The Sykes Churches Trail – A Cyclist’s Route is, like many of the routes suggested on this web site, a ride that I have put together with the experience of cycling in an around the Yorkshire Wolds for many years. At more than 100 miles and with an elevation gain of over 5,000 feet, and including occasionally busy roads, it is not something to be taken lightly. So let me draw your attention to the disclaimer from the About page before we go any further:
All information on this site is given in good faith. No liability is accepted for any loss, damage or injury sustained whilst cycling in and around the Yorkshire Wolds or otherwise using the information on this web site.
Ride Notes: Route Rationale and Points to Consider
After the downhill stretch from Field House Farm Campsite and the church at Kirkburn is passed, the first main road is reached. A left turn and barely two hundred yards of the A614 before another left turn towards Garton-on-the-Wolds shouldn’t trouble the confident road or touring cyclist. (From this point I once rode the full length of the A614 in to Driffield to complete the ‘Heart of the Wolds’ sportive and managed to avoid any drama.) Once at Garton-on-the Wolds, and just beyond the 30mph sign on the A166, is a right turn towards Sledmere. There is a right filter lane here if you don’t make it across in one go, and I have never found it to be a manoeuvre giving any concern.
After Sledmere we leave Kirby Grindalythe behind turning east on to Low Road towards West Lutton. I sometimes avoid this road in the opposite direction when the sun is low, but this way round there are good sightlines and it is mostly downhill to allow good progress to be made. It is also a stretch shared with the Pock Pedal sportive.
At the time of writing I am more comfortable backtracking from Weaverthorpe and taking the road north out of Helperthorpe rather than riding directly from Weaverthorpe to Sherburn. That may change in the future, but in any case it is worth taking the road out of Helperthorpe as it is rarely travelled; you are likely to see more buzzards than cars.
A long detour towards the foot of the North York Moors follows Sherburn as the route passes through Snainton and later Yedingham. There may well be a fitful cycle path between Sherburn and West Heslerton, but I prefer this pan flat loop over and back across the Vale of Pickering. The road between Snainton and Yedingham can be busy, but there are good sightlines and I have never been concerned about this stretch. Having said that, I don’t hang about.
From West Heslerton – take care crossing the A64 – there is the first significant incline on this route. ‘White Gate’ is given a lowly 3/10 grading in Simon Warren’s excellent ‘Cycling Climbs of Yorkshire: A Road Cyclist’s Guide’ (review here) and is one of those hills that, coupled with the trees overhanging the twisting road, causes my Garmin to autopause as I try to keep the pedals turning and make ‘steady’ progress up this testing climb.
There is a bit of a roller coaster now as we drop back to the outskirts of West Lutton before a swift turn south towards the crossroads at Cowlam. Do take particular care crossing here. I’ve never felt comfortable heading east along the B1253 from the Cowlam crossroads (so effectively ruling out visiting Langtoft’s Sykes church), and it is a busy road that I’m always pleased to leave behind me.
If you haven’t used any of your riding time peeping in to the churches so far it may be worth a few minutes of your day to poke your head in to St Mary, Cowlam. (This, I suspect, is the least visited church on the Trail and is clearly in greatest need of money for its upkeep. In fact, there is a campaign to save Cowlam church from closure on Facebook.)
A short reconnaissance job today for a planned, longer ride: Sykes Churches Trail (Southern Route). Here's a link to my Garmin track https://t.co/x1d4bOXHEz but a more rewarding link is this sometimes wry observation of English churches, inc. Cowlam: https://t.co/g6aoWkumKv ???? pic.twitter.com/qHIa0Iv6wA
— Cycling the Yorkshire Wolds (@CycleTheWolds) June 18, 2022
St Mary, Cowlam is a few hundred yards downhill from the crossroads and on your left. Watch out for the sign – you can’t see the church from the roadside – and carefully make your way through the farm. The font in St Mary’s Cowlam is especially significant. A few words on the Cowlam church from the always entertaining greatenglishchurches.co.uk:
Quite what it was that the Sykes family restored nobody seems to know but it was probably tiny and nearly derelict since the parish would have had no funds to maintain it. Nor is it obvious why the Sykes family would have bothered to restore and rebuild it. We should be very grateful for their work, though, because the font that it houses is a treasure and nobody in their right mind would want to see it in a museum setting or, worse, sitting in someone’s garden as a flower pot.
Rapid progress is made from Cowlam until, after a righthand bend in the road, there is an uphill stretch that rudely interrupts the downhill fun before we finally coast in to Driffield along Spellowgate. I should point out that I would normally pass through Driffield south to north, and so I take a route that takes me away from the busier parts of this market town. Instead I have plotted a north to south route through Driffield based on Garmin’s ‘popular route’ function along what is effectively Driffield’s high street, should you need any supplies. (Also, this way there is a left turn on to Skerne Lane after Driffield railway station, thereby avoiding cutting across traffic as with my usual route in the opposite direction, and is more suitable for those choosing to start this ride from Driffield, the ‘Capital of the Wolds’.)
