Ponder this: rolling pasture, stone fences, wildflowers, virtually traffic free roads. You might think I’m describing the idyllic plasticene world of Postman Pat but I reckon that pretty much sums up the Way of the Roses cycling route.
Just freakin do this. You won’t regret it. It’s a no fuss, highly rewarding trip through the best Mother England has to offer.
In around three hours you can be on a train out of London on a Thursday night and pitching your tent at the recommended Venture Caravan Park in Morecambe on the Lancashire coast.
We were up early the next morning and soon on Morecambe’s faded beachfront promenade at the official Way of the Roses start point. Sometimes at the start of an adventure, you can feel daunted by the task ahead, especially when distracted by the 170 miles to go sign, but I just couldn’t wait to crack into it.
As soon as we started trundling along the cycle path out of town, I knew why I was so excited: I just love cycling on purpose-made paths. It’s so great, as a cyclist, to have space that doesn’t require your to share with a car. You can relax, look around more, say hi to the walkers and watch people live their lives.
It’s cycle path all the way to Lancaster where we stopped for some breakfast by the River Lune.
At the crook in the Lune you jump off the path and on to the quiet roads to climb for the first time. A local we met at a railway crossing recommended we keep following the river through to Hornby, saying the hill gradients would snap our chains but I was determined to stay faithful to the route and to Sustrans’ judgement and I wasn’t disappointed. The hills were steep but we have triple chainsets on our tourers so we made light work of the incline. The grind was worth it as the road opened out to some smashing views but it was only a taste of the majesty further up the road as we officially entered the Yorkshire Dales.
We had been through lots of ups and downs by the time we approached Settle so we needed to refuel. All the cyclists had stopped at the Naked Man cafe while the leathered motor cyclists dominated the eatery across the road. Funny how the sheep all gravitated to their own kind.
It was only after rammed a custard slice down the gullet that I learned there was a fierce climb out of Settle. The rumours were right, it’s an aboslute wall but totally doable with a small sprog on the front and a little patience. There’s no shame in walking the bike here as many of the cafe crew around us had chosen to do.
We targeted a campground at Threshfield for our first night and after same more of the same ol’ idyllic lanes, picturesque villages and rolling countryside we arrived at Wood Nook Caravan Park buggered but pretty proud of our day’s work.
We pitched Terry the tent and cycled the short distance into Grassington for some Black Sheep Ale, black pudding and bacon salad and hearty lasagne at the Forrester’s Arms that I had been looking forward to all day. Our meals were delicious and good value but we threw it down our throats so we good get camp to camp to rest our tired bones.
On paper, Day 2 was was going to be even more spectacular: 100km taking us through the Yorkshire Dales and down on to the flatlands into York but the sound of rain against Terry the tent made me less willing to jump out of the sleeping bag early doors to get cracking.
While we ate breakfast in the campsite’s barn the heavens opened so we decided to delay our departure in the hope that the amateur metrologists we were sharing the barn with were correct in saying it will blow over. Alas their judgements of cloud formations and prevailing winds was somewhat askew and we couldn’t afford to wait any longer. We had to brave it.
Cycling in the Dales in the rain is nothing like the drudgery of wet weather riding in London. It’s really fun. As long as you have at least 10m visibility in front of you, you soon become absorbed in the scenery and forget about the weather.
I really can’t stress enough how beautiful this part of the world is. The hills maybe challenging at times but there’s always the rewards. One of those rewards was a quick visit to the Stump Cross caverns. Soon after locking up the bikes up front, we had donned helmets and descended 15m underground to tool around the cave system and check out the natural rock formations.
We needed to crack on to reach York by nightfall and had a wonderful time riding up hills and down dales, through quiet lanes and the National Trust grounds at Fountains Abbey.
All the while we continued to get soaked as the heavwens kept opening and closing and it was only when we rolled inside the walls of York that we realised just how wet we got.
Luckily our Airbnb dude had a garage and a large dryer so we could wring ourselves out and prepare for dinner down on York’s Shambles.
It was only a short night out however, as like the party animals we are, not even matchsticks could have kept our tired eyes open past 10pm.
