17 October 2017

NW3: Grinton to High Force

Day 3 of the eighth and last of my Yorkshire Compass Rides saw gale force winds, the remote Tees valley – and the culmination of the whole project at High Force, Yorkshire's version of Niagara Falls.

(Back to ← Day 2)

Dales Bike Centre in Reeth fixed my broken spoke in under ten minutes, so I was able to set off earlier than expected into the teeth, claws and talons of ex-Storm Brian. There were 30mph headwinds and 60mph gusts, so as Yorkshire folk round here would say, it was a bit breezy, like. Evidently the gale was so strong it had upended the pub sign for the Black Bull in Reeth's ruggedly fine village green (pic).

Heading northwest out of Reeth up the Arkengarthdale road, the scenery was blessed with this fine rainbow (pic). Bulgarian legend says that if you walk underneath one, you will change gender. I was reluctant to risk this. I know how expensive it is to get a really good women-specific bike frame.

This is the Stang (pic), the road towards Barnard Castle. The bend in the tree gives little idea of the sheer force of the headwind: I had been pushing, even downhill, much of the time since Reeth. But up the Stang it gradually became a mighty tailwind, whisking me uphill without pedalling like I was on an electric bike.

At the top of the Stang, someone had thoughtfully left a mattress for cyclists exhausted by the mile or so of steep climb (pic). This is the modern-day border with County Durham, but of course historic Yorkshire went much further. I hurtled down into the plains towards the Tees.

Barnard Castle didn't detain me: it would have meant crossing the river from historic Yorkshire into historic County Durham, and I wanted to stay inside the great county until the very northwesternmost point.

So I carried on, alongside the Tees's southwestern banks, along a narrow straight lane to the cul-de-sac village of Holwick (pic), dramatically situated under cliffs at Yorkshire's very top left corner. The pub was closed for the day, which was probably just as well.

The tarmac road became a farm track (pic), and the Tees valley to my right was now pretty dramatic, like one of the classic Yorkshire Dales. I was heading for that farmhouse, from where a short footpath runs down to the river...

...where a wooden footbridge allows Pennine Way walkers over the water (pic). This was my final goal, my choice as the far northwesternmost point you can cycle to in historic Yorkshire: High Force bridge, just round the corner from the waterfall itself.

So this was journey's end, the culmination of a fabulous summer of rides exploring my home county. Walk across here (pic) and you can see the tumbling brown liquid torrents of High Force: I'm referring to the pub of that name, and its decent, reasonably-priced local real ale. After a quick walk down to the waterfall itself, I settled in the pub to sit out the rainstorm before adjourning to my hostel up at Langdon Beck.

High Force itself was looking impressive (pic), thanks to the recent rains. It's not nearly the highest waterfall in England, but in terms of flow it's the biggest, and is possibly the loudest, so it's an appropriate endpoint for a Yorkshire project. Why bother going to Niagara Falls or Iguazu when we have this?

A couple of miles' walk along a muddy footpath from High Force, on the south bank of the Tees, is the rocky outcrop of Cronkley Scar (pic): the northernmost point in historic Yorkshire, seen from across the river looking west. Why bother going to Uluru or even Ayers Rock when we have this?

It's been another superb ride, showing me many different sides of my own county. I've thoroughly enjoyed this project and I'm a little sad that these eight rides are all over. Stunning dales and moors, vibrant industrial towns, lively people and great pubs, historical gems and fabulous cycling everywhere: Yorkshire's a grand place.

Miles today: 32
Miles from York to High Force: 102

Back to ← Day 2

16 October 2017

NW2: Ripon to Grinton

Day 2 of the eighth and last of my Yorkshire Compass Rides saw me get caught up in a grouse shoot, lose a spoke and dodge a firing range. But if the day saw me, I didn't see much of it back: it was zero visibility for most of the time. (Back to ← Day 1 • On to Day 3 →)

A morning of mist and fog turned into an afternoon of fog and mist. I'd planned to do most of today offroad, but after the first moortop crossing – from handsome Kirkby Malzeard to Lofthouse – I decided to stick to the road for the rest of the day. The tracks were boggy and wet, and I could see little beyond the handlebars. Perhaps it's just as well I couldn't be seen: at one point on Kirkby Moor I got caught up in a grouse shoot (pic). If I had got shot at least it would have been by accident.

