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

Up hill and down dale

Cycle up one wild Yorkshire dale and down another more benign one with an outstanding choice of pubs an cafés all along the route.

The descent towards Muker

The descent towards Muker

Reeth is a lovely place to start a bike ride. Almost too lovely, in fact. You don’t want to leave. A Swaledale pitstop par excellence, it centres around a huge sloping green overlooked by fells. But I was a man on a mission and, mindful of the rigours ahead, made a prompt start to my Dales adventure.

I arrived at Langthwaite just after an ambulance. The village is associated with medical calls of a veterinary nature as the little bridge over the Arkle beck was featured in the opening titles of the 1980s TV dramatisation of James Herriott’s All Creatures Great and Small novels. The sign for the Red Lion looks like an original from the era and the pub (also featured in the TV series) has a notice in the window to say that it sells newspapers on Sundays. The hostelry should really be sited a few hundred yards up the hill – in the wonderfully named hamlet of Booze. The tone was set for a remote adventure with some interesting drinking and eating spots along the way.

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Langthwaite

Workmen with a digger were carrying out repairs to the churchyard and, during the day, I came across several farmers zipping around on quad bikes and the postlady delivering letters over the bar of the Tan Hill Inn (more of which later). The bustle of Reeth pervades the dales it presides over but is nothing compared to the olden days. In the 18th and 19th centuries Arkengarthdale was the centre of the regional lead mining industry. Workings and spoil heaps still scar the hills. I passed a hexagonal powder house in the middle of a field where gunpowder was stored (clearly no terrorist threat in those days) and a triangular courtyard of cottages that was once the administrative centre including joiners’ workshops, a sawmill and smithy plus offices and lodgings for the miners.

With that it was out into Yorkshire at its wildest. In medieval times this area was a hunting forest roamed by deer, wild bear and wolves. The road went up and up and up. Over the first 11 miles to my lunch stop I averaged 6.3 mph, shameful even by my own slow standards. I blame it on the headwind. At times, crossing such an empty, inhospitable but dramatic landscape reminded me of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides. The moors stretched out to the north like a swelling sea with as many hues of brown as there are blues in the ocean. The only signs of life were the slowly moving white square of lorries crossing the Pennines on the A66 like yachts on the horizon.

Waiting for opening time at the Tan Hill Inn

Waiting for opening time at the Tan Hill Inn

Around every corner I longed to see, however distant, the Tan Hill Inn. Once I even mistook a small hollow of snow of distant snow for my refuge. Eventually and suddenly it appeared just a couple of hundred yards in front of me. Formerly used by cattle drovers, miners and pedlars and now an essential stop on the Coast to Coast walking route, this is Britain’s highest inn and, having been on the large cog since Reeth, I could well believe it.

I was met by a gaggle of geese and flock of hens peering through the window into the lounge bar as if waiting for opening time. No such hesitation for me; I went straight in. I first came here in 20 years ago and, thankfully, it’s still just as characterful and quirky. It’s a truly unique hostelry that should be on the itinerary of every tour of God’s own county. A sign above the outside toilets said that they were closed due to “overuse by a yeti” and one over the bar read: “Danger. Keep out. Deep Mud”. During my lunch the barman used a string and pulley arrangement to lower a giant plastic spider onto a neighbouring table. How we laughed! Among the many press cuttings framed on the walls is an account of a visit to the pub by a group of naturists and the story of how visitors were holed up here for days during heavy snows in 2010. Three weeks after my visit an all ticket séance was scheduled.

I could’ve stayed there all afternoon (and I’m sure many do) but still had the majority of the route to complete. Thankfully from here it was much easier cycling starting with a glorious downhill plunge with the sort of switchbacks more usually found on a mountain bike trail. Dotted all around were field barns looking like Monopoly houses.

Muker

Muker

The youth hostel where I stayed in 1993 and James Herriott once overnighted with son Jimmy is now a posh-looking lodge hotel but little else had changed along Swaledale. You could fill a whole picture book about Yorkshire villages from this dale alone – and it will no doubt provide some of the definitive images of the Tour de France when it passes this way next year. The bridge in Thwaite is particularly picturesque and the Kearton tea room beckoned but today I pressed on for the main attraction around the corner: Muker. For such a small settlement it packs a lot in: a gallery, Swaledale Woollens (which includes Prince Charles among its customers), a grand old pub (The Farmers Arms) and tea rooms as well as a Grade II-listed church, Victorian literary institute and phone box! A bell tinkles as the door of the village store opens, the ultimate sign of bucolic bliss.

