11 August 2020

Ure 3: York to Faxfleet

Day 3 of the River Ure ride was the climax of the whole project, finishing at the point where all the rivers become the Humber Estuary. It featured a dog weeing on a bike, a 1980s Iron Curtain border, fish and chips, the Ouse Riviera – and it was a scorcher. (Back to ← Day 2)

After a couple of days of admin at home, I carried on from where I left off with Tim on Saturday, though the morning riverside terrace of the King’s Arms (pic) was now devoid of boisterous, tattooed lager drinkers.

The Ouse (as the Ure is called here) is a delight to ride along, thanks to official and unofficial cycle paths by its side. It was too early in the day here for the ice-cream boat, which is usually on the river by the sign here. Just as well: on a sunny day like today, I might have got myself a Lemon Curd 99, and then not much further.

I carried on down the riverside paths to Fulford and then past the sewage works – yes, you could tell it was a hot day – to the old railway bridge which crosses the Ouse at Naburn.

It’s the old East Coast Main Line: not a Beeching casualty, but closed in the 1980s because of mining subsidence.

The wire sculpture, called Fisher of Dreams, shows a man catching a train (geddit?) while a dog shows its opinion of the cycle parking facilities.

A bit further down is Naburn Locks (pic), which today had some kayakers and daytrippers enjoying the cafe, and below which the Ouse gets all tidal. Below this point you may sometimes see a bore. [Insert your own joke here].

The 19th-century swing bridge across the Ouse at Cawood puts me in mind of a pre-1989 Eastern European border crossing. Luckily my papers were in order.

I had fish and chips for lunch in Selby. Add that to the heat and the stiff headwind, and it’s no wonder I got through five litres of water.

From Selby, the Trans Pennine Trail runs mostly along the banks of the Ouse. The river is pretty scruffy here, and the backdrop of Drax Power Station makes it unlikely to feature in a ‘Yorkshire Seasons’ calendar.

The path surface is pretty ropey, too: it was just bumpy today, but usually it’s muddy too. Thanks to the heatwave, the cow poo covering the track had dried into dung cakes that could power a household for a year, relieving the pressure on Drax. It did seem an appropriate comment on the National Cycle Network though: some routes are just full of... yes, exactly: good ideas badly implemented.

Boothferry Bridge was the furthest downriver road crossing of the Ouse until the M62 arrived to vault over it (pic). For cyclists it still is your last chance to choose sides before Goole. Choose carefully: once west, your next opportunity is sixty miles round at the Humber Bridge.

And so to the final stretch of the Ouse, all mudflats and nature reserves and Larkin’s ‘level drifting breadth’. Saltmarshe offered a short but pleasant levee ride (pic). And yes, it’s salty round here. And marshy.

The Ouse Riviera was a place for sunseekers today (pic). Somewhere in the distance, looking east, the Trent looms from the south/right to scuffle with the Ouse and form the murky, silty, gloomy Humber.

This, the waterfront of the Hope and Anchor at Blacktoft, is about as far as the Ouse goes, though the exact triple point of Ouse/ Trent/ Humber is hard to specify: it’s somewhere by Faxfleet, the next village along. The pub was closed today, so for my celebration pint I had to carry on to my mum’s in Ferriby.

Here is where all the rivers I’ve ridden along in the last year and three-quarters end up. Swale, Ure, Nidd, Wharfe, Aire, Calder, Don, Derwent: they cover almost all of the historic county, and seeing them each from source to mouth has been a fabulous set of cycle rides.

I’ve seen Dales, Pennines and Moors; pretty villages and ugly post-industrial towns. I’ve ridden trekkers, folders, tourers and town bikes. I’ve met so many people, but fortunately managed to get away before they could engage me in conversation.

It’s been a great way to explore my home county.

What next? I’m curious to see what I come up with.

Miles today: 55
Miles from Garsdale to Faxfleet: 121

Back to ← Day 2

08 August 2020

Ure 2: Ripon to York

Day 2 of the River Ure ride featured a pig playing bagpipes, a mysterious automatic hand, devilish darts, Roman mosaics, ice-cream at a lock, and a celebration riverside pint in York. (Back to ← Day 1 • On to Day 3 →)

An easy day today, following the river down the flat Vale of York from Ripon’s market square (pic) to York itself.

