Explore the little visited lanes and cycle paths between Doncaster and Selby.
It sometimes takes me ages to get around to cycling certain routes. I’d had this one mapped out for about 10 years but had been put off doing it partly because of the start in central Doncaster and partly because of the hassles of bikes on trains. I planned to take the train one way from Selby and then cycle back. When I arrived at the station I realised I’d left the map on the kitchen table. Drat. The start had become even more inauspicious. Following a dash to WHSmith in the shopping centre next to Doncaster station (the start point did have it’s advantages) I was soon off on my return journey.
I began by pedalling through an underpass below the centre and crossing two busy roads before finally reaching the start of the Doncaster Greenway. Within moments the grey of the Tarmac did, indeed, turn to green of the former Brodsworth mineral railway and my mood rapidly improved. I’d escaped to the country. Sights and smells became distinctly more agricultural as I passed a farm in the hamlet of Tilts and in a beautiful wood nearby a fawn bounded out in front of me. Ah, this was more like it. Curiously, the woodland path is concreted which made me wonder what purpose it served originally.
The Trans Pennine Trail (TPT) which I was now following crosses two level crossings in quick succession, the second of them over the East Coast mainline. I thought about having my sandwiches as my wait got longer and longer. I could almost have fitted in a three-course meal (not that I had one in my pannier) in the time it took for the four trains to pass and barrier finally to open. A road bridge over the line is under construction so such delays will soon be a thing of the past. Rail lines are ruled all over and canals gouged out of this landscape. Just as commonplace are pylons and overhead power lines lacing together the industrial north.
Well rested, albeit prematurely, I pressed on through Braithwaite and onto the towpath of the New Junction canal. A striking feature at this point is the first of three drawbridges. Further down up the canal at Sykehouse Lock was a modern tower that looked like it belonged to Checkpoint Charlie than a lock-keeper.
Sykehouse claims to be the longest village in Yorkshire. Quite how you measure the length of a village and what exactly qualifies as one isn’t specified. There’s no disputing that it has the only windmill on the route. Now a private residence with little square room with a view in place of its cap, it was once owned by Roy Clarke, writer of The Last of the Summer Wine TV series. I had sandwiches sitting beside the Aire & Calder Navigation.
Unassuming Pollington, my next staging post, had a minesweeper named after it: the HMS Pollington, no less. Why? In the 1950s the Royal Navy took to naming ships in the ton class after places ending in ‘ton’. Simple as that. Great Heck has a far greater claim to fame – or rather notoreity – than my two previous villages. In 2001 a Landrover drove off the nearby M62 and came to rest on the East Coast railway line causing a crash with 10 fatalities. I diverted to the village to visit its memorial garden overlooking the line.
The seemingly distant coastal town of Hornsea made its debut on the TPT signs as I slipped briefly into a corner of the East Riding of Yorkshire and out again at Gowdall. Having started in South Yorkshire and bound for North I did three sections of England’s biggest county in little more than an hour. Not bad going. Pollington used to be in West Riding so that nearly makes a full set.
Over the River Aire and up north I’d hoped for a snoop at Carlton Towers, a Victorian Gothic country pile that today is a conference and wedding venue. Disappointingly, however, one entrance to the estate was padlocked and the other was fitted with CCTV and a forbidding ‘by appointment only’ notice. I know when I’m not wanted. I made do with a glimpse of the clock tower poking above the trees during a swig stop watching the Carlton Towers cricket club.
The next leg of the ride was one of my favourites and summed up the whole route. Nothing spectacular scenically (at this point the Drax power station rears up in front of you) but flat, very quiet, lots of interesting twists and turns yet still easy to navigate (thanks to clear signage) and without gates or rough bridleways to slow progress. In short, a great way to clock up some undemanding miles on a sunny day.
Gliding is popular here in an aeronautical sense too. After passing possibly the quietest level crossing in the county (and a great contrast to the double trouble earlier) the TPT led me around part of the perimeter taxiing lane of the former RAF station at Burn now home to a gliding club. This is one of the few Second World War airfields on which all runways and most of the hardstandings still survive and it was a great novelty to cycle on it.
A gap in the hedge (literally but still signed) took me towards my third and final canal of the day, the Selby, for the home straight into town. I had company for about the first time since I passed 14 fishermen in a match on the canal at Sykehouse. As the clock struck five I concluded the ride at the market cross in the piazza in front of the abbey, a fitting finishing post. Don’t know why it took me so long really: both getting geared up for the ride and completing it. Four hours in the saddle, 18 minutes on the train.
Distance: 35½ miles.
Time: 4 hours excluding stops.
From the station turn left through the underpass using the cycle path beside the carriageway. Bear left over North Bridge and at The Three Horseshoes pub fork right still on signed cycle path. Cross a footbridge (with slope for bikes), pass under the railway, turn left towards main road. Cross it twice (using the crossings). Turn right and, after 100 yards at the car wash, turn left down Centurion Way which becomes the Doncaster Greenway. After about ½ mile turn right onto the signed Transpennine Trail (TPT) and follow it all the way to Selby.
Note: To divert to the Great Heck memorial garden leave the TPT just after crossing the canal at Pollington. Turn left down East End. At The George & Dragon pub bear right up Pinfold Lane. At crossroads turn left signed to Great Heck. The gate for the garden is on the left just before the rail bridge and opposite a layby. To complete a loop back to the TPT go over the railway, bear right, pass under the motorway, turn right at t-junction (onto the A645) then left to Gowdall where you will pick up the TPT signs to Selby again.
There are few pubs on the route. These look the best:
The Old George freehouse, restaurant and carvery, Sykehouse, DN14 9AU. 01405 785635. Large pub with tables outside.
The George & Dragon, Pollington, DN14 0DN. 01405 948151. Recently reopened, lively family pub.
The Sloop Inn, Temple Hirst, YO8 8QN. 01757 270267. Modern pub attached to campsite with beer garden.
Recommended sandwich spots, all with seats:
Drawbridge over the canal at Braithwaite.
Opposite Holy Trinity Church in Sykehouse.
Brayton Bridge over the canal near Selby.
A single ticket from Selby to Doncaster costs £7.70 at weekends and the journey takes 18 minutes. See hulltrains.co.uk for (infrequent) times. You can reserve one of the three free bike spaces on each train by booking your ticket in advance on 08450 710222. However, this still doesn’t guarantee one of the spaces, I was told! The carriage for bikes can be at the front or rear of the train. Look for the symbol on the door.