The new Bilton-Ripley cycle path – the Nidderdale Greenway – is officially opened on Saturday 25 May.
Already a favourite among bikers and pedestrians, the new country route connecting Harrogate and Ripley has become famed as much for its wildlife as its history. While treecreepers and nuthatches vie for supremacy, bluebells erupt beside bridges and fields. From the formidable cleft of Nidd Gorge to the violet-flecked shade of Coronation Wood, below is a short guide to the route’s most inspiring features.
The Old Railway
What used to be the Nidd Valley Railway marks out the course of the cycle path. Closed since 1964, the few visible remnants of the railway are a compelling reminder of the area’s industrial past. Arched bridges peep over turf and emerging woodland, their soot-flushed stone recalling both the freight and the fuel to which the trains owed their very locomotion: coal. The 14 mile long track that used to link Nidd Junction to Pateley Bridge has since become rather concealed, but a glance to your right as you start to notice a sharper decline towards Ripley will reveal one such heath-trussed archway.
Evoking the stillness of a Canadian forest, the pine-flanked Nidd Gorge –the part of the River Nidd in which the water enters a sheer ravine – provides the route’s most stunning views. By virtue of its height, the viaduct that traverses the gorge tempts cyclers and walkers away from their route to admire the river’s wide expanse. A look to the right will reveal islets starred with white anemones; the view to the left comprises the seamless merging of town and countryside that so sets Harrogate apart.
From the subtle rapping of a spotted woodpecker to the neon flash of a kingfisher’s wing, many a country rarity warrants your close attention along the route. As summer draws ever nearer, watch out for butterflies – including the delightful red admiral – and different species of ladybird. Without a car in sight until Ripley, this peaceful path, with its shady banks, crouching bushels and tall trees, promises creatures – winged or otherwise – in their hundreds.
The path merits a Sunday cycle if only for its blossom: a whitening beyond the viaduct resembles a puff of pale cloud among a gallery of sensuous jade and emerald. Of course, May’s delights – did I mention the bluebells? – ought not to trump the more stoic perennials such as the conifers that gather near the viaduct: equally breathtaking if not as pretty. Shoots of gorse, web-laced and unruly, mark the halfway point between Harrogate and Ripley: those with a keen eye for detail will spot violets, and the lobed leaves of yellow ladies mantle.