From Driffield the next few miles are shared with the Way of the Roses and Yorkshire Wolds Cycle Route and I deliberately follow the slightly circuitous course through the village of Hutton Cranswick to keep to both routes. There is a more direct shortcut option through Southburn, but this established way is nicer once you have gone over the A164 via the dedicated cycle crossing. (At this point those requiring refreshments may fancy a stop at Stove Bistro in Hutton Cranswick. Some years ago remodelling works improved the aesthetics of the place, but made parking and keeping an eye on your bike a little trickier. It’s still popular with cyclists, though.)
The Way of the Roses and Yorkshire Wolds Cycle Route diverge at the the junction above the Bracken trail, and we go north along the Way of the Roses route. But just over a little hump bridge there is an unsigned left turn which takes us to Bainton and a crossing of the A614 at Dead Lane.
Good sightlines on the B1246 to North Dalton allow a painless few miles along a wide road that is taken out of necessity rather than for any other reason. Riders of the longer Big G – and now Big J – cyclosportive routes will be familiar with the drag out of North Dalton and the next few miles past St Nicholas, Wetwang and on to the Fimber roundabout (at which there is both a woodland cafe favoured by motorcyclists and the Yorkshire Wolds Railway tourist spot). On Hull Thursday’s sportive the third exit takes the wearying riders half a mile uphill along the B1248 Malton road, but instead at this roundabout we continue along the B1251 straight ahead to Fimber. Before long we leave the B1251 and move on to Fridaythorpe along the Burdale Road.
It’s a gravelly left turn and a short stiff climb before a longer drag up to Fridaythorpe. The church is passed on the left before the T junction. (At this point I typically find the shade of a tree on the village green opposite the lichgate and have a bit of a lie down.)
On towards Thixendale along a splendid up and down road that brings us back in to North Yorkshire at the bottom of a short, sharp dink. On the final descent snatch a glimpse of Thixendale below as you grip the brake levers and pick your way through the broken road surface. The village hall (originally a school, then a Youth Hostel) is open only on Sundays for refreshments.
Don’t worry if you haven’t had enough climbing because after Thixendale we’re on the Huggate Road and a short climb that formed part of the London Edinburgh London 2022 route. Rather than dropping in to Huggate (yet) the route takes us along the clockwise version of the Yorkshire Wolds Cycle Route, but instead of heading towards Garrowby Hill we bear left to stay on the road and enjoy a thrilling descent of Givendale Hill before a sudden halt at the bottom. Two right turns take us up towards Givendale and another church in a very pretty setting. At the church we take the left turn and follow the signs to Bishop Wilton. It’s another rapid downhill stretch with a sketchy surface – enjoy it; you’ll be coming back up it later – and a right turn at the bottom.
Out on my bike on the @Yorkshire_Wolds. Just ridden up the hill from the Bishop Wilton Road to Givendale. Not sure whether to report the road damage as a Pothole or a Landslip! Take care if riding down there. pic.twitter.com/a372c8E7Sa
— Yorkshire Wolds (@Yorkshire_Wolds) August 22, 2022
A warning from another Yorkshire Wolds cyclist
Before long you will see the spire of St Edith poking out above the treeline. (The church is, of course, well worth a visit if time permits – I remove my cleated cycling shoes before stepping on to the mosaic tiled floor, said to be modelled on one found in the Vatican.)
Check the opening times of the village’s excellent community shop as by now you will have deserved a nice drink, a bit of cake and a sit down. After Bishop Wilton the route is retraced for a few miles before we head for Millington Dale, then Huggate and back to base to complete a rather splendid Yorkshire Wolds century ride with its Sykes Churches theme.
More on the Sykes Churches
A fascinating hour spent with Moira Fulton, trustee of Yorkshire Historic Churches Trust, originally given via Zoom, talking about this remarkable group of churches built or restored by Sir Tatton Sykes, the 4th Baronet, and his son Sir Tatton Sykes, the 5th Baronet as well as their architects and craftsmen.
A quirky web site on Great English Churches, here focusing on the ‘North East Yorkshire’ Group of Norman fonts, which includes North Grimston, not a Sykes Church.
Twelve of the Sykes Churches on Wasley.Org.Uk
Finally, as someone who isn’t a person of faith, my thoughts couldn’t be better expressed than by the words of Catharine Otton-Goulder, joint founder of the East Yorkshire Churches Trust and quoted in the York Press:
You do not have to be religious to appreciate the beauty of these places – they are works of art in their own right capable of lifting the spirits.
Read the full York Press article On the trail of Sir Tatton Sykes’ churches