21 August 2019

Wharfe 2: Bolton Abbey to Cawood

Day 2 of the River Wharfe ride featured a cyclists’ favourite back lane, the inadvisability of no headgear, a beer town’s strange tendency for unfinished bridges, and the unscenic dénouement of this most scenic of rivers in a field. (Back to ← Day 1)

As I was camping last night, I had the bike fully loaded — front and back panniers, tent on the back rack. It’s been a couple of years since I had it so laden, and it was actually quite nice to get back to traditional touring — totally self-contained, heavy and lumbering.

After a rainy night, I had a sunny morning for my spin down the back road (pic) between Bolton Abbey and Ilkley — a local cyclists’ favourite, to judge by the number of friendly waves and mornings from riders, who vastly outnumbered vehicles. Even sheep.

Them thar hills in the distance are Ilkley Moor, a place of legendary inadvisability for venturing without proper headgear. As for me, I wasn’t sure what was most suitable for today’s changeable weather. A sunhat with guttering, probably.

Ilkley is middle-class enough to have a branch of Booths. I don’t recommend driving there, though. By the time you've fought your way back home through the town's jammed roads, that fresh food will be past its sell-by.

Anyway, I stopped for a coffee in The Commute, the cool bike-café that offers that elusive combination of copies of Rouleur magazine, a cycle workshop, and beetroot lattes. My snack downriver in Otley’s pleasant central square (pic) was a more prosaic sausage roll from Gregg’s.

The look and feel of these Lower Wharfedale towns is fairly similar, and Wetherby’s courtyard-like centre (pic) came as a nice suprise after having cycled through its humdrum outskirts in the past.

From here the land flattens out (pic), as the river starts to wind its way laconically to the Vale of York. And the drivers get more impatient and try to pass you no matter how tight and narrow the bend ahead. I followed A-roads to classy Boston Spa, home of ‘Georgian architecture and riverside walks’ according to the info boards.

I was keen to see the Wharfe’s newest bridge (pic). As part of a housing development last year, the builders refurbished the old railway bridge over the river at Newton Kyme, just south of Thorp Arch Trading Estate (home to the British Library’s Yorkshire outpost).

It’s now on a fine walking and cycling path that leads from, er, the main road outside Tadcaster to, um, a totally unsigned, muddy footpath. Until the council links it to the half-decent railtrail that runs from here north to Wetherby, only locals in the know — or particularly adventurous cycle bloggers who spend ten minutes hacking through undergrowth on the southern side — use the bridge.

In fact, Tadcaster seems to specialise in haphazard crossings of the Wharfe. On a previous ride I stopped to admire the old railway viaduct (pic, in distance) which never quite got round to carrying passenger trains, while the town’s main bridge over the river (pic, parapet) was infamously washed away by floods in 2015 and only reopened in 2017.

The delay was largely down to intransigence of local brewing magnate Humphrey Smith, the shadowy boss of Sam Smith’s, one of many ale factories in the town. As I was following the Wharfe, it seemed appropriate to sample a beer made from the very waters I’d been riding. I nipped into the Angel and White Horse in the centre of town and had a pint of their famously cheap brew (£2 for a pint of bitter). A very budget-friendly way to drink, especially as you don't particularly want another one.

Like all their pubs, all tech — smartphones, laptops, iPads etc — are strictly banned, to encourage conversation. To judge by all the single blokes sat nursing their £2 pint alone, it wasn’t working.

I was nearing the end of the trip. The Wharfe winds unspectacularly from Tadcaster through flat farmland; the last glimpse you can get from the road is in, and shortly after, the village of Ryther (pic).

This is the mouth of the Wharfe (pic), as it joins the Ouse just outside Cawood. I had to leave the bike and plod along the river bank for a few hundred yards to find it. Hardly the Ganges delta; in fact, a rather ordinary end to a watercourse whose first half is one of the loveliest riverscapes in England.

I just had time to take a snap or two and get back to the bike before a deluge arrived. I sat it out in a bus shelter with a sandwich. Like I said, it’s been good to get back to traditional cycle touring.