Gunnerside New Bridge

Gunnerside New Bridge

Snow had been very much in evidence in the ascent to the Tan Hill Inn and, in Gunnerside, a discarded Christmas tree lay just yards from snowdrops further telling the story of the season. U-shaped branches with buds about to burst looked like candelabras waiting to be lit. By this point the Swale is loopy, languid and, like me, no longer in a hurry to get anywhere. The morning’s exertion seemed a long time ago. Three hamlets collectively known as Low Row once had three pubs, two churches, two chapels, three shops, two schools and a workhouse of which only the churches and one pub remain. There’s no shortage of facilities in Reeth, though, as I was reminded on a wander around the green. Along just one side I pushed my bike past the Copper Kettle tea room, Garden House Pottery, Fat Sheep crafts and gifts, the Old Temperance bookshop, Cuckoo Hill View ice cream parlour and National Park Centre. Something for everyone including me. It was time, at last, to linger.

Fact file

Gunnerside

Gunnerside

Distance: 28 miles.

Time: 4 hours.

Directions:

Very simple. Depart the green in Reeth northwards via the road to the right of The Buck Inn. Keep going for 11 miles. After the Tan Hill Inn turn left signed to Keld. At a t-junction with the B6270 turn left signed for Keld and Reeth. Stay on that road through Thwaite, Muker and Gunnerside to Reeth.

Map: here

Eating:

Farmers Arms, Muker

Farmers Arms, Muker

The Red Lion, Langthwaite, DL11 6RE. 01748 884218.
The Charles Bathhurst Inn, Langthwaite, DL11 6EN. 01748 884567 and cbinn.co.uk.
The Tan Hill Inn, near Keld, DL11 6ED. 01833 628246 and tanhillinn.co.uk.
Kearton Coffee House and Restaurant plus country hotel, Thwaite, DL11 6DR. 01748 886277.
Muker tea shop, DL11 6QG. 01748 886409.
The Farmer’s Arms, Muker. DL11 6QG. 01748 886297 and farmersarmsmuker.co.uk.
The Ghyllfoot tea room and bistro, Gunnerside, DL11 6LA. 01748 886239 and ghyllfoot.co.uk.
The Punch Bowl, Low Row, DL11 6PF. 01748 886223 and pbinn.co.uk.
Good choice of hotels and tea rooms in Reeth.

Border lands

Compare and contrast castles on either side of the North Yorkshire/County Durham border on this varied and interesting ride.

Whorlton suspension bridge

Whorlton suspension bridge

I love Richmond – and I’m not the only one. It’s been named by Country Life as one of the top 10 places to live in the UK and, in 2009, as Great Town of the Year by a group of academics and town planners. The castle, the River Swale and the huge cobbled square where I parked merit a few hours in themselves but, sadly, on this visit I couldn’t linger as I had many miles – and a fair few hills – in front of me on a journey to Richmond’s equivalent in Co Durham, Barnard Castle.

One of the biggest hills came right at the start and took me past woods and up to the first of several points of interest, the hamlet of Kirby Hill. Around the green are several old buildings including, Dakyn House, a listed 16th century almshouse which, after renovation, was re-opened by local MP William Hague three years ago.

Butter market, Barnard Castle

Butter market, Barnard Castle

I then passed through the villages of Gayles, Dalton and Newsham, keeping the high moors on my left, before arriving in the biggest in the series, Barningham. The Milbank Arms closed a few years ago and is now private house and the former post office is now Post Cottage with a peculiar green telephone box in front of it. The village also features a grand arched well, quoits pitch, hall and tall chapel set back from the road.

Soon after Barningham the landscape changes. Suddenly I was out in the open with broader, more Pennine-type views. The route goes past the medieval Scargill Castle, purchased as a ruin by the present owner, an archaeologist, as a wedding present for his wife in 1999 and currently undergoing restoration and conversion into a luxury holiday home. The place certainly needed some TLC. It was used by the Home Guard for target practice in the second world war!

Bridge over River Greta in Rutherford

Bridge over River Greta in Rutherford

At the bridge over the river in Rutherford I came across vintage cars participating in the Beamish Run coming from the opposite direction. Named after the open air museum where it starts, the Run included 150 cars and some military vehicles all at least 50 years old and mainly from the 1930s by my reckoning. The convoy provided extra interest as I pedalled onwards towards the A66.

A stretch of this busy trunk road was unavoidable but thankfully only lasted for a quarter of a mile before I was back on a minor road for the final approach to Barnard Castle. The A66 feels like it is the border between Co Durham and North Yorkshire but the boundary actually lies largely to the south of the road. Further confusing the geography the signs hereabouts refer to Richmondshire which, while it sounds like a county, is a local government district within North Yorkshire. The ancient county boundary followed the course of the River Tees which I crossed via the County Bridge with the castle looming imposingly above. Illicit weddings were once held in the centre of the bridge where neither the bishops of Durham or Yorkshire would object. Once firmly and finally in Co Durham there were many subtle reminders that I was in another region. This is the land of the the Newcastle Building Society and the men wearing black and white football shirts.

Barnard Castle

Barnard Castle

I had my sandwiches on the lawn in front of the entrance to the castle which gives the town its name. Barnard Castle seems to mimic its cross border twin. Both are gaunt ruins that, perched high above fast-flowing rivers, dominate the surroundings and define their respective towns. The other main building in Barnard Castle is the butter market which has been a town hall, courtroom, lock-up and fire station. Up to the 1930s farmers’ wives sold varied produce around the veranda hence its name.

