Cycling from Guildford

Cycling routes throughout the South East, accessible from Guildford in a day

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Route: Pennine Cycleway (North): Gargrave to Berwick-upon-Tweed (reached from Leeds via the Leeds-Liverpool Canal)

Weather at Finish:

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Summary: In August 2012, I cycled the northern half of the Pennine Cycleway (National Cycle Route 68). I took the train from Kings Cross to Leeds, then followed the Leeds and Liverpool canal towpath West to Kildwick, then roads to join the Cycleway at Gargrave. From here the route is generally well signed, using quieter roads and lanes to follow the spine of the Pennines and Cheviots to Berwick upon Tweed, just nipping into Scotland for the final few miles. I took a week, staying in Bed and Breakfast. As you might expect, this ride is literally up hill and down dale, but repays the effort with some rugged scenery and pleasant towns along the way.
Distance/time: About 260 miles; I took 7 days, including travel by train from London to the start at Leeds and returning from the finish at Berwick.
Start/Finish: I used East Coast mainline trains from Kings Cross, outwards to Leeds (journey time about 2hrs30), returning from Berwick upon Tweed (journey time about 3hrs40). Eastcoast provide an excellent on-line booking service which includes a facility to make a (mandatory) bike reservation. Bikes are carried in the guards van.

Conditions under the tyre: The Leeds-Liverpool Canal has a good towpath. Some web sites say it is necessary to obtain a cycling permit, but I believe this is not now the case, and it is a designated part of the National Cycle Network. It is also known as the Aire Valley Route. Once you hit the Pennine Cycleway (Route 68) at Gargrave, the route is inevitably hilly, but even though I am not superfit, I didn't find it arduous. The route avoids busy roads, and uses quiet tarmacked lanes for the most part. Watch out for accumulations of gravel at the bottom of fast descents. There is one significant off-road stretch of about 4 miles on a rough forestry track through the Wark Forest in Northumberland (on the leg between Hadrian's Wall and Bellingham), which is about as remote as cycling in England gets. I took my standard hybrid bike (no front suspension) and managed fine, though, as I note in the description below, there were a couple of short off road tracks where I had to get off and push.

Reverse route: I went South to North to catch the prevailing wind, but there's no other reason why you shouldn't take the reverse route.
Route variations: I followed Route 68 fairly slavishly after joining it at Gargrave. On Day 2, I avoided a rough off road track into the village of Clapham, staying on the alternative road route through Austwick. On Day 5, at Haltwhistle I cheated and took a short cut directly north to Hadrian's Wall, avoiding a rather circuitous salient diversion to the East via Henshaw and Bardon Mill.

My progress was fairly leisurely, doing typically 30-40 miles per day. Serious athletes will probably prefer to do more, though, if you are using B&B, the availability of suitable accommodation will be a constraint.

The southern half of the Pennine Cycleway actually starts at Holmfirth (south of Huddersfield), if you feel like doing the whole thing at one go.
Route description:

Here I give a summary of each day's ride. I don't give exhaustive route directions: see the Google map at the top of this page (use the link at the bottom of the map to open in a separate window). I had pre-booked Bed and Breakfast accommodation for all 7 nights: it can be a real pain searching for accommodation on the hoof. Also, it's a great incentive to carry on: after my soaking on Day 2, I might have been inclined to give up, which would have been a shame because the weather was not too bad on the whole. I packed a pannier set with everything inside in plastic bags to keep them dry in rain: a wise precaution as it turned out.

Day 1 (28 miles from Leeds to Kildwick): I took the train up to London then cycled across town to Kings Cross, and caught the train around 11:00 to Leeds, arriving around 13:30. Loading my bike in the guards van was no problem, the guard was very helpful, and the van is locked and/or manned en route so I felt my bike and panniers were perfectly secure. From Leeds Station, I somehow made my way down to the Leeds-Liverpool Canal (see "Finding Your Way" below). I then just headed west on the canal towpath which gave easy cycling. I stopped off to wander round Saltaire, the impressive nineteenth century textile mill buildings and model village established by the philanthropist Titus Salt, a World Heritage Site. At Bingley Five Rise Locks, there is an impressive flight of locks. About 1.5 miles before Silsden, the towpath narrows and the official Route 69 takes to lanes - to get down from the towpath to the lane requires carrying your bike down a rather narrow set of steps: be careful. At Silsden I rejoined the towpath, which was rough but passable to my first night at the White Lion at Kildwick. It was a sunny and very hot afternoon, and I was grateful this first day was on the flat.

