Paul Kirkwood has been devising, writing about and photographing bike rides in Yorkshire for 15 years. Feeling inspired by the Grand Départ? Then here’s his personal choice of the top 10 routes in the county...
1. Best Le Tour ride: Swaledale and Arkengarthdale (28 miles).
Closed main roads are obviously the best thoroughfare for Le Tour but the majority of its route will, at other times, be busy with traffic for amateur cyclists wanting to get a taste of the action with the exception of some roads followed by Le Tour in the Dales.
This ride incorporates a stretch of one of them (the B6270 from Thwaite to Reeth) and is quite hard work too which will give you a further frisson of what the riders will be experiencing.
The outward leg of the journey through Arkengarthdale is Yorkshire at its wildest, the moors stretching out to the north like a swelling sea with as many hues of brown as there are blues in the ocean.
Progress is slow but, after the Tan Hill Inn, the cycling is easier, starting with a thrilling downhill plunge with switchbacks more usually encountered on a mountain bike trail.
Thereafter you follow the road in the bottom of the valley through a succession of quintessential Dales villages: Keld, Thwaite, Muker, Gunnerside, Low Row and finally back to Reeth. Completing this route without at least one stop at a pub or café along the way is near impossible.
• Map: mapmyride.com/routes/view/178161862
2. Best cycle path and track ride: Knaresborough and Harrogate (19 miles).
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.
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 cyclist’s M25 of the town but far from being a road to hell it’s an orbit of discovery.
One of my favourite spots – and stops – along the route is the 17th century Spruisty Bridge in Knox. Later on the view over the fold of the Crimple Beck valley towards the wart-like hulk of Almscliffe Crag is superb. For a moment you could be deep in the Dales.
My favourite part of the ride is Plompton Rocks set around an ornamental lake which was once in the pleasure grounds of a mansion. Daniel Lascelles knocked it down in 1760 but never built a replacement before moving to Goldsborough Hall.
The ride ends back in Knaresborough with a visit to St Robert’s Cave beside the River Nidd perhaps and definitely an ice cream looking up at the viaduct.
• Map: bit.ly/1gbPKdN
3. Best family ride: Solar system cycle ride, York (up to 16 miles).
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 Hitchhiker’s 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 main line before it was re-routed further west due to concerns over subsidence from the development of the Selby coalfield in the 1970s.
Sustrans adopted the old route and by 1987, four years after its closure, the sustainable transport charity had 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. A minor diversion to the Ouse at Naburn is recommended.
• Map: solar.york.ac.uk
4. Best heritage ride: Nidd Valley Light Railway (25 miles).
There are many cycle trails along the trackbeds of old railways in the county but my favourite follows the route of the Nidderdale Light Railway from Pateley Bridge. It hasn’t been named and signed and that makes it all the more of an adventure.
The railway was built in the early 20th century primarily to transport workmen and materials to the Scar and Angram reservoirs during their construction. There are four disused stations along the way – at Pateley Bridge, Wath, Bouthwaite and Lofthouse. After Lofthouse the line follows the route of the present day access road which Yorkshire Water opens to the public.
At Scar Reservoir you can see the remains of a village built in the early 1920s to house construction workers and their families.
You can return via Middlesmoor but the track is very steep, rocky and hard work. I recommend returning the way you came as far as Lofthouse then switching to a bridleway (some of it rough) to the west of the Nidd and then a minor road on the west bank of Gouthwaite Reservoir.
• Map: www.mapmyride.com/routes/view/411995874
5. Best ride in the North York Moors: Farndale (18 miles).
On the map it looks like the roads on either side of Upper Farndale are dead ends but they’re not if you’re on a bike. You can connect them via what the Ordnance Survey calls a “route with public access”. It’s not too bumpy and you can always push the bike as it’s only half a mile long. The complete absence of traffic more than makes up for the minor inconvenience. The link completes a superb circular route in one of the remotest corners of the county.
Church Houses is a wonderfully peaceful village with a classy pub with beer garden, the Feversham Arms.
With the rumble of a cattle grid you leave Farndale and return to Hutton-le-Hole, a reason in itself to do this ride and with plenty of cafes and pubs to reward your endeavours. A minor word of warning: the ride is hilly.
• Map: mapmyride.com/routes/view/412006094
6. Best urban ride: Aire Valley towpath (17 miles one way).
I first did this route on a summer’s evening after work but repeated a shorter stretch of it later with my then seven-year-old daughter. She loved it not least because, being along the Aire Valley canal towpath, the route is traffic-free. There are plenty of bridges, locks and swans to maintain interest, to say nothing of the many delights of Saltaire, a former model industrial village that is now a Unesco World Heritage site. The old mill houses an exhibition of paintings by David Hockney. The route may be urban on the map but feels rural. It’s hard to believe that so many cattle graze within a conurbation.
