A railway track with space in mind and a visit to one of England's most historic cities.
Minimum time 4h00
Distance 14 miles (22.5km)
Suggested map OS Explorer 290 York
Start/finish Escrick; grid ref: SE 616419
Trails/tracks easy-riding former rail track plus back roads
Landscape field, suburb and city
Public toilets none on route
Tourist information York, tel 01904 621756
Bike hire Europcar Cycle Hire, Platform 1, York Station, tel 01904 656161
Recommended pub Kings Arms, Kings Staithe, York
Notes The route crosses a road and mixes with light traffic from Point 5 (Terry's factory) to the centre of York
© Automobile Association 2015. © Crown Copyright Licence number 100021153
Escrick is just off the A19, 7 miles (11.3km) south east of York. From the north take the A19 turn-off from the A64 ring road, then half a mile (800m) beyond Escrick take the first turn on the right. Turn left at the nearside of the brick-built railway bridge following a rough stone track down to the car park. From the south follow the A19 to York (junction 34 from the M62) and turn left just short of Escrick.
1 Follow the narrow dirt path leading down to the main trackbed where you turn right. The cycling is easy on a fairly level firm surface. After passing beneath the bridge at Maude Ridding and Naburn Wood you come to the first planet en route - Uranus. The church spire you can see at ten to the hour is that of Naburn village, and soon you pass under the bridge carrying Moor Lane, the Naburn road. Some woods largely obscure the village as you get closer but if you want to visit the village it can be accessed on the left by the Howden Bridge, where you see the ringed Saturn model.
2 Just a short way further along the track you reach Naburn Bridge, a huge steel structure that carries the track over the River Ouse and its marina. The bridge looks a little neglected, except for the sculptures topping it (see 'The Railway'), but it does offer fine views of the tree-lined Ouse, its boats and the vast plains of York. Over the bridge the track continues into the suburb of Bishopsthorpe where planet Jupiter awaits.
3 Suddenly there's a sign saying end of the railway track and you find yourself on a housing estate without having seen Earth. Don't worry - follow the blue and white cycleway signs first to the right, then left, and you'll soon be back on a tarred track passing Mars, Earth, Venus and Mercury in quick succession.
4 The track passes under the York Ring Road. On the other side there's a huge golden globe representing the Sun. Here the path splits. This is a logical finishing point for those with young children, who will retrace their route back to Escrick. Otherwise, turn right following the tarred track running parallel to the ring road before skirting several fields. The main stand of York Racecourse comes into view and the path rounds it to the right, crossing two straights before turning left towards the right side of the stand.
5 The path comes to a road just south of the famous Terry's chocolate factory, which is about to be shut down. Cross the road at the nearby crossing, turn left along the cycle/walkway, then right on a tarred track descending to the banks of the River Ouse. Turn left along the riverside promenade. You'll soon see the ultramodern Millennium Bridge. Past Rowntree Park and a campsite you follow a quiet back street, Terry Avenue, which still follows the riverside towards the centre of York. Now you'll see the large red and white pleasure boats cruising the river.
6 A block of buildings now separates the road from the river. Shortly, at the Cock and Bottle pub, turn right back to the riverside, where you should turn left. There are some cycle racks by the Ouse Bridge. On the opposite side of the river you'll see the whitewashed Kings Arms. To get to it just climb the steps ahead, turn right over the bridge and down the other side; or you could look around the city first. The Railway Museum, the Minster and the Shambles are a must. Retrace your route back along the railway path to Escrick.
York is a railway city so what better way to approach it than on an old railway line. And this old railway line was a famous one - part of the London King's Cross to Edinburgh East Coast Line. Here the Flying Scotsman and the world's fastest steam engine, the Mallard, thundered along the tracks carrying long trains of dark-red carriages.
So why did they close this stretch? Well, in the early 1980s an ultramodern coalfield at Selby was developed, necessitating a diversion of the railway to avoid the risk of subsidence. Sustrans bought the old line and set about their first major project - a new cycle track, from Riccall to York.
For budding astronomers the line includes a 6.4-mile (10km) scale model of the Solar System, with the Sun being closest to York and Pluto sited near Riccall. Perhaps one of the most fascinating aspects is the Naburn Swing Bridge spanning the River Ouse. Sad and dowdy, its old grey metal structure is showing its age, but there's a fascinating sculpture set across the top. 'The Fisher of Dreams' by Pete Rogers shows an angler sitting peacefully astride the bridge-top with his faithful dog. As you pass below, look closer at that naughty hound, for he is waiting to pee on your bike.
If you're new to cycling this is one of the easier routes with smooth surfaces and little traffic, even in the centre of York. The railway verges are flower-filled in spring and summer and the views are superb for most of the way.