Cycling West Yorkshire

A weekend cycle tour in the Yorkshire Dales

In the June 30th, 1937 edition of ‘The Cyclist’ magazine L.G. Fothergill described this Yorkshire Dales week end route as “Embracing Some of Yorkshire’s Finest Scenery” and reckoned 90 miles as its length. I think it’s nearer to 100 miles. I’ve drawn it up in Google Earth and created a set of five GPS tracks that make up the route, and that’s what they add up to, near enough. I want to cycle the 1937 route in 2011, 74 years later, as it looks a wonderful ride. Whether it will be a century ride or a long weekend’s cycling and sightseeing adventure remains to be seen. Perhaps both.

West Yorshire cycling weekend

Google Earth’s Yellow Brick Road: “Yours To Enjoy To Your Heart’s Content”

From ‘The Cyclist’

“Apart from the official divisions of the three Ridings, the wide diversity of Yorkshire’s characteristics form in themselves two great, but quite distinctive territories—The Dales and The Wolds—each in its own way a veritable paradise for cyclists.

“Unfortunately the time at our disposal makes it inevitable that one or other gives way on this occasion and, therefore, I suggest we make our way into the Dales, leaving until another time that pleasant region to the east of the Vale of Mowbray, where such names as Coxwold, Helmsley, Pickering, or the coastal villages of Staithes, Runswick and Robin Hood’s Bay, live for ever in the memory of all who visit them.

Skipton Castle

“Wild moorland, wind-swept fells; swirling rivers, turbulent streams; these comprise the treasure of the Dales country, and if the discovery should entail shouldering the bicycle at times, it is worth it. Rest assured, even the most venturesome motorist will seldom be found on these roads; it is cyclist’s country, yours to enjoy to your heart’s content.

“Starting at Skipton, the ancient capital of Craven, it is natural that we should first visit the castle. Built in Norman times, the castle of Skipton came into the hands of the Cliffords in the early fourteenth century. They held it for five hundred years. During this time a wealth of Yorkshire history centred around Skipton and a great deal of Yorkshire blood was spilled when the castle was held for Charles Stuart in a three-years siege whilst all others in the county fell.

“Near by, at the head of the market place, is the parish church, within the chancel of which generations of these Clifford Lords were laid to rest.

Delightful Scenery

“Four miles along the Settle road is Gargrave, where, turning right by Eshton Hall, we follow quiet roads through perhaps the most delightful part of Airedale; through Airton and Kirkby Malham, with its charming old church, to Malham itself, an exquisite gem in an impressive setting of sweeping moors and massive limestone cliffs.

Goredale Scar

“Leave the cycle awhile at Malham. A short walk along the Kilnsey road brings us to a farm, at a point where the road crosses a stream, and passing through the farm-yard we follow a path through the fields until suddenly a sharp bend reveals Goredale Scar.

“Amongst the wonders of this great shire, Goredale is considered by many to be the greatest of them all. Perhaps it is the spectacular manner of its presentation. One moment we are walking across open fields, the next finds us engulfed in a great chasm of limestone. Huge cliffs, narrowing to the top, tower above, shutting out the sun, and the eerie silence is broken only by the sharp splash of the stream as it hurls through a crevice high in the rocks and seeks the floor in a series of mad leaps.

“Over one hundred years ago Wordsworth wrote :—

    Goredale chasm, terrific as the lair
    Where the young lions crouch.

“And as Goredale does not change, we could not hope to better that description.

“Returning through the fields we cross the road and, by way of a small wicket gate, visit Jannet’s Foss. Here a graceful fall leads the stream into a quiet glade where, between the banks of heavy green, it lingers awhile to rest after the wild rush through the Scar. A remarkable contrast to the scene of a few minutes ago.

A Wall of Rock

“Awheel again, we take the road by the river towards the cove and before long stand amazed beneath that great barrier of rock. Three hundred and fifty feet high, the white wall stretches across the valley and from its base leaps the Aire full of youthful enthusiasm as it glimpses the light of day.

“The old road climbs on towards the Tarn and, high in the hills, we cross the lonely woods towards Arncliffe, with the lake, silent and aloof, lying on the right before a background of dark trees.

Buttertubs Pass

“From Arncliffe, we follow the little River Skirfare up Littondale to Halton Gill, where we take to the moors again. Although on this occasion the rough track makes riding impossible in some places, the spells of walking provide excellent opportunities for studying the glorious landscape in which the peaks of Ingleborough and Penyghent predominate.

“Joining Langstrothdale at Raisgill, a delightful road by the Wharfe passes through Oughtershaw, climbs Oughtershaw Side, and eventually brings us to Hawes. Across the river from here is Hardrow and the incomparable Hardrow Force.

“Crossing Abbotside by way of Buttertubs Pass we reach Muker, and a short way beyond is Keld. If you are still prepared to walk a mile or so in search of sheer grandeur, follow me along a rough path which begins by the falls and skirts the foot of Kisdon, winding with the Swale through a thickly wooded gorge. Leaping and turning, the hurrying river washes the feet of the great scree walls; white walls whose heads reach into space a hundred or more feet above us. A magnificent sight, and ample repayment for making the detour.

A Trio of Falls

“We reach the road again just below Muker and continue as far as Gunnerside, where the river is crossed to the Muker Pass, a wild road over the fells to Askrigg and Aysgarth. To the left of the road are the trio of falls for which Aysgarth is justly famous.


“One of the prettiest of Yorkshire villages must surely be West Burton. Hidden away in the very heart of Bishopdale the houses cluster around a delightful green, whilst behind the village Walden Beck concludes its adventurous journey from the hills with a dramatic leap into a deep, dark pool from which it emerges chastened and slips quietly away to seek the Ure. This village is but half a mile from the main road and easily visited on our way to Buckden and the vale of the Wharfe.

“Down the dale from Buckden we follow the river through Kettlewell; beneath the shadow of Kilnsey Crag; through Linton to Burnsall. Here we cross to the quieter and far more interesting road on the left bank of the river going via Appletrewick before returning to the main road at Barden Tower, the one-time hunting lodge of the tenth Lord Clifford.

“Three miles further on lie the ruins of the twelfth-century abbey of Bolton. With the exception of the nave, which is roofed in and used as a church at the present time, little remains of the old magnificence; but these are very beautiful ruins, deserving far greater respect than is shown by the vandals whose names and initials are emblazoned in such profusion.

“At Bolton Bridge we turn right and head for Skipton, our starting point, bringing to an end a tour which, in about 90 miles, has embraced some of the finest country in Yorkshire.”

L.G. Fothergill

Bolton Abbey

Thanks to fellow blogger Hilary for posting the article in 1930s Cyclists and for agreeing to it being typed out here. The inset photos are not mine, nor did L.G. Fothergill publish any with his fine description of the route.

The West Yorkshire week end tour touches a lot of dales: Airedale, Goredale, Littondale, Swaledale, Wensleydale, Bishopdale, Deepdale, and Wharfedale. The first half looks tough, including Fleet Moss and Buttertubs Pass, and a section where the bicycle has to be carried over a moor. The only change I’ve consciously indicated from the original tour is the turn west at Bolton Abbey instead of a little further on at Bolton Bridge. This avoids Long Causeway back into Skipton, obviously a much busier road today than in 1937. Green Lane just to the north is quieter.