Trailing around

New mountain bike trails opened this summer at Sutton Bank in the North York Moors.

Approaching High Barn

Approaching High Barn

My son, Bertie, 11, and I tried them out, combining two of the loops to make up a 10-mile circuit. We began with a quick zip around the Cliff Trail which has the easiest, green grading. Once or twice Bertie had to get off to push briefly but in general the track was, indeed, simple to negotiate and suitable for pretty much all ages. The three-mile route takes you through a still forest of fir trees, winding and gently undulating throughout. We could see where the forest floor had recently been removed to make way for the new gravel surface.

Emerging from the trees we found ourselves literally just a couple of hundred yards or so away from the visitor centre at the start. We turned away from it to pick up the 5½-mile blue Fort Trail, the main course after our aperitif. At Dialstone Farm we branched off onto a bridleway and then back onto the quiet road which you could always use as a more direct and smoother route from the centre.

The forest section at the start of the trail

The forest section at the start of the trail

Once the trail reaches the escarpment it really comes into its own with endless views views over the plain towards Boltby and Thirlby and beyond. As we rested on a sultry afternoon all we could hear was the clicking of crickets. Taking time to enjoy the vistas we continued as far as High Barn then began a dramatic descent of the escarpment. We passed the remains of an old quarry then stood up from our saddles and used our knees as extra suspension as we edged down through the bracken. A high bank protrudes into the middle of the scene like a watch tower.

At the section of the ride described on the map as the “Stairway to Heaven” the trail became something of a trial and we largely pushed our way back up the incline. A couple of far more professional-looking riders did the same, though, which made us feel better. “How was the red route?” I asked one of them. “Mega!” he simply replied, a broad smile across his face and mud spattered on his shorts. The red route takes you an additional – and demanding – 17½ miles around Boltby Forest and, for us, was best left to another day and probably another cyclist.

South Woods

South Woods

Back on the top of the escarpment we followed the route of the Cleveland Way back towards Gormire Lake and the visitor centre. Our mini-expedition concluded with a narrow, windy track through the trees which was great fun and reminded us of our initial green route. Before we set off home Bertie did endless loops of the new skill circuit which is targeted at much younger riders and novices but was being enjoyed by all ages.

Our verdict? The two trails we tried provide a great introduction to Sutton Bank especially for visitors with insufficient time to explore the region on foot and who have some experience of mountain biking. The Fort Trail has magnificent views but is a little uneven in places and the ascent from the bottom of the escarpment is challenging.

Making the grade

Bike hire is available

Bike hire is available

Adrian Carter, of Pace Cycles, which has assisted in the development of the cycle trails, says: “Sutton Bank offers the rare opportunity to adventure in the countryside on natural trails which are man-managed.

“The trails are all graded according to ability, and the surfaces prepared where necessary, so they’re suitable for everyone from the complete beginner to the most experienced mountain biker. With six road-cycling routes and many quiet country lanes we can offer something for both the road and off-road rider which we believe is unique for a trail centre in this country.”

Sutton Bank Bikes, which is based at the Sutton Bank National Park Centre, together with staff from the park have spent over two years developing more than 28 miles of dedicated trails around the centre, including three off-road trails, a skills park for younger children, six road routes, and a cycling shop including bike hire.

suttonbankbikes.co.uk

The skills loop at the Sutton Bank centre

The skills loop at the Sutton Bank centre

Ouse cruise

Trace the source of the River Ouse on this flat, versatile ride from York city centre.

Little Ouseburn.

Little Ouseburn.

This really is a ride for all seasons. I’ve done it alone for a quick blast in midwinter when there’s not enough daylight for anything longer, with a mate on a golden midsummer evening heading out of the city for a pint then flitting back at dusk, with a girlfriend for a pub lunch and, most recently, with my 11-year-old son, Bertie, on a spring afternoon past fields of rape, along roads lined with cherry blossom and while farmers ploughed. What’s more for me the route is on my doorstep. I’d invite you in for a cuppa but there’s no need for that as the route is liberally lined with first rate cafés.