I began my return with an easy cruise east and past the Bowes Museum towards Whorlton. A sharp, wooded descent from the village brought me to its suspension bridge over the Tees, a little gem of civil engineering reminiscent of Clifton suspension bridge albeit it on a far smaller scale. The original crossing was swept away in a storm in 1829 just four months after its foundation stone had been laid and the replacement – complete with toll keeper’s cottage – was completed two years later.

Aldbrough St John

Aldbrough St John

On the other side I passed the site of Whorlton lido, a swimming spot in the river. No chance of old fashioned water fun these days. The pool closed in 2005 and signs specify in no uncertain terms that the riverbank these days is private. There’s no problem, though, with access at the Stanwick Iron Age fortifications a little further around the route. Dating back to Roman times, today they take the form of a four-mile bund enclosing about 300 hectares. On the day of my visit the bund added topographical interest to an equestrian event – as a good vantage point for spectactors and an extra obstacle for riders.

In the main the landscape is much flatter on the return route compared to the outgoing and I made quick progress down country lanes to Aldbrough St John. The village has an air of importance about it as befits a place or person with a ‘St’ in their name. It boasts two huge greens, one large enough for a football pitch, and the golden crown on top of a white clock outside a house nearby positively gleams.

The last two villages in the trail, Melsonby and Gilling West, have both been put on the map in tragic circumstances in recent years. In March this year, the postmistress of Melsonby post office was murdered in the premises and, in July 2007, Gilling West was hit by flash floods which sent three feet of water gushing through the village. Both incidents seemed so far away on a sunny day.

Olliver Duckett folly, Richmond

Olliver Duckett folly, Richmond

I’d zoomed into Gilling West on the best freewheel of the route. Payback came right at the end of the ride with a stiff ascent to the outskirts of Richmond. Just at the point where I wanted a rest I spotted the perfect place to have one, the Olliver Duckett, a Grade II-listed castellated folly dating back to the 18th century. Built as an eye-catcher for Aske Hall, which I’d passed on my ascent, the folly fortress is accessible only from first floor level and originally formed part of Richmond Castle.

Ain’t nothing like the real thing, though, I mused on my return to the town centre, tired but fulfilled after an absorbing day’s ride and already planning another visit.

View from Richmond Castle tower

View from Richmond Castle tower

Fact file

Distance: 38 miles.

Time: Full day (five hours excluding stops).

Directions:

Leave Richmond via King St just to the side of the Kings Head pub. Pass over two roundabouts and follow the road (the A6108 to Catterick) as it bears right. At the lights turn left signed to Ravenscroft to leave the town.

Whorlton

Whorlton

Just after Whashton Green turn left to and through Kirby Hill and Gayles. Shortly after the Travellers Rest in Dalton as the road bears right turn left signed to Newsham. In the village turn left at a t-junction signed Barningham and Scargill. Pass through both villages and Thwaite and over a bridge to reach the A66. With care cross over and turn right for a quarter of a mile then left on the B6277 to Barnard Castle. At junction with A688 turn right, over County Bridge and up to the butter market. Continue ahead to visit the castle and high street or turn right at roundabout (and begin to follow signs for the National Cycle Network Route 52). Pass the Bowes Museum and through Westwick. At the crossroads in Whorlton turn right to pass through the village and over the suspension bridge.

Turn left at a t-junction signed to Ovington and Wycliffe. At a t-junction beside a small triangular green turn right signed to Hutton Magna. Turn left at next t-junction junction then right just outside Caldwell. Pass through the village and fork left signed to Eppleby. Take the next right turn to pass through Forcett. Turn left a t-junction then, after the sign for Stanwick Camp, take the second right (leaving Route 52 at this point) to Aldbrough St John. In the village turn right to and through Melsonby (and straight over the crossroads in the centre along Moor Rd). With care cross over the A66 following the sign for Richmond and Gilling West. In Gilling go over the crossroads and continue ahead on the B6274 back to Richmond. At the roundabout with the A6108 turn right and retrace your route to the square.

Map: here

Eating:

Hack and Spade, Whashton, DL11 7JL. Tel 01748823721.
Shoulder of Mutton, Kirby Hill, DL11 7JH. Tel 01748 822 772.
Travellers Rest, Dalton, DL11 7HU. Tel 01833 621225.
Stables Café, Barnard Castle, DL12 8LX. Tel 01833 630575.
Café Bowes (at the Bowes Museum), Barnard Castle, DL12 8NP. Tel 01833 690606.
Brownlow Arms, Caldwell, DL11 7QH. Tel 01325 718 471.
The Bridge Inn, Whorlton, Dl12 8XD. Tel 01833 627341.
Stanwick Inn, Aldbrough St John, DL11 7SZ. Tel 01325 374258.
Angel Inn, Gilling West, DL10 5JW. Tel 01748 823811.
White Swan, Gilling West,DL10 5JG.Tel 01748 821123.
Lots of options in Richmond and Barnard Castle.