We were in Ripon’s magnificent cathedral as soon as it opened (but well after Gregg’s had opened: I had their bacon roll deal).

It’s an awesome building of course, full of light and spirit, and the installation of a zillion paper cranes (pic) added something ethereal.

I assume they’ve had a fire risk assessment: living in York, we’re a bit touchy about naked flames and cathedrals.

Both of us were taken with this choir-stall carving of a pig playing bagpipes (pic), particularly its attentive audience. What comment is being made here is anyone’s guess.

Another item open to debate is this hand (pic) above the choir.

Apparently it’s some sort of mechanical conductor, perhaps pedal-operated by the organist to count the singers in?

Speaking as a former choral singer, I’ve had a few wooden conductors myself in my time.

The obvious way out of Ripon was along the canal (pic) this sunny morning...

...and we soon got to Boroughbridge’s bridge over the Ure with its surprisingly sylvan view (pic).

The town is clearly bike-friendly (pic) after serving as a significant venue in the 2014 Tour de France.

It’s also darts-friendly, thanks to the remarkable sight of three prehistoric monoliths, known as the ‘Devil’s Arrows’ (pic).

Needing just 27 to win, apparently Satan lost it, got banished to a pit for a thousand years and was thrown into a lake of fire.

Of course, he should have gone 11-double 8.

Next to Boroughbridge is Aldborough, once a Roman town of some note and wealth, as two decent-ish mosaics (pic) demonstrate. If anyone looks at my floor in 1800 years’ time they may find less to admire. Perhaps the stain of that dropped bottle of Malbec will have disappeared by then.

Quiet, lovely lanes took us through the Ouseburns, and to Ouse Gill Beck (pic).

Now, if you believe everything you’re told – and, having worked with Tory politicians and BBC journalists, that’s something I’d warn against – you’d say that the River Ure changes name to the Ouse here because this stream joins it.

That’s right: the Ure, a proper river, so wide it’s only road-bridged once between Boroughbridge and York, is supposedly renamed after a dribble of water that a three-year-old could jump across.

I simply don’t believe this. I suspect circular reasoning (the beck gave its name to the Ure because it used to be much more important, and it must have been more important because it gave its name to the Ure). And that the beck is named after the big river it flows into, not the other way round.

We read the information board’s pro-Ouse-Gill-Beck propaganda (pic).

I can believe that the Ure historically was called the Ouse after its confluence with the Swale. That’s at Swale Nab, a few miles upstream from Ouse Gill Beck’s invisible contribution; the place where Ure and Swale decide amicably to collaborate.

My previous ride ended there, and it’s hard to say which is the bigger river. It seems almost unfair to favour one of the names after they join forces; so why not a new name?

As a modern-day egalitarian, not some stuffy old imperialist believing the superior dominate the weak, the notion that the Swale and Ure work together to create something new, the Ouse, appeals to me.

So, in my book, or at least my blog, the Ouse is the continuation of the Ure (and its equally important partner the Swale).

Anyway, that single road crossing over the Ouse is Aldwark Bridge, a delightfully clanky old wooden toll bridge (pic).

I stopped halfway to take some snaps, and thought it would be nice to have some cyclists in the frame. I waited for these three to appear (pic), and saw to my surprise that, quite by coincidence, I knew one of them: Scott (right) was doing the 170-mile Way of the Roses, from Morecambe to Bridlington, for charity, in ten hours.

When I last did it, I took three and a half days. I was carrying a tent, though.

At Linton Locks the river, now swollen with the raging torrent of Ouse Gill Beck, has a broad weir and picturesque bend (pic)...

...and lock (pic) and, more interestingly for us, a cafe which served us and dozens of sunseekers with ice-cream. Actually most of the sunseekers were also swigging lager, but we preferred to wait until our finish at York for our pint reward.

The final stretch to York is one of the loveliest on the whole river: a cycle route runs right by the water for the last few miles (pic).

All familiar territory to me, of course. I live here and have done these bits dozens of times.