Staying on road proved the right decision, though the traffic could be busy some times (pic).

After a sneaky back road to Ellingstring that was closed for roadworks but open for bikes, I had a quick peek at Jervaulx Abbey – what I could see through the fog, anyway – and was startled by the thwunk of a spoke going on my back wheel. The bike shop in Leyburn was closed for the day, so I had to crack on to Grinton, my destination for the evening.

'Crack' was the operative word, as this took me excitingly through an MOD firing range (pic), but confident in my invincibility given my grouse-shoot survival earlier on, I carried on.

At last the fog lifted, the mist dissipated, and the sun almost came out. I enjoyed a fine moortop ride (pic) and then fabulous rollercoaster descent down into Swaledale, Yorkshire's most dramatic dale. Things round here have hardly changed since the days of James Herriot's vet stories. Things such as mobile phone provision. So, unable to call, I had to ride down into Reeth to book my bike for a wheel-fix tomorrow morning...

...and then back up the hill to the YHA hostel of Grinton Lodge, a castle-like converted shooting lodge (pic). The day turned out to have had a quite a theme. I completed it by having a few shots myself, the type that come in small glasses.

Miles today: 41
Miles since York: 73

Back to ← Day 1 • On to Day 3 →

15 October 2017

NW1: York to Ripon

The last of my eight Yorkshire Compass Rides was a three-day trip to the northwesternmost reaches of historic Yorkshire, up in the remote Tees valley amid the Pennines. Day 1 involved a flood, a bridge to nowhere, a darts player's rival to Stonehenge, and Europe's oldest continuously performed ceremony outside a Wetherspoon. (On to Day 2 →)

I did this on my offroad touring bike, intending to avoid tarmac where possible. An underwater bike would have come in handy for the first section on the NCN route alongside the Ouse, which was unexpectedly flooded (pic). To avoid it I had to go along the busy A19 for a bit before rejoining the quiet cycle route through splendid Beningborough Hall, home of some of Yorkshire's most expensive bacon sandwiches.

I peeled off the NCN route at Aldwark, heading along farm tracks to the village of Myton. Its restored bridge (pic) goes nowhere now, which seemed appropriate for my career trajectory. More tracks led to back lanes and then main roads to Boroughbridge, famous for its Roman remains. More excitingly, it also has Yorkshire's answer to Stonehenge, though it can't have been a serious question: the Devil's Arrows.

These slabs of millstone grit were transported from Plumpton Rocks near Harrogate around 4700 years ago. Three monoliths survive, grooved by centuries of rain, almost in a line (pic).

Their purpose has been forgotten, which is hardly surprising. There's stuff in my attic that's only thirty years old but I now have no idea what it's for or why I got it in the first place.

The name comes from the legend that the Devil was cross with Aldborough and chucked stones at it, but missed, so Boroughbridge copped it instead.

Pondering this, and wondering why faces that seem to appear in toast or clouds are always angels or Jesus, but any large-format geology gets satanic credit, I cycled on.

Thanks to my bike's chunky tyres, I did the last couple of miles into historic Ripon along its pleasant canal (pic), a favourite for local dog-walkers. I went past a pristine Morris Minor parked by the canal, and it all felt like the old days, the days before dog owners picked up their poo.

This is the car in question. E reg makes it 50 years old. It's looking better for its age than me.

Ripon is the smallest of Yorkshire's seven cities (the others are York, Leeds, Bradford, Hull, Sheffield and Wakefield). I'd come to stay here overnight to see Europe's oldest continuously performed ceremony. Every night at 9pm since the year 886 – yes, every single night, without fail – a man has sounded the horn four times, once at each corner of the market cross.

Not the same man, or horn, obviously: a team shares the duty, and after each performance the hornblower gives a little talk to the cluster of sightseers (pic) that takes rather longer than the ceremony itself.

As it happened, my room for the night was in Wetherspoon's Unicorn Hotel, which overlooks the square. I could enjoy the historic ritual from my room, without having to put on any shoes. Or anything else.