Pond near Scargill

Pond near Scargill

Back tracking

September 11th marks the centenary of the Nidd Valley Light Railway. Take to your bike in search of the remains of the line and the lost village that was its destination.

Crown Inn, Middlesmoor

Crown Inn, Middlesmoor

My journey was to take me from Pateley Bridge to Upper Nidderdale in part along the course of the railway which was built primarily to transport workmen and materials to the Scar and Angram reservoirs during their construction.

First, though, in common with all train trips, I needed to find the station. This wasn’t quite as easy as it sounds since Pateley Bridge once had two stations. I had to make do with setting off from the terminus of the North Eastern Railway line (which connected to Harrogate) since the station for the Nidd Valley Light Railway (NVLR) can only be viewed from a distance from the end of Millfield Street.

Gouthwaite Lodge

Gouthwaite Lodge

I soon came across clearer evidence of the NVLR – the hollow of a quarry beneath a bridge in the woods at the southern end of Gouthwaite Reservoir, the third reservoir of the series. Stone from the quarry was used as ballast for the line. As I started the descent to the waterside I could see the Gothic Gouthwaite Lodge where, on the day of the official opening of the line on Wednesday, 11th September 1907, a party of 12 VIPs travelling in a saloon and three coaches stopped for refreshment. They also had lunch on arrival at Angram in the reading room. By all accounts it was quite a boozy day. After the opening, Bradford City Council – which built the reservoirs and railway – received a letter from the city’s United Temperance Council complaining about the bill for alcoholic beverages which ran to over £150. The Lodge was so often used for VIP entertaining it became known as The Alderman’s Rest.

Where the track reaches the waterside it picks up the route of the railway for about a mile. On the other side of the fence you can see the ledge along which it ran and a length of retaining wall. As the track climbs again there are great views over the fields in the valley bottom which the line crossed and, in Bouthwaite, you can see where the beams for the old railway bridge over the river were removed.

Lofthouse station

Lofthouse station

I came to a halt for the first time at the former Lofthouse station. It was easy to spot as it shares the same distinctive design – including four-pot chimney stacks at each gable end – as the other three stations at Pateley Bridge, Wath and Bouthwaite (which served Ramsgill). Station master’s wages were not quite as uniform. The incumbent at Lofthouse was paid 25 shillings per week compared to 30 shillings for his counterpart at Pateley Bridge. All stations are now private houses.

Lofthouse marks the official end of the NVLR but the line continued north for construction purposes. So it was that, on the opening day, locomotives were switched. The Mayor of Bradford stepped down from the plate and handed over to John Best, the man in charge of works at Angram reservoir, who used one of his locomotives for the rest of the journey.

His route follows the reservoir access road which Yorkshire Water opens to the public. The views again are superb. A shooting lodge teeters above Thrope Farm on opposite side of the valley as if the slightest touch which send it tumbling down. Just as the road bears left you pass a sealed off railway tunnel built in 1920. Ordinarily trains would travel up the tunnel to avoid the steep incline and then return in the open around the headland, along the route of the present day road.

Scar reservoir

Scar reservoir

Round the bend is an even more curious relic: the remains of Scar Village which was built in the early 1920s to house men working on the construction of Scar Reservoir and their families. Set into the hillside on terraces slightly above the left of the road you can make out the shapes of the 10 single men’s hostels from their foundations. The steps linking them are also clearly visible but today they barely even provide shelter for sheep. Excluding a bungalow which was rebuilt for the Home Guard in 1939 and is now a public convenience, only two of the buildings remain in tact. One of them is the projection booth of the cinema but all that’s showing through the hole in the wall where the projector would once have pointed is a fine view of Carle Fell on the far side of the reservoir. That hill is terraced too. Trains used an intricate zig-zag layout of sidings to work their way up the side of the hill to the quarry and then back down again with stone for the dam. You can see the route of a railway line to another quarry up above the booth. Where now we take dumper trucks in those days they laid rails. This was the real age of the train. Appropriately, the booth’s barrel roof and size gives it the almost ghostly shape of a railway carriage.

Cinema projection booth, Scar Village

Cinema projection booth, Scar Village

I propped my bike against the only other remaining standing structure – the urinal of the village school – and had my lunch, fittingly, next to the bakehouse and overlooking the site of the fried fish shop. Supporting a peak population of 1,135 in 1926, the village also included bungalows for married couples, shops, a post office, bank, gymnasium, library, hospital and mortuary. Perhaps the most evocative site is the old tennis court. The rectangular shape is clear of weeds unlike the surrounding land and it’s as flat as a pancake. It’s as if the net was removed and the court markings deleted only recently.

