Paul Kirkwood follows in the tracks of a prime minister, First Sea Lord and champion cheese maker on a bike ride for the festive break.
Excursions like this remind you what a great place Yorkshire is to live in and explore. We have the Dales, the Moors, the Wolds and the South Pennines, of course, but there are so many areas that may be less famous but, in parts, are every bit as scenic and interesting. The triangle between Ripon, Boroughbridge and Knaresborough is just such an area. This route takes you through a town and seven villages, each a sort of staging post and all but one (Copgrove) with a pub so there’s plenty of places to get warm and fed en route.
Picking a favourite village is difficult but for me it would be Aldborough. It’s every bit as classy, pretty and interesting as its better known Suffolk namesake – and even has its very own Aldborough Festival. The smart maypole on the green sums up the village’s old English appeal. Close by is a pair of stocks and behind is the Old Court House from which the borough’s MPs used to be declared. Remarkably, two members were returned each election including a future prime minster William Pitt, the Elder. The constituency was abolished when electoral boundaries were redrawn by the Great Reform Act of 1832.
A more recent village character was the champion cheese maker, Betsy Mudd, who worked at the Aldborough Dairy (now a private house) and lived in the middle of the three cottages opposite. Regionally renowned for her wares, the redoubtable Miss Mudd was churning to within four days of her death aged 83 in 1960. You can see one of her clogs and the dairy equipment she used in a small open air museum housed within the old butter market shelter on Hall Square in Boroughbridge.
The town is best known for its three mysterious millstone grit monoliths, the Devils Arrows, which are passed on the route. The story goes that the Bronze Age stones are giant arrows fired by the devil from near Fountains Abbey and intended for Aldborough. Quite what the devil disliked about Aldborough isn’t clear from the tale. The village was missed again in 1944 – but this time intentionally so – when a locally-based Lancaster Bomber from the Royal Canadian Air Force crashed landed on a training flight a short distance away killing all seven crew. A memorial on the green records the tragedy.
The route from Boroughbridge initially heads west close to the River Ure. You’re right above it on the bridleway leading away from Roecliffe where a magnificent old primary school spans the long green. When I last did this route on a cold day in November a couple were drinking at the table outside The Crown Inn. A couple of mannequins, that is, placed there by the landlord to catch the eye of passing trade.
The Mechanics Institute with clock tower in Bishop Monkton is another fine Victorian building made all the more appealing by the brook which trickles in front of it and right through the village. Little bridges connect houses to the road. The topiary of a chicken outside a particularly pretty cottage is a masterpiece and a tree nearby is perfect for festooning with Christmas lights.
Bishop Monkton and Burton Leonard – the next village on the tour – are after mistaken for one another because of their proximity, attractiveness and similar double-barrelled names. For a rest in the latter head up the main green (one of three) and choose between the benches around two trees which give a good view down towards the grand bus shelter and shop.
The return half of the route has two architectural highlights. Pause at the bridge over the end of a lake to view Copgrove Hall at the other end of the water. Previous owners include Admiral Francis Bridgeman, the head of the Royal Navy in 1911 and 1912. You can see a memorial to him and his wife inside the Copgrove church. Today the Hall is part of a stud farm previously owned by Guy Reed, co-founder of Reed Boardall, the refrigerated transport company based at Boroughbridge, who died last July. On the left shortly before Staveley look out for a terrace of symmetrical almshouse-like cottages with long front gardens.
No sooner than you know you’re zipping through Minskip and back in Aldborough. It’s a short ride for shortest days but just as satisfying as something more substantial and the ideal way to get some mid-winter fresh air and exercise especially if you have a new Christmas bike that needs a test ride.
Parking: On street in Aldborough.
Distance: 14 miles.
Time: Maximum 2 hours excluding stops.
Map and directions: here