31 May 2017

NE1: York to Thornton-le-Dale

The fifth of my Yorkshire Compass Rides was a two-day trip up to the northeastern extreme at Robin Hood's Bay. Day 1 was a hot, cloudless summer day, and involved a nettle making a phone call, an anti-fracking camp, and the best coffee shop in Yorkshire. (On to Day 2 →)

I'm doing this trip on my hardtail mountain bike, as it will involve some forest roads on the North York Moors on Day 2, and I need to keep my fillings. Having the MTB enabled me to leave York by a new route involving the farm track called Bad Bargain Lane, which local estate agents must be agitating to rename. A few back roads, and more tracks like this one at Sand Hutton (pic), got me eventually up from the flat Vale of York and into the hills northeast.

Some villages round here have repurposed their phone boxes as libraries.

In the village of Crambe, however, they've evidently turned it into a greenhouse, trying to cultivate the world's tallest nettle (pic).

Urtica dioica thrives in acidic conditions, such as those rich in ammonia. So no wonder this one's doing well...

I went through two old-fashioned gated level crossings: a manually operated one at Howsham, and a little further on at Kirkham, this fine example (pic). The job looks easy, but perhaps it takes years of practice to get this good.

Kirkham itself has a lovely old bridge over the Derwent (pic)...

...and a ruined old priory. The gatehouse (pic), built around 1290, is apparently English Gothic, which I thought was a festival in Whitby.

But I'm glad to see that even in the 13th century they were keen on welcoming cyclists, to judge by the triple-wheel insignia at the top. A forerunner of the CTC shield, perhaps.

I stopped in Malton, something of a foodie town these days, for a coffee at the best coffee shop in Yorkshire, Leoni's. I'm biased because it's run by my cousin Simon, but as he was UK Barista Champion in 2002, 2003 and 2005, he clearly knows his stuff. I've never been UK champion of anything, though I did win a tea towel in a cheese cracker competition in 1972. Anyway, the Colombian coffee was excellent (from Medellin, it was, and rather better than the coffees I had when I actually visited Medellin).

Heading up north of Malton I went past this protest camp at Kirby Misperton. The doughty campers – some of whom have given up their jobs to come here – are trying to stop fracking. They were having a meeting, which I gatecrashed, and as a cyclist I enjoyed chatting to a few of them. Some people have an image of them as scruffy, useless layabouts who should get a proper job, which isn't fair at all. Cyclists, I mean.

I made my way over some more bumpy farm tracks to Pickering, a handsome market town (pic) with one of Britain's best heritage railways, the North York Moors Railway, and an extraordinarily high concentration of pubs. Though I guess the collective noun for pubs wouldn't be 'concentration'. Probably 'blur'.

Finally I got to Thornton-le-Dale, a pretty village at the foot of the Moors (pic) with a stream that runs picturesquely through the town. A delightful spot to sit and while away the evening. Unless you have to rush to the toilet, lock your bike and dash to catch the last bus back home to York.

Miles from York to Thornton-le-Dale: 38

On to Day 2 →

06 May 2017

SW2: Grange Moor to Saddleworth

Day 2 of the fourth of my Yorkshire Compass Rides was a morning of misty hills, the setting of a comedy that wouldn't die, the magnificently bleak Saddleworth Moor, some awesome reservoir views, and a border that wouldn't die either. (Back to ← Day 1)

From Grange Moor I headed on back lanes (pic) past the village of Lepton. This must be one of the few places in the world named after an elementary particle in subatomic physics. They should twin it with Boson Island in Canada. Shortly afterwards I cycled right underneath the Emley Moor mast. At least I think I did. It was so cloudy up there I couldn't see it.

I'd had a very early start, and arrived in Holmfirth (pic), with its picturesque cottages stacked over steep cobbled lanes, about 9am.

Holmfirth Folk Festival was on this weekend, though the folk dancing was not due to start until later that morning. So I had a lucky escape.
I had a cup of tea at Sid's Cafe (pic), whose decor reminds you of a long-running farce located here that involves men behaving disgracefully. I'm referring to the Tour de France, which visited in 2014.

Oh, OK, Holmfirth is also famous as the setting for Last of the Summer Wine, the BBC series which somehow lasted from 1973 to 2010. You can see many locations that featured repeatedly in every episode, and which had stayed unchanged for well over a hundred years.

Actually, both of those apply to the jokes too.

A long climb out of Holmfirth took me on to Saddleworth Moor (pic), a place with some very dark associations. Once at the top – nearly 500m up, and it feels like it – it was a thrilling ride with a brisk tailwind past peat bogs and scowling road cyclists labouring the other way into the wind. They were a miserable lot, and few returned my cheery wave as I freewheeled past them. I wonder why.

The ride down the other side of the moor was a great bending descent through picturesque reservoir country (pic) to the valley bottom: Saddleworth. I crossed the remarkable transpennine Huddersfield Narrow Canal, restored in 2001.