There are essentially two ways to do it: as a there-and-back ride from York city centre to Beningbrough Hall (about 20 miles in total) or a cheat’s loop. It’s a cheat in that you travel about 10 miles of it on the Hammerton to York branch railway line. Alternatively, you can cycle along the A59 which runs parallel to the railway but the road is very busy and it would be no fun. The only cyclists ever to have had the road anything like to themselves were the Tour de France riders.

Lendal Bridge, York.

Lendal Bridge, York.

Within half a mile of York station Bertie and I were on the cycle path that starts by Lendal bridge and runs initially along the River Ouse. York is one of the most cycle-friendly cities in the UK as demonstrated by this path. Rowers plied back and forth as we edged our way under a railway bridge and soon into the suburbs. The silence was golden as we entered the ings. Recorded in the Domesday Book, they are are winter-flooded hay meadows of a type that is almost unique to lowland eastern England. Flooding prevents growing of crops so they are managed as grassland and according to a system that dates back possibly as far as Roman times. More recently in the early 18th century the Ings were the official venue for York races each summer before flooding prompted the switch to the present day racecourse. Now, as if in memory of the nags that preceded them, joggers forever pound the perimeter. Ings ain’t what they used to be.

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Rawcliffe.

The track continues to wend its way this way and that through other parts of the Rawcliffe Bar Country Park. Developed in 1990, the area includes a small pond which was formed by excavations necessary to provide a surface for the cycle track which forms part of route 65 of the National Cycle Network. Snipe, red buntings, yellowhammers and even kingfishers are supposedly hereabouts. Later, after a terrace of period cottages, the route follows a minor road through Overton but it’s so quiet it could still almost be described as traffic-free. On the opposite side of the Ouse a group of houses in Nether Poppleton compete with one another for the highest view of the river.

If you’re flagging at this point (unlikely) you can always shuffle off in the sidings – quite literally. That’s the name of the restaurant and hotel housed in several former railways carriages just before the junction with the A19 at Skelton. As a novelty venue it takes some beating – and the food is good too.

Beningbrough Hall.

Beningbrough Hall.

Soon afterwards we passed through the grounds and by the giant redwood trees of the National Trust’s Beningbrough Hall. The café attached to the Home Farm shop was full so we continued on to the Hall tea room only to find that it was actually within the property for which there was an entry free. “Are you a cyclist?” the woman on the desk asked me surveying my new cycling gear before explaining that cyclists are permitted inside to the café without needing to pay admission and as long as they go straight there. What’s more, they’re entitled to a free hot drink as long as they buy a snack. Result!

We continued through the grounds and left through another gate to enter the attractive village of Newton-on-Ouse along an avenue of cherry blossom which provided a bunting-like greeting. The village has two pubs and there is another eating and drinking option at Linton Lock just around the corner. Even if you don’t need refreshment it’s worth the short diversion to enjoy the picturesque location while resting on the lock gates. Thereafter we passed RAF Linton-on-Ouse where Prince William trained and Sir Clive Woodward once lived while his father served in the force.

Linton lock.

Linton lock.

The ride throughout is as flat as a pancake but in the vicinity of Linton the flatness, dotted with farms, is all the more apparent and reminiscent of terrain in the East Riding of Yorkshire than much hillier North Yorkshire. Aldwark Bridge, one of just eight privately-owned toll bridges in the UK, provides a welcome point of interest. You certainly don’t want to miss it since it’s the only river crossing between York and Boroughbridge, 18 miles apart. A sign impells cyclists to stop at the pay booth but this is for safety reasons only and, fear not, there is no charge. Divert down a track to the right to a picnic area to have a close inspection of the rickety-looking bridge and read the interpretation board.

Mausoleum, Little Ouseburn.

Mausoleum, Little Ouseburn.

