The Yorkshire hills the Tour de France dare not tackle
The first time I did Chimney Bank it was downhill. I thought this was the sensible way to tackle Britain's steepest public road on a bicycle. Not so. At the halfway point, the gradient hits 33% – and all the items in the back pocket of my cycling jersey came tumbling out over my head. North Yorkshire's finest had wreaked havoc as usual.
My second go at Chimney Bank was to retrieve all the items that had fallen out over my head on the first descent, since I'd been unable to stop until I reached the bottom. I was rather pleased to have managed this without breaking my bicycle chain, something that this monster of inclines regularly does to unsuspecting two-wheelers.
So when it was announced that the was coming to Yorkshire, I held my breath. Would they dare? I had visions of Froome and co battling it out at snail's pace as they cursed their way over the county's finest stinkers: the Stang, Thrussendale, the Coal Road. Because there is a vital difference between French and British roads. Where a French country road, encountering a large immovable obstacle, sensibly begins to weave a long, gentle path upwards, the British road turns aggressively towards the adversary and charges. That's why the continentals have gradients rarely in excess of 10%, and we have Chimney Bank.
But my hope for a feast of slow torture was not to be. The Tour simply bottled it and will cruise past some of the best cycle routes in the county. If you are going to be there this summer with a bike, however, let's look at all the joys available: routes that take real cyclists deep into beautiful, magical countryside routes that the pros didn't dare attempt. I've put them into obvious geographical groups which can be linked into routes using an OS map or websites such as and .
The first and most obvious act of cowardice in Tour de France 2014 stage one will happen in Wharfedale, when the peloton sweeps over the bridge at Kettlewell. At this point any self-respecting cyclist turns right up Cam Gill Road for the brutal masterpiece known to cyclists as Park Rash (), a climb of 303m in little more than 2km.
Outsiders could be tempted to think that here is a neat short-cut to catching the Tour in two places – Kettlewell then Middleham. But take care: this is a monster. You would be well-advised to stop in Kettlewell for a final espresso with lots of sugar before continuing. A short, nasty hill gives a mere taste of pleasures to come, then you see the valley end in a vertical cliff, up which some idiot has built a tarmac road at gradients that officially hit 25% but seem steeper. From the top you have a 19km run down to the Tour route at Middleham, with its pubs and cafes aplenty, or pretty East Witton.
Having missed a golden opportunity for physical distress, the Tour pushes north to Buckden, where, once again, it bottles out. Instead of turning left in the village on to Dubb's Lane, it shoots straight on to the insignificant pimple of Kidstones. True aficionados, however, take that left turn and experience a Yorkshire classic, (275m in 2.8km, ).
This 5km challenge has everything a good climb should have: if you come at it from the south, there's a long, gorgeous prelude beside the youthful Wharfe river. In my opinion this is one of the loveliest roads in Britain. The Dalesway long-distance footpath comes along here so you may spot other countryside users – though tragically without bicycles under them.
Leaving the river, the road jinks though Oughtershaw, and the view ahead suggests there may be work to do. Watch out on the swift descent into Hawes: it's a notorious pitch for wheel wobbles (the trick is to grip the crossbar with your knees if you feel one coming on). Tackled the other way around, Fleet Moss is significantly harder.
The Tour does give itself a bit of work on the Buttertubs Pass, although the steep descent into Swaledale is arguably more demanding than the climb from the south. This will be a great spot to watch the pros, but the peloton then sweeps eastwards and ignores a left turn, past the Punch Bowl Inn in Low Row, up a narrow defile into one of Britain's greatest routes: Arkengarthdale. This beast signals its intentions immediately with a crumbly ramp of a lane that pops out on flatter pastures then eventually drops to a very tricky ford. Take extreme care here. One of Yorkshire's best sportives, the Etape du Dales, takes this route, and many riders come a cropper as they negotiate the stream. You can opt for the nearby footbridge, aptly named Surrender Bridge.
Then there's a viciously steep rising bend before, eventually, you drop to Langthwaite, where a tough choice awaits: right takes you to the Stang (275m in 3.70km, ), a legendary hill climb that ends at the border of County Durham. This is a long, relatively straight rollercoaster, often through freezing fog or driving snow, but don't let the summer weather put you off: on a clear day, you will feel close to heaven itself, surrounded by wild remote moors and hosts of ground-nesting birds.
A left turn at Langthwaite, however, presents another interesting option. A long undulating climb leads to Tan Hill and the highest pub in England (see below), a great base for exploring on foot or by bike, and one that rarely has fewer than two log fires on cooler days. Clouds can close in rapidly, but as manager Steve once told me: "If you don't like the weather, wait an hour."
