Paul Kirkwood tries out a new cycle path on a tour of Lower Nidderdale, taking in some amazing scenery en route.
It’s been a long time coming but it was worth the wait.
That was my conclusion after cycling along the new Nidderdale Greenway that provides a traffic-free link between Bilton in Harrogate and Ripley. The idea for the four-mile railway path route was initially suggested in the late 90s. Protracted land purchase negotiations, two public inquiries and a National Lottery grant later and it has come to fruition.
The small car park is full and vehicles are parked on the kerbs when my daughter Polly and I arrive mid-morning one Sunday last month. We practically have to queue to pass through the width restriction onto the path and my bell is forever tinkling as we approach dog walkers for the first few hundred yards.
A previous attempt to cross the Grade II-listed Nidd viaduct had ended at a formidable spiked fence and “no entry” sign. 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. The seven-arch viaduct was built over a hundred feet above the river in 1848 to carry the old Leeds to Thirsk railway. The structure closed in 1967.
I expect to have to cycle along the main road for the final section of the new path to Ripley but don’t have to.
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 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 Alsace-Lorraine 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. Sadly there’s no time to visit the castle today.
We pedal past the cobbled square and then head west via a bridleway which, while not as flat as the Greenway, provides similarly good cycling.
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 – closed in 1964. No trace remains 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.
We leave behind the rushing of the river and, at Darley, head steeply upwards.
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. There are hopes the Greenway will be extended in this direction.
A glorious freewheel takes us pretty much all the way to Hampsthwaite but not before a loop of unspoilt, unsung Kettlesing. Given its name it should really have a café but it doesn’t, although there is a nice looking pub that I mentally note for a future visit.
We pass some parkland and a cursory glance over my shoulder reveals it belongs to the magnificent looking Birstwith Hall built in 1780. Several swoops and swerves later and we arrive in the bustling Hampsthwaite.
The last highlight of the route is one of my favourite spots in the region: the 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 break.
Distance: 18 miles.
DIRECTIONS FOR A RIDE TO REMEMBER
Start at the (free) car park on Bilton Lane, Harrogate, close to the junction with Tennyson Avenue. Head north on the Nidderdale Greenway cycle path.
Eventually, the route emerges beside the old railway bridge. Turn right up 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 at 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 Gardens (which becomes Hall Lane), left on Tennyson Avenue and finally left on Bilton Lane back to start.