Approaching Thorpe Underwood the country lanes becomes more slender still. You are deep within the county’s many backwaters ¬and the city of York seems much further downstream than it is. Fittingly if unwittingly you get close the source of the River Ouse at Great Ouseburn from where the river flows all the way to the Humber. Easier and more interesting to find is the mausoleum in the churchyard in Little Ouseburn. It was built in 1742 for the wealthy Thompson family who lived nearby at Kirby Hall. The main hall was demolished in the 1920s. You cycle past and over some of the estate’s remaining features: two lodges, an igloo-like ice house and pretty little bridge over the beck. The juxtaposition of a round building (the mausoleum), a square building (the church) and bridge was very much the landscaping fashion of the time as demonstrated at the much better known Castle Howard also near York.

Whixley, once renowned for cherry growing, is another pleasant place to pause. Head for the bench on the triangular green outside the village hall. Completing the set of villages is Kirk Hammerton and with that, depending on where you started, you can let the train take the strain. Me? I’m already home and hosed.

Aldwark Bridge.

Aldwark Bridge.

Fact file

Distance: 21 miles.

Time: 2.5 hours.

Directions:

National Cycle Network sign at Overton.

National Cycle Network sign at Overton.

Turn left out of York station, ahead at the lights and over Lendal Bridge. Continue for 80 yards then turn sharp left down a steep cobbled lane signed to boat trips. Turn right onto Judy Dench Walk and out onto the riverbank. From here simply follow the well signed route 65 of the National Cycle Network initially beside the river, then across Clifton Ings, through the hamlet of Overton, past Shipton and to the entrance to Beningbrough Hall. Leave the signed route to pass through the grounds and out the other side into Newton-on-Ouse. (The gates across the archway at the exit from the grounds are sometimes locked but open just wide enough to allow a bicycle to pass through.) Bear left at the green to and through Linton-on-Ouse. Eventually, at a t-junction, turn left to cross Aldwark Bridge. At the next junction turn left to Little Ouseburn. Don’t turn into the village, though, but keep ahead to Thorpe Underwood. At the junction with the B6265 (beware of fast traffic) keep ahead down a minor lane then turn left into Whixley. Go straight over the crossroads to a junction with the very busy A59. Cross over then almost immediately turn left to Kirk Hammerton. The station is on the far side of the village.

Map: here

Eating:

Beningbrough Hall

Beningbrough Hall

The Star on the Bridge, Lendal Bridge, York. 01904 619208. New, upmarket eaterie with decking overlooking the river. Serves breakfasts, teas and full meals.

The Sidings, Skelton. Serves teas as well as full meals. 01904 470221.

Home Farm café, Beningbrough Hall. 01904 470562.

Beningbrough Hall tea rooms. 01904 472027.

The Dawnay Arms, Newton-on-Ouse. Large beer garden sloping all the way down to the river. 01347 848345.

The Blacksmiths Arms, Newton-on-Ouse. 01347 848249. Traditional pub also with beer garden.

Linton Lock House café, Linton-on-Ouse. 01347 844048. Simple café that also serves fish and chips.

Tancred Farm Shop & Coffee Shop, Whixley (turn left rather than ahead at the B6265 junction then signed). 01423 330764. Recommended.

Train tips:

Parking at York station is very expensive so you’re probably best off starting at Hammerton. There is a free car park at Hammerton station. It only takes about six cars but it’s easy to park in the village centre. Trains are carried free on Northern Rail and no booking is required. Wait at the far end of the platform and load your bike in the front carriage where there is a space for bikes to be strapped. At York station use the lifts to avoid the stairs. An adult single from Hammerton to York costs £5.90. The service takes 18 mins and runs roughly every hour.

Entrance to Beningbrough Hall at Newton on Ouse.

Entrance to Beningbrough Hall at Newton on Ouse.

Plain sailing

A tank wall, cow’s ghost and railway carriage used by Elvis are among the many quirky features of this varied ride in the Holderness region near Hull.

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Lighthouses at Paull Holme

To describe this terrain as a plain is to misrepresent it. Throughout the entire route I didn’t cross a single contour line. If you aspire to be king of the mountains then you should not be heading to Hedon. Fittingly I rode such a flat route in the same week as pancake day. The weather was gloriously warm and sunny but the wet winter hadn’t long past as I was reminded at the start of my journey by puddles on the track. I swerved from side to side to miss them, accumulating clods of mud under my mudguards which made a repetitive steam engine-like sound as my wheels turned.