The elevation charts on our Sustrans map showed us it was largely flat the rest of the way as we headed into the lovely Yorkshire Wolds. It’s manageable to get all the way to Bridlington on Day 3 but we had nicked an extra day off work so we decided to break it up into two. I closed my eyes and pointed at the map and landed on Hutton Cranswick so that’s where we would head – only 65km down the road.
We found it a little bit confusing following the blue signs out of York but we were soon on the paths and barely touched any road until we reached Stamford Bridge. We decided to skip breakfast in York thinking we’ll find something fairly quickly along the route but that didn’t end up being the case so we ended up having to go off piste at Stamford Bridge to find a supermarket.
Back on track, you wind through some pretty back lanes and we had the welcome addition of the sun on our backs. it proved so much a distraction that we missed the little blue signs and got confused on to get out of the small town of Pocklington. Our poor navigation skills and frustrated looks on our faces presented us with the opportunity to bump into a sound old Yorkshire couple who in their adorable lilting accents told us the history of the town as well as why the local water table was perfect for brewing a great lager.
Once we managed to get out of Pock, the day’s fun got to begin. We thought once we got through the Yorkshire Dales, the real beauty was behind us but as often is the case when cycling, wherever there’s a hill you are treated to stunning scenery. This certainly turned out to be the case as we edged up the crescent-shaped hills that make up the Yorkshire Wolds. The low hills of lush green were even different in character again from what we had witnessed on the previous two days. Stunning.
It was an easy ride down off the hills and into harvested croplands as we headed towards Hutton Cranswick for the night. We heard the White Horse pub had some space for campers but when we spoke to the landlord we were surprised that space was in the pub’s beer garden. There was plenty of late afternoon sun to enjoy so we pitched Terry and ordered a few beers outside.
The landlord said he plans to build a shower block for campers and cycle tourists but since that wasn’t ready yet, he found us a spare hotel room where we could shower up. The camping was free but it’s kind of on the condition that you have dinner and breakfast there which of course we were more than happy to do.
The Way of the Roses ride officially finishes in Bridlington which was around 40km from Hutton Cranswick but we had booked on a train out of Hull so had an extra 40 to cover on top of that on our last day.
It was a nice flat ride through the farming services town of Driffield and on through some pretty back lanes, well off the main roads. It was nice window on life in a busy farming community on a Monday morning.
It’s worth noting to take care once you exit Nuffield that you take the left turn on to Hords Lane. The sign had been moved when we came through and it took us a while to find our way back on course. I was kicking myself later that I didn’t go back to correct it myself.
There are quite a few rolling hills to conquer before you can finally set sight on the sea. Each hill is more teasing than the last but it doesn’t take long before you roll down on to Bridlington’s waterfront and to the sign that marks the end of the 170 mile journey from one side of England to the other.
We were pushing to it to make it to Hull in time for our train but we couldn’t help but notice there was a Chippie across the road from the finishing point so celebrated our achievement with some properly delicious Fish n Chips (trust me – I’m an expert) and a couple of cans of Fanta Limon.
What a ride the last four days had been.
If this ride isn’t already on your bucketlist, then add it immediately. I’ve cycled through a lot of the Great British countryside and for me this journey has it all. There’s a great mix of hills and flats but the best thing is how the topography of the land keeps changing as you move from West to East and what better way to enjoy it than on the bike on almost traffic free lanes. Just do it.
Logistics Postscript: We decided to ride the 40km south to Hull to get a direct train connection back to London and because for some reason I was intrigued to see the Humber Bridge. You don’t need to though. Bridlington also has a train station and it turned out we missed our pre-booked train anyway and had to travel back via Doncaster.
The road south is a flat one down the coast and once we reached Hornsea we jumped on a disused rail trail that leads all the way to Hull. I thought this would be fun but the path gets very bumpy. I shouldn’t complain about dedicated cycle paths but when they paved this one, they simply put a thin layer of concrete over the surfaced tree routes – I’m not at all bitter but it slowed us right down in the dash to catch our train and ultimately destroyed all my smugness over getting cheap advanced train tickets.