A brand new cycle path has opened in Harrogate. Test ride it as part of a circuit of Lower Nidderdale.
It’s the last day of the Easter holidays and my daughter is not happy. Her mother and brother are out and I want to go on a ride so she has to come with me. The perky toddler in the child seat 10 years ago is now a disgruntled teenager. Polly likes the idea of a pub lunch, though, and is interested to try out the new Nidderdale Greenway. OK: I’m kidding myself somewhat. It’s only me that’s really fired up about the Greenway – that’s if you exclude the hoards of people using it. The small car park is full and vehicles are parked on the curbs when we arrive mid-morning on Sunday. We practically have to queue to pass through the width restriction onto the cycle path and my bell is forever tinkling as we approach dog walkers for the first few hundred yards in the saddle.
This is clearly a popular route but then the locals have been waiting for it since the late 90s. That when the idea of opening the Nidd viaduct to re-connect two disused railway lines either side of it was first mooted. Following protracted land purchase negotiations, two public enquiries and National Lottery-funded grant via Sustrans’ Connect2 campaign, cyclists and walkers can now venture from Bilton in eastern Harrogate to Ripley without recourse to the busy main road. The path is so new that the earth of either side of the Tarmac awaits growth and the timber of the fences and gates is pristine.
Attempts in previous times to cross the grand viaduct had been met by a formidale spiked fence with lots of ‘no entry’ signs. And what’s the view like when you finally get to go over? Well, it’s a sewage works. The vista in the other direction of a wooded gorge is much more attractive, though, and inspires a walk on another day. I expect to have to cycle along the main road for the final section to Ripley but no. The Greenway takes us up a short section of disused road next to the former rail bridge, over the main road via a crossing and then along the edge of parkland and through a car park into Ripley. The village is as a delightful as our route to get to it. It was built in the 1820s as a model estate village in the style of those in the Alsace-Lorraine region of northern France by eccentric Europhile and then owner of Ripley Castle, Sir William Amcotts Ingilby. We feel like we’re in a film set as we have a nose around resisting the lure of the famous ice cream parlour.
We pedal past the cobbled square and then head off west via a bridleway which while not as flat as the Greenway provides similarly good cycle access – and, what’s more, we have it to ourselves. Soon the view opens out. Across the Nidd valley we get a preview of Hampsthwaite which looks more like a small town than a village. There’s the church beside the river at the bottom of the vista and turbines on the tops. Longing for respite from the gale force winds we’re glad to arrive for lunch in Birstwith at, appropriately enough, the Station Hotel. The station in question – which connected Pateley Bridge to Harrogate via the Nidd viaduct – closed in 1964. No trace remains on the site but a little further along you can spot the old platform building in use as the clubhouse for the tennis club.
Our route next takes us past the old water fountain (no longer operational so refill your water bottle at the hotel!) and, at last, up close and personal with the River Nidd. We cross Hartwith Mill toll bridge to view the raised former trackbed and pint-sized railwayman’s cottage which looks like something from a train set. What slender income I suspect the bridge generates looks to have been spent on the smart sign announcing the charges.
We leave behind the rushing of the river and head up a steep, muddy bridleway. We could’ve gone on slightly further into Darley and ascended via a minor road (see roadbook, below) but figure we’ll be pushing regardless so opt for the more direct route. It is, indeed, hard work and only the fittest mountain bikers would be able to ride the whole way. As we have a snack sheltering from the spattering rain in a corner of a dry stone wall I’m reminded of my Shetland tour last summer but at least this time I have company. Polly is a trooper; briefly it’s a little grim even for me. Thankfully, the summit isn’t far away. The view under the murky, scudding clouds gives further glimpses of Nidderdale and a hint of the excellent cycling further up the valley to the north of Pateley Bridge.
A glorious freewheel takes us pretty much all the way to Hampsthwaite but not before a loop of unspoilt, unsung Kettlesing. Guidebooks would describe it as nestling in the countryside even though the village is practically in the shadows of the giant golf balls of the clandestine RAF intelligence base at Menwith Hill. Given it’s name Kettlesing should really have a café but it doesn’t although there is a nice looking pub that I mentally note for a future visit.
We pass some parkland and a cursory glance over my shoulder reveals its belongs to the magnificent looking Birstwith Hall built in 1780. Several swoops and swerves later and we arrive in the bustling village of Hampsthwaite. The last highlight of the route is one of my favourite spots in the region: the picturesque packhorse bridge in Knox. Being at a dead end for motor vehicles the bridge is seldom visited and there’s no traffic. Start the route further round and this is the perfect place for a picnic.
At times today it’s felt like we were deep in the Yorkshire Dales rather than just a few miles from North Yorkshire’s second biggest settlement. Knox, practically within Harrogate, looks almost urban on the map and provides a fitting conclusion to the most novel exploration of Lower Nidderdale since the coming of the railway. Did Polly enjoy it? In a small way, I think, but she’d never admit to it …
Distance: 18 miles.
Time: 2 hours.
Start at the car park on Bilton Lane, Harrogate, close to the junction with Tennyson Ave. Head north on the Nidderdale Greenway cycle path. Eventually, the route emerges beside the old railway bridge. Turn right up on a disused road to the A61 then cross this road via the crossing and continue on the cycle path along the edge of the field into a car park and Ripley. In the village turn left opposite Ripley Store and past the church. Continue ahead as the lane becomes a bridleway. After passing through a wood the path becomes a lane again. Turn right at the junction to and through the hamlet of Clint then turn left a t-junction to Birstwith. Cross the river and at t-junction turn right to pass the church. Continue beside river to Darley. Just inside the village turn left down Stumps Lane signed to Kettlesing. At crossroads turn left and then right to Kettlesing. Turn left at converted chapel to pass through Tang then follow signs to Hampsthwaite. In the village opposite the Joiners’ Arms turn down Hollins Lane. At a t-junction with the B6161 turn left towards Killinghall then first right down Grainbeck Lane. At another t-junction with the A61 turn right then almost immediately left to Knox. At the end of the lane cross over the old bridge then continue ahead. Pass through Bilton by turning left on Bachelor Gdns (which becomes Hall Lane), left on Tennyson Av and finally left on Bilton Lane back to start.
The Knox Arms, Knox. HG1 3AP. 01423 525284. Family orientated community pub with garden.
The Gardener’s Arms, Bilton, HG1 4DH. Tucked away, old fashioned 18th century former farmhouse with garden. 01423 506051.
Sophie’s Coffee Shop & Delicatessen, Hampsthwaite, HG3 2EU. 01423 779219. Chic, spacious café.
The Queen’s Head Inn, Kettlesing, HG3 2LB. queensheadkettlesing.co.uk and 01423 770263. Unassuming traditional village inn.
The Station Hotel, Pub & Restaurant, Birstwith, HG3 3AG. station-hotel.net and 01423 770254. Recently refurbished and extended inn with garden.
The Boar’s Head, Ripley, HG3 3AY. boarsheadripley.co.uk and 01423 771888. Upmarket coaching inn with good reputation.