IMG_4511There’s nothing new about that rhythm here as I was cycling along the former trackbed of the Hull to Withernsea rail line. It was built in 1854 by an entrepreneur with ambitions of making what was then a village at the terminus into a northern Brighton and closed in 1965 courtesy of Dr Beeching, of course. The flatness of the land next to the Humber meant that construction only took 11 months and, for the same reason, today’s cyclists make similarly swift progress. The only relic of the railway is the former Ryehill & Burstwick station now a private dwelling. On the old platform there was an unsettling mannequin torso wearing a t-shirt which made my head turn every time it caught the breeze while I was taking a picture.

Ryton & Birstwick station

Ryehill & Burstwick station

A problem with rail trails is that it’s hard to know exactly where you are because there’s no signage. Church towers were my landmarks as they were for mariners of old navigating the Humber. I mistook the church in Ottringham for one which I’d already past in Keyingham. Fortuitously, I came across a notice with map showing my location and explaining that the next stretch of the old trackbed is the subject of an application for conversion from footpath into bridleway. This was where I wanted to alight anyway.

Old tank wall in Ottringham

Old tank wall in Ottringham

Ottringham has two unlikely Second World War connections. To the side of 2 Station Road you can see the ruins of an anti-tank wall about two yards thick. I don’t expect this homeowner gets any issues with property boundaries. Such walls were built in staggered fashion on either side of and encroaching onto the road so that vehicles had to slow almost to a stop in order to weave through the gap. Large concrete cylinders were kept nearby to be rolled into the gaps in the event of an invasion. A mile to the east of the village is the site of the once top secret BBC Otteringham from which medium and long wave services as well as propaganda were transmitted as far as the heart of occupied Europe. Today it’s the premises of a modular buildings company.

I began my westward return along the A1033, the modern day link between Hull and the far east and a route which carries far more traffic than the old railway can ever have dreamt of. It’s not too busy, though, and a couple of windmills in Keyingham maintained the interest with their modern counterparts in the distance to the north. There was enough breeze to turn the turbines but not to impair a bike ride. Spring was in the air and the lawnmowers of Holderness were humming.

Flat as a pancake!

Flat as a pancake!

At Thorngumbald I left the main road and took a quiet lane. To my right were the distant cooling towers of a chemical works in Hull and ever further away to my left was the hazy outline of similar industry in Immingham with, in front of it, the slightest sliver of silver denoting the Humber. The more immediate outlook, though, was much more scenic and this part of the route proved to be my favourite.

Nearing the river I passed Boreas Hill Farm. A hill? Here? Well, yes, relatively speaking. Courtesy of a bank of glacial moraine the relief hits the giddy heights of 14 metres above sea level. I slipped into the big cog to mark the occasion. Through the trees to my left I spotted a curious square stone tower. Grade I listed and dating back to the 15th century, Paull Holme Tower was originally the great hall of a house and is all that remains of the structure. It’s reputedly haunted by the ghost of a cow which, in 1840, somehow climbed up the narrow staircase to the battlements and, unable to get back down, fell to its death. Mooooh!

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Old lighthouse at Paull

Round the corner two more towers next to one another – lighthouses, actually – beckoned. On my woefully out of date Ordnance Survey map (which shows a ferry as the means of crossing the Humber) there is terra firma between the lighthouses and the road but when the Paull Holme Strays were created as a flood prevention measure in 2003 the land was scooped out and the coast realigned to form a lagoon and nature reserve in the shape of a dock. The lighthouses are now perched on the end of a spit, the red one looking like a giant firework. By lining up this lighthouse directly above the white one mariners could guide themselves along the deep water channel from Hull. Where does an estuary end and the sea start? The poser is no better considered than when standing on the banks of the Humber. The smoothness of the water belies the strength of the currents. The path led around Fort Paull, a Napoleonic fortress that is now a local history museum. I’d earlier spotted the giant camouflaged tail of its Blackburn Beverley aircraft protruding above the fort’s walls. Other exhibits include a railway carriage once used by Elvis in Cold War Germany.

