National cycling charity Cycling UK has just launched a ready-to-ride, long distance bike trail. The Great North Trail, which stretches over a huge 800 miles, takes riders through the heart of northern England, including much of Yorkshire.
Split into eight sections, the trail can be done in parts or all in one go (depending on how adventurous you’re feeling) and is designed to showcase the very best of northern England’s, and Scotland’s landscapes. Yorkshire makes up the second stage, and riders get to witness the spectacular limestone landscapes and rolling hills of the Yorkshire Dales.
Starting in Hebden Bridge, the 106-mile long Yorkshire section takes riders through the lush green hills of Calder Valley, passing limestone cliffs, caves and waterfalls before journeying on to the charming town of Kirkby Stephen.
Cycling UK encourage people of all ages, backgrounds and abilities to get on their bike and discover the joys of the sport – through safe cycling routes. But, despite having created an abundance of routes across the country, The Great North Trail is the first to join England and Scotland – which is something Sophie Gordon, Cycling UK’s Off-road Campaign Officer, believes has been a long time coming.
‘We created the Great North Trail because we felt frustrated with the lack of progress in national off-road trails,’ she explains. ‘A cycling route from the Pennines up to Scotland was proposed 20 years ago, but nothing was done, so earlier this year we decided to put one together.
‘The idea isn’t necessarily to take the easiest route, but to showcase the wide variety of landscapes and the best bits of the country. A lot of the national trails like the Pennine Way will take you over the hills to see spectacular views, and that’s the ethos we have run with – we definitely think the Yorkshire Dales do just that.’
Riders can expect a variety of terrain, from flat, open bridleways to uphill cycle tracks, as well as discovering geological wonders and feats of engineering. The route passes Malham Tarn which is one of only eight alkaline lakes in Europe, as well as the Ribblehead Viaduct – a magnificent 36-metre high 19th century structure carrying the Settle to Carlisle railway line. Each section of the trail is graded in terms of difficulty, with a colour-coded system ranging from green (easy), to blue (moderate), red (difficult) and black (severe – yikes!).
Helping to set these gradings, Max Darkins from Rough Ride Guide, who produce guidebooks for mountain bikers across Britain, test rode the route before it was made public.
‘The Yorkshire Dales is a superb section of the trail,’ he says. ’My favourite part was riding through the vast, remote and stunning limestone landscape near Horton in Ribblesdale. There are magnificent views over the cliffs, and the Ribblehead Viaduct is definitely worth seeing,’ he says. ‘If you’re riding with family, the route by the canal in Hedben Bridge at the start of the section is ideal – it’s flat, traffic-free, packed with wildlife and is close to some lovely cafés, shops and pubs so you can have a great day out.’
When asked how the Yorkshire section compares to other parts of the trail, Max is clear in his answer. ‘It might not be as remote and huge as say the Scottish Highlands, but the scenery is just as striking, memorable and impressive as anywhere, if not more.’
Once riders approach the town of Settle, they can opt to follow The Settle Loop, which climbs out into the Yorkshire Dales National Park and travels across the limestone upland. ‘This section feels nicely wild and rugged, it is definitely one of the most different and stunning landscapes,’ says Max.
The route leaves the back country lanes onto a rocky track, climbing stiffly up into the limestone outcrops before smoothing out with a mix of gravel, grass and rocky tracks where riders can enjoy the stunning views. Just beyond the most eastern point of the loop is Malham Cove – a curved crag of carboniferous limestone formed by a waterfall carrying meltwater from glaciers at the end of the last Ice Age around 12,000 years ago.
The massive slabs of rock and deep horizontal fissures (the result of acidic rain on the soft limestone) are thought to have inspired JRR Tolkien’s fort of Helm’s Deep in Lord of the Rings, and were used as a film set for Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.
Since hosting the UCI 2019 Road World Championships in September, cycling is certainly a hot topic in Yorkshire right now – but off-road cycling opportunities remain relatively limited due to many footpaths being too crowded, narrow, fragile, or steep for cycling to mix with other users.
However, through negotiating with several National Park Authorities, the Forestry Commission and Natural England, Cycling UK are working to create a network of connected off-road cycling routes across Britain – and Sophie hopes The Great North Trail will get the wheels rolling.
‘We created The Great North Trail because we want to get as many people on their bikes as possible,’ says Sophie. ‘It’s a great way to explore more of the country than you can on foot or in a car. Whether you do the whole thing or just a section, you’ll definitely see something you haven’t seen before.’
As well as the visual and cultural opportunities that the trail provides, off-road cycling has proven to be hugely beneficial for physical and mental wellbeing – and the latter is a major part of Cycling UK’s mission. In 2017, the charity conducted a survey with over 11,000 people, which uncovered that 90 percent viewed off-road cycling as being very important for their mental health.
‘Being off-road just adds to the excitement of riding a bike and as well as improving your fitness, it gives you an element of freedom which is great for the mind too,’ says Sophie. ‘Getting out into the great outdoors, either by yourself or with friends and family, is so important for mental health, and that’s a huge part of why we create these trails.’
To find out more about The Great North Trail, visit www.cyclinguk.org/great-north-trail
Sophie’s Top Tips
Great North Trail Stage 2: Yorkshire Dales
• Hebden Bridge to Wycoller: 16.9 miles
Heading out of the steep northern side of the Calder Valley, there’s a good, wide track where you can enjoy the stunning views over the hills. The route then joins the Brontë Way trail – passing a number of places of inspiration to the Brontë sisters and their enthusiasts, such as Wycoller Country Park. Allow yourself some time to experience this unique place, as there are some picturesque walks and charming cafés.
• Wycoller to Settle: 21.5 miles
Tarmac, good tracks and simple navigation make this section relatively easy. Once at Long Preston village, you could choose the Settle Loop route which, despite adding 10 miles to the ride, provides stunning limestone scenery and views of Malham Tarn and Cove – so don’t forget to pack your camera!
• Settle to Austwick: 4.9 miles
Shortly after leaving Settle, you’ll come across Catrigg Force – a waterfall and pool surrounded by towering rocks within a woodland, which is a great place for a wild swim. With a good campsite and tearoom nearby, why not have a much needed rest before the route continues to wriggle its way westwards.
• Austwick to Hawes: 23.2 miles
The route starts to become more challenging as you climb up the hills, so pack some lunch and reward all of your hard work with a hill-top picnic with spectacular panoramic views. To the west of Cam Fell, there are a number of caves and gorges which are well worth exploring, and the imposing Ribblehead Viaduct is just down the road.
• Hawes to Kirkby Stephen: 16.5 miles
The last leg of the section includes a long, fast and more direct descent towards the town of Hawes, before you pass the remains of Pendragon and Lammerside castles in the Mallerstang Valley. The route then runs parallel to the River Eden (where you can try your hand at some fly fishing), before arriving in the pretty town of Appleby-in-Westmorland.