Heading north and back again

Denholme – Carlisle – York over two days

Day one: Denholme to Carlisle – 226km

My friends Sian and Esther are currently training for LEL this summer. Last Sunday and Monday they decided to ride part of the route from Pocklington in North Yorkshire, across the north Pennines to Carlisle and back again. Julie and I decided to cycle up to Carlisle to meet them and ride the route back with them to York the following day.


Leaving Denholme, 7.30am on Sunday morning

To get the miles in on day one I’d planned a route that took a detour to Slaidburn as I’m planning a weekend residential there for the Sheffield Cycling UK member group in September and it was a good opportunity to recce the last part of the route from Keighley which is pretty rolling but not too taxing.


After a quick cuppa and a toasted teacake sat out in the Slaidburn sunshine, we rode up through the trough of Bowland, one of my favourite places to ride. It’s a tough climb, especially after a cafe stop, but worth it. You can even see the sea (and Blackpool Tower on the horizon) on a good day – and today was a good day.

We’d been travelling mainly west with a slight crosswind over to Lancashire but by the time we reached Caton we were heading north and riding directly into a headwind which stayed with us all the way to Carlisle, not too strong but just enough to make the journey a bit more of an effort.

By lunch we’d reached Kirby Lonsdale and as we were trying to keep stops as brief as possible, rather than head into town we pedalled down to Devil’s Bridge, a popular stop with local motorbikers, for another cuppa and a huge cheese, potato and onion cake – basically a massive carb-fest butty – while being entertained by the kids diving off the rocks into the river below.

We continued north cycling through the rolling hills of the Lune Valley, often quite steep at times, crossing the M6 twice, up to the village of Orton. The Lune Valley and Howgill Fells sit in between the Lake District and the Yorkshire Dales. Many people only encounter it while speeding through it up and down the M6 and it often gets overlooked by tourists which means lots of quiet, traffic-free roads perfect for cyclists.

Carpets of bluebells in the Lune Valley
The Lune Valley. This lovely, quiet road runs along the other side of the valley from the M6 and West Coast mainline.

We just made it to our last cafe stop of the day in Orton as it was closing. We had yet another cuppa (the coffee machine was being cleaned out) and stocked up on snacks. Portable food options were a bit thin on the ground and I had to settle for a slab of fruit cake which, although tasty, must’ve added an extra kilo to the overall weight of my bike.

Climbing up out of Orton, looking across to the Howgill Fells

By the village of Morland we dropped down a steep hill to a ford with a footbridge. The local rugby club were having a bit of a party in the neighbouring field with a visiting team from St. Malo. After a bit of polite banter, and the invitation to stop for a pint, the visiting guests insisted on offering to carry our bikes across the footbridge. Julie was having none of it but my bike was whisked out of my hands before I had a chance to put up a fight.

North of the A66, the remainder of our journey took us along the Eden Valley through Kirkoswald and Armathwaite. This section following the River Eden was the flattest part of the route, which was welcome by this point in the day as we’d already clocked up over 3000m of climbing.  Saying that, I’d somehow still managed to unwittingly sneak in a couple more short 15% climbs in the last 20 km!

After 13 hours, 226km and 3850m of climbing, we arrived at the Travelodge in Carlisle just after 8.30pm, feeling tired but still in pretty good shape and definitely ready for our tea.

Day two: Carlisle to York – 212km

We caught up with Sian and Esther over breakfast to hear tales of their journey up from Pocklington the day before. They’d been following a 230km stretch of the LEL route through Upper Teesdale over to Alston – the route we were now going to take in reverse.  Battling a headwind up over Yad Moss with panniers had worn Esther out a bit so she decided to ditch the panniers at the Travelodge for the return leg.

Leaving Carlisle

We were on the road by 8.30am and made it across the rolling hills to Alston by 11.00am for a quick cafe stop before the big climb of the day. Unlike the previous day’s constant ups and downs, today we had the one big climb across the North Pennines, over Alston Moor and Yad Moss before dropping down to Langdon Beck and Upper Teesdale.

The cobbled climb up through Alston. A good excuse to stop for a cuppa.

Cycling across the North Pennines is just breathtaking. If you’ve not been up here on a bike then I can definitely recommend it – it’s a bit like the Dark Peak minus all of the crowds. The roads are completely deserted and it feels very remote and rugged in this part of the world even though we were only 40 miles or so from Newcastle.


Upper Teesdale. Not a soul in sight for miles.

It was pretty chilly on the tops but for the most part we had a tailwind and were soon descending through Upper Teesdale to Middleton and on to Lunch in Barnard Castle.

Barnard Castle

After a longish lunch we headed steadily south west across the Vale of York to Thirsk. Even though this section of the ride was flat, we were all riding on tired legs and feeling the effects of the day before and the constant pedalling required on the flat was still pretty hard work for all of us.

The flat lands can get a bit monotonous – we all had our low moments but never at the same time and riding together you can keep each other going when it starts to get tough. By the time we arrived at Thirsk we were ready for another rest stop. Arriving at 6.30pm options were pretty limited and we ended up at the local Tesco stocking up on snacks and water for the final leg.

While taking a break, Julie and I had planned the final part of our route as we’d arranged to stay in York Youth hostel for the night and needed to head south rather than continue on south west to Pocklington with Sian and Esther. We agreed to part company just before the village of Coxwold. Esther and Sian headed on for the Howardian Hills and a few more kilometres. For Julie and I the route was fairly straightforward, heading down to Easingwold, avoiding the A19, and eventually on to York, arriving at the youth hostel just after 9.00pm.

With another 212km ticked off we rewarded ourselves with a right good curry in the local pub.


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