IMG_4611The old lighthouse in Paull – superceded by the pair I’d seen earlier – with adjoining coastguard’s cottages could’ve belonged in Cornwall. Only the white telephone boxes told me that I was actually only seven miles from Hull. Also in the village the Humber Tavern is the sort of place where you imagine many yards of ale have been downed and salty sea shanties sung. I half-expected Captain Pugwash to emerge from the bar.

Back in Hedon with a little time to spare I had a quick zip around the town and was glad I did. The trim green with a beacon brazier is surrounded by lovely old houses and the huge St Augustine’s Church (so that was the mini-minster I spotted earlier) It was the perfect place for a final swig and to reflect on the journey. My cycling season started in style.

Fact file

Distance: 17.5 miles.

Time: 2 hours.

Directions:

Park at the free rail trail car park on the northern edge of Hedon to the left of the road. Cross the road and proceed eastwards along the rail trail. At Keyingham the trail diverts to the left (signed) to avoid Station House and then continues immediately right (signed only as a dead end) and left to rejoin the old railway line. (For a shorter route leave the trail at Keyingham and turn right to the A1033 then right again). Leave the rail trail in Ottringham (by The Coach House) and turn right. Turn right again at the t-junction onto the A1033. Pass through Keyingham and Camerton then, just before Thorngumbald, fork left down Hooks Lane signed to Fort Paull and a bird reserve. Enter the reserve car park then push your bike towards an embankment and lift it up steps to the top. Turn right along the embankment. The first 500m or so is a footpath only but after that you reach a “multi-user” gravel path towards the church. Bear sharp left and left again to visit the lighthouses then back to continue beside the Humber to Paull. Pass through the village, bear right and continue over the A1033 to Hedon. At an offset crossroads in the village continue ahead along the main street back to the car park.

Map: here

Eating:

The Watts Arms, Ottringham. 01964 622034.
The White Horse and Ottringham Tandoori, Ottringham. 01964 625883.
The Ship, Keyingham. 01964 603132.
The Blue Bell, Keyingham. 01964 622286.
The Crooked Billet, Ryhill. 01964 622303.
The Humber Tavern, Paull. 014828 99347
The Royal Oak, Paull. 01482 897678.
Lots of choice in Hedon including the Chatty Couch Coffee House, 01482 891311.

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Hull bound – from Paull

Magnificent seven

Paul Kirkwood follows in the tracks of a prime minister, First Sea Lord and champion cheese maker on a bike ride for the festive break.

Topiary in Bishop Monkton

Topiary in Bishop Monkton

Excursions like this remind you what a great place Yorkshire is to live in and explore. We have the Dales, the Moors, the Wolds and the South Pennines, of course, but there are so many areas that may be less famous but, in parts, are every bit as scenic and interesting. The triangle between Ripon, Boroughbridge and Knaresborough is just such an area. This route takes you through a town and seven villages, each a sort of staging post and all but one (Copgrove) with a pub so there’s plenty of places to get warm and fed en route.

Sunrise at St Andrews Church, Aldborough

Sunrise at St Andrews Church, Aldborough

Picking a favourite village is difficult but for me it would be Aldborough. It’s every bit as classy, pretty and interesting as its better known Suffolk namesake – and even has its very own Aldborough Festival. The smart maypole on the green sums up the village’s old English appeal. Close by is a pair of stocks and behind is the Old Court House from which the borough’s MPs used to be declared. Remarkably, two members were returned each election including a future prime minster William Pitt, the Elder. The constituency was abolished when electoral boundaries were redrawn by the Great Reform Act of 1832.

A more recent village character was the champion cheese maker, Betsy Mudd, who worked at the Aldborough Dairy (now a private house) and lived in the middle of the three cottages opposite. Regionally renowned for her wares, the redoubtable Miss Mudd was churning to within four days of her death aged 83 in 1960. You can see one of her clogs and the dairy equipment she used in a small open air museum housed within the old butter market shelter on Hall Square in Boroughbridge.

