A Bank Holiday bike trip: Paul Kirkwood rides the challenging but lovely North Yorkshire extension to the Moor to Sea cycle route.
It’s hard to know who deserves more credit: the engineers builders who built the original railway line or the national park wardens who have maintained it as a path.
Either way, the route of the old Rosedale Railway that once carried iron ore is brilliant.
On my Ordnance Survey map published in 1999 the “dismantled railway” is indicated as a footpath. It’s since been upgraded to a bridleway and now the North York Moors National Park Authority is promoting the route as an extension to its official Moor to Sea cycle route.
It runs from Easby to the visitors’ centre in Dalby Forest and takes in 34 miles of serious undulation, all of it along existing public rights of way.
I fancied a shorter circular route that gave me a flavour of the old railway along High Blakey Moor and the contrast of a return along the bottom of the Farndale valley. Everything began easily enough. I dropped down just a few metres from the car park and began pedalling on the broad cinder track through cuttings and on the top of an embankment. Spectacular views stretched into and across Farndale as far as the 314m-high Bilsdale TV transmitter sticking out of the heather like a needle.
Bloworth Crossing marks the site of the level crossing for the railway at its junction with a former moorland road. The original routes have long gone, of course, but there was still some traffic in the form of resting cyclists.
After that came Bransdale Moor – a site of Special Scientific Interest and home to grouse, merlin, curlew and adders – and then, at the top of Ingleby Incline the route suddenly came to a halt. Well, at least, it did for me.
This was the point on the old railway where wagons were lowered and raised up the slope on a cable as it was so steep, 1 in 5 in places. All that remains of the drum house which straddled the track at the top are piles of masonry and bricks bearing the manufacturer’s name, Hartley & Co of Castleford.Rail workers and their families once lived here in four cottages nicknamed Little Siberia.
Moving from the moor tops to the edge of the Cleveland escarpment was like walking into a different room. A vast plain, as flat as a pancake, stretched north to the cooling towers of Middlesbrough and beyond. The bank’s left flank was cloaked in conifers and, on the far right of the picture, I could make out the distinctive dog-tooth, volcanic profile of Roseberry Topping.
I returned to Bloworth Crossing and began my descent into Farndale on the signed bridleway, precipitous in places.
It was a relief to reach a farm at the head of the valley and, moreover, the Tarmac road. The place has a wonderfully remote, end of the line-type feel. What a fabulous place to grow up – although it would be a long trip to school every day. Further evidence of civilisation came in the form of High Farndale Methodist chapel. Remarkably and unlike most other remote churches, the chapel hasn’t been converted into a home. It seems odd that such a lonely church should exist so close to the village of Church Houses which, despite its name, doesn’t have a place of worship. It does, however, have a classy-looking pub with beer garden, the Feversham Arms. I resisted the temptation, preferring to defer my reward to the top of the Alpine ascent out of the valley which lay ahead. If you can pedal all the way up 200 metres and a one-in-five gradient then you are extraordinarily fit. I pushed and still needed a rest at a strategically placed bench half way up. I threw my head back, closed my eyes and let the breeze cool my brow. My journey wasn’t quite over. I had some time left so explored two extra miles of the Moor to Sea extension which took me along the road to the Fat Betty cross and the Young Ralph Cross, the symbol of the North York Moors. As I finally pedalled back to the car I peered into the next valley – around which the Rosedale railway also snakes.
The Rosedale Railway also extends along both sides of the Rosedale valley which runs parallel to Farndale although no public right of way is marked.
The railway opened in 1861 to transport ore from ironstone mines in Rosedale to the North Eastern Railway at Battersby Junction and on to Co Durham and Teesside for processing.
Eventually 19 miles long, it was the second highest railway route in England.
The line was taken up in 1929 due to rising costs and the falling value of iron.
It is possible to cycle along these sections but it’s very challenging in parts due to subsidence and excessive water coming down onto the old track-bed leaving in one stretch an area of one-metre deep bog over the former line.
Not today for me thanks. I was tired and the lure of a lager at the Lion was proving too much…
Pedalling along the old railway
Distance: 14 miles for loop plus four miles there and back to the crosses.
Parking: Small free park just south of the Lion Inn, Blakey.
Cross the road, descend few yards towards Church Houses, turn right to pick up the old railway route.
Continue ahead through gate at Bloworth Crossing. At top of Ingleby Incline don’t descend but pass through a green metal gate.
Follow grassy track bearing right and right again. At stoned track, turn right and return to Bloworth Crossing. Continue ahead and cross stream. Look out for blue waymarker on left after about 100 yards.
Push and lift bike across the heather (no discernable path) in the direction of the arrow passing between grouse butts. After half a mile, as gradient increases, head towards a gate within a wall a few yards from a gully. Keep the stream on your left as you cross a grassy area. Pass to the left of a pair of old stone gateposts and follow a yellow waymarker as the bridleway bears left to cross the stream via a large wooden bridge.
Continue in one o’clock direction towards yellow waymarker 80 yards away. Pass between two gateposts and, later, a wooden gate.
Just before large barn, bear right, descend to stream as waymarked. Bear right around a field corner, through trees and cross old stone bridge.
Bear right and up then turn sharp right through a gate along a grassy track walled on the right. At Elm House Farm, track becomes road to Church Houses. To visit the crosses, turn left at T-junction and follow road two miles. Fat Betty marked as “White Cross” on map is right turn just before Young Ralph Cross. Route requires mountain bike: not suitable for children.