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

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

Round and around

This is the self-devised route that I’m most proud of. I think it should be made into an official route called The Harrogate and Knaresborough Round. Sadly, the local council didn’t share my enthusiasm when I suggested it.

Spruisty Bridge, Knox.

Spruisty Bridge, Knox.

As a tour of some of the most desirable neighbourhoods of Harrogate this route takes some beating – and as bike ride it’s pretty good too. Estate agents and cyclists alike will drool. You slip in and out of the suburbs like a fox in the night, stringing together bridleways, cycle routes, tracks and little used roads. The route is a sort of cyclists M25 of the town but far from being a road to hell it’s an orbit of discovery.

From Knaresborough I set off in an anti-clockwise direction towards Harrogate on the cycleway dedicated to Beryl Burton OBE, seven times world cycling champion. I made my first stop at the listed 17th century Spruisty Bridge in Knox. A plaque records how it once carried packhorse traffic between Knaresborough and Ripley. It’s hard to believe that such a quaint place could exist just a mile or two from the centre of one North Yorkshire’s principal towns. All that was missing from the scene was a vintage car, picnic rug and children paddling in the ford.

Kent Road in Harrogate is the ultimate in gentrified suburbia, a broad, peaceful street with barely a parked car in sight. They have garages behind electric gates for that sort of thing around here. A little further on, while exploring a lane on the western fringes of Harrogate, I came across two towers side by side, one round and the other square. As I pondered the purpose of the square tower the owner of the house semi-detached to it came out and kindly invited me inside.

Harlow Hill Tower Observatory.

Harlow Hill Tower Observatory.

The Harlow Hill Tower Observatory to give the tower it’s full name was built in 1829 and now Grade II listed. I plodded up the 92 steps in semi-darkness since the few small windows have been sealed off at the request of neighbours. At the top, 700ft above sea level, the view extends on a clear day as far as the Humber Bridge and York Minster. Through an old pair of battleship binoculars mounted on a BBC TV tripod I could even see right into Ripley Castle. During the Second World War the tower was used a machine gun nest set up to protect Leeds. Council owned, the tower is now the headquarters of the Harrogate Astronomical Society and is opens to the public four days a year. Incidentally, the ornate round structure next door is a water tower built precisely a century ago. “It rather gets in the way of the view but I’m very grateful for the water supply,” said my guide.

With that it was back into the country. Just after The Squinting Cat pub – an ideal stop for anyone with children – the view over the fold of the Crimple Beck valley towards the wart-like hulk of Almscliffe Crag is superb. A glorious freewheel follows. For a moment you could be deep in the Dales.

The route then takes advantage of roads that became almost redundant after the construction of the Harrogate bypass. There are great views of the 31-arch Crimple Valley railway viaduct on the way to Follifoot. The village’s name is thought to derive from the Norse meaning “place of the horse fight” indicating that it was possibly used as a centre for training horses and the staging of fights, a sport made popular by the Vikings and which continued into medieval times. Horses still features prominently in Follifoot. Opposite a riding school lives a lady advertising fine animal portraits. I thought she perhaps ought to link up with the Bilton Pets Hotel (sadly no longer called the Bilton Hilton) that I’d passed earlier. On the eastern edge of the village I passed an enclosure for less coveted beasts: a circular animal pound dating from 1688.

Old entrance to Rudding Park, Follyfoot

Old entrance to Rudding Park, Follifoot.

The village’s character is summed up by some of the house names: Manor Cottages, Forge Green and the Bolthole. The school has an Owlet Wing and the village stores has a large bay window straight from a Dickensian Christmas card. At the top of the green is the grand old main entrance to Rudding Park and nearby is a pair of stocks. Although I have no reason to doubt their authenticity they’re so well maintained could be brand new. They are located behind a freshly painted black railing and shelter below a neat little wooden roof stained to match the colour of the stocks. A rotten tomato would be most out of place these days.

The highlight of this circuit goes back even further in time having been mentioned in the Domesday Book. I refer to Plompton, a hamlet previously part of a manor held by the de Plompton family for 700 years. It was sold to Daniel Lascelles in 1760 who demolished the mansion and other buildings with the intention of building a new house. He never completed the work and moved to nearby Goldsborough Hall. All that remain are the pleasure grounds and lake named Plompton Rocks. Thankfully, they have been maintained and now provide a magical place to explore.

Plumpton Rocks.

Plumpton Rocks.

Looking at the lillies on the lake, little wooden jetties and huge, bulbous rocks like those at Brimham, this place could provide the setting for a re-enactment of Swallows and Amazons. As I brushed through bracken and rhododendrons and crept around fissures in the rocks I half expected to come across Roger and Titty on a secret mission. Around one corner was a thick wooden door with a barred window that begged inspection. Through it I could see a rowing boat, one oar propped lazily on a ring, in a tunnel-like boathouse. Perhaps that’s what they would’ve been looking for. It came as no surprise to find out that Plumpton has been the location for various TV productions including Blake’s Seven, Heartbeat and, bizarrely, the Muppet Show.

