath Otley Road’. At top of the drive turn left between a gate and a corner of a wall, past a greenhouse and the water tower and observatory.
Harlow Hill Tower Observatory
Turn right at B6162 then first left down Beckwith Rd. Take fourth exit at roundabout down Whinney Lane. After Squinting Cat turn left at t-junction onto Hilltop Lane. Turn right at mini-roundabout and then left at the Black Swan pub down Malthouse Lane. (Ignore turn left up Westminster Crescent). At the end of Malthouse Lane push bike along a short, fenced footpath. As you emerge turn right down Crimple Meadows then at t-junction with church turn right up Station Rd to Pannal Station. Turn right at the traffic lights then immediately left signed to Pannal Golf Club. After 1½ miles and at a t-junction cross over the road then down short path ahead. Push bike over A658 and continue left on a path beside a fence then bear right through a barrier and onto Pannal Rd. At the end turn right to Follifoot. (Turn right at the cross to explore the village). At the A661 turn right then after 500m left to Plumpton Rocks (signed).
On leaving the Rocks turn left then as road bears sharp right pass through a gate on the left onto a signed public bridleway. Push bike through the grass in the direction of another gate. Pass through. After 100m turn left onto the track that leads from Plumpton Hall then after 30m turn right through a fieldgate onto another signed bridleway. Follow the blue arrows around the edge of the wood (on your right). Turn left at a t-junction with a track and follow it as it bears right and reaches a wood. Turn left into the wood. Cross carefully over the A658 and continue ahead, still following the arrows. Pass through a wood and then a caravan site. As the site road bears sharp left keep ahead and pass through a gate then immediately left down a bridleway (not using the roundabout) that turns into a minor road. At the end join the B6164 briefly to cross a bridge then take the first left (Abbey Road) into Knaresborough. Just after the Half Moon pub cross over the B6163 and continue ahead down Waterside back to the car park.
Eating: The Gardeners Arms, Old Bilton; Knox Arms, Knox; The Squinting Cat, Beckwith (recommended); The Black Swan, Burn Bridge; The Harewood, Pannal; Radcliffe Arms and Harewood Arms, Follifoot; plus good choice in Knaresborough.