The population of Scar village gradually dwindled to just 31 in 1936 when Scar House Reservoir was completed. Some of the buildings were demolished and others auctioned off to be rebuilt elsewhere. The mission church – which had come from a similar much smaller village at Angram – was removed to Heaton in Bradford but subsequently destroyed by fire. The concert hall, meanwhile, went to a mental hospital at Queensbury, and two labourers houses became youth hostels. The canteen is still in use today as the memorial hall in nearby Darley, its timber construction typical of the buildings at Scar. I visited it on my drive home.

Scar Reservoir dam

Scar Reservoir dam

After viewing the dam from the site of the original Scar House where John Best lived I set off and up the steep, rocky track to Middlesmoor. The labour is worth it, though, as from the top there is a great view back towards Little Whernside and, ahead, down Nidderdale and the length of Gouthwaite Reservoir. As exposed as the valley is enclosed, the moorland is home to birds such as curlew, merlin, red grouse, golden plover, snipe and lapwing. The route would have been familiar to reservoir workers since some lived in Middlesmoor, one of Yorkshire’s highest settlements at nearly 1,000 feet above sea level. The village vicar would also have trod the track on his trips to Scar for monthly communion.

At his church, St Chad’s, I surveyed the rest of my return journey from the eyrie of the churchyard. The only other person there was a man sitting on a bench gazing deep in thought to the far distance while the breeze blew patterns in the grass in front of the jumble of gravestones. Inside the church there is an ancient preaching cross that dates back to the seventh century, the time of St Chad who led Celtic Christianity in the north.

View from St Chad's churchyard, Middlesmoor

View from St Chad’s churchyard, Middlesmoor

I swooped down from Middlesmoor and traversed a bridleway running parallel to the road with views back up the dale to reach Ramsgill. The Yorke Arms here looks even posher than The Sportsman’s Arms I’d passed earlier in Wath and certainly beyond the aspirations of a sweaty man in shorts and a t-shirt. It sits on one side of an immaculately maintained village green with the Coronation Hall on the other and the road in between. For a little more ecclesiastical history take a look at the remains of the gable of the monastic chapel of Byland Abbey which you will find in the churchyard.

After a long and often arduous day in the saddle the flat road running along the west bank of Gouthwaite Reservoir was most welcome. Several viewing platforms provide the opportunity to watch the wildlife and you can also see the stumps of trees that were cut down when the valley was flooded to create the reservoir. I, however, stopped just the once for a closer look at the Lodge before finally pulling into Pateley Bridge for a celebratory ice cream next to the bandstand.

Lying just outside the national park, Nidderdale is, in a way, the black sheep of the Yorkshire Dales family but had more than lived up to its alternative accreditation as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty – and one with a hoard of hidden history.

Route of the Nidd Valley Light Railway beside Gouthwaite Reservoir

Route of the Nidd Valley Light Railway beside Gouthwaite Reservoir

The rise and fall of the railway

John Best & Son of Edinburgh, contractor for the reservoir at Angram, originally built a three-foot gauge light railway from Lofthouse to Angram, later extending it to Pateley Bridge, to facilitate transportation of equipment, supplies and workmen. From 1904 the railway was upgraded to standard gauge by the reservoir owners, Bradford Corporation, and re-named the Nidd Valley Light Railway.

Initially, the NVLR was intended for construction usage but, to conform to the requirements of the Board of Trade which sanctioned the track upgrade, the Corporation had to open up the line to the public too.

A return fare for the 25-minute journey from Pateley Bridge to Lofthouse cost two shillings for first class and one shilling for third class. Curiously, there was no second class. Usually four trains ran each way (Sunday excepted) in summer and three in winter with an extra train each way on Wednesdays and Saturdays. The full journey to Scar Village took an hour but services were exclusively for the use of Scar residents.

For many years the line provided a valuable service linking with NER trains from Pateley Bridge. However, by the end of 1929, following a decline in profitable operation, passenger services ceased and the line was used solely for freight until it finally closed after the completion of Scar House Reservoir in 1936.

Dave Challis Memorial Trophy in progress at Lofthouse & Middlesmoor CC

Dave Challis Memorial Trophy in progress at Lofthouse & Middlesmoor CC

Fact file

Parking: Car park on Nidd Walk, Pateley Bridge. All day for £1.

Distance: 25 miles. For a longer ride cycle around Scar Reservoir via Yorkshire Water’s access road (open to the public) which adds four miles. For a much shorter ride, turn left rather than right at Bouthwaite to reach Ramsgill then follow directions as above to give a distance of 11½ miles.

Time: 3½ hours excluding stops.

Terrain: The route includes three stretches of the Nidderdale Way bridleway. The eastern bank of Gouthwaite Reservoir is fairly easy to cycle for most of its length. In Moor Lane – which runs from Scar Reservoir to Middlesmoor – is very rough, heavily rutted and hard work. The majority of the section from Studfold Farm to Ramsgill is across fields and passes through several gates making progress slow. Alternatively, follow the Lofthouse-Ramsgill road. Allow plenty of time for your journey and use a mountain bike if possible.

