The rise and climb of the long distance cycle route – Way of the Roses cycle route
Back in 1995 the Sea to Sea cycle route was opened offering cyclists a fully signed route between the east and west coasts of England. Eighteen years later there are over 14,000 miles of signed National Cycle Network spanning the UK, among them there numerous fantastic established signed long distance cycle routes. May Bank Holiday offered me the eagerly awaited opportunity to ride one of the most revered, the Way of the Roses. It didn’t disappoint.
The first of 170 immaculately signed miles, guides you from the Morecambe coast inland towards Lancaster on a smooth converted railway path. Morecambe is not the most beautiful of northern towns, however the excellent range cycle friendly accommodation, good places to eat and its rail link make it an ideal, hassle free start to this coast to coast route.
A flying visit to historic city of Lancaster leads seamlessly on to a superb traffic-free cycle route along the River Lune and in to the Lune Valley. As with the Way of the Roses’ elder sibling, the Sea to Sea (C2C) cycle route, around 15 miles in from the east coast the sense of adventure really heightens as the route starts ascending in to the foothills of some serious looming contours further inland. Quiet country lanes undulate mesmerizingly to guide riders to the first of many beautiful towns. Wray offered a peculiar and charming surprise in the form of a scarecrow fair. The streets are lined with scarecrows made of weird and wonderful things some looming 12 foot it the air.
Clapham a few miles further on is an absolute delight and is making the most of its place on the route with various cafes, fine eateries and pubs. The town is dissected by a gently flowing river which, once crossed, marks the gateway to the Yorkshire Dales and what can only be described as dry stone wall heaven.
The next 40 miles of the route make it so clear why the world’s biggest and most high profile bike race, the Tour de France, is having two stages in and around the Yorkshire Dales. It is the ultimate road cycling country. Mile after mile of fantastic winding, ducking and diving country roads deserted of cars, but always lined by masterfully crafted dry stone walls. Lifting your gaze from the road takes your breath away with looming peaks, dramatic scree slopes and decrepit old farm houses all around. Swooping and gliding round smooth corners watching lambs scuttle away and the dry stone walls flash by, was one of the best cycling experiences I’ve ever had.
The Dales also brings challenging gradients and by far the toughest of all climbs out of the charming market town of Settle. It’s ferociously steep and of course much longer than you expect. Once conquered however, the wide open space, barren landscape and stunning views make it entirely worth it. Getting this climb done on the first day was an inadvertent master stroke.
Brookside Cottage B&B, in the Tour de France hosting village of Cracoe, is a truly wonderful place to stay. It has charm and luxury in abundance, not to mention a lovely welcoming family and a friendly pair of Labradors. This spectacular B&B has just the one en-suite room but treats its guests with a spacious, well equipped sitting room and a beautiful conservatory come dining room. Incredible value but book early to avoid disappoint. There’s also a great pub next door with good food and rooms too.
Descending out of the Dales left me with that sad feeling you’re leaving a loved old friend behind but thankfully this route never fails to disappoint. Two superb National Trust sites in fifteen miles offer the culture and history to rival the beauty of the Dales. Brimham Rocks firstly then Fountains Abbey and StudleyPark, the latter made a very special lunch stop and is directly on the route. From here on in, those who are contour shy can breathe a sigh of relief as the route remains pancake flat all the way to the historic city of York.
The route guides riders in to York on the banks of the River Ouse and then straight past the towering Minster, a wonderful way to enter this beautiful city and ideal night stop. I rested my tired legs at Blakeney House B&B an Edwardian building in a quiet area of the city. A delightfully warm welcome, comfortable, clean rooms and a cracking breakfast made for a really great stay. York’s exquisite architecture, vibrant street life and plethora of fantastic shops, restaurants and watering holes make it hard to leave. It’s well worth spending at least a night and morning in this charming city.
The route continues delightfully gently from York, winding on quiet country lanes via Pocklington to the Yorkshire Wolds, where riders are greeted with stunning, steep, chalk valleys. Gentle climbs and descents land you on deserted roads that seem to be made for cyclists. Birdsong and sunshine made riding through the Wolds as special as the Dales 60 miles behind. The eventual long descent back to pancake flat is an absolute joy.
Yorkshire tanned I idled to the final night stop of the ride, the Beeches in Skerne. This lovely B&B is on a working farm and part of a stunning farmhouse. It’s also a fishing hotspot so if you’ve stowed your rod you can bunk down for days on the banks of the River Hull. Another lovely family and hearty breakfast left me with real regret facing the final stretch of the route. The final miles to Bridlington on the North Sea coast confirm this routes’ status as one of the UK’s finest. Divine flat deserted country lanes eventually descend in to Bridlington, where riders are faced with a bustling beach and the smell of fish & chips.
I arrived at the end of the route, along with many other cyclists, with a sense of immense satisfaction having travelled through so many diverse, beautiful landscapes, charming towns and cities. There is so much to see and discover on the route I didn’t at all regret taking a very leisurely four days to complete it. The faultless signing and abundance of places to stop, eat and sleep made it entirely stress free, just as cycling should be. Despite climbing through the Yorkshire Dales this route is suitable for almost all levels of rider. There wasn’t a single road where I felt intimidated by traffic and just the one Really gruelling climb that many will simply walk for a couple of hundred yards. The Way of the Roses is a simply wonderful way to explore the beguiling lands of Lancashire and Yorkshire and I think will encourage first time cycle tourers to seek out the next route instead of the airport.
Buy the official Sustrans Way of the Roses map.