Devils Arrows, Boroughbridge

Devils Arrows, Boroughbridge

The town is best known for its three mysterious millstone grit monoliths, the Devils Arrows, which are passed on the route. The story goes that the Bronze Age stones are giant arrows fired by the devil from near Fountains Abbey and intended for Aldborough. Quite what the devil disliked about Aldborough isn’t clear from the tale. The village was missed again in 1944 – but this time intentionally so – when a locally-based Lancaster Bomber from the Royal Canadian Air Force crashed landed on a training flight a short distance away killing all seven crew. A memorial on the green records the tragedy.

The route from Boroughbridge initially heads west close to the River Ure. You’re right above it on the bridleway leading away from Roecliffe where a magnificent old primary school spans the long green. When I last did this route on a cold day in November a couple were drinking at the table outside The Crown Inn. A couple of mannequins, that is, placed there by the landlord to catch the eye of passing trade.

Burton Leonard

Burton Leonard

The Mechanics Institute with clock tower in Bishop Monkton is another fine Victorian building made all the more appealing by the brook which trickles in front of it and right through the village. Little bridges connect houses to the road. The topiary of a chicken outside a particularly pretty cottage is a masterpiece and a tree nearby is perfect for festooning with Christmas lights.

Bishop Monkton and Burton Leonard – the next village on the tour – are after mistaken for one another because of their proximity, attractiveness and similar double-barrelled names. For a rest in the latter head up the main green (one of three) and choose between the benches around two trees which give a good view down towards the grand bus shelter and shop.

Copgrove Hall

Copgrove Hall

The return half of the route has two architectural highlights. Pause at the bridge over the end of a lake to view Copgrove Hall at the other end of the water. Previous owners include Admiral Francis Bridgeman, the head of the Royal Navy in 1911 and 1912. You can see a memorial to him and his wife inside the Copgrove church. Today the Hall is part of a stud farm previously owned by Guy Reed, co-founder of Reed Boardall, the refrigerated transport company based at Boroughbridge, who died last July. On the left shortly before Staveley look out for a terrace of symmetrical almshouse-like cottages with long front gardens.

No sooner than you know you’re zipping through Minskip and back in Aldborough. It’s a short ride for shortest days but just as satisfying as something more substantial and the ideal way to get some mid-winter fresh air and exercise especially if you have a new Christmas bike that needs a test ride.

Fact file

The Fountain, Boroughbridge

The Fountain, Boroughbridge

Parking: On street in Aldborough.

Distance: 14 miles.

Time: Maximum 2 hours excluding stops.

Map and directions: here

Many bridges to cross

Paul Kirkwood tries an off-road route high up in Wensleydale.

Bridleway between Castle Bolton and Carperby

Bridleway between Castle Bolton and Carperby

The level of difficulty was three stars out of five with “a few short rough sections” and included a long stretch of bridleway. But then the route – among a pack of 20 in the Yorkshire Dales and north-east produced by the AA – was only 10 miles long so it couldn’t be that challenging for a father more used to on-road rides and his protégée eight-year-old son? Or could it? After lots of debate and map scrutinisation we decided to go for it.

The start was simple enough. We pushed our bikes over an iron bridge over the Ure and trackbed of the Wensleydale railway then pedalled up to Carperby past the Wheatsheaf Inn. Alf Wight (aka James Herriot) and Greta Garbo spent the night here – a year apart, I hasten to add. She stayed during a break from performances at Catterick Garrison and he honeymooned with wife Joan (known as Helen in the books and TV series), as plaques both inside and outside the pub testify. They spent the week tuberculin testing and when they set off for home all the pub’s staff had to push their car to get it going.

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Old iron bridge over the River Ure

We were soon pushing ourselves up the steep hill that leads to Bolton Castle. A pause was most certainly in order to get out breaths back and check out the castle. We arrived just an hour before early closure for a wedding. The imminent festivities added extra interest to our tour, staff rushing past us with floral arrangements and putting the finishing touches to fancy place settings in the grand hall.

We had Lord Scropes bedchambers to ourselves, though. The Lord was chancellor to King Richard II and the man responsible for building the castle as a fortified manor house in the late 14th century. Among the other residents were Mary, Queen of Scots, and her entourage who stayed en route from Scotland to Gloucestershire. The gardens include a small maze (which thankfully got getting lost out our systems for later) and some birds of prey.

