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.

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Little Egypt

Take to your bike to explore the pyramids in the Howardian Hills near York.

Carrmire Gate, Castle Howard

Carrmire Gate, Castle Howard

Everyone knows the Yorkshire Dales and North Yorks Moors but there are lots of other, smaller scenic bits dotted around the county including the Howardian Hills which stretch across a swathe of countryside about 10 miles north of York. A designated Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, they take their name from the Howard family which owned – and still own – Castle Howard, more of which later.

My journey started in Terrington. I’d last visited the village during the snows of last winter when I risked life and limb tearing down Terrington Bank on toboggans with the kids. Returning with my seven-year-old son for his first proper bike ride, it came as no surprise, then, that our journey started with a descent but thankfully it was much more gentle and controlled this time and to the east of the village.

Ganthorpe

Ganthorpe

The first place we passed was Ganthorpe. This unassuming hamlet that was the birthplace of botanist and adventurer Richard Spruce who collected 700 species of plant from the Amazon jungle between 1848 and 1862. The oak tree on the green is a fittingly fine specimen.

Another giant oak drew our attention two miles further south in Bulmer. This one was planted in the middle of small triangular green in 1894 to commemorate the act which created parish councils. Unusually for its size, the village has no pub. The Slip Inn used to lie opposite the church but is was closed by the Countess of Carlisle from Castle Howard who was a fervent abstainer. She also made her mark at Welburn which we visited next. Temperance Inn Farm was previously the Bull Inn before the Countess had its licence removed. She didn’t get her way with the Crown and Cushion in the same village, though. Renamed after Queen Victoria’s visit to Castle Howard in 1850, the pub is still going strong.

Bulmer

Bulmer

Ale, on this occasion, was not for us. We headed instead towards the new Pattacakes Shop and Tea Room where we bought some bits and pieces to sustain ourselves for the ascent back, up and out of Bulmer and along the road ahead. And what a road. The Stray, as it’s known, must be one of the grandest thoroughfares in the north. An avenue of beeches and limes, it stretches imposingly ahead like an airport runway all the way up to Castle Howard, as straight as an arrow but with a several undulations. The last time I’d cycled this way I was accompanied by a much fitter girlfriend. As I was descending into one dip she was coming up and out of the next. Fifteen years on I didn’t have the same problem. Bertie preferred to push.

We had ample opportunity to see the various features along the road which revealed themselves gradually and teasingly as, I suspect, would’ve been the intention of their architects, primarily Sir John Vanbrugh and Nicholas Hawksmoor. Motorists would miss such subtleties but, travelling at our speed, we certainly didn’t.

Looking behind us as we turned right from Welburn we could see a column, the Howard monument, and ahead was Carrmire Gate. Curiously, the Gate – a rusticated arch running into castellated walls – is one of only a few genuinely castle-like features of Castle Howard but serves no defensive or even boundary purpose as the main entrance is some distance away. Vanbrugh gave the 3rd Earl of Carlisle, John Howard, the palace he so wanted but he and Hawksmoor indulged their own preferences for battlements in the walls and outbuildings.

Castle Howard obelisk

Castle Howard obelisk

They were also potty about pyramids. We spotted six small capped brick pyramids on piers clustered either side of the arch in the Gate. Then, as we continued up the road a much larger pyramid gradually appeared over a crest which turned out to form the roof of the main entrance to the estate. Getting closer we could see another apex appear in the distance through the gate but this revealed itself to be the top of an obelisk, the first folly at Castle Howard which dates back to 1714 and is dedicated to Lady Cecilia Howard. The most substantial pyramid of the lot is the Hawksmoor Pyramid which we spotted to our right through gaps in the trees as we approached the main entrance. Castle Howard is as close as Yorkshire gets to ancient Egypt.

We had to keep our wits about us as we looked around The Stray especially when I was nipping back and forth through the narrow Carrmire Gate to get photos. This may be a country lane on the map but it’s like a race track for motorists.