Refreshments: The Sportsman’s Arms, Wath; The Crown, Lofthouse; The Crown, Middlesmoor; The Yorke Arms, Ramsgill; lots of pubs and cafes in Pateley Bridge (including a third Crown!)

Sportsman's Arms, Wath

Sportsman’s Arms, Wath

Directions:

Leave the car park heading towards the village. Cross over the road and proceed down King Street. Follow the road as it bears right past St Cuthberts School then left past the church on your right to leave Pateley Bridge.

Just before Wath turn right up bridleway indicated by a fingerpost. Where track splits fork left and continue ahead to Bouthwaite. Pass through the hamlet then turn right at t-junction signed ‘Lofthouse 2’. Pass through the village (ignoring the right turn to The Crown unless that’s where you want to go) and, immediately, after bridge turn right up the Yorkshire Water access road which takes you all the way to Scar Reservoir. You can’t tell from the map but the road is substantial and Tarmac throughout. Just past the dam turn sharp left up a signed bridleway to Middlesmoor. Pass through the village and down steep hill.

Single man's hostel at Scar village

Single man’s hostel at Scar village

Turn right at t-junction signed ‘To How Steen Gorge’ then left at fingerpost indicating ‘Public Bridleway Ramsgill’ and towards Studfold Farm. Pass through farm and then turn right up steep cobbled lane. At top turn left, still following bridleway sign to Ramsgill. After passing between two ruined farm buildings don’t bear right up stony track but continue ahead across the pasture heading towards a gate visible to the left of a tree. Pass through West House Farm with a new bungalow on your left and keep ahead. When you enter a field with a telegraph pole in it continue ahead, keep the wall on your left. Soon afterwards the bridleway becomes a much clearer farm track which takes you into Ramsgill. Pass through the village then follow the road as it runs alongside Gouthwaite Reservoir and back to Pateley Bridge.

Note: To identify the various remains of buildings at Scar Village consult the information board next to the public conveniences and picnic area.

Lofthouse from bridleway towards Ramsgill

Lofthouse from bridleway towards Ramsgill

Vet’s round

This Tuesday marks the 90th anniversary of the birth of the world’s most famous vet, Alf Wight. better known by his pen-name, James Herriot. Paul Kirkwood took to his bicycle in Wensleydale to visit some of the places associated with Herriot and the TV series inspired by his books.

Skeldale House, Askrigg (portrait) HIGH RES D2

Skeldale House, Askrigg

It’s as difficult to whistle as it is easy to remember. The theme tune of All Creatures Great and Small was the sound of Sunday evening in my house when I was growing up in the eighties. My Dad, then a cattle auctioneer, told us to “pipe down” as we gathered round the TV so he could hear the tune more clearly and later delighted in predicting the diagnoses as James Herriot assessed the symptoms usually, and famously, stripped to the waist in a gloomy barn with his arm up a cow’s bottom.

Middleham Bridge

Middleham Bridge

Perhaps the appeal of the programme to my brothers, sister and I lay in the traits of the main characters – a sort of veterinary Three Musketeers – which must have rung a chord with kids. There was intrepid but vulnerable James, Siegfried, the clumsy uncle, and mischievous Tristram who Siegfried described as a “debaunched choirboy”. Then there was Mrs Pumphrey, owner of – or should that be grannie to – Tricky Woo, the pampered Pekingese, and Mrs Hall, the headmistress of a housekeeper not to mention a host of craggy old farmers. Elderly actors with a strong Yorkshire accent had never had it so good nor had it as good until Heartbeat came along the following decade.

Watching the programmes now they have a stagey feel to them, the majority of scenes acted out inside belying the stories’ rural setting. In the second series this was borne partly out of necessity since Christopher Timothy, who played James, had broken his leg. Siegfried, played by Robert Hardy, delivers almost every line with a stream-of-consciousness flourish and a toss of his head as he bowls in or out of the room.

Having moved north and become familiar with the Dales I can now see some of the joins in continuity. In the opening scenes of the first episode James alights from a bus in Richmond and turns to face Siegfried’s practice – in Askrigg. I was bound for the same destination and would get there by pedal power.

Middleham 3

Middleham

I began in Middleham, described by Alf as “the jewel of Coverdale”. (I’ll call Herriot Alf when referring to places associated with the real-life vet and James when describing locations from the TV series). Crows called and the church clock struck nine. The only people up and about were either clutching newspapers, leaving hotels with coat-hangers full of clothes or jockeys clip-clopping to the gallops through the early morning mist. The sun in September has a lie-in. I too saddled up and followed in their trail on the road that was the final stretch of Alf’s journey from his home and surgery in Thirsk to his holiday cottage in West Scrafton, my first port of call. Alf bought the cottage, tucked away behind the corner of the village green, in 1978 which was the same year that the TV series started.

