Monday, 16 May 2016

Way of the Roses

Way of the Roses, March 2016

So this is our first blog, I'm Shane and my wife is Kay, and after more than a decade of cycle touring around the world (whenever we had the chance) we have decided to set up a touring company right here in the UK. This has been a dream for us for a few years but the process was fast-tracked after the birth of our daughter. We are now settled in Glossop in the Peak District, giving us ample opportunity to explore the amazing countryside surrounding us – in between nappy changes, feeds, sleeps, etc. So ya, we moved house/country, had a baby and set up a business all at the same time. Thank heavens for cycling (and running, we're both long distance runners – it helps with perspective, sometimes!). So basically we organise guided day tours and multi-day tours in the Peak District and elsewhere in the UK and further afield.

In this first blog I'd like to talk about elsewhere in the UK and this particular elsewhere being the coast to coast tour known as the Way of the Roses. As we offer it as one of our cycling holidays we went up there to check out the route and meet some hoteliers and B&Bs.
For those of you who don't know of the Way of the Roses, it is a 170 mile 273 km route that stretches from Morecambe on the Irish Sea to Bridlington on the North Sea. The route was developed by the excellent sustrans organisations (a charity promoting sustainable transport – walking and cycling) and opened in 2010. It quickly gained in popularity and has become an iconic route in its own right. Its popularity comes from its setting and the places it travels through such as the Forest of Bowland, the Yorkshire Dales, Nidderdale, the Yorkshire Wolds and cities like Lancaster and York – cites of great historical importance and great beauty. Its name is derived from an ancient war between the house of Lancaster and its red rose, and the house of York and its white rose, the war famously known as the War of the Roses. Thankfully that's all forgotten now, leaving us free to wander through the counties of Yorkshire and Lancashire.

Well this leaves us at the start of the trip, Morecambe, and ready to head off. Normally we would head off together chatting about whatever takes our fancy, but that was all pre breastfeeding and nappy changes. Now as the three of us were crossing the country and the wee one is still a bit too small for a bike seat, someone would have to drive! So this is what we worked out, as Kay had most of the baby feeding equipment she would do most of the driving and visiting of b&bs and I would meet her at lunchtime where we would swap roles for an hour or two when Kay would get to cycle for an hour or two. Afterwards we would meet again and swap roles again, sounds fair enough to me! We decided to take three days to complete the tour, spending a night in Grassington in the Yorkshire Dales and in York.

Arriving in Morecambe it looked like we'd picked a cracking day to start with gorgeous blue skies and only a little chill in the air. After the compulsory pictures in front of the departure sign I head off. Straight away there is a choice, either head directly through Morecambe town to Lancaster or follow the coast for a couple of miles before jumping onto the Lancaster canal. I dunno about you but there's something really nice about cycling on tow paths beside a canal with narrowboats slowly chugging by, also the views across the Morecambe were gorgeous with the snow capped peaks of the Lake District standing out in front of the clear blue sky, so I choose that way.

So it's a few days later and I'm on the train heading for Whitehaven, today I'm starting to ride across Hadrian's Cycleway – a route acrosss the UNESCO heritage that is Hadrian's Wall. I'm trying to multi-task here, looking back at the Way of the Roses while looking forward to the ride across the old Roman frontier. The train also passes through Lancaster, so a helpful reminder of our tour a couple of weeks ago.

The Lancaster Canal is a very pretty peaceful path that winds its way to Lancaster via the Lune Aqueduct. The Lune Aqueduct is a beautiful piece of engineering, taking the canal 664 feet across the River Lune at a height of 61ft. Here you drop down to the river and choose whether to follow the river north or take a quick detour to Lancaster before doubling back. Its a slight pity that Lancaster is so close to the start point as do get that feeling that you'd like to push on. Having said that it's highly, recommended to visit this old red rose city, especially its castle which is still owned by the Queen. As we'd been before we headed directly north on the Lune Valley Trail, a beautiful ride on this sunny March morning as it winds it way beside the river up to the up to the Crook O' Lune bridge and the Forest of Bowland. Here the Way of the Roses leaves the Lune river and it's a perfect spot for a photograph and a popular spot for picnics and walkers. There are diversion signs here for cyclists to avoid going over the Loyn Bridge taking you into Hornby, but happily all repairs have been finished in the past week so we can all enjoy crossing the old Lancashire landmark and not too soon for the local businesses in Hornby. The bridge was barricaded by bags of rocks making it impossible for motorised vehicles to pass over and difficult for everyone else, so said the local barman. The ride to Hornby is very nice, you begin climbing into the Forest of Bowland and as you get higher, looking to your left gives great views of the Lake District in the distance.