The Minster above the river is still a delightful sight on such a sunny day though (pic).

So I had the luxury of my own bed tonight, but Tim was heading back to Cambridge. So we celebrated our ride with a pint of Sam Smith’s at the only Ouseside pub opportunity in York, the King’s Arms (pic).

The reason why no other pubs are quite so keen to be right by the water becomes clear when the river is in flood...

Miles today: 44

Back to ← Day 1 • On to Day 3 →

07 August 2020

Ure 1: Garsdale to Ripon

River Ure

Source   Ure Head, Garsdale
Mouth   (as River Ouse*) Trent Falls, Faxfleet
Length   (inc Ouse*) 129 miles
Towns   Hawes, Masham, Ripon, Boroughbridge; (as Ouse*) York, Selby, Goole
Route   See on Ridewithgps

The eighth and last of my Rivers Rides was a splendid three-day, 130-mile trip from lofty moors to vast estuary along the River Ure. Day 1 featured Yorkshire’s Niagara, someone who couldn’t organise a drink in a brewery, a disappearing hornblower, and lots of grand dales scenery. (On to Day 2 →)

The culmination of my rivers rides started with a train up to Garsdale (pic), on the Settle to Carlisle line, round about the highest point on England’s main lines.

It’s always cloudy and drizzly when I come up here. I’ve cycled under Ribblehead Viaduct five times and still don’t know what it looks like.

I must come on a clear day. If I can find out when it falls next year.

I cycled up the B road past the Moorcock Inn to where Yorkshire’s longest river gathers, on the side of Lunds Fell. The furthest upstream you can get on a bike is on the Pennine Way, and I had the baby watercourse to myself at a little packhorse bridge (pic). From here it’s nearly 130 miles downhill to the Humber, absorbing the waters of just about every other significant river in the county en route.

The Ure is a river with ambitions. It gets mature very quickly: after just a mile or two it’s already in a broad, expansive dale (pic), as if keen to do business.

If it was an MP, it’d be a Tory Boy, only 15 but already promising to ease that planning application through for you, nothing to do with your recent donation to the party of course. I muttered about politicians but still managed to enjoy the scenery (pic).

Wensleydale’s first town is Hawes, a likeable market town lively with walkers, locals and day-trippers plying the cafes and pubs.

I met up with my friend Tim, who had been riding round Yorkshire and who was to join me from here to York. We planned to emulate the Ure by absorbing some liquid of our own en route in due course.

Over at Tim’s blog Unravel Travel, you can find his version of what happened; see pictures of the back of my head; and read things I don't normally cover in my blog here, namely, facts and useful information.

After breakfast – well, cake, actually – we struck out alongside the river in the sun (pic).

Askrigg (pic) was the location for BBC TV’s All Creatures Great and Small, a cosy Sunday-evening feelgood drama about a 1930s Yorkshire vet.

I was taken aback to think that the first series is as far in the past from us now as the period was from the first series. And that the BBC series is now so old, Channel 5 are remaking it all, starting from September 2020.

When the first series came out, I had a green Raleigh Clubman bike with a Brooks saddle. Wish I still had it. The saddle might be worn in by now.

A few miles on was Yorkshire’s answer to Niagara, though I probably didn’t hear the question. Aysgarth Falls (pic) is genuinely spectacular. Not a word you often hear people say in connection with British scenery, probably because they couldn’t hear it either, over the sound of the water.

This afternoon it was a gentle hubbub of picnickers, paddling families and middle-aged cycle tourists with cheese sandwiches, all sat on the conveniently flat rocks at the side (pic) and enjoying the warm sun.

Tim reckoned he could tell a pair of young women were Romanian by the way they took their selfies.

Wensley, the village which self-importantly gives its name to the whole dale, was picturesque as far as it went, which was about a hundred yards. We poked round the 13th-century church, which had an attractively rewilded graveyard (pic). That’s the sort of thing I’d like to have when I’m dead. But not yet, obviously.

The church walls had the faded remains of frescos (pic). I was quite moved to think that they were nearly 800 years old.

I looked hard but couldn’t see any pictures of a vet with his arm up a sheep’s backside.