The shop in the next village, Carlton, where Alf used to buy digestives to sustain him on his rounds is no more but there are still lots of signs that rural life remains alive and well. The harvest festival was about to start and a poster advertised the start of the indoor carpet bowls season in the village hall. Carlton once lay on the coaching route between London and Richmond when the Dales were a deer park but today the village could not be calmer.

West Witton Bank

West Witton Bank

I left the seclusion and headed up and over a sea of now brown heather that separates Coverdale from Wensleydale and rises on the left to the hulk of Great Whernside. A sign reads ‘Road unsuitable for coaches and HGVs’. It was unsuitable for vet’s cars without brakes too as Alf found out while travelling to a farm at the bottom of the 1:4 bank. Reluctant to make a huge detour, he decided to attempt the double hairpin bends using first gear. Like my virtual guide, I didn’t come a cropper but was reminded that my brake blocks needed changing.

The Wensleydale Heifer in West Witton was one of Alf’s favourite pubs but I didn’t halt here knowing that there were two more notable Herriot hostelries further along my round.

Old AA box, Aysgarth

Old AA box, Aysgarth

A pristine old AA telephone box at the roadside after Aysgarth is a real throw-back to Herriot’s heyday. Decommissioned and now a listed building, the box owes its smart appearance and flower beds to a couple from Darlington who come over month to tend to it.

The TV series’ version of Skeldale House in Askrigg also looks just like it did 25 years ago. I had lunch over the road in The Kings Arms which, for the purposes of the drama, became The Drover’s Arms. Prints of the actors hang on the walls while the main bar with its huge hearth is just as gloomy as I recalled it. All that was missing were pewter tankards and noisy farmers.

I found the conviviality I was seeking four miles back along the north side of Wensleydale at The Wheatsheaf Inn in Carperby where I had my dessert. Alf 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.

Minor roads, ideal for cycling, run parallel to the main road in Wensleydale and the Wensleydale Railway also threads its way along the valley. It would’ve been familiar to Alf before it closed in 1954 only to be reopened by enthusiasts three years ago. I watched as, unhindered by demarcation, the guard shut the level crossing gates at Wensley Station … then jumped back on the rear coach before continuing his journey.

Wensley station

Wensley station

In my quest to visit as many Herriot landmarks as possible I dipped down to check out Redmire’s bus stop which was in fictional Darrowby for the purposes of the TV series. The fabulous freewheel made up for the unremarkable – if, indeed, picturesque – site.

Redmire Oak

Redmire Oak

Of greater interest is the village’s ancient oak. A couple of years ago, a lady tending her borders told me, the tree was on the point of collapse but it was not felled it largely because of its historical significance. John Wesley used to preach under the branches on his visits to the village’s Methodist chapel opposite, now the village hall. The tree had long been propped up by four posts and, thanks to a donation from Yorkshire Water, further remedial work was carried out to sustain its life. At least, that was the plan. Sadly, this spring the tree failed to bud and is now considered beyond help.

I returned to Alf’s romantic rendezvous by visiting Bolton Castle, where he proposed and, finally, Wensley Church where James and Helen were married in the TV series. The gravestones are at all angles like toppling dominos.

Middleham has a fine selection of traditional pubs, posh restaurants and tea shops. For my evening meal, however, I had only one place in mind. I drove home via Bedale and the takeaway that’s name makes me smile every time I pass: All Pizzas Great and Small.

Aysgarth Upper Falls

Aysgarth Upper Falls

Herriot hunting

These are some other TV locations from All Creatures Great and Small:
Langthwaite Bridge, Swaledale: bridge from opening credits of first two series.
Fore Hill Gate (between Langthwaite and Feetham): watersplash from same credits.
Ellerton Abbey, Grinton: Mrs Pumphrey’s house, now a B&B.
Finghall Station on Wensleydale Railway: Darrowby Station.
Ivelet Bridge: where James and Helen have one of their first encounters.
Thornborough House, Leyburn: the Ministry of Agriculture.
Hardraw Church: Darrowby Church.
Hawes Cattle Mart: Darrowby Cattle market.
Fact file

Distance: 37 miles – or 26 miles without the Askrigg loop (see below).

Parking: In the square in Middleham. No charge.

Directions:

The Kings Arms, Aysgarth

The Kings Arms, Aysgarth

Leave Middleham on the road signed to the castle. Take first L, pass over Coverham Bridge then immediately turn R signed ‘West Scrafton 3’. Pass through West Scrafton then R at t-junction to and through Carlton to Melmerby. In village turn L signed ‘West Witton’. After long descent turn L onto A684 at West Witton.

For shorter route missing out Askrigg: Take first R (after 2½ miles) signed to ‘Aysgarth Falls’, pass over bridge and at t-junction turn R to and through Carperby. Take first L to and through Castle Bolton then R at crossroads to Redmire. Follow road as it bears L in village then turn L signed ‘Leyburn 5’. Continue ahead at next junction (signed to Wensley). Take first L to divert through Preston under Scar forking R at end of village to rejoin B road. In Wensley at t-junction with A684 turn R then, in front of church L signed to ‘Middleham 3’. Turn R at t-junction with A6108 to return to Middleham.

