The Way of the Roses – The Perfect 3 Day Cycle Tour?
The Way of the Roses is a ‘Coast to Coast’ national cycling route in Northern England, signposted and way marked so brilliantly by Sustrans that a chimp would find it difficult to get lost. That being said, I did lose my way once but that was my own fault for daydreaming and I was soon back on track thanks to my map and guidebook.
Generously peppered with beautiful scenery, the Way of the Roses stretches 170 miles from Morecambe (Lancashire) on the West coast to Bridlington (Yorkshire) in the East.
The varied terrain provides enough of a challenge that you’ll feel like you’ve truly earned your fish and chips at the finish line, but, other than one big climb out of the town of Settle, is a very doable ride for a casual weekend cyclist.
I completed the ride over 3 days in early September, when the benefit of longer daylight hours allowed me to enjoy each day and not feel like I was rushing to get miles under my belt before nightfall – in fact, on my first day I arrived at my hostel with enough time for a 5 mile hike around Malham – you can read about that here.
This is an account of the 3 days I spent cycling this incredible route. I only had 3 days to spare and planned the route as best I could, in order to make the most of my time. I can’t recommend this itinerary highly enough.
My only disappointment was that I didn’t have enough time to stop off at National Trust and UNESCO world heritage site, Fountain’s Abbey. Several people have told me I’m an idiot for that but I’m looking at it as a good excuse to go back.
An early train runs direct from London Euston to Lancaster every day. I picked it up at its first stop, Watford Junction at about 5.45am. I loaded my bike onto a rack in the cycle carriage, found my seat, put some ear plugs in and swiftly fell back to sleep. It’s free to take bicycles on many UK trains but space is limited so make sure to reserve a spot. The staff will know in advance you are coming and open the bike area for you.
I woke up 3 hours later in Lancaster where I wheeled my bike to the opposite platform and onto a local train to Morecambe. 20 minutes later I was standing next to a statue of Eric Morecambe getting ready to ceremonially dip my front wheel into the Irish sea. It all went so smoothly I wondered if I was still asleep.
It’s worth pausing in Morecambe to enjoy the scenery; there are some cool sculptures along the sea front and the art deco Midland Hotel, refurbished in 2008, looked dramatic against the grey sky when I was there. But if that’s not your bag then crack on, you’ve got miles to cover!
The ride begins on a traffic free bike path. I rode alongside people still making their way to work. I smiled through the drizzle and rang my bell at people, feeling rather smug knowing a few hours earlier I was asleep hundreds of miles away and now I was off on adventure before most people had even started work.
The roads were pleasingly quiet and I didn’t have to think much about the route due to the excellent signposting, so I was able to really enjoy my surroundings. Rolling hills dotted with sheep stretched out for miles and I went long stretches of time without seeing a single car.
Other than the rain, no real challenges presented themselves from Morecambe to Settle and I pulled into the oddly named ‘Ye Olde Naked Man Cafe’ late morning for some tea, scones and shelter. It’s a busy café but there was plenty of seating. Good tea, great scones, fast service and Eric Morecambe had obligingly brought me sunshine to see me into the afternoon. I hate it when people say “RESULT!” after things but this was genuinely a good result.
From Settle you have the choice to take a bit of a detour, as I did, and ride up a challenging hill on the Yorkshire Dales Cycleway to Malham Tarn. It’s rugged and ruthless, but well worth it. The scenery is spectacular and it felt like the wildest part of the whole ride. I got off my bike for the final push up the hill, you know, so I could really appreciate the scenery and that. I got some terribly judgmental looks from the sheep it was quite embarrassing.
If you are staying at YHA Malham (which you should because it is great) then this detour is perfect because from the top of the hill you can roll down to the front door of the hostel. From the hostel it’s a 2-minute ride to rejoin the Way of the Roses the next day.
I got to Malham mid afternoon and had more than enough time for a 5 mile hike, partly on the Pennine Way, taking in Malham Cove, Gordale Scar and Janet’s Foss. I loved it so much that I gave it a little spinoff blog post of its own.
Malham is a nice little village with a couple of pubs and a tiny shop with limited opening hours that feels like the past. I opted for dinner at the hostel (Spag Bol with garlic bread and salad for a fiver, result… god I hate myself) followed by a couple of pints by the fireplace at the Lister Arms.
As a YHA member, my bed for the night cost £7, down from £10 for non members. This is unbelievably good value and I plan to come back for a longer stay to explore the area on foot. It’d be rude not to.