On to Day 2 →

Miles today: 32

29 July 2017

Hessay: Journey to the Centre of the Earth

We all know Yorkshire is the centre of the world, but where's the centre of Yorkshire? In other words, if the historic county was made of plywood instead of rocks, where would you be able to balance it on the point of a pencil stronger than the one in my WH Smith Pocket Diary?

There have been various claims. The village of Barkston Ash, between Selby and Leeds, has an ash tree said to mark the ceremonial centre of the county. If you spit at it, legend has it, you will die a year and a day later. The same used to apply to the locals in the pub near my house, though with less of a wait. (It closed and is now a Heron Foods, thank goodness.)

Other claims have been made by the village of Moor Monkton, northwest of York, whose church was sometimes said to be the centre; while an Ordnance Survey press release a decade ago marked the village of Cattal, outside Harrogate, as the middle point.

More recent work by the OS, however, has decided on the village of Hessay, just west of York, as the geographic origin of all things Yorkshire. My friends Si and Sue were staying for the weekend, so a visit there to find the central point seemed a good excuse for a bike ride.

We set out on the Sustrans route up the Ouse. Beningborough Hall is a popular stop for Sunday cyclists (pic). For just £2 you can get an excellent bacon butty, so long as you can find someone to lend you another £4. It's not a place for a cheap date.

The only crossing point of the Ouse between York and Boroughbridge is Aldwark Toll Bridge (pic). The delightfully clanky old wooden thing was built in 1772, which seems the last time it was serviced. Cars cost 40p but bikes are free. It saves a 25-mile round trip and was once hit by an iceberg, so goodness knows how easy it is for them to insure it now.

We dropped in to the pleasant village green of Nun Monkton, so called because it used to have some nuns and, er, a ton of monks.

It boasts the tallest maypole in the UK (pic), at 88 feet high, and its extent skywards has caused concern to local RAF pilots.

In a place where bridges get clobbered by glaciers, anything could happen.

We'd hoped to get a pint in the 'pub at the centre of Yorkshire', the Victoria at Cattal. Unfortunately it didn't open this Saturday lunchtime, so there was no chance to test anyone's balance at the supposed ultimate balancing point.

Down the road in Tockwith we did catch a pint, though, and spotted this small monument (pic) commemorating seven airmen who died when a Stirling Bomber crashed here in 1945. Hopefully they weren't avoiding a giant maypole.

More monuments further up the road at Marston Moor (pic), where Oliver Cromwell's pro-Hessay troops routed Prince Rupert's pro-Cattal forces in 1644 in a civil war battle over the location of Yorkshire's centre.

So we headed on to Hessay, the village at the centre of all things. The exact centroid is, as far as my research shows, on private farmland behind 8 Shilbutts Lane (pic).

Sadly, Hessay has no pub, cafe, shop or even post office to cash in on its geographic fame. Nowhere to spend money, not even on a stamp. Anyway, with the actual spot being underneath a cowpat in an inaccessible field, we decided to appoint instead this exact place (pic) as the Centre of Yorkshire, and therefore the Centre of the Earth. Yes indeed: the world revolves around this point.

27 July 2017

W3: Slaidburn to Dunsop Bridge

Day 3 of the seventh of my Yorkshire Compass Rides involved the westernmost limit of historic Yorkshire, Little Copenhagen, a surprising notice about cats, and the very centre point of Great Britain. (Back to ← Day 2)

Reeking of kerosene, and fearful of any encounters with cigarette smokers, I set off the few miles from Slaidburn youth hostel to Dunsop Bridge (pic). The hilltops here, looking west, are the westernmost in historic Yorkshire.

Dunsop Bridge – another village that used to be in Yorks and is now Lancs – is the settlement nearest the point determined by the Ordnance Survery as the centre of Great Britain. The nearest you get to a monument or marker is this phone box (pic), which is inscribed as Britain's most central phone box (which it is) and 100,000th in the UK (which is probably isn't, now that most of the rural ones have been turned into libraries or greenhouses).

The actual central point is four miles north of Dunsop Bridge, along the Dunsop Valley (pic). There's a flat tarmac bridleway, not open to non-residential traffic, that makes a real gem of a family-friendly trail through some good scenery. You could be in Wales or Scotland, especially when you try to get a mobile signal.