One of the many joys of this ride for me is that there’s no need for navigation. Simply jump on the towpath in central Leeds, Bingley or any point in between and follow the National Cycle Network signs for Route 66 and 69 and you can’t go wrong. You should definitely allow plenty of time. The one-way distance is only 17 miles but there’s masses to see, explore and find out about. Put your bike on the train free of charge for the return journey.
• Map: bit.ly/1j39lCZ
7. Best ride in the East Riding of Yorkshire: Market Weighton (23 miles).
The Market Weighton region is an ideal place to cycle with lots of flat roads, a railway path and several unspoilt villages. My favourites are Lund and Lockington. South Dalton has a church with a pinpoint spire, a row of pretty almshouses and the renowned Pipe & Glass gastropub while Thomas Carling, founder of the brewing company of the same name, lived in Etton, also passed en route.
Finish the ride by steaming along the Hudson Way, the trackbed of the railway that once connected Market Weighton to Beverley. The rail passenger’s loss is the cyclist’s gain. Kiplingcotes station owes its isolated location to a stipulation by local landowner, Lord Hotham, who allowed George Hudson, York’s notorious “Railway King”, to run the line across his land on the proviso that Hudson included a station to serve the Hotham estate.
• Map: mapmyride.com/routes/view/28101932
8. Best ride in the South Pennines: Calderdale (11½ miles).
A main road, the Rochdale Canal, trans-Pennine railway and River Calder are threaded along the valley like wires in a cable. The most recent route, the cycleway, provides the perfect way of untangling these strands and exploring the industrial heritage of the region.
Begin by taking the train from Sowerby Bridge to Walsden to join the Calder Valley Cycleway. The glory of taking the train first and cycling back rather than the other way round is that you start from the top – the nearby village of Summit is just that – and can freewheel down all the little slopes beside all the locks. If you run out of puff you can always hop back on the train as there are three stations along the way. The route follows the canal closely from Todmorden until Hebden Bridge and includes 12 artworks depicting themes relating to the canal and its corridor. At Todmorden you pass models of its town hall and Stoodley Pike through which the real monument can be viewed. My favourite artwork is the sculpture of Branwell Brontë at Luddenden Foot. Watch out for the gorillas in Mytholmroyd too!
• Map: mapmyride.com/routes/view/411077032
9. Best ride in South Yorkshire: The woods north of Sheffield (16½ miles).
It’s amazing that such a rustic ride is so close to Sheffield. The curious thing about it – and one of its appeals – is that the descents feel much longer than the ascents – the route is circular. The route is best saved for the October half-term break when Wharncliffe and Greno Woods encountered at the start and end of the journey are golden brown and their tracks are a carpet of leaves.
You’re likely to encounter as many riders on horseback as bikes and the going is good for all.
Complete with tea room and country house, the estate village Wortley is so quaint it could belong in the Dales and, if you start the route from Wharncliffe Wood, makes the perfect halfway stop.
Top Forge, signed just off the route near Wortley, is the oldest surviving heavy iron forge in the world and also well worth a diversion.
10. Best coastal ride: Saltburn and Redcar (23 miles).
OK, so this part of the coast is actually in the unitary authority of Redcar & Cleveland but it also falls within the ceremonial county of Yorkshire which is why it’s included here.
Owls, ruins to explore and miles of sandy beach: this is the perfect ride to do with the kids in the summertime – as long as they (or you, if you’re using a child seat) can withstand a stiffish climb (after Wilton) and the distance. The owls are located in the Kirkleatham Owl Centre in the grounds of Kirkleatham Old Hall which houses a local history museum, also worth including in the itinerary. The ruins belong the Gisborough Priory owned by English Heritage.
Saltburn-by-the-Sea exudes Victorian gentility and marks the start of a glorious coastal stretch. In Marske look out for St Germain’s Church which is just a tower and includes the grave of Captain Cook’s father.
Redcar has recently been
regenerated with the new Redcar Beacon taking pride of place on the seashore. At the far end of the sands the Teesside chemical works, with kite-boarders in the foreground, form a dramatic backdrop to the final coastal scene.
The Tees Valley Cycling Map for Redcar & Cleveland is available free
from local Tourist Information
Centres including the one at Guisborough Priory or you can download from bit.ly/1j6YbXW.