May 10, 2012, by David Greenaway

The Way of the Roses

The cycle route which traverses England from Morecambe to Bridlington is known as ‘The Way of the Roses’. It is 170 miles and, bar for a few miles in Cumbria, entirely in Lancashire and Yorkshire. Over the weekend of May 4/5/6, ten of the Life Cycle 2 riders took it on as a training run. They were: me, Chris Rudd, Karen Cox, Nick Miles, Kate Robertson, Chris Jagger, Andy Noyes, Penelope Griffin, Gavin Scott and Steve Wright. Paul Barrett and Becky Blunden gave up their weekend to ensure we had a support team.

Day 1 started on the seafront at Morecambe on a blustery but bright day, which showed the bay at its best to the south and offered clear views of the Lake District to the north. We arrived just as The Crown opened, which meant a mega breakfast for most of us, more sensible fare for the rest. As you can see, Kate was pleased she opted for the mega breakfast.

The first ten miles or so are on tracks out of Morecambe and along the Lune Valley through Lancaster. It was only two miles until the first puncture, surprisingly Chris R rather than Nick; and just four miles on to the next one, again not Nick, Gavin this time.

Not far out of Lancaster the climbing begins, some of it pretty sharp, none of it boring. It is lovely countryside. Several riders pressed on to ensure an early finish. The bikers that brunch maintained a steady pace and stopped at Austwick, where we were met at The Game Cock by a close friend of mine who I have known since we started our careers together at Leicester Polytechnic (which seems a lifetime ago). He encouraged us on, but with dire warnings of the hill out of Settle, warnings that were repeated in the town’s bike shop whilst Chris J was having a bit of his pedal replaced.

Settle is a lovely town at one end of the famous Settle to Carlisle railway and a must for most visitors to this part of Lancashire. To get back on track, we had to climb a one in four hill which ran for about a mile. It is brutal, even without the strengthening headwind we faced. Only Andy and Gavin made it to the top without stopping.

Our destination for Day 1 was Grassington, one of the Dales most picturesque towns. Over the last ten miles of climbing we broke up into small groups, I got there with Karen, but via Linton where she lived as a child. A nice trip down memory lane for her.

Grassington Lodge is a delightful place to stay. Comfortable rooms, attentive staff and a great breakfast. (One of the crew felt so at home, he was spotted parading around the car park in his dressing gown – immediately opposite the local Police Station).

Day 2 has a really demanding start, a steady three or four mile climb to over 1,200 feet. You get little time to warm up before you hit it and it is punishing. At the top we faced strong and icy headwinds, but it was a clear day and the views were stupendous. The descent back down to Pateley Bridge is pretty scary: steep, fast and with a rough road surface. Happily, at the bottom the first thing you see is Tea Cups Tea Rooms. Warm, welcoming and busy (and possibly the last place in the UK where you can buy a cappuccino for £1.20).

The official route from Pateley Bridge to Ripon takes you through Fountains Abbey, now a World Heritage Site. Unfortunately my group missed the turning (despite Chris J’s Garmin). We still got to Ripon, but via another scary descent. Our lunch stop was in Boroughbridge (where we also stopped on John O’Groats to Land’s End for running repairs). Shoebury’s Bakery offers excellent sandwiches, salty chips and a great range of cakes.

The last stage of Day 2 is Boroughbridge to York, mostly through the Ouse flood plain, flat and with some delightful villages like Little Ouseburn along the way. We crossed a quaint toll bridge at Aldwark which still levies tolls (although bikes are free). By the time we hit the outskirts of York, I was part of a group of four (with Karen, Kate and Nick) who were in a hurry to get to our hotel in time to see the FA Cup Final. Despite the really circuitous route the track takes to the centre of York, we made it for kick-off.

Day 3 started in bright conditions. After some time touring a Council estate in east York, guided by Chris J’s Garmin, we eventually picked up road signs for Stamford Bridge (the site of the other 1066 battle rather than Chelsea’s ground; his Garmin is unreliable, but not that bad). But were quickly off-road again. The route passes along a rough track for a few miles, which whilst pretty with chest high rape seed in full bloom on all sides, is also far from ideal for road bikes.

Pocklington was our first stop for tea and cakes at Whispers Tea Rooms. This is a distinctive Wolds town and I imagine would make an excellent base for exploring this part of East Yorkshire. Not far out of Pocklington the terrain changes yet again, to rolling wooded country. The stretch through to Driffield was memorable for two reasons: first a long meandering chalk valley was both beautiful and peaceful; second, it had echoes of the recent David Hockney ‘Bigger Picture’ exhibition at the Royal Academy, which I thought was sensational. Many of his recent paintings are landscapes of this part of the world and you can see where the inspiration came from.

Driffield was more or less closed, but we did find a Weatherspoons to re-fuel for the final run into Bridlington. The landscape changed yet again, especially as we got closer to the coast. Bridlington itself was bracing and busy, not surprising really since it was a bank holiday weekend. When we got to the finish point, we were not alone. This is a pretty popular route for cyclists.

All in all, this was a timely training weekend. For most of us, it was the first time we had cycled more than 50 miles since John O’Groats to Land’s End; for all of us, it was the first occasion we had cycled for more than one day since then. At 170 miles it was a good stretch and helpful reminder of what it feels like to cycle day after day, where the pressure points are and how to relieve them.

It was an excellent opportunity for some to road test new bikes and for others to try out new protective gear. And it was a chance for new riders Penelope and Gavin to experience being part of the team and for Becky to gain valuable experience. (She had a skilled mentor in Paul, though he did stop short of the Curby Module, which has to wait until the full Life Cycle 2 Support Team assembles).

Although it is a tough ride, The Way of the Roses is also a lovely experience. The terrain, landscapes, towns and villages change constantly along the route and the combination of vast swathes of unspoilt countryside in both the Dales and Wolds, contrasting with magnificent man made creations like York Minster is very striking.

Sustrans have done a great job in putting this route together. It is very well marked, mostly on quiet roads with only a little on tracks. It is much more interesting than the more popular (but shorter) Coast to Coast further north. If I were doing either again, it would be The Way of the Roses.

Professor David Greenaway


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