Not another hill! I was struggling. It had been a very hilly day, and I was climbing yet again. Even in my lowest gear, the wheels barely seemed to be moving. The Yorkshire Dales are stunning, but far from flat.
I was cycling along The Way of the Rose, a coast to coast route from Morecambe on the Irish Sea to Bridlington on the North Sea. The name refers to the famous symbols of the counties of Lancashire and Yorkshire, although most of the route is in Yorkshire. More than a year into the Covid-19 pandemic, I was ready for a cycling adventure, and the Way of the Roses in three days was ideal. Best of all, it was run by Peak Tours, the company that so impressed me with its Land’s End to John O’Groats tour in 2019. I originally booked for May 2021 but Peak Tours happily transferred me to the June tour when lockdown prevented the original taking place.
I drove up to Morecambe the day before the tour began, and enjoyed walking along the seafront to see the statue of Eric Morecambe, the comedian who with Ernie Wise was one of the best-loved names in British television when I was a child in the Seventies. (He certainly brought us sunshine during the tour, in contrast to torrential rain and flooding in the south.) At dusk, I walking back from dinner with the tour guides and fellow cyclists, I was thrilled to see horses galloping across the sands. It reminded me of legendary 1970s Grand National winner Red Rum, who was famously trained on Southport sands.
Day 1: Morecambe to Pateley Bridge
We knew we were going to be doing a lot of climbing later, but we had the luxury of a very easy start. We were soon following the path through Lancaster that I enjoyed on Land’s End to John O’Groats, but this time with much nicer weather. Back in 2019, the Lune was in flood, with surrounding land under water. Today all was calm.
We started to climb at Halton Green, and I was pleased later to see I was quicker up the climb than in 2019. It was a stunning ride: this part of Lancashire is beautiful.
It was amusing to cycle through Clapham, and contrast it with its much less tranquil namesake in London. (Though crossing the busy A65 wasn’t quite so calming.) We were soon at our lunch stop in Settle, although I was very conscious that we had the punishing ascent of well-named High Hill Lane straight after the break.
It was tough – over 20% in places – and seemed to go on for ages. I took my time, snapping photos and video while enjoying the stunning view on a lovely day. It was a relief to get to the top, but I had many more climbs still to come.
We stopped for a brew at the lovely village of Burnsall, overlooking a handsome bridge over the river Wharfe.
The last 11 miles to our nightfall at Pateley Bridge was tougher than I expected. I confess that towards the end I found the ascent a real slog. Unlike earlier in the day, this was a constant climb, without the chance to freewheel until the last, steep descent to Patelely Bridge. We did pass the highest point on the Way of the Roses: Greenhow, 404 metres, or 1.325 feet.
It was a pleasure to swoop down the hill to Patelely Bridge, a lovely old town on the river Nidd.
Day 2: Pateley Bridge to Pocklington
We had a hill from the first pedal turn today, climbing out of Pateley Bridge and then up to Brimham Rocks. I was pleased to take the hills in my stride, especially knowing the rest of the day was largely flat. It was a very enjoyable morning under bright skies with historical sights including Fountains Abbey, Ripon Cathedral and York Minster.
One of my favourite moments was traversing Aldwark Bridge. This is one of just a handful of privately owned toll bridges in the country. It made for a noisy crossing as we cycled over the timber decking! We were soon at the Blacksmiths Arms in Newton-on-Ouse for a delicious buffet lunch.
York was, inevitably, a highlight of the tour. It has been one of my favourite cities since my first visit aged 14. It was a novelty threading the historic streets past the Minster on my bike rather than on foot, reflecting on our family holiday in the city for my 50th birthday in 2013.
We arrived in Pocklington in late afternoon, having missed the Peak Tours afternoon brew stop through poor navigation. (Despite having the directions on our Garmins…) I enjoyed the excellent dinner at The Feathers, chatting to my fellow cyclists and looking forward to the final push to the coast in the morning.
Day 3: Pocklington to Bridlington
Before I set off for Bridlington, I had a nice surprise: my Father’s Day cards from Owen, 12, and Rufus the dog.
We had a bit of climbing as we set off from Pocklington: nothing to compare with day one, but a bit of a rude awakening! These were the Wolds, a series of hills with unusual dry valleys. During the last ice age, the valleys were carved out by icy rivers, but as temperatures warmed the chalk absorbed the water. It made for an intriguing landscape.
It was a less interesting morning after this early stretch, with overcast skies and cooler weather. But we were all smiles as we passed through the handsome old town in Bridlington to reach the seafront. There’s always something special about arriving at the coast by bike. Especially after riding coast to coast! Lunch at the splendid Beach Hut Cafe was the perfect finale.
Before long, we were on the coach back to Morecambe to collect our cars. I was staying the night at The Mill at Conder Green, my favourite stay on LEJOG in 2019. (I wrote about the wonderful dinner at The Mill here.) It was a nice feeling walking into the hotel on a peaceful night (so different from the wild weather of 2019), and later savouring the stillness of dusk on the canal outside the hotel.
The Way of the Roses reflections
I enjoyed the Way of the Roses. It is an excellent long distance cycle route, but compact enough to complete comfortably in a long weekend.
The hills are unevenly distributed – if you are travelling west to east, the first 75 miles are far and away the hardest, especially the section from Settle to Pateley Bridge. After Brimham Rocks, just east of Pateley Bridge, it’s largely flat to Pocklington. At times I actually missed freewheeling down hills on this stretch – flat country means you are pedalling the whole time.
How does it compare with other coast to coast routes in northern England? I found it easier than C2C (Sea to Sea), despite being a bit longer. I also found the scenery less bleak – that may partly reflect the lovely weather on the first two days, although the Yorkshire Dales are famously pretty, with villages that compete with those in the Cotswolds for good looks.
Peak Tours proved the perfect cycle tour company again, especially in the challenging circumstances of the Covid-19 pandemic. I have booked to do its Highland 500 tour next year. I will be hitting the hills of the Chilterns and beyond in training as it includes over 27,000 feet of climbing in seven days, including Bealach na Ba, the greatest ascent in Great Britain…
Here is my Way of the Rose Highlights video.