As we launch our Green Traveller's Guide to the Yorkshire Dales, Jane Dunford brushes up on her mountain biking skills and heads out to explore the Yorkshire Dales National Park's trails, tracks and bridleways with the Dales Bike Centre.
It’s a rainy morning in the Yorkshire Dales and on Reeth village green I’m learning a few mountain biking tips from Stuart Price, owner of Dales Bike Centre. I tackle the grassy slope, knees bent, arms outstretched, trying to remember not to pull the front brake too hard and risk shooting over the handlebars. Stuart’s a dedicated cycling fan – he came here 20 years ago for a mountain biking weekend and loved it so much he decided to stay, setting up the centre within the Yorkshire Dales National Park in 2009, with wife Brenda.
You can hire a bike and head out on your own, have a guided tour, or holiday of several days with baggage transfer. ‘People who are here for a short time and want to get the most out of it like the guided tours,’ says Stuart, ‘there’s no messing around trying to read maps and find your way.’ There’s a bunkhouse too with 14 beds should you wish to stay the night, all clean and cosy and a bargain at £28 with locally-sourced breakfast. And the centre’s won awards for it green initiatives, from the ground source heating system to the water recycling bike wash.
We head out past Healaugh village and join part of the Yorkshire Dales Cycleway as it runs through Swaledale. There’s a great network of packhorse trails and bridleways for cycling, thanks to the lead mining industry that flourished here in the 19thcentury. Swaledale is gorgeous – rolling fields with stone walls and ancient barns, the river Swale bubbling in the valley and varied terrain to suit all kinds of cyclists. We whiz about down muddy tracks, follow paths close to the river and ride through villages before heading back for lunch at the centre’s café (homemade soup by Brenda).
That evening I make my way across the Dales towards the market town of Hawes and on to Nethergill Farm. If you’re after peace and quiet, you’ll find it here. Surrounded by moor and meadowland on the Dales Way walking route, the 380-acre working farm is home to Chris and Fiona Clark who plan to eventually create a wildlife haven, combined with a sustainable farm. Join a tour of the farm and you can visit the sheep, rare White Shorthorn cows, chickens and pony – and hear about the Clarks’ many conservation initiatives. They’ve planted 18,000 trees in a 30-acre area in conjunction with the National Parks and Forestry Commission to encourage Red Squirrels to flourish – and Black Grouse have returned to the area after 40 years.
There’s a field centre too where courses like wildlife watching and photography are held, and webcams are being set up around the farm, which will feed into the office and can be accessed remotely by guests wishing to check out the wildlife action once they’re back at home.
Accommodation is in the Victorian farmhouse (there are three rooms), and Fiona will cook a ‘rustic farmhouse supper’ on your first night using local produce and often meat from the farm. Breakfast is a feast – all home-made bread, home-cured bacon and eggs from the free range hens. If you’d prefer to self-cater there are two very bright and comfortable newly-converted self-catering barns. All heating and hot water comes from the biomass boiler.
The farm’s location means it’s a great stopover for walkers on the Dales Way, but for those who love the feeling of being right in the heart of nature and have the time, this is one place you’re likely to want to linger.
Prices for B&B for two at Nethergill Farm start at £85.