Extra Askrigg loop: Continue past turn for Aysgarth Falls then, at end of Aysgarth village, fork L to and through Thornton Rust. At bottom of hill in Worton turn L to rejoin A684 then immediately R (unsigned). At t-junction turn L into Askrigg and bear L in village to reach Skeldale House opposite cross. Leave Askrigg as you entered it but keeping ahead signed to ‘Carperby 4’ rather than returning to Worton. From Carperby follow directions for shorter route, above.

Discover a dale

Following in the footsteps of medieval monks, Paul Kirkwood pioneers a bike ride route around a little known corner of the Yorkshire Dales.

Airton Mill

Airton Mill

Appropriately for Remembrance Day, I began my journey looking up to the heavens at the Cracoe War Memorial, a glorious way to remember “the glorious dead”. The walk up to the ridge where it stands then along to Rylstone Cross is one of my favourites in the Yorkshire Dales but, on this occasion, I was travelling westwards and by bicycle – on a 17-mile loop to Malham. The route is highly recommended but, as I found out, one better suited to drier conditions and a mountain bike.

The outgoing section was straight-forward enough, an early descent ending in Airton. The lower part of the village consists of a former water corn mill with a chequered history. It used to make Dettol during the Second World War, then housed chickens and, for the last 30 years, has been apartments. Riverside Cottage next door used to be the mill owner’s house. It’s hard to image industry in such a peaceful place. Nothing stirred around the green other than smoke from chimneys. One property is dated 1696, another has dovecotes in its roof and what appear to be two safes are embedded in the outer wall of a house over the road.

Airton Mill

Airton Mill

I left Airton heading towards the distant sight of Malham Cove and the sound of church bells. The sound drifted in and out of earshot until, after one last corner, the tinkle suddenly became a clang and I found where it was coming from: the medieval church of St Michael the Archangel at Kirkby Malham. Oliver Cromwell was once a witness at a wedding held here and his second-in-command during the Civil War, Richard Lambert, lived at nearby Calton Hall which I had passed earlier.

My lunch stop was in Malham at Beck Hall, originally a Dales yeoman’s cottage and reached via a clapper bridge. The mugs on the wall in the dining room made for a motley collection. Among those commemorated were Prince Andrew and Fergie, The Beatles … and Maggie Thatcher. There can’t be too many of those in existence.

Malham pinfold

Malham pinfold

A more noteworthy rarity is the village’s pinfold which was restored by volunteers from the neighbouring youth hostel earlier this year. In the past the pinfold was used to impound any stray animals found wandering around the village. Some pinfolds – such as the one at Malham – includes inner compartments for holding animals in different ownership or found at different times or places.

History lesson over, it was a case of onwards and upwards. Throngs of walkers heading to and from Goredale Scar disappeared as I entered the mist at the top of a very steep incline that delights in the name Smearbottoms Lane. I was bound for Bordley but first had some tricky tracks to negotiate.

The moisture in the air mixed with the perspiration on my brow as I cycled, pushed and paddled my way along bridleways of grass, stones and mud. Stopping to open gates at regular intervals, I made slow progress. Twice I passed mountain bikers. On the first occasion I was blaspheming as my panier had bounced off and, on the second, my son in the child seat was clearly unhappy about the terrain and moaning for his mother. Gritting my teeth, I wasn’t a good advert for cycle touring.

Bordleydale - towards Winterburn Reservoir

Bordleydale – towards Winterburn Reservoir

Bordley consists of just two farms and, until recently, was accessible only via a farm track. Ironically, proximity to the old drovers route of Mastiles Lane was the reason for the hamlet’s initial development. Monks from Fountains Abbey near Ripon were among the first inhabitants, using the Lane to reach their grazing land on the surrounding fells. In the 16th century over 60 families lived in the valley. Plans to update the Lane to a road linking Malham and Grassington in the 1960s floundered in the face of public opposition leaving Bordley to its splendid isolation.

So compact and hidden in a hollow, Bordley today looks like something from a children’s story book. A young man was taking two children for a ride in a trailer pulled by his quad bike and another group were trying to encourage cattle either into or out of a barn. I couldn’t work out which.

Airton dovecotes

Airton dovecotes

For me it was make your mind up time too. Either I followed a longer route back via the road or a shorter route via a bridleway. I pondered for a moment then swung open a gate and headed off down the latter which runs parallel to Bordley Beck. I was glad I did. The sense of remoteness was wonderful and, after a few hundred yards, I reached a firm track which made the going much easier too. Over the brow of a hill Winterburn Reservoir came into view framed by the branches of a tree overhanging the lane and the sun’s rare rays gave the tussocks of grass on the valley side an orange tinge. I stood up out of the saddle and juddered my way downwards and car-wards, feeling that I had discovered my very own Yorkshire Dale. Bordleydale, I suppose.

Malham

Malham