BOB ADAMS takes to his bike for his latest Derwent adventure

THE only solution to getting across the Vale of Pickering was to get on my bike!

At the end of the last Ice Age, deposits known as lateral moraines blocked the outflow of the River Derwent to the sea. The whole area then became a lake that eventually overflowed down Kirkham Gorge.

The rich marshland that remained became a magnet for early man who crossed the North Sea on a land bridge known as Doggerland. 

Significant archaeological remains have been found from the late Palaeolithic and Mesolithic periods at Star Carr, around what used to be Lake Flixton. Neolithic remains have been found at Heslerton. In fact the whole area was a paradise for early man, with plenty of hunting and fishing available.

But from the early 18th century, drainage channels and dykes were built, drying up the wetlands and peat bogs, transforming the area forever. 

This is the reason why there are no roads or paths along the river. Two main roads to Scarborough skirt the southern and northern fringes of the valley. 

We did this leg over two days of cycling:

Day 1: Cycling from Malton to Yedingham and back:  26 miles 

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A small group of us assembled at the car park at Malton Railway Station on a hot and cloudless June day.

We set off in an easterly direction to the village of Settrington. This village is a beautiful and peaceful place where gardens of rustic dwellings open onto common land. A brook wends its way through from a lake, part of the grounds of Settrington House. The original landowner, Sir Francis Bigod, started an ill-fated rebellion in 1536, just as the Pilgrimage of Grace ended. Sir Francis was captured and executed and his estates ceded to the Crown. 

We then ascended a steep hill up onto the Wolds and back down again to Rillington. From the top we could see the fertile vale stretching to the towers of West Knapton Malting Factory, and beyond.

Next stop was Scampston Hall. It has gardens designed by Capability Brown complete with lakes, a Palladian Bridge and walled garden.

Then it was on to the tiny village of Yedingham. This was where the navigation of the Derwent ended, although boats could continue as far as Foulbridge, a few miles further on.

At Yedingham

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Derwent at Yedingham

There were plans to extend the navigation of the river to Scarborough but competition from the railway put paid to that. In 1846 the weir at Malton was removed and no further river traffic was possible. 

There used to be a Benedictine nunnery at Yedingham, but no trace remains. In 1321 Isabella de Berghby was sent to the nunnery for a ‘season of penance’ for unspecified sins. It must have been a lonely place, surrounded by marshland, lakes and wild forest. The Providence Inn, by the bridge, has spaces for camping.

Just after crossing the river we turned left and headed along a quiet country lane. It was perfect for cycling, dead flat and with open views. Above us wispy clouds scudded across from the west, a sign of a change in the weather. It was way past lunchtime and we were looking for a suitable place to stop. A footpath led us half a mile along a track, across a field to the riverbank. 

I have happy childhood memories picnicking by rivers on cycle trips with friends. Here the river drifted past, clear and fresh, bordered by reeds and overhanging trees. Lustrous ultramarine damselflies flitted about in the sun. Enid Blyton, you were right, food definitely tasted better outdoors.   

After lunch we pedalled on until we passed the place where the railway from Pickering used to cross. Railway Cottage, at the junction, was packed with railway memorabilia and serves teas. Soon the rocket-shaped spire of Low Marishes Chapel came into view.   

Picnic spot

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Lovely place to stop for a picnic en route

Unfortunately the next junction took us onto the busy A169 to cycle four noisy and dangerous miles back to Malton. It seemed that every refuse lorry and farm vehicle were going the same way. 

Day 2: Cycling from Snainton to West Ayton and back:  30 Miles

We assembled at the village of Snainton. First stop was a detour to Foulbridge. On the way we passed a farm originally built by the Knights Templars until it became yet another nunnery. Apparently the original timber- framed hall still exists within the more recent farm buildings. 

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Stop at Brompton-by-Sawdon

Next was the perfect village of Brompton-by-Sawdon. Tranquil millponds, streams and flower meadows abound and there is a traditional Butchers, Glaves. It was here that I purchased the best pork pie I have ever eaten.

At the church we met local author Mary Jones who told us all about the village’s main claim to fame, early 19th-century inventor Sir George Cayley. In 1853 he designed and flew the world’s first aircraft. Not only that he also invented the tension spoke wheel, still in use today, as evidenced by our bicycle wheels. Mary sold me a copy of her book. 

We checked out Sir George’s abode, Brompton Hall, now a school, and peered through the windows of his workshop. 

 Then it was onwards to Ayton Castle via the villages of Ruston, Wykeham and Hutton Buscel.

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Ayton Castle

The castle occupies a picturesque spot overlooking the river and the village of East Ayton. The Derwent heads up from here into the North York Moors. William de Aton built the fortified keep in the early fifteenth century as the area was subject to attacks from reivers and Scots. 

We crossed the river and followed Seamer Road south and on to Staxton. On the way we passed Star Carr and crossed the River Hertford. This river runs for nearly ten miles inland from Filey to join the Derwent at Wykeham Ings. Its straight channel is said to have been hand dug by prisoners from the Napoleonic wars. From the bridge we saw a heron skimming in zigzags towards us.

The next stage of our ride was a ‘short sharp climb’ up onto the Yorkshire Wolds. We were on our way to have tea with Julie.

Julie grows flowers at her farm on top of the hill. Then it was all the way back down again to Ganton and back to Brompton via Sherburn, crossing the Derwent again at Brompton Bridge. 

Just before the village we stopped at Sawdon Railway Station, now open for holiday lets. This was a station on the Forge Valley Line that used to run from Pickering to Scarborough. Just opposite was a curious and rather endearing little chapel, like something out of Lord of the Rings. It was built for the ‘new’ Brompton cemetery in 1889 by the wonderfully named church architect, Temple Cushington Moore. Then it was just a few miles back to Snainton, along Cross Lane.

 For the final stage of the my exploration of the River Derwent I will be putting my boots on again to walk up Forge Valley and on to Fylingdales Moor and beyond.