Cycling up down Ilkley Moor

Ilkley Moor

Ilkley Moor

In Skipton, as we set off to cycle up Ilkley Moor, an elderly chap shouted: "Tiny Thomas!"

"Who's Tiny Thomas?"

We (Sandra and me) stopped to chat for a few minutes while he told us about Tiny Thomas, whose funeral was today. I asked him if the funeral was in Skipton, but no – in another town not far away. From Wikipedia:

Gordon W. 'Tiny' Thomas (18 August 1921 – 10 April 2013) was a British cyclist who competed at the 1948 Summer Olympics in London. There he won a silver medal in the team road race alongside Bob Maitland and Ian Scott. He also competed in the individual event, placing 8th in a field of 101 participants. Born in Shipley, West Yorkshire, he served during World War II with the Royal Artillery in Africa and Italy. After his Olympic experience, he went on to win the 1953 Tour of Britain before retiring from cycling to enter the wool business.


Gordon 'Tiny' Thomas receiving the 1953 Tour of Britain Cup

Sandra's grandfather, born in Ilkley, might have known who Tiny Thomas was. Sandra has never been to Ilkley and her grandfather, Harold Spence Mangham, moved away as a young man and emigrated to America, although he came back to the UK after a number of years and settled in Lancashire. We were doing a 'moderate' route from 'Cycle Tours, Yorkshire Dales' by Nick Cotton: 'From Skipton to Ilkley Moor and Bolton Abbey' so today she would see her grandfather's place of birth for the first time.

First, we had to get over Ilkley Moor. We cycled south then east through the rolling green of "God's Own County" (as Yorkshiremen call the Dales). After Silsden town the climb begins. It actually begins at a poultry farm called Edward Boothman. A St George's Day flag was flying on a flagpole in the yard. As we drank some tea (+ egg butties) to get ready to go upwards, a car came out of the poultry farm. The driver stopped and told Sandra about a cockerell he had just purchased and was taking back to Worcester in a cardboard box on the back seat. Chickens are philosophical about such hardships.


About half way up Holden Lane

The ride up Holden Lane onto the tops is steep – very steep – then flattens out before you turn left over Morton Moor along a track to the actual Ilkley Moor. Keighley is down in the valley to the right – it's surprisingly big; at first I thought it was Bradford.

Ilkley Moor

Moody: the barren track on Morton Moor that leads to Ilkley Moor

At the top of the moor some people were making a documentary, probably about cycling because amongst them were three cyclists kitted out in cycling gear (one had a prosthetic leg). Somebody shouted that we might be in the documentary so we set off down the other side, towards Ilkley in the bottom of the next valley. Looking down on the town we agreed we'd never live in a valley town such as you find in the Pennines, lovely though they are, but often in shadow when the valleys run east-west. We got off and walked this part, the steep drop down into the town, because the track surface is slippery with loose stones and we were on road bikes*. According to Ordnance Survey, the famous Ilkley Moor is this sloping north side of the hill, nothing else. As it turned out, you go up it, or down it, not over it.

The route then turns west along the river Wharfe and a gorgeous valley until you come to the A59, which Nick Cotton describes as 'horrendous'. Bolton Abbey can be reached without actually going on the A59, via a muddy little path that goes underneath. The quiet road from Bolton Abbey to Skipton is the same one I cycled along in 2011 at the end of a 100-mile ride in the Yorkshire Dales but this time I did not swallow a bluebottle.

Overall our speed was slow (7.4 mph average moving speed) and time was long but we'd climbed nearly 2,700 ft and that's not bad, especially for Sandra who's only cycled once this year before today. It was windy as well, blowing quite hard from the west.

*This is the first time this year I've ridden my road bike, a steel-framed tourer. I was struck by how smooth and comfortable it is compared to the other bike I've been riding: an alu hybrid. Even with the same tyres on both bikes the steel frame really does give a better ride (the alu bike has other advantages). Cyclists who argue there is no difference in the feel of frames of different materials are mistaken IMO.

5 comments on “Cycling up down Ilkley Moor”

  1. Kern wrote:


    The Ilkley Moor photo has a very appealing wild and desolate mood to it. It reminds me of one of our late evening rides in Ireland. Too bad the road isn't surfaced.

  2. Hilary wrote:

    I used to know that area quite well as I lived in Bradford for a couple of years back in the early 80s. We did a lot of cycling in that neck of the woods and once camped on Ilkley Moor – with the compulsory singing of course! I always thought the area around Bolton Abbey was particularly pleasant.

    Strange you should come across a cyclist's funeral and a cycling documentary!

  3. Patrick wrote:

    The desolate moor looks completely natural, doesn't it? At one time the whole of Britain was covered with a wild mass of trees and bushes and squirrels crossed England without touching ground!

  4. jim wrote:

    I don't find moorland attractive. It always seems so cold and barren. Plus it gets pretty windy to cycle though.
    I can never understand why we don't replant it with trees rather than leave it as it is. It seems such a waste.

  5. Trevor wrote:

    Many thanks for this. "Tiny" is my Dad.
    While you were probably standing on your pedals in the lowest gear, we were at his service singing "Hills of the North rejoice".

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