In Hornby Kay and myself swapped roles and while I had lunch she set off towards Clapham through the remainder of the Forest of Bowland. Myself and my daughter drive this part of the road after something to eat for both of us and a cup of coffee in the local pub. It's a lovely narrow winding road that leads to Clapham and to the edge of the Yorkshire Dales, but it goes by so quickly it's hard to take it all in even though I was driving at a snail's pace. 

From Clapham it's me again, and from there to Ripon is the bumpiest part of the route, climbing up and over the Dales and Nidderdale AONB before descending into Ripon and following the River Ouse to York. The Dales are beautifully craggy and ancient but in March there was new life everywhere with fields full of lamb finding their feet for the first time, so cute and giving food for thought on that Sunday Roast (see what I did there, apologies!) Leaving Settle you have the steepest climb of the tour, beginning on cobbles (thought I was back in Seville for a second) before turning into a 20% climb for a mile or so, I can imagine people staying in Settle tackling this climb in the morning on a full Yorkshire breakfast (why is it so hard to refuse a cooked breakfast, at least there was no lamb involved). But the climb is worth it, stunning scenery as you climb up, rocky outcrops on either side of you before the landscape levels out and you have uninterrupted views of the Dales in front of you. Here is where you might meet some of the horned Highland Cattle grazing on the road in front of you, great material for a photograph or two. We stopped off in the Grassington Lodge for the night, a lovely guesthouse in the centre of town. After a wash we headed to the local pub for some nosh and I had a pint of the local beer, good times, sleepy times. A quick note, passing through Cumbria now on the train, impressive slopes on either side of the train carriage and loads more spring lambs.

It's a couple of days since finishing the Hadrian's Wall Cycleway, a glorious three days of weather, landscape and history, but more of that later. Leaving Grassington was a little chilly with fog rolling in. The hills were also rolling through Burnsall and Appletreewick which quickly took the chill out of the air. After Appletreewick the road rises up to its highest point of the tour, leaves the Yorkshire Dales and enters Nidderedale AONB around Greenhow Hill Village, the famous village with the famous descent. As I approach the village I can barley see 20 meters in front of me beacause the thickness of the fog, with cars headlights emerging out of the fog not far enough away from me and I'm thinking to myself that I'll have to take this one easy. Leaving Greenhow Hill village I see a slither of blue sky ahead of me and before I know it I can see for miles ahead and I've brioken through the fog, just in time for the descent. It's a good time to remind people that lights and proper reflective clothing can be necessary up here, even during the heights of summer! Greenhow Hill is steep and long, just what you need after a long climb, but it can be dangerous because of it steepness and the amount of turns involved. There is a guide (pdf) to descending it on and you can also watch videos of people descending it on youtube, including mine here. The ease with which you pick up speed is exhilarating after the climb, but be careful as those corners and turns can catch out the most experienced of cyclists. It's a great descent overall though and when I got down to Pateley Bridge my fingers were as cold as ice (gloves!). 

Kay took over from me in Pateley Bridge and I got to take my daughter round the picturesque town in the heart of Nidderedale before having a nice cup of tea. Kay's journey took her from Pateley Bridge up Brimham Rocks before descending into Ripon. I drove into the National Trust site and it is without a doubt worth a visit if you're passing by with its weird balancing rock formations, they look similar to pictures you see of the stones and rocks that people have balanced as art close to popular beaches, but naturally formed and massive in comparison. In Ripon we park up and wait for Kay with a few sandwiches and chocolate. Kay comes around the corner elated and with a big smile on her face, she loved the route.