And here's where the question of borders gets as bogged down as walkers on the top of that peaty moor. Nowadays, Lancashire officially starts at the highest point on Saddleworth Moor (at the picture above with the 'Welcome to Saddleworth' sign, in fact, despite what it then says).

But the historic, pre-1974, boundary is about 10km further west. It's somewhere on this road (pic), just before the bend right; we're looking westwards, and still in historic Yorkshire but firmly in modern-day Lancashire. Oldham, in fact, if you can call it modern-day.

I was wary about asking directions here, as I thought the request 'Can you tell me the best way to Oldham?' might be misunderstood.

But many people living here still identify with Yorkshire. As indeed did the friendly chap I chatted to at County End, where a sign marking the true boundary was put up in 2010 (pic). He still regards Saddleworth as Yorkshire, and cites as proof the fact that his golf club (like many other sports clubs, music groups and so on) participates in the Yorkshire leagues. In fact, many people maintain that the 'historic' border was never rescinded except for technical administrative purposes.

Curiously, there's a 50m gap between the historic border signs for Lancashire and Yorkshire. Is this some sort of DMZ? Are the inhabitants of the strip stateless? Clearly borders matter, though the way they resolved things at Towton was a bit extreme.

Anyway, it had been a fine ride. I made my way back to Greenfield station and got the train home, stopping off at Stalybridge station bar for a celebration pint. In Lancashire.

Miles today: 28
Total miles York to Saddleworth: 65

Back to ← Day 1

05 May 2017

SW1: York to Grange Moor

The fourth of my Yorkshire Compass Rides was a two-day trip out to the southwestern extreme in what is now Oldham. Day 1 involved Yorkshire's old brewing capital, the site of England's bloodiest battle, the tallest freestanding structure in the UK, and a psycho cat. (On to Day 2 →)

I headed out south on a sunny afternoon on the cycle path that runs alongside the A64 to Tadcaster, home to three big chemical factories: John Smith's, Sam Smith's, and Coors. The first house in the town (pic) was decked out in celebration of the Tour de Yorkshire, which passed through last week. Thanks to the big tailwind, I was probably going as fast as the TdY riders had been.

Being a Scrabble player, I've never been able to look at it without noting that TADCASTER is an anagram of CASTRATED. One day I'll create a Wikipedia Category page of 'Places that form amusing anagrams', with entries such as NEWARK and BRUGGE.

I cycled past the village of Towton, south of Tadcaster, renowned as the venue of one of the key battles in the Wars of the Roses, in 1461 (pic). (Confusingly, York itself was a Lancastrian stronghold.)

The Lancastrians were routed, and the Yorkist Edward VI took over from the Lancastrian Henry VI. Yorkshire, as you know, always claims the biggest and best of everything. The 28,000 casualties makes it (probably) the deadliest ever fought on English soil, no doubt a great source of pride to many Yorkshire people.

In Wakefield I dropped in on the excellent Hepworth Museum. I was particularly impressed with this piece (pic), by an artist called Renova Tions. Wittily entitled 'No entry - Exhibition in preparation', it features a lifting platform in an otherwise empty gallery.

At once static and yet hinting at the dynamic, it blurs the boundaries between art and engineering, and asks fundamental questions of the viewer about continuity and renewal. The empty cradle of the apparatus invites us to mentally supply our own 'cargo', 'elevating' the mundane and/or quotidian to the 'exalted' podium of sporting or/and election 'victory' – are we 'lifting', or 'being lifted'?

In the next gallery were some old bits of wood that I expect were waiting to be recycled before the next exhibition came in (pic). I thought that was a bit disrespectful to Barbara Hepworth, who apparently was a famous sculptor. They could have put some of her statues there instead.

I passed Emley Moor in the evening sun, admiring Arqiva Tower (pic) – or, as everyone calls it, the Emley Moor mast. At 330m it's Britain's tallest free-standing structure, 20m taller than the Shard. Thanks to being on top of a moor – whose altitude I was keenly aware of, having cycled up the long climb of the A642 from Wakefield – the mast's top is 594m above sea level. (That's higher than the top of Toronto's CN Tower. Take that, Canada!)

In March 1969 though, the Emley Moor mast was only a few metres high, because it fell over in a storm. TV was severely disrupted for a few days and millions of people had no signal at all.

Nine months later, according to ONS data, there was no baby boom. This was Britain in the 1960s after all.

My bed for the evening, in the village of Grange Moor, was kindly provided by Tess and Jamie through the fabulous cycle-tourist-accomm-swopping site Warmshowers.org. It was great to enjoy their hospitality and chat about bike touring over a glass of wine. One of their cats went a bit psycho: it caught a mouse, which escaped, and wasn't allowed to chase it. If they ever make a cat version of Trainspotting, this one would be Begbie.

Miles today: 40

On to Day 2 →