The nearest you can get by bike to the centre is Brennand Farm (pic), just visible at the top of the picture here. To get to the actual origin, Whitendale Hanging Stones – the location at which Great Britain could be balanced on the point of a pencil, if you had one that hadn't been chewed by a nephew – you have to walk a mile or so along a footpath behind the farm, and it was starting to rain, so I didn't. Instead I went back to Dunsop Bridge to the Puddleduck Cafe, Britain's most central, which conveniently had good bike parking, free use of a track pump, and most important coffee and cake.

I still had the find the westernmost cyclable point, and headed out from Dunsop Bridge. Evidently it's a perilous place for inattentive cats (pic). Perhaps they're too busy chasing red squirrels.

It's fine scenery round here, as the road heads through the Trough of Bowland (pic), still in modern Lancashire but historic Yorkshire. Many of the rivers round here have provided drinking water for Preston since the late 1800s. Given how much it has rained in the last two days, I don't think they'll be going thirsty.

A track leads west from off this road to the very westernmost point in historic Yorkshire, a watershed up in the hills by Hawthornthwaite Fell. On the map it's amazingly far left, only eight miles from the Irish Sea. You can cycle some of it, on tarmac up to the water works, but beyond (pic) is a bumpy walkers-only track that goes to Longden Castle – despite the name, a shabby little hut for grouse shooters. It's possible to cycle on tarmac in historic Yorkshire and be further west (up by Sedbergh, at Beck Foot near Lowgill). But as part of my Compass Rides, my line westwards out of York finished here.

I paused briefly to admire Miranda, a statue of the guardian nymph of the waters here (pic) which is the reason why this part of Yorkshire isn't called 'Little Copenhagen'.

Then it was down to Clitheroe for the train home, and the completion of another delightful Compass Ride. I had soaked up lots of atmosphere, though perhaps a bit too literally.

Miles today: 25
Miles York to Dunsop Bridge: 89

Back to ← Day 2

26 July 2017

W2: Harrogate to Slaidburn

Day 2 of the seventh of my Yorkshire Compass Rides involved some worm-themed naive art, a pervasive smell of kerosene, and rain. Lots. (Back to ← Day 1 • On to Day 3 →)

The weather forecast could be summed up in one four-letter word, though 'rain' is probably a politer one. I set off early to make the most of the dry morning, heading up the lovely railtrail to the charming village of Ripley with its castle (pic). Tea would have been nice, but it was too early for the teashops to be open, thus saving me about ten quid.

It was still way pre-opening-time when got to Pateley Bridge, proud home of Britain's oldest sweatshop. Oh, sorry, 'sweetshop' (pic). I breakfasted in a bus shelter, psyching myself up for the 300m climb up Greenhow Hill into a stiff headwind and the increasingly heavy drizzle. All the cows were sat firmly down. Being a bovine meteorologist today was an entirely sedentary occupation.

Lacking waterproof socks, I recycled the breakfast plastic bags as such. I can report that the Sainsbury's bag failed and let in water after two hours, but the Co-op bag lasted five before inundating.

It was so wet, even Dr Who had given up travel for the day (pic).

Miserable weather, then, but still an enjoyable ride in its own curious way, through hill-country villages, farms and market towns, along quiet narrow back roads (pic).

At a cafe in Cracoe I met several cycle-tourists doing the Way of Roses (west to east, the opposite way to me) and we swopped lively traveller's tales over the sound of dripping clothes.

In one village I was charmed by the homespun worm-related artworks that adorned most of the houses (pic).

Why the nematode theme? Something to do with the name of the village, perhaps – Wigglesworth...?

Eventually I got to my target for the evening: Slaidburn (pic). It feels a typical Lancashire village – except it was in Yorkshire until 1974, which is the whole point of the trip. Yes, even this far west, we're still in the historic county. The beer wasn't great though: that's definitely gone all Lancashire.

With its ruggedly handsome pub and handy youth hostel (pic), it was an ideally placed stopover. I've remembered it ever since. Mainly because the hostel drying room stank of kerosene, as have all my clothes ever since they spent the night there.