Miles today: 60
Miles in all: 102

Back to ← Day 1

20 August 2019

Wharfe 1: Beckermonds to Bolton Abbey

River Wharfe

Source   Oughtershaw Beck, Beckermonds
Mouth   River Ouse, Cawood
Length   65 miles
Towns   Ilkley, Otley, Wetherby, Tadcaster
Route   See on Ridewithgps

The third of my Rivers Rides was a beautiful two-day, 102-mile trip from Dales highlands to York flatlands along the River Wharfe. Day 1 featured England’s most awesome viaduct, a Roman road, thrilling scenery, beer for dogs, an unpronounceable village, a superbly ruined Abbey, and the world’s most dangerous river. Allegedly. (On to Day 2 →)

Yorkshire’s — and therefore England’s — most awesome viaduct is, of course, Ribblehead (pic). Every time I come here, it’s different. Sometimes it’s heavy rain; sometimes it’s only light rain. Today was a light-rain day. It looks a bit sunnier on those ‘A Yorkshire Year’ calendars. Clearly the photographers have access to more accurate weather forecasts than the BBC website’s pack of lies.

From Ribblehead I climbed steadily up the track to Cam Fell (pic), with Pen-y-Ghent moving strangely around behind me like a hitman in the rear-view mirror. The Wharfe starts out on these slopes, as rain trickling down to Oughtershaw Beck on its long journey to the Vale of York. In the middle of nowhere, the track mysteriously becomes a smooth tarmac road (a Roman road, indeed) which takes you up to Fleet Moss — a legendarily tough climb for cyclists who, unlike me, don’t keep stopping to take pictures and eat sandwiches.

The Wharfe proper starts here (pic): the confluence of Green Field Beck and Oughtershaw Beck — ‘Ottershaw’? ‘Ortershaw’? ‘Outershaw’? There was nobody around to ask, except Dales Way walkers with better rainproofs but no more idea of local pronunciation.

The sun gradually came out, and Upper Wharfedale looked lovely (pic). I had it to myself apart from anglers and sheep bleating. The bleating of the anglers was worse.

Wharfedale’s upper villages are postcard-pic staples. Buckden (pic) could almost be in Scotland. Obviously you can’t get haggis in the chip shops here, but on the other hand the nearest bagpiping busker is 123 miles away at Carter Bar, so swings and roundabouts.

Kettlewell is well-known to cyclists for its position at the foot of Park Rash, a notoriously steep climb, but there’s no better way enjoy Wharfedale.

Except perhaps to do what I did: dodge a rain shower by sheltering in the Blue Bell, and having a pint of the stuff (pic).

A barrel outside offered dog beer of sorts: ‘Pooch Brew (0%)’ on tap into a bowl. Non-alcoholic, as of course they probably have work rounding up sheep later on.

Grassington is a popular tourist village (pic), thanks to its pleasant cobbled centre which would be a lot more pleasant if there weren’t so many damn cars parked there. And ones trying to. Splendid Linton Falls are nearby; I found them rather underwhelming, and only later realised I’d gone to the mundane hydroelectric plant upstream by mistake. It pays to do your research. That’s probably why I’m skint.

Further down, the village of Burnsall looked delightful in the sun, with visitors picnicking and strolling its Wharfeside green (pic). A little further on is Appletreewick, pronounced by the locals ‘Aptrick’. Or, after a pint in the gloriously olde-worlde, cruck-barned Craven Arms (‘Gateway to the Ales’), ‘Appick’. Or, after a well-kept pint of Theakston’s Old Peculier, ‘Apshk’.

South of Appletreewick, I followed the riverside path — pushing, in accordance with the wishes of the signs — through Bolton Abbey park.

This view of Barden Tower, the ruin in the distance, inspired a JMW Turner painting.

He travelled around here in 1808, making many sketches and watercolours. Art lovers and cartographers alike have been amazed at how geographically accurate they are: in short, not very much.

A little north of Bolton Abbey is the world’s most dangerous stretch of water. No, really. According to some. (Though according to some, leaving the European Union was going to be the easiest deal in human history.) The Strid (pic) is where the placid, wide Wharfe turns angry, and sideways, as it forces its way through some jagged limestone rocks.

Many, many people have been tempted to do something foolish here, such as write articles about the thousands of lives the Strid has claimed, only to find to their horror that there’s only evidence for a dozen or so. Compared to the danger of crossing roads, say, which do claim thousands of lives, a year, but which tend to be overlooked by our deluded car-centric society. That said, I wouldn’t try jumping across here if I were you.

My glorious day ride finished at Bolton Abbey (pic), where many hundreds of visitors, having miraculously cheated death at the Strid, were strolling round the ruins’ pleasant grounds. I spent a very sociable evening camping round the corner here along with my sister-in-law and her boys, meeting lots of new people. Because we were playing cricket, and I had a lot of big hits to retrieve that had rolled into people’s tents.

Miles today: 42

On to Day 2 →