Trace the source of the River Ouse on this flat, versatile ride from York city centre.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Distance: 21 miles.
Time: 2.5 hours.
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.
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.
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.