House in the Rock, Knaresborough

House in the Rock, Knaresborough.

I headed back to Knaresborough on a bridleway through an attractive wood and then along Abbey Road which is almost as quiet. Right down at river level I found St Robert’s Cave. With its sitting out area it’s very bijou – if you’re Stig of the Dump. Reputed for his herbal cures and a friend of the poor, the saint died here a hermit. At the other end of the road the four-storey 18th century House in the Rock is just that. Previous names were Swallows Nest and Fort Montague both of which are very suitable for such a lofty structure. The man who completed its construction, the self-knighted Sir Thomas Hill, flew a Union Jack, printed his own bank notes and fired a cannon from the battlements on public occasions. Having been open to the public in the past and once served as a tea room, the House was restored and became a private residence again a few years ago.

Chosing a property on this route would be difficult but Abbey Road is where I want to live when I’m rich. My favourite house has fabulous looping Dutch gables, balconies outside the first floor windows with river views, a pagoda, glorious garden, and the all-important landing stage. After so much unintended house hunting it’s hardly surprising I finish my descripton of the ride sounding like an estate agent.

Birkham Wood, Knaresborough.

Birkham Wood, Knaresborough.

Fact file

Distance: 20½ miles.

Time: 3 hours.

Directions:

Knaresborough

Plumpton Rocks.

Plumpton Rocks.

Turn right out of the car park, push your bike over bridge and turn right onto Beryl Burton cycleway. After 1½ miles enter Bilton. Turn right onto Tennyson Ave then, as road bears left, right onto Hall Lane which becomes Bachelor Gdns. At small triangular green turn right onto Knox Lane. At the bottom of the hill push bike over packhorse bridge and turn left onto Knox Mill Lane. At the end turn right briefly onto the A61 then immediately left down a rough stony track. (This is a footpath not bridleway so officially you should push your bike). Where the track bisects take the right-hand option and soon rejoin the track via a gate. At the end of the track turn left onto the A59 and soon right onto Harewood Rd. Just before t-junction turn left onto a cyclepath. Beside the Hydro swimming pool turn right down an underpass and continue ahead and uphill on Oakbank. Turn left at the end onto Oakdale Ave then right to push your bike along the path beside the A61. After 100m turn right down Kent Rd. Turn left onto Hereford Rd then, at crossroads, right onto Duchy Rd. At t-junction with Cornwall Rd turn left and just before the Harlow Moor Drive turn right towards nurseries signed ‘Public footpath Otley Road’. At top of the drive turn left between a gate and a corner of a wall, past a greenhouse and the water tower and observatory.

Harlow Hill Tower Observatory
Turn right at B6162 then first left down Beckwith Rd. Take fourth exit at roundabout down Whinney Lane. After Squinting Cat turn left at t-junction onto Hilltop Lane. Turn right at mini-roundabout and then left at the Black Swan pub down Malthouse Lane. (Ignore turn left up Westminster Crescent). At the end of Malthouse Lane push bike along a short, fenced footpath. As you emerge turn right down Crimple Meadows then at t-junction with church turn right up Station Rd to Pannal Station. Turn right at the traffic lights then immediately left signed to Pannal Golf Club. After 1½ miles and at a t-junction cross over the road then down short path ahead. Push bike over A658 and continue left on a path beside a fence then bear right through a barrier and onto Pannal Rd. At the end turn right to Follifoot. (Turn right at the cross to explore the village). At the A661 turn right then after 500m left to Plumpton Rocks (signed).

Follifoot village stores.

Follifoot village stores.

Plumpton Rocks
On leaving the Rocks turn left then as road bears sharp right pass through a gate on the left onto a signed public bridleway. Push bike through the grass in the direction of another gate. Pass through. After 100m turn left onto the track that leads from Plumpton Hall then after 30m turn right through a fieldgate onto another signed bridleway. Follow the blue arrows around the edge of the wood (on your right). Turn left at a t-junction with a track and follow it as it bears right and reaches a wood. Turn left into the wood. Cross carefully over the A658 and continue ahead, still following the arrows. Pass through a wood and then a caravan site. As the site road bears sharp left keep ahead and pass through a gate then immediately left down a bridleway (not using the roundabout) that turns into a minor road. At the end join the B6164 briefly to cross a bridge then take the first left (Abbey Road) into Knaresborough. Just after the Half Moon pub cross over the B6163 and continue ahead down Waterside back to the car park.

Eating: The Gardeners Arms, Old Bilton; Knox Arms, Knox; The Squinting Cat, Beckwith (recommended); The Black Swan, Burn Bridge; The Harewood, Pannal; Radcliffe Arms and Harewood Arms, Follifoot; plus good choice in Knaresborough.