We weren’t in the mood to visit Castle Howard being focused on the ride so made do with sandwiches sitting beneath the obelisk followed by a sort of backstage tour. We got a good – if distant – view of the Castle from a corner of the Grand Lake and, a right turn away, explored Coneysthorpe, a picturesque village which provided accommodation for the house and estate’s staff. It was our favourite of the four villages on the route. Houses and the former reading room are arranged around a long green with a Georgian chapel at the top. At the bottom, currently awaiting restoration, is an old estate maintenance yard where Castle Howard’s joiners and stonemason’s would have been based. Completing the bucolic scene two small children rolled gingerly down the green perched on a rickety, home-made trolley propelled by old pram wheels.

Coneythorpe

Coneythorpe

The final leg of our journey was thankfully much quieter than The Stray and more secluded, leading us downhill through woodland to the west of Coneysthorpe.

Our journey soon over, we lingered a little among Terrington’s stone-built cottages with red pantiled roofs. The village oozes class. This is North Yorkshire at its most desirable – with all the charm of more well known villages in the nearby National Parks but off the tourist trail and therefore somehow seeming more real-life. There’s a lively local arts scene too. Two musical productions in the village were advertised on the noticeboard and The Backotheshop Art Café behind the village stores includes a gallery. Set up three years ago following the closure of the post office, it has different exhibitions every month.

All those follies and a dollop of art at the end. We had enjoyed an enriching and energetic afternoon on our bikes and hopefully the first of many.

Terrington

Terrington

Fact file

Distance: 11.5 miles.

Time: Easy half-day.

Directions:

Signpost near Terrington

Signpost near Terrington

Leave Terrington past the church and heading east. Fork right signed to Ganthorpe. Pass through the village. At a t-junction turn right to visit Bulmer then return to the junction and continue ahead and over a crossroads to visit Welburn. Return to the crossroads and turn right up The Stray. Pass
through Carrmire Gate and by the entrance to Castle Howard and keeping going until a crossroads. Turn right to visit Coneysthorpe, turning left in the village to circuit the green. Return to the crossroads and continue ahead through a forest. Follow the road as it bears sharp left and, soon after, turn right to return to Terrington (repeating the start of the outgoing route).

Map: here

Eating:

Pattacakes Shop and Tea Room, Welburn, YO60 7DX. Deli, pattiserie and bakery. Tel 01653 618352.
The Arboretum Café, Castle Howard, YO60 7DA. Tel 01653 648767.
The Backotheshop Art Café (at the rear of Terrington village store), Terrington, YO60 6QB. Tel 01653 648530.
The Bay Horse, Terrington. Has its own CAMRA award winning brewery. Tel 01653 648416.

Space odyssey

Paul Kirkwood enters outer space along York’s solar system cycle route which opened 10 years ago.

Polly and Bertie Kirkwood on the solar system cycle route

Polly and Bertie Kirkwood on the solar system cycle route

The sun never sets in Bishopthorpe. It’s forever suspended over an old railway line. Mercury and Venus lie the other side of a bridge under the York bypass and Pluto is in the far reaches of outer space near Riccall. No, this is not some localised alternative version of the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy but a description of York’s solar system cycle route.

Models of planets provide landmarks on an off-road cycle track at appropriately scaled down intervals. The ride follows the track bed of the east coast mainline before it was re-routed further west due to concerns over subsidence from the development of the Selby coalfield in the 1970s. Sustrans, the sustainable transport charity, adopted the old route and by 1987, four years after its closure, turned it into an early section of what was to become the National Cycle Network.

Cycling along the track – or should that be shooting through space – provides a gentle, enjoyable and educational family afternoon out as I found out on an excursion with my two children.

The first thing that strikes you about the planets is their respective sizes. My only real prior knowledge of them was based on a poster in my brother’s bedroom back in Apollo age which showed the planets at roughly the same size. The solar system cycle ride soon put me right.