We were impressed by this bridge (pic). Like Telford, we thought.

The engineer, not the new town.

After a quick peek at Middleham, the Yorkshire version of Newmarket (and therefore better), a sneaky shortcut through the grounds of Jervaulx Abbey (pic) took us to Masham, home of Black Sheep Brewery.

We tried to have a pint of said beer at the Brewery’s bar. However, to do so we had to:
(a) download an app to a phone
(b) download a QR reader
(c) run the app, read the QR code
(d) register
(e) think up a password of 36 characters, including upper- and lower-case, numerals, non-alphanumerics, at least one Japanese kanji and a Sinhalese syllabic
(f) go outside to order our drinks
(g) pay online
...all so that the barman standing two metres from us could hand us two bottles that were next to him.

So we didn’t, obvs.

Instead we went to a pub in the square, where ordering a beer involved walking into the bar and:
(a) saying ‘Two pints of Black Sheep, please’.

Refreshed, we dawdled along pleasant (and now, pleasantly, quiet) back lanes to Ripon, Yorkshire’s seventh (and one of England’s smallest) cities, and our home for the night.

Ripon is sort of on the Ure (pic), but alas, when Wilfrid founded the place in 658 he neglected to establish any upscale marinas, chic waterside bar areas, or riverside restaurants with pavement tables.

So, no evening strolls along the banks for us. We checked into our Wetherspoon’s hotel, enjoyed a post-shower pizza and pint or two, and awaited Ripon’s great claim to fame, the hornblower. Every night at 9pm for 800 years, a watchman has sounded his horn at the four corners of the market cross, one of Britain’s longest-running traditions.

Er, until now. Thanks to Covid-19, they’ve been doing it since lockdown at the watchman’s house instead of the main square. There are several watchmen so it happens at various houses depending on the night. So it’s a bit less of a tourist attraction at the moment. It can’t be very near because we couldn’t hear anything.

Ah well: I have seen and heard it before, on a previous trip.

We consoled ourselves with a final pint, and by half nine were sound asleep.

Then, by half ten, were woken up again by the noisy beer garden outside.

Miles today: 52

On to Day 2 →

*Ure joking? Name confusion with River Ure, River Ouse, and York/Jorvik

With the Ure there’s an elephant in the ointment. A fly in the works. A spanner in the room. Because, with this river, names are as slippery as the salmon that ply its waters.

The Ure starts at Ure Head, up in the far northwest of historic Yorkshire. But after about 70 miles, shortly after joining forces with the Swale, and just beyond the clanky wooden bridge at Aldwark north of York, it suddenly changes name. It’s now the Ouse – named, we’re told, after a little stream of that name which sneaks in at Cuddy Shaw Reach.

The Ouse/Ure then continues through York, swallows the Nidd, Wharfe, Aire, Don and Derwent, and finally scrums down with the Trent to form the Humber Estuary not far from Hull.

It’s clearly one and the same river; the Ure/Ouse thing is a distraction. Calling it two separate rivers is like trying to swop your sixty-year-old partner for two thirty-year-olds.

Hence my counting it as one river, one ride: 129 miles, from Ure Head to Trent Falls.

But things go even deeper than the treacherous channels on the Humber. The casual, ignorant observer – me, say – might look at York and think ah: the Vikings called it Jorvik, ‘Yore-town’. The old name for Ure is Yore! Clearly they called it after the river!

Written evidence says the opposite. The name ‘Ouse’ came first. Then ‘Jorvik’ (supposedly a contraction of the Old English ‘Eoforwic’, which sounds unconvincing to me). The name ‘Ure/Yore’ doesn’t appear at all until hundreds of years later.

More complicated still, the dale the Ure runs through – though sometimes called ‘Yoredale’ – is generally called after a (now obscure) village on its banks. Swaledale, Nidderdale, Wharfedale, Airedale, Calderdale – but Wensleydale.

So, to sum up: The Ure runs through Wensleydale. It used to be called the Yore and its waters run through a city whose name means ‘Yore-town’. But that’s coincidence, because by now it’s the Ouse. Then it meets the Trent and becomes the Humber.

Good. That’s clear, then.