Miles today: 50
Miles since York: 85

Back to ← Day 1 • On to Day 3 →

25 July 2017

W1: York to Harrogate

The seventh of my Yorkshire Compass Rides was a three-day trip to the westernmost reaches of historic Yorkshire in the Forest of Bowland. Day 1 involved some railway curios, Britain's most surprising gorge, and the Greatest Living Yorkshireman. (On to Day 2 →)

I headed out of York on the cycle track alongside the A64 to Tadcaster, which I passed through on a previous Compass Ride. The town sits on the Wharfe, whose waters have supplied the breweries based here. It was full of fish today, which may explain the taste of their beer. I crossed the river on that splendid railway viaduct (pic), upstream from the main bridge. For once we can't blame the evil Doktor Beeching: the viaduct was built in the 1840s, at the height of Railway Mania, but the intended line was never built (though the crossing later serviced a local mill).

In the town of Boston Spa there are many handsome traditional buildings. I stopped to admire one (pic), and learned from its blue plaque that it was the home of the Greatest Living Yorkshireman, Lord Boycott of Fitzwilliam. And, indeed, there was Sir Geoffrey himself, rummaging in the boot of his car in the driveway, just like a normal person. I resisted the temptation to engage in banter as I might have got a 'That's a schoo pid place to park a bicycle'.

I carried on up the railtrail from Thorp Arch to Wetherby (pic). This line was a Beeching casualty – Britain's first line to be axed, apparently, showing again how Yorkshire leads the way.

My eyes still dazzled with celebrity stardust, I spent the next hour thinking I'd spotted yet more Famous Yorkshire People. Running on that railtrail, triathlete Jonny Brownlee (it wasn't, sadly); buying cider in Boston Spa Costcutter, Jessica Ennis-Hill (it wasn't, sadly); and talking loudly in Wetherby, actor Brian Blessed (it wasn't, fortunately).

I passed the nature spot of Plumpton Rocks. They're a sort of poor man's Brimham Rocks. That's mainly because you'll be £3.50 poorer after being rushed the admission price, whereas Brimham is free. Soon after I was cycling alongside the splendid bottom of perhaps Britain's most surprising gorge: the Nidd at Knaresborough (pic), whose dramatic rocky walls seem to appear out of nowhere, like cyclists who are invisible until they go through a red signal. The town looked continental-lovely in the sunshine, and was busy with visitors.

No cream tea for me, though: I had a barbecue appointment in Harrogate with some in-laws, and a garden cricket appointment with some nephews. They were suitably impressed by my photos of Sir Geoffrey's house.

On to Day 2 →

Miles today: 35

12 June 2017

SE2: Ferriby to Spurn Point

Day 2 of the sixth Compass Ride was a blustery bright summer day, and involved two lots of Alternative Wright Brothers, a crossing over to the Eastern Hemisphere, Britain's newest island, and an inexplicably stranded satnav-fail lorry. (Back to ← Day 1)

The Wright Brothers? Forget those minor mechanics from Kitty Hawk. For real achievement you want Ferriby's own Wrights, Ted and Will. In 1937 down at the foreshore, by the dog-brown waters of the Humber, they discovered the Ferriby Boats. These, it turned out, were major archaeological and historical finds: Stone Age vessels – as old as Stonehenge – that once ferried people, beasts and food across the estuary. A monument (pic) marks out the footprint of the first boat found.

That's Lincolnshire over there. As a child I would often come down here, looking with awe across to South Ferriby and the cement factory. Why was the boat found on the north bank? My own theory is that it was used once, and that when they'd seen what was on the other side, they came back for good.

From Ferriby it was 20-odd miles of almost unbroken offroad, ideal for my trekking bike. I coasted happily along the waterside path (pic) up to the Humber Bridge. The bike was far lighter than yesterday, as I'd left luggage at mum's. I was far heavier than yesterday, as I'd had dinner and breakfast at mum's.

I threaded through Hull's shiny new marina and redeveloped docks, most impressively past The Deep (pic) and its sharklike profile. It's one of the UK's biggest aquariums, and definitely the best, with everything from vast multistorey glass oceans full of vivid tropical fish and scary sharks, to smaller tanks with dull monochrome North Sea fishes.

When I was little, we only had fishing for sticklebacks in Welton pond. Today I saw a six-year-old here, staring at one of the small, computer-monitor-sized glass tank fronts, trying in vain that two-finger-expand gesture you use to zoom in on touchscreens.