From Tan Hill, head south to Stonesdale and an alarming descent towards Keld. Then you can take the B6270 to head back to the Tour route and perhaps a choice campsite location. Or turn right and carry on west through Birkdale, a lovely narrow valley that leads to the village of Nateby. Take the B6259 south and in 19km, after a brief slog up the A684, you hit, on your left, the start of one of Yorkshire's most fearsome monsters, the innocuously named Coal Road (219m in 2.3km, ). Just 2.3km long, it has some shockingly steep stretches that can reduce even seasoned campaigners to gibbering jelly. Pity the horses that used to haul coal along here. Nearby is Garsdale station on the Settle-Carlisle line for those who want to duck out and catch a train to Leeds or Cumbria, where bikes can be easily sold – or scrapped.
Worked up an appetite?
Tuck in to home-roast ham, ginger parkin, Yorkshire curd tart, or fruitcake with Wensleydale cheese at West Winds Tearoom () at the foot of Fleet Moss in Buckden. Or try Yorkshire pudding with sausage at the Tan Hill Inn (01833 628246, )
Ready to drop?
In Hawes, Ebor House B&B (01969 667337, ) has bike storage and doubles from £70. The Tan Hill also has a bunk barn (£25pp with breakfast) and bike store. In Kettlewell, Zarina's (01756 761188, , doubles from £75) B&B has bike storage too
Stage two of the Tour does, admittedly, tackle some old favourites: Cragg Vale (296m in 8.6km, ) near Hebden Bridge and Holme Moss (341m in 4.7km, ) south of Holmfirth are both long drags up on to the moors. Even here, however, they turn chicken at one obvious challenge, the infamous Shibden Wall (133m in 0.9km, ) north of Halifax, a truly sadistic stretch of cobbled cliff. Another sharp cobbled horror is Hebden Bridge's Horsehold Lane, which starts in the centre of town by the Co-operative supermarket. The cobbled section is near the top and beautifully neat and tidy. You'll love it.
Worked up an appetite?
Hebden Bridge has many cafes: try Greens on Albert Street ()
Ready to drop?
Garnett B&B (07594 080556, , B&B doubles £65) has secure bike storage. In Holmfirth, Calf Hill B&B (07878 053722, , B&B doubles from £75) has special offers for cyclists
North York Moors
The Tour route will be very busy close to the event, but if you have a few days, the roads over the or the Wolds will be quieter. Apart from Rosedale's Chimney Bank (175m in 1.47km, ), there is plenty to enjoy up here. On the north-west edge of the national park there is Carlton Bank (190m in 1.9km, ), a magnificently awful climb from the village of Carlton-in-Cleveland that offers great views north to Middlesbrough – when you haven't got your nose pressed to the front tyre. Further south is an old favourite, White Horse Bank (168m in 1.5km, ), a lovely twisting wooded climb that leads out to the glider station, where there's a good hidden cafe in the old control tower.
Worked up an appetite?
Farmhouse Fodder Tea Garden, up the dale from Chimney Bank at Dale Head Farm, Rosedale East (01751 417353 . In Helmsely, try a homemade pork pie at Hunters Deli on the market place ()
Ready to drop?
At the foot of Chimney Bank, Sevenford House B&B (01751 417283, ), doubles £75), has a secure bike store and drying facilities. There's lots of accommodation in Helmsley, west of White Horse Bank, including a YHA (0845 371 9638, ) with dorm beds from £15
Yorkshire Coast and Wolds
Further east there are some real snorters in coastal villages. Runswick Bay and Staithes are both accessed by asphalted vertical rock faces. Descents require caution at the bottom, unless you fancy a swim. But the great unknown of Yorkshire cycling, at least to outsiders, is the Wolds. Maps suggest a gently rolling landscape of exquisite village names: Fangfoss and Wetwang are old favourites. But don't be misled: great and severe climbs abound.
If you're in York for the Tour, head east and check out Worstendale, a jewel of a climb that starts at Bishop Wilton, often celebrated as the prettiest village in East Yorkshire. Double back to Millington (good cafe) and take the Huggate road up Millington Pastures (80m in 2.6km, ) a lovely gentle climb with a little kick at the end. Regulars will know that at the top of this climb a strong gravitational pull begins, dragging you towards the Seaways Cafe () in Fridaythorpe, an unpretentious gem and a haven in poor weather. When the clouds clear, however, check out nearby Thixendale (94m in 4km, ), a twisting narrow dale that rises up to a magnificent view of the North York Moors. From here, get down to Acklam and take a deep breath for the final lung-buster, Thrussendale (128m in 0.9km, ). The road starts, worryingly, by a little graveyard, then swoops upwards to the radio mast. From the bottom you get a comforting impression that there will be a respite halfway. There is not.
If you fancy a warm-up for the Tour, there is a sportive from Pocklington that links much of the area's best, the Wolds 123 () on 29 June, a week before the big event. This year they have added some French touches with a vintage Citroën van as a feeding station. The pint at the finish, however, will be pure Yorkshire.
Worked up an appetite?
Refuel at the World Peace Café in the Kilnwick Percy Buddhist centre (, or the Ramblers Rest at Millington ()
Ready to drop?
High Belthorpe Farm (01759 368238, ) near Bishop Wilton says it will take cyclists off their bikes, house them and feed them breakfast for £35 each. It does dinners too, or try The Fleece (01759 368251, ) in the village
• More information from and