We hit the saddle to road test a selection of the county’s most spectacular cycle routes, including stretches of the official 2014 Tour de France race course.
York Minster is just one of the sites en route. © Welcome to Yorkshire
Millions of people will line the streets of Yorkshire on 5 and 6 July, and billions more will watch on television as the world’s greatest cycle race, the Tour de France, weaves through England’s largest county.
Wild and rugged Pennine terrain. © Welcome to Yorkshire
This is Le Tour’s first time in the north of England and an exceptional route has been mapped out for the opening two stages of the race that will see riders take on more than 240 miles of historic towns and cities, gruelling hill climbs and bone-rattling cobbles that are the very fabric of Yorkshire.
As the cyclists tackle each challenging stage they will leave crowds of awestruck spectators in their wake, many of whom may feel inspired to jump straight on their own bikes and hit the cycling trails for themselves.
Ahead of Le Tour landing, we sent Wendy Johnson to road test a selection of the not-to-be-missed cycling routes around Yorkshire’s iconic landscapes, handpicked to suit a range of abilities, from brand new cyclists or those dusting off a bike for the first time in years, to regular riders.
Yorkshire Dales Cycleway
Distance: 130 miles
Start and finish: Skipton
Duration: Four days. Skipton to Settle 32 miles; Settle to Hawes 36 miles; Hawes to Kettlewell 41 miles (via Buttertubs Pass); Kettlewell to Skipton 22 miles
I’m halfway through the Yorkshire Dales Cycleway, a stunning 130-mile route around the National Park that offers testing landscapes, charming villages and some of the finest views imaginable. If you only tackle one route to get a taste of what Le Tour riders experience in this magnificent county, make it this one. It gives a glimpse of the diversity of the Dales landscape, each section distinctly different from the last.
The 32-mile route between the market towns of Skipton and Settle has an otherworldly feel, taking me and my bike up mist-topped fells and alongside the lunar landscape of limestone cliffs at Malham. The 36 miles from Settle to Hawes is kinder on the legs, allowing me to roll serenely through Ingleton “land of caves and waterfalls” with jaw-dropping views of Ingleborough, one of the Yorkshire three peaks, and ending in Hawes.
However, this 41-mile section from Hawes to Kettlewell is both the longest and the toughest on the route, with several thigh-achingly steep hills to battle. Buttertubs Pass isn’t strictly on route but the minor detour is worth it to try a ‘King of the Mountains’ stage in this year’s Tour de France and enjoy the finest 360° views imaginable.
PLANNING YOUR RIDE: Yorkshire Dales Cycleway is best tackled clockwise, starting and ending in Skipton, though there is an alternative start point from Ilkley. Find information: www.yorkshiredalescycleway.org.uk
LE TIP FOR LE TOUR: Le Tour riders tackle the Yorkshire Dales on 5 July. The best spots for spectators are Skipton, Grassington, Kettlewell, Buckden, Kidstones, Aysgarth, Hawes and Reeth: www.letour.yorkshire.com
Beryl Burton Greenway
Distance: 4 Miles
Start: Bilton, near Harrogate
Finish: Knaresborough, North Yorkshire
Duration: 30 minutes to an hour
We couldn’t welcome the world’s greatest cycling event to Yorkshire without paying homage to Leeds-born racing cyclist Beryl Burton, one of Britain’s finest athletes. This greenway entirely befits its namesake; just quietly getting on with being marvellous. On a sunny day like this I’m sharing the quiet country lanes and traffic-free paths with purple-fingered families blackberrying in the hedgerows. A flat four-miler doesn’t warrant a pitstop really, but the sun-dappled beer garden of The Gardeners Arms is too tempting, so I stop for a lazy shandy in the shade. Back on the trail I get occasional, tantalizing glimpses of Knaresborough creeping up the hillside before snaking downhill through pretty woodland to emerge alongside boaters on the River Nidd; a real delight. Mother Shipton’s Cave is dead ahead and worth a stop to explore the petrifying well of the legendary Yorkshire witch and prophetess. However, I press on into the history-rich town, keen to see the castle ruins, striking viaduct, and to round off this quintessentially English ride in the only way possible, with tea and cake.
PLANNING YOUR RIDE: The Beryl Burton Greenway joins up with the four-mile Nidderdale Greenway, making a great longer ride. Nidderdale Greenway starts in Bilton and heads north to Ripley; find out more and get maps at www.sustrans.org.uk
LE TIP FOR LE TOUR: Stage one ends in Harrogate on 5 July, the lead riders are expected around 4.20pm. Stage two takes riders through Knaresborough then Harrogate at around midday on 6 July.