Polly Kirkwood examines pea-sized Pluto

Polly Kirkwood examines pea-sized Pluto

Suspended among the trees, the sun is a giant ball, the height of a room and weighing 14 tonnes. Jupiter is a volleyball, Neptune is a cricket ball and Pluto is a mere pea and so small, in fact, that it’s extraordinary it was ever discovered even at full scale. After the sun each planet model and its moons – all made from stainless steel – is displayed beside the track on top of a metal plinth with a few facts etched into its base.

The distances between planets on the ride – indicated on signs in terms of kilometres in space as well as the scaled-down cycle route equivalent – are equally enlightening. Mercury and Venus are just yards from the sun. It’s as only a little further before you reach Earth and Mars but soon after Jupiter the stellar staging posts become less frequent. The journey from Saturn to Uranus is about 1½ miles and it’s the same distance again out to Neptune and finally Pluto. Initially, we sped straight past Pluto and even deeper into the galaxy (on a trajectory towards Selby and beyond) not because of the furthest planet’s size but since it is located on a spur from the cycle track, hidden within trees up its own little slope. Well, every trip into space has to involve some exploration. Feeling a sense of achievement and well rested after sandwiches in a shelter beside the track it was time to come down to Earth.

The total length of the trail in each direction is just over six miles (equivalent to 3.7 billion miles in real terms). None of it is arduous, though, even for my son, Bertie, 6, who was on his first solo cycle ride. There are very few ups and downs and we never had to get off to push. The cycle path is traffic free – other than a short section through a housing estate at Bishopthorpe – but it’s very popular so you do need to be vigilant for your children.

The fisher of dreams sculpture on Naburn rail bridge

The fisher of dreams sculpture on Naburn rail bridge

A giant wire sculpture called the fisher of dreams perches precariously on the former rail bridge over the River Ouse at Naburn and is just as intriguing as the planet models and even quirkier. Added to the route two years after it opened, the sculpture consists of an angler, a dog and bicycle and with a miniature Flying Scotsman dangling from his rod as bait.

The Naburn Station Tea Rooms with its playground looked tempting but, on our return route, we opted instead to follow the signs that took us away from the cycle track on a five-minute diversion to the Blacksmiths Arms in Naburn village. The pub is very welcoming to families. It serves ice creams and was even happy to pour a glass of milk for Bertie, a drink that’s not normally part of my round. We had our break sitting outside in the sunshine and then walked the few yards down the lane to the slipway which is home to the Yorkshire Ouse Sailing Club. There was barely a puff of wind but somehow the gaily coloured sails propelled the dinghies gently across and up and down the river. It was like a picture from a 1950s guidebook to York.

Refreshed we set off to compete the rest of our return and splash down where we started – in the car park at Askham Bar. Mission accomplished.

Dinghys from the Yorkshire Ouse Sailing Club at Naburn

Dinghys from the Yorkshire Ouse Sailing Club at Naburn

Fact file

Distance: About 16 miles (including detour to Naburn).

Time
: Allow half a day.

Parking: Park & Ride car park, Askham Bar, York.

Directions:

Leave the car park to head down a signed cycle track on the near (west) side of the main road (A1036). Pass York College and the traffic lights then follow the signs for Route 65 which initially lead you down and round a big bend and onto the old railway line. From there simply keep following the signs for Route 65. The only navigational point to note is when you enter Bishopthorpe. After a section of cycle track you emerge at the backs of houses, in a small, modern estate. Turn left then immediately bear right down Appleton Court. At the end you will soon spot and pass under a bridge after which the track resumes and is again clear to follow.

Cycle hire: Available from Europcar at York station.

Weblink: http://www.solar.york.ac.uk which includes a map although you barely need one.

The fisher of dreams sculpture on Naburn rail bridge

The fisher of dreams sculpture on Naburn rail bridge