My turn again, so off I went on the trail to York. The road is instantly noticeably different as it's flat, flat, flat and we follow the River Ouse down through Boroughbridge and Great Ouseburn before following the river into York. It's a tremendous traffic free path all the way into the centre of the city, passing river boats, walkers and runners, and with the famous York Minister emerging from north hand side of the river. As you get into the centre you get to see a really beautiful picturesque village, full of history, a place where you could spend a lot of time wandering around a very touristic city. Kay has mentioned to me since then that if we ever decide to live in a city again that York would be a front runner. I came up from the river path at Station Road and head to Blossom Street to our b&b for the night, The Ashberry, where Kay is waiting for me with a cup of tea. Another great b&b and we have a lovely chat with Steve and Sara - the owners - that evening and in the morning during breakfast.

That night we went to a really nice cosy Thai restaurant on Micklegate but unfortunately we had to bail out before the food came as our little one's tooth started to cause herself a little guff and she decided to let everyone in the restaurant know this, and those on the street and possibly the neighbouring buildings. So back to the room in our b&b with a Thai takeaway for us, everyone gave us ah looks as we left but most likely thinking thank heavens they've gone. Back at the b&b we got plates and cutlery from Steve, put the little one to bed and ate our dinner by street light; rock 'n' roll.

The next morning I cycle to the Minister and it is very impressive, after a quick look inside (you need to book a tour in advance) I head off through this beautiful walled city. The route, which runs beside the Minister, leads first to Stamford Bridge, a picturesque Yorkshire town as well as the name of a famous London football stadium. From Stamford Bridge you follow quiet and relaxing country lanes to Pocklington. After Pocklington you climb into the Yorkshire Wolds and almost immediately I'm in Millington and it's Kay's turn. I hang around Millington for a bit with my daughter, it's a small bucolic village on the edge of the wolds and could be on the edge of the world it was so calm and tranquil when we were there. After following Kay I find myself driving in a valley with gorge like features with steep banks on either side of a very narrow road. I pass Kay and she says to me, beaming, "I really picked the right part to cycle today" and she did. Jealously, I head off to our meeting point which was Hutton Cranswick, a little town about 5 miles outside Driffield. 

So after we do our final swap on this tour I head off towards Driffield following small trails, lanes and country roads. On the way you cross a couple of train lines, it is a good idea to follow the warnings 'look and listen', I myself did but probably not enough the first line I crossed. As I came up to the level crossing a train flew past right to left, so I got to gate and pushed my bike through, looked up and saw the train that had past a good bit up the line so I started to cross. Halfway across I looked up again and saw the same train a lot closer, obviously it was a different train and the first one that passed was long gone from view when I'd got to the crossing, so I crossed the line a bit faster than I had being. Still with 'lots' of time I got to the other side when the train passed me and gave me blast of his horn. Off I headed again towards Driffield with a ringing in my ears, and look-listen-look going through my mind.

Driffield is a big enough market town that had an open air market on the main street as I passed through. You continue on through lanes and paths until you get to Burton Agnes where you cross the A614 across from Burton Agnes Hall. Here I rose up again into the Yorkshire Wolds, as you rise up through pastoral land you get your first view of your quarry and destination below, Bridlington. After dropping into Bridlington, you get that euphoric feeling of having accomplished something, then it takes so long to get through Bridlington, at the end you start feeling like come on. But you finally get to the coast and it is an amazing feeling, and a little bit of sadness it's over even though it was only a few days. It could be hunger as well. A nice town and coastline which was in full swing of celebrations when we were there as it was St. Patrick's Day, lots of people dressed in green and Guinness hats. I see the sign for the finish line, cycle up to it, and ask a lady to take a picture of me, lock my bike on top of my car which is conveniently parked beside the finish point, then head off to the pub to find my two ladies before we head back down the M1 to the Peak District and Glossop where we celebrated with a beer and a glass of wine, once the young one was asleep.

If you'd like to check out our cycling tours here's our homepage
Here is our Way of the Roses

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