Calder Valley Cycleway, West Yorkshire
Distance: 14 miles
Start: Sowerby Bridge; Finish: Warland
Duration: 2 hours+
I set off along Calder Valley Cycleway savouring the effortless pedalling on this traffic-free ride along the valley bottom. There are opportunities to deviate off-route and tackle a hill or two though. Ambitious riders might attempt Cragg Vale, near Mytholmroyd; I pass a sign at the bottom declaring it the longest continuous ascent in England. The greenway largely follows the Rochdale Canal towpath, meeting the River Calder in parts and taking me through utterly beautiful tumbling and chapped hillsides of West Yorkshire. The skyline is punctured by the colossal chimneys of smokey stone mills that tell of the area’s industrial past and I can’t resist a short detour to explore Gibson Mill at the National Trust’s Hardcastle Crags. The area has been aptly nick-named ‘Little Switzerland’ because of scenic woodland trails, sweeping views and rippling streams and waterfalls. Back on track at the Bohemian town of Hebden Bridge (Last Tango in Halifax fans will surely recognise it). I stop at Stubbing Wharf Pub on the canal bank and sip while watching toyshop-coloured barges glide serenely past, before rolling gently onward to Warland, watched all the while by Stoodley Pike, a dark and brooding monument perched high on the Pennines.
PLANNING YOUR RIDE: For more information and maps on Calder Valley Cycleway: www.sustrans.org.uk
LE TIP FOR LE TOUR: Stage two will pass through Hebden Bridge around 1.30pm on 6 July.
Yorkshire Wolds: Bridlington and Rudston
Distance: 23.5 miles
Start and finish: Bridlington
Duration: half a day
A morning of classic coastal cycling awaits, starting from the traditional seaside town of Bridlington. Pedalling the wide and windy promenade is certainly refreshing and I rise up the cliff top with the North Sea stretching out beneath. It’s beautiful, but the knockout view on this ride comes on the long and gentle incline to Bempton Cliffs, when the vast sea suddenly surges into view like a postcard from the Mediterranean. I’m compelled to stop and gape. The RSPB nature reserve here is a must, so I lock up and take the five-minute walk to Grandstand Viewpoint for incredible views of the chalk cliffs and the unforgettable sight and sound of gannets in their thousands, whirling and wheeling around it.
Lunch is eaten in the shadow of Rudston Monolith, an impressive prehistoric standing stone in the grounds of the Parish Church, before I jump back on the bike and meet the Roman road that will take me homeward. The final miles of this route overlap with the end of the Way of the Roses coast-to-coast route, and I tag along with a couple of long-distance riders riding triumphantly into Bridlington’s pretty Old Town. There are no testing climbs or clattering descents on this ride, just gentle rolling along country lanes stretching away, and the immense skyscapes that define the Wolds.
PLANNING YOUR RIDE: This Wolds ride is best tackled anti-clockwise. It is one of eight different rides around the Yorkshire Wolds ranging from 17 to 24 miles that can be downloaded from www.visithullandeastyorkshire.com
Selby to York
Distance: 15 Miles
Start: Selby; Finish: York, North Yorkshire
Duration: 2 hours+
Gentle pedalling along old railway path, riverside trails and quiet lanes is my idea of perfect weekend riding, so this pleasant route into the grand city of York – one of England’s top cycling cities – is spot on. Giant sculptures keep catching my eye, like the beautiful ‘Fisher of Dreams’ on Naburn Bridge and an ambitious six-mile scale model of the solar system. I’m delighted to find my gentle pedalling equates to 10 times the speed of light in this solar system and treat myself at Naburn Station Café, a sweetly old-fashioned tea stop tucked into the greenery. Rowntree Park turns out to be one of the finest city parks I’ve cycled in, colourful and beautifully cared for, with the River Ouse winding through it. I keep steady pace with the pleasure boats until the road takes over, leading me into the heart of York, and the doorstep of the city’s mighty Minster.
PLANNING YOUR RIDE: For information and maps about the Selby to York route: www.sustrans.org.uk
LE TIP FOR LE TOUR: Stage two begins in York on 6 July. The pre-race caravan leaves from 9am, with riders leaving at around 11am. n
For more information about Le Tour, visit: www.letour.yorkshire.com
For more information about Yorkshire, visit: www.yorkshire.com