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Book of the month: A Bicycle Ride in Yorkshire

Thursday, 7 April 2016

As we write this post, there are only 21 days, 20 hours, 33 minutes and 42 … 41 … 40 … seconds until Le Tour de Yorkshire 2016. In Stage One, riders will retrace some of the 2014 Grand Départ route along a 186-kilometre trail from Beverley to Settle. Stage Two will begin in Otley – home of the current women's road world champion Lizzie Armitstead – where competitors will ride 136 kilometres south towards Conisbrough Castle and on to Doncaster. Then Stage Three will commence in Middlesbrough and see riders tackle the notorious Sutton Bank before they head over to the North York Moors and down to Scarborough. You can keep your eye on the countdown here: letour.yorkshire.com.

For the Tour de France fanatics out there (Rod Ismay we’re looking at you), this month we’re taking a throwback-Thursday look at Heather Dawe’s A Bicycle Rides in Yorkshire – An illustrated guide to the route of Le Tour Yorkshire. This is an extract from day one of the race, which began in Leeds and coursed through Harrogate, Skipton, Hawes and then on to Leyburn.

Pennine Way close to Great Shunner Fell. © Heather Dawe

On leaving Hawes, the route for day one begins up one of the most famous road climbs in Yorkshire, passing close to the impressive waterfall of Hardraw Force as it does so. This is Buttertubs, which must have been one of the main attractions for the Tour de France organisers as they were selecting the location of the 2014 Grand Départ. It is a wonderful climb in a wonderful setting – tough and beautiful, it shows the Dales at their best.

I love cycling up Buttertubs. It is challenging but the rewards of the wonderful scenery, and the way in which the landscape begins to feel more and more wild as you climb easily recompenses any discomfort. Add to this the pleasure found in reaching the top and the reward of the descent into Swaledale and it is well worth the sweat and grind. The top of Buttertubs is close to the summit of Great Shunner Fell, and at 526 metres the pass is the highest in Le Tour Yorkshire (although only by two metres – Holme Moss is 524 metres high).

Buttertubs. © Heather Dawe

We are now in the northern Dales: Swaledale, and its subsidiary valley Arkengarthdale, are at the top of the national park and the county of North Yorkshire. Not far beyond lies the border with County Durham.

Descending to just south of the village of Thwaite from Buttertubs, there are more choices for the discerning cyclist. Head north through Thwaite and you soon reach Keld, a small village that is special for long distance walkers in that it marks the crossing point of the Coast to Coast and Pennine Way paths. Following the B4770 north from Keld the road climbs up to the Tan Hill Inn, the highest and one of the most remote pubs in England. Heading west from the inn takes you through to Kirkby Stephen and further in the old county of Westmorland.

Yet again the road cycling around this area is superb; there are so many great roads to choose from. This is exemplified in the choice of routes linking Upper Wensleydale to Swaledale: as well as Buttertubs, from Askrigg (a few miles downriver from Hawes) there are two great roads that climb up and cross the moor – Askrigg Common – to descend into the northern valley.

Swaledale sheep. © Heather Dawe

From Thwaite the route of Le Tour Yorkshire turns right to Muker and follows the road down the Swale through the villages of Gunnerside, Low Row, Reeth and Grinton. If you have not already (and you must have done by now!) you will see some of the famous Swaledale sheep, the breed that forms the emblem for the Yorkshire Dales National Park. Classic Dales scenes follow as you cycle along: sheep grazing meadows of the greenest grass bordered by the limestone walls and barns which themselves are bounded above by moorland and open fell.

The higher moors of Swaledale are riddled with old tracks. These days great for mountain biking, many of these tracks were created back in the 18th and 19th centuries when lead mining was a significant industry in the Dale. There are also the ruins of some of the mine buildings up high on the fell, remnants of an older age that can seem strange nowadays – back then it must have been busy and noisy. Today it is a tranquil place (at least when it is not windy).

Swaledale pasture

On reaching Reeth the route turns south-east, passing quickly through the village of Grinton and then a climb up onto Grinton Moor. Heading back over to Wensleydale, the road climbs steeply out of Grinton, soon passing Grinton Lodge, a grand old shooting lodge that these days is a Youth Hostel. The mining may have left this area, but the grouse shooting that, for centuries now, has provided an important income for the local economy, continues on these moors, as well as those to the south and west of them.

After the Lodge the road continues to climb – steeply in places – up and over Stainton and Bellerby moors. The descent off the top quickly reaches Leyburn. Yet another fine market town in the Dales mould, Leyburn sits in Wensleydale, to the north of the River Ure and around 16 miles down the valley from Hawes.

To find out more about A Bicycle Ride in Yorkshire, click HERE.

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