Day 2 (39 miles from Kildwick to Ingleton): The day dawned overcast and humid. Leaving around 09:00, I took lanes to join the Pennine Cycleway at Gargrave in time for coffee. Here the hills really begin, and it started to drizzle around midday, making for an interesting descent into Settle down a very steep road. Skirting the Yorkshire Dales, there were glimpses towards Pen-y-Ghent before the heavens truly opened. I decided to forego an off road alternative into Clapham, since it seemed rough and slippery, preferring to stay on the roads via Austwick. The rain was eye-stingingly painful on the final descent. I arrived at around 16:00 at the Ferncliffe Guest House in Ingleton, where the sympathetic owner spread a towel on the floor for me and my panniers to drain into.

Day 3 (46 miles from Ingleton to Appleby-in-Westmoreland): It was a grey start again, with spits and spots of rain. The climb into remote Kingsdale was tough but the scenery makes it worthwhile, with hills and limestone scars either side (esp Whernside to the East). Your reward is an exhilarating descent to the attractive village of Dent which has cafes and a shop (though the cobbled streets are not kind on bikes). The cloud was lifting all the time as I cycled down green Dentdale, and I entered Sedburgh in bright sunshine. The ride through the Lune Valley Gap, on the shoulder of the Howgill Fells, was one of the surprise highlights, with great views West over to the Lakes. You almost forget the presence of the M6 and the West Coast Main Line. The Cycleway makes a brief excursion West of the M6 before heading East to Orton, where the Chocolate Factory is a good place for a cuppa (and chocolate). There is more fine riding over the open moors to the handsome tree-lined main street of Appleby, against the backdrop of the Pennine ridge. I arrived about 18:15, and stayed at the Midland Hotel, up by the railway station, and well positioned for the Cycleway out of town.

Day 4 (35 miles from Appleby-in-Westmoreland to Alston): Another good day, with sunshine and scudding clouds, mercifully cool for the required ascents. The highest point on the Pennines, Cross Fell, provided the backdrop for the first segment of the ride through the villages of Dufton and Knock, and I stopped at the Village Bakery in Melmerby for a snack, before starting the long ascent by back roads to the Hartside Pass, the highest point on the Cycleway at 1903 feet. Actually, the roads make a series of switchbacks, so the gradient is not too bad. You join the A686 for the final few hundred yards to the pass, where there is a cafe and excellent views West over to the Lakes and the Solway Firth with the Scottish hills beyond. The descent, at first on the A686, then branching off onto quiet lanes, is the longest free wheel I have yet done, reaching 30.5 mph according to my GPS. Arrived at my accommodation, the Alston House hotel, at 15:15, giving ample time to wander round this pleasant little town.(The route over Hartside Pass is shared by the Sea to Sea Cycle Route, and you will probably encounter more cyclists here for that reason: on the rest of the Cycleway, I saw very few.)

Day 5 (37 miles from Alston to Bellingham): The weather was unkind again making for a wet journey to Haltwhilsle. The first half is on hilly backlanes, the last half along a disused railway line. A highlight was the view over the Lambley railway viaduct (you can't cycle over it.) Haltwhistle has plenty of eateries and shops of which I availed myself, and the weather brightened somewhat. From here, the Cycleway heads some miles East to Bardon Mill, crosses Hadrian's Wall at Once Brewed before returning most of those miles back West again. Probably the Wall there is scenically better, but I decided to take a shortcut directly (and steeply) North from Haltwhistle to cross the Wall at Shield on the Wall, which is still pretty spectacular. The next stretch is the most remote of the whole ride, and one has a sense of riding into unknown northern lands. The Cycleway through the Wark Forest uses a rough forestry track, and I wouldn't want to have a breakdown here, it's a really isolated spot. It was quite a relief to emerge from the trees onto tarmac roads over the open rugged countryside. The heavens opened again as I rolled into Bellingham. The Lyndale Guest House made me most welcome: for a modest sum, the lady of the house will wash and dry your clothes, a really worthwhile service. I also commend the Bike Place bike shop in the centre of the village who replaced my brake blocks, which were pretty well shot by this stage. There are a couple of excellent pubs, and shops for supplies. But no Vodafone reception whatsoever.

Day 6 (48 miles from Bellingham to Wooler): A day of good weather, bar a few spots of rain which soon cleared. Again, the ride was through pretty remote countryside. I had hoped for a coffee stop at the village of Elsdon, but the Old Schoolhouse Tearoom turned out to be closed. From here, the route follows the low-traffic B6341 flanked by moors purple with heather, then North through Coquet Dale, passing a reivers Bastle tower at Holystone Grange. I had lunch at the Rose and Thistle pub in Alwinton. Fearing (probably unreasonably) that the official route on a track via Clennell might be muddy, I stuck to lanes, and rejoined the Cycleway which skirts the Eastern fringes of the Cheviots. At the village of Brandon, I was relieved to find that the footbridge over the River Breamish has been rebuilt having been washed away in a flood. The Breamish Valley at Ingram is a pleasant place to stop (there is a tea machine in the Visitor Centre). The sting in the tail for this leg of the ride is two short but very rough stretches of off-road. The first was approaching Ilderton Moor farm, where there was a steep stony descent to a stream which was too stony, fast and deep to ford safely; I took the footbridge, but then you either have to descend a steep bank to rejoin the (muddy) path, or, as I did, force your way via an unofficial path through the undergrowth. The gate at the farm was also beleaguered by hoof-trodden deep mud. The second is after the village of Ilderton, where the track is very gravelly hence treacherous on the descent, and again there was a deep fast ford which this time I waded. It all adds to the excitement. I arrived at the calm haven of the Millyard Guesthouse in Wooler around 17:00. The Milan Restaurant was a surprisingly lively spot for dinner in this quiet market town.

Day 7 (31 miles from Wooler to Berwick upon Tweed): A short day, overcast but dry. Highlights were: Pleasant stretch of well surfaced off-road track, overlooked by Dod Law, on the approach to Doddington. Post Office Tea Rooms at Etal, a village which also boasts a miniature railway and a historic castle (which played a role in the Flodden campaign - Flodden battlefield is a few miles away). Off road track beside the River Till running out of Etal (steep but short ascent at the end). Norham Castle, whose picturesque ruins were painted by Turner. The cafe in a Routemaster double-decker bus at the Chain Bridge Honey Farm at Horncliffe, and the venerable 1820 Union chain bridge nearby, which you cross to take you into Scotland for the final few miles till you return safely to England at Berwick city boundary. I arrived in Berwick around 14:30. I stayed in the Anchorage B&B, a beautifully restored sea captain's house close to the centre. That afternoon and next morning I looked around the town, which has splendid walls, and connections with the artist Lowry, but bizarrely the apparently interesting town museum is closed at weekends! I also watched an otter from the town bridge, a remarkable sight. The return home on Day 8 from Berwick station was as painless as the outward journey to Leeds. And no punctures! (that may be courtesy of my trusty Schwalbe Marathon Plus tyres.)

Finding your way The Leeds-Liverpool Canal is easily followed - once you have found it from Leeds station. It seems impossible to get down to the approach road (Neville Street) which goes under the station. I somehow made my way to join at Bridge End, slightly to the East. The canal towpath seems to have several designations: Route 68, 69, 696, and is also known as the Aire Valley Route. The Pennine Cycleway (National Cycle Route 68), is generally well signed, but reasonable maps are essential. My Google map on this page is suitable for planning purposes, but I used my Memory Map software to print out the route on OS Landranger 1:50k mapping on 13 double sided sheets. I also used my Satmap GPS with its built in OS Landranger mapping. The definitive route mapping on the Sustrans web site is invaluable. You should also download the Sustrans National Cycle Network mapping app onto your smart phone, though performance is limited by lack of phone reception in remote areas. Also, check out the latest OS Explorer 1:25K mapping online at Bing maps: make sure you select 'Ordnance Survey' from the drop down, and zoom in till 1:25K Explorer mapping appears.