View from Bolton Castle

View from Bolton Castle

Conscious that the bulk of the route and all its off-road content lay ahead we pressed ahead through a gate and out onto the open moors high above Wensleydale. In some fields we could make out ridges called strip lychets which are a legacy of medieval ploughing practices. Initially we cycled along a smooth track, then a rougher track and finally – after a new bridge that has replaced the ford marked on the map – onto a grassy path. It’s called Oxclose Road but there’s nothing road-like about it. The going was pretty tough in parts and the route is suited only to mountain bikes. The number of gates further slowed our progress but we were compensated by fabulous views across the Ure valley and having the region completely to ourselves if you exclude the sheep that bolted in all directions as my son began his downward ascent above Carperby.

Spoil heaps near Carperby

Spoil heaps near Carperby

The fun continued as we explored the rounded hummocks formed of spoil from the 200-year-old lead mines, swooping up, down and around them as if we were BMX riders at Olympic Park but without the jumping.

A little further on we propped up our bikes beside a wooden footbridge to climb down to and explore a hidden waterfall below. Soon we followed its steep descent to the hamlet of Woodhall. From there we turned left back onto the B-road homeward straight having one final rest at the Ballowfields local nature reserve. As well as spoil heaps lead mining has left the legacy of a rare community of plants including thrift, scurvy grass and spring sandwort that can tolerate high levels of the lead in the soil and are more normally found on cliffs and saltmarshes.

The last of our four bridges was an immaculate model-like structure over Eller Beck beside the nature reserve. It was built only two years ago by members of the Otley and Yorkshire Dales branch of the Dry Stone Walling Association to replace a simple clapper bridge which was frequently covered by water.

As we crossed back over the Ure via the iron bridge to the car I felt like a participant returning from the wilds in I’m a Celebrity … Get me out of Here! No swanky hotel waiting for us, though, but a hot bath at home was just as pleasing a prospect. In the final reckoning we’d had a short but strenuous and satisfying expedition.

Restored packhorse bridge

Restored packhorse bridge over Eller Beck

Fact file

Near Carperby

Near Carperby

Distance: 10 miles.

Time: Allow at least two hours plus many rests.

Parking: Small car parking area on the north side of the A684 about a mile east of Aysgarth right beside footbridge.

Map: here

Refreshments: The Wheatsheaf Inn, Carperby, and the tea rooms at Bolton Castle.

Tip: To make a day of it go for a short walk around the Aysgarth Falls afterwards.

Aysgarth Falls

Aysgarth Falls

One-way ticket

Explore the little visited lanes and cycle paths between Doncaster and Selby.

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Owston Wood, near Bentley

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.

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Braithwaite drawbridge on New Junction canal

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.

Sykehouse sign

Sykehouse sign

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.

Great Heck memorial

Great Heck memorial

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.

Carlton cricket club

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.

Selby Abbey

Selby Abbey

Fact file

Distance: 35½ miles.

Time: 4 hours excluding stops.

Directions:

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.

TPT sign

TPT sign

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.

Map: here

Eating:

Have your sandwiches in Sykehouse and enjoy this view

Have your sandwiches in Sykehouse and enjoy this view

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.

Trains:

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.

Barge approaching Selby

Barge approaching Selby

Pleasant valley Sunday

A brand new cycle path has opened in Harrogate. Test ride it as part of a circuit of Lower Nidderdale.

Spruisty Bridge, Know

Spruisty Bridge, Know

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.

Ripley cycle path

Ripley cycle path

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.

Ripley

Ripley

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.

Hartwith Bridge

Hartwith Bridge

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.

Felliscliffe

Felliscliffe

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 …

Polly at the cascade at Ripley Castle

Polly at the cascade at Ripley Castle

Fact file

Distance: 18 miles.

Time: 2 hours.

Directions:

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.

Map: here

Eating:

Hampsthwaite

Hampsthwaite

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.

Gatehouse to Ripley Castle

Gatehouse to Ripley Castle