Sykes Churches Trail – A Cyclist’s Route

Visitors to the high wolds – the countryside around Sledmere on the Yorkshire Wolds – can’t fail to notice the links to the Sykes family. The impressive Sledmere House, the memorials and the Sykes estate properties with their distinctive red paintwork are very visible reminders of the family’s association with the area. However, almost entirely hidden behind a stand of trees is another remarkable feature: St Mary’s church. Built between 1893 and 1898 at a cost of at least £60,000 – equivalent to more than £5,000,000 in 2022 – it is the grandest place of worship on the Sykes Churches Trail.

From a display board in St Mary, Sledmere:

Between 1856 and 1913 Sir Tatton Sykes, 4th baronet (1772-1863) and Sir Tatton Sykes, 5th baronet (1826-1913) of Sledmere built, rebuilt or restored 18 rural churches in East Yorkshire, chiefly on the Wolds. It was the aim of Sir Tatton Sykes II, ‘perhaps the greatest English church builder of the 19th century’, to create centres of ‘Christian Art and Worship’ and he spent a fortune to produce some of the finest village churches in Britain. Three of the greatest Gothic Revival architects were employed: John L. Pearson, later architect of Truro Cathedral, George Edmund Street, best known for the Royal Courts of Justice, Strand, and Temple L. Moore, whose career began in the East Riding.

The glory of the impressive architecture of the Sykes churches is equalled by the splendour of their Victorian and Edwardian furnishings by leading craftsmen and artists of the age. On sunny days the churches are flooded with colour from stained glass by the firms of Clayton & Bell, Burlison & Grylls, Kempe & Co., and H.V. Milner. The roofs are painted, the floors covered with decorative tiles, and the ornate wooden or wrought iron and brass screens divide nave from chancel.

The Sykes Churches Trail appears to have come about in 2013 to mark the hundredth anniversary of the death of Tatton Sykes II. It is separated in to a southern circuit and a smaller northern circuit, with Sledmere appearing on both. Over the summer of 2022 I completed several shorter rides in order to devise a single manageable, but challenging, Sykes Churches Trail suitable for road and touring cyclists. It covers a little over 100 miles.

Not all of the Sykes churches are included in the resultant route. I originally visited North Frodingham and Wansford but discounted them as, well, this is a web site celebrating cycling on the Yorkshire Wolds and these two villages are on the Holderness plain. (Similarly, the church of St Margaret, Hilston sits on the North Sea coast and was in any case destroyed by a bomb and rebuilt in the 1950s.) St Peter, Langtoft and St Andrew, East Heslerton failed to make the cut because of their proximity to unsuitable main roads. None of these roads is free from risk but, ultimately, safety won out over completeness.

This, entirely unofficial, cyclist-friendly Sykes Churches Trail incorporates both northern and southern circuits and fourteen of the Sykes churches. A photograph and description of each church is given below. The cyclist’s cardinal sin of going back over the same roads is kept to a minimum, and is limited to the final spur at Bishop Wilton. A desire to avoid uphill sections on the busier roads, and to miss out less scenic views, led to some slightly extended loops and route-making decisions. (For instance, as a risk averse cyclist I never ride uphill from Fimber to Sledmere, or from Sledmere to the Cowlam crossroads, and I avoid the featureless drag from Wetwang to Huggate.) Ultimately, the choice of route – and the decision to drop some Sykes churches from the list – was determined by a mixture of safety concerns, a need for quiet roads and a wish to take in the varied and pleasant scenery of the Yorkshire Wolds.

A suggested cyclist’s route for the Yorkshire Wolds Sykes Church Trail as a Garmin Connect course. (Note that East Heslerton and Langtoft are omitted because of their proximity to unsuitable roads.)

You can also view the Sykes Churches Trail – A Cyclist’s Route as a Strava segment and as a Garmin Connect activity.
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