Out of Hull I followed the 10-mile Winestead Rail Trail, surfaced for the first four or so, and then a succession of just-about-OK cinder and farm track. Near Keyingham I exchanged cheery hellos with these horse riders (pic), thinking how lovely it all was.

I thought it was less lovely when I spent the next three miles dodging the hoof craters they'd made in the soft muddy surface. Still, in this unremittingly flat landscape, the horses had at least created some vertical interest of their own. Clearly they'd had a good breakfast.

Patrington is the least untownlike of the villages in this part of Holderness. The flat, remote tranquillity intrigued Hull's gloomy poet-librarian Philip Larkin. 'Here silence stands like heat', Larkin wrote; perhaps he'd waited for a bus here too. Anyway, the railtrail having run out, I was now back on the road, stopping briefly to cross the meridian marker (pic) and leave the West behind. No chance of a decent phone signal or organic quinoa out here in the developing world, then.

I was surprised to see this monument at Welwick (pic). It commemorates four members of the Gunpowder Plot of 1605, most notably John and Christopher Wright, two brothers who lived in the farm next door. Well, there you have it: Ferriby's Wright Brothers make intriguing discoveries that advance human knowledge and are celebrated with a few planks, while Holderness's Wright Brothers are murderous terrorists who get a life-size cutout as if posing for a 70s album cover. Though, politics as they are these days, you can understand how John and Chris felt. Thinking about it, Guy Fawkes himself came from York, and he's positively celebrated too, by a pub in his name.

A local feature out here is the towers built on some of the houses (pic). It's so flat round here you can probably see all the way back to Hull and across to Grimsby, which does make you wonder if it was worth the effort.

And so, at last, to Spurn, the sprawling tendril of sand that stretches three miles out and a few yards wide from here into the waters where Humber and North Sea jostle against each other. It's one of England's most remarkable places to cycle. This is the entrance to the Reserve; you can just see the lighthouse at the end of the spit in the distance (pic).

Cars are banned from Spurn, because in 2013 a storm surge washed away the road (and the telegraph poles) from a half-mile section of the peninsula (pic). I came here in 2009 with friends when this was all still intact and fully functioning, as was my sense of humour.

The silhouetted figure is standing at the easternmost point in historic Yorkshire. The next land due east of here is Borkum, a German island off the Netherlands coast. It's sandy and largely car free, like Spurn, though I suspect the bread is better.

The RNLI staff who lodge on the end have to get across to their houses and lifeboats by 4x4 across a section of beach (pic) which now occasionally washes over completely at very high tides, making Britain's newest island, and the only one entirely in Yorkshire. (Whitton Island, which emerged recently at the other end of the Humber, is partly in Lincolnshire.) Good to see Spurn taking back control, then.

You can push your bike across the beach section, and continue riding on the other side onto the transitioning island, where the road picks up again (pic, looking back). I kept stopping to admire the vast, flat views, and shake the sand out of my shoes.

For those who get stranded by the tide, there's this refuge hut. You'd be trapped here, safe and sound but with absolutely nothing to see or do. It's here to give you an idea of what living in Holderness would be like.

This is just about as far as you can go southeast in Yorkshire by bike. The road ends around here, near the end of Spurn Head, by a cluster of RNLI lodges, the lifeboat launch pier, and a couple of lighthouses. You're effectively three miles out at sea, confronted by unsettling existential questions, such as Cleethorpes. I did the only thing you can in such disturbing circumstances. I had lunch.

Back up at the entrance to Spurn, a surprise-but-no-surprise. A lorry driver from Lithuania had got stuck in the sand trying to turn back (pic), claiming he had suffered an epic satnav fail. 'Nesąmonė', as they say in Lithuania; I reckon he just cocked up.

I locked my bike up in Easington, got buses and trains back to Ferriby, and drove out the next morning to pick up the bike. It's been another delightful ride out to another county extremity, and thanks to the trekking bike's offroad opportunities, I could explore lots of places I'd not seen before. And I'll tell you what, Larkin nailed it.

Miles from Ferriby to Spurn Point: 38
Miles from York to Spurn Point: 81

Back to ← Day 1