Cardinal Spins

Cardinal Spins 2: NE – Day 1

Hathersage to York along Trans-Pennine and Inter-stellar rail trails

York Minster from behind

My magic spinner landed on north east, which meant a two day ride to the Yorkshire coast with an overnight stop in York. And for this, I was happy to be joined by two friends from regular annual cycling trips to Mallorca, Simon and Richard, who live in, or near, Sheffield. We were blessed with an amazing day with sunshine, puffy clouds and a strong following wind.

York Minster

Simon actually lives high up on the edge of the Peak District in a village called Worrall, and it so happened that his house lay exactly on my straight line, so I rode the first 14 hilly miles alone from Hathersage, then called in for tea and toast. We left his house and met Richard at a cafe in Oughtibridge, at the bottom of a big descent, just before 11am. He was just tucking in to a very large piece of chocolate tiffin cake, but made short work of it. While he ate, I read a nearby banner advertising “Oughtifest”, a family music festival in late August starring the BeeGees, Elton John, Taylor Swift, Ed Sheehan, Bob Marley and more! Quite a lineup. I think I should go.

A world beating line up

Richard had downloaded all of our agreed route into his Garmin, so for a day I was happy to be led along, not caring about directions. It felt quite liberating as our route took us immediately into uncharted territory, along the Trans Pennine Trail through Wharncliffe Woods and then around in the general direction of Barnsley. For an hour we rode along good, unsurfaced tracks through rural surroundings and it was all extremely pleasant. When eventually we did hit former coal mining villages, I was most pleasantly surprised as we made our first cafe stop in the really excellent Elsecar Heritage Centre on the site of Elsecar Ironworks. It is a collection of industrial buildings given a new life as art and craft workshops, restaurants, shops and exhibition spaces. It was a pretty cool place to enjoy a late breakfast roll.

Elsecar Heritage Centre

This whole area of the Dearne Valley was quite industrialised, but the cycle trail took us through a green corridor that avoided all of the modern infrastructure and made it a pleasure. When we popped back onto quiet lanes, we were taken through a string of attractive, honey coloured limestone villages including Barnburgh, Hickleton and Hooton Pagnell – where I once played cricket – with imposing stately homes set behind high stone walls. In time, the feel of the Cotswolds was replaced by former pit villages like South Elmsall (where, as a small child in the 1970s, I once went on a school trip to see dolphins in a swimming pool – fact!).

The country lanes continued to undulate for a few more miles through well-heeled Wentbridge and Darrington, past large country hotels, until we slipped underneath the queuing traffic on the A1 and found ourselves crossing much flatter country in an area dominated until recently by power station cooling towers. Now, as the country moves away from coal and gas to produce its electricity, the only ones still remaining were several miles away at Drax, which burns imported biomass fuel, and there was no visible remnant of either Ferrybridge or Eggborough. There wasn’t too much else to see instead, however, as we passed between flat fields and small, brick villages through uninspiring country as far as the market town of Selby, a bridging point on the tidal River Ouse.

In childhood visits from home to York, typically when we had visitors staying, we would drive through Selby. I associate the town with three things: its beautiful three towered Abbey in the middle of the town, its toll bridge (where a man in a white coat would take coins from passing cars) and its flour mills, which could directly load and unload via gantries over the main road into boats in the adjacent river. The tolls and the boats and their loading gantries are gone, but we found a pub with outdoor seating by the west front of the abbey and drank ourselves back from the edge of dehydration.

Start of the Solar System Way

The final leg, from Selby to York, followed a well surfaced rail trail called the Solar System Way. At various intervals along its 10km are small models of the planets running from Pluto, nearer Selby, right to the sun, at the York end. They are to scale, and you are struck by their tiny size in an otherwise empty space. It is, for example 2.5km between Neptune and Uranus, which are each the size of a large snooker ball. But the most compelling thing is the sudden flurry, within a few hundred metres, of all the planets from Mars through to the Sun, and how close together, relatively, they are found. I later learned that, relative to the scale of the model, we were cycling at something over ten times the speed of light. Not too shabby.

Old train bridge over the River Ouse

We entered York past its large racecourse and the lovely old Terry’s chocolate factory – now apartments- before crossing the river on the impressive Millennium cycle bridge. Close by we stopped at the ice-cream barge for some delicious rhubarb ice cream – the connoisseur’s choice – a fine way to end a great day of riding north east, ahead of an evening exploring one of Britain’s best historic cities.

Ice cream barge on the River Ouse