This is a memorably great loop ride that takes in the two must-do climbs of Park Rash and Fleet Moss (which is the highest climb in Yorkshire), amidst continuously stunning scenery. Think picturesque villages, hills and rivers, fields grazed by cattle and sheep and vast quantities of ancient dry stone walls.
This ride gives a real sense for what cycling in the Dales is all about.
The route starts off relatively gently, through Wensleydale and past Castle Bolton, but becomes harder as you climb up through Coverdale and over Park Rash. You ride through Wharfdale, along the beautiful River Wharf, before tackling Fleet Moss to finish.
If you want to make this route harder, reverse it. Then you’ll take on the hardest sides of both Park Rash and Fleet Moss!
Route map and profile
Distance: 75 km
Elevation Gain: 1,200 m
Max Grade: 16 %
All metrics in this guide are approximate
Riding Park Rash and Fleet Moss was, of course, very memorable, and the view from the top of Park Rash is jaw dropping.
But two easier, less obvious, sections stuck out for us: cycling through quiet, picture perfect Coverdale and along the bubbling River Wharfe, just before you take on the steepest part of Fleet Moss.
This ride is gold!
The route is triangular shaped and so neatly splits into the following three sections:
1. Hawes to Wensley: 0 to 26 km
You head out north from Hawes and cross a pretty stone bridge over the River Ure. At the junction after the river, you turn right and then head east, passing through traditional stone village after stone village, all the way to Wensley. The largest of the villages is Askrigg, which looks untouched since time immemorial.
You’re surrounded by the glorious rolling hills and ancient dry stone walls of Wensleydale. There are some great vistas including down to the impressive Castle Bolton, and as you climb up after the village of Redmire. The road also takes you past the turn off to the Asygarth Falls, made famous by the artist Turner.
2. Wensley to Kettlewell: 26 to 50 km (via Park Rash)
Just after Wensley, you turn left and climb up past a horse stud and farm