Wednesday 25 May 2016

Rail trails galore!

I recently wrote a 6-week series on rail trials around the UK for Total Women's Cycling website. The great thing I learned was just how many traffic-free trails we can enjoy by bike (or on horseback or walking).

We have Dr Beeching to thank for that. Following the closure of around 5,000 miles of railway lines in the late 1960s various authorities converted these disused railway lines into off-road, traffic-free cycle routes for our enjoyment. With around 1,200 miles of rail trails around the country that's a lot of traffic-free fun!

The trails are variable in length, surface, quality and difficulty. For instance the Alban Way between St Albans and Welwyn, in Hertfordshire is fully tarmacked, 7 miles long, and is designed so that children can ride from home to school safely. By contrast, the Downs Link, which starts near Guildford, Surrey, and runs down to the Sussex coast is around 40 miles long and is essentially a mountain bike route (though doable with a cyclo cross bike), so that one is more for the fitter, experienced cyclist.

The selection of trails I wrote about are on the women's cycling website and they include the Tissington trail in the Peak District, Forest Way in Sussex,  and the dramatic Cinder Track that goes between Scarborough and Whitby on the North Yorkshire coast.

One that isn't on there which I would recommend is the Hudson Way rail trail - a 10-mile trail between Beverley and Market Weighton in East Yorkshire.

I like this trail because it runs from one pretty market town in Yorkshire to another one. It is interesting to see the gradual change of landscape. When starting in Beverley you are on pan flat terrain in the outer reaches of the Humber Estuary, surrounded by arable fields. The area is pretty flat and it is possible to see far across the East Yorkshire plains. In fact, to the right you get a good view of the Sledmere grounds, with the Tatton Sykes obelisk rising up in the distance. By the end of the route the landscape has morphed into rolling hills of the Yorkshire Wolds.

There's pleasant woodland along the way, as well as a convenient stopping point at Kiplingcotes disused station, which still has a station house (now residential property), platform, and benches for a well earned picnic stop.

On the outskirts of Market Weighton is St Helen's Well, an ancient well that dates back to Roman times. I didn't have time to visit it, but it is an object of interest for the history buffs among you, particularly as it has been recently restored.

What was quite interesting to me were all the various colourful ribbons hanging from the branches of the tree near it. Leaving a piece of ribbon on the tree apparently brings you good health and good luck. I didn't have any ribbon on me, so I guess that's me doomed!

Still, it was a good afternoon. I was out on the Raleigh Mustang Sport gravel bike which I have been loaned for testing and I must say, it was a very comfortable ride. It certainly liked playing on the dirt track, and there were a few bits of single track where my skills were put to the test.

This felt the right bike for the job as it was robust and held it's place when trying to stay in the groove of the narrow track. Once in market Weighton I could have done another rail trail to go towards Bubwith and Howden, but time ran out on me so I just took the road route down to Brough and then got on a train to Hull. Again, being on the Mustang Sport was handy because although I had spent my afternoon on trails, which it does well on, it was still just about light enough to ride it quickly - which is what I needed as I was in a rush!

I will be back in the area to explore more trails in the near future, and will take some ribbon with me for the tree at St Helen's Well!

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Where I want to ride in 2016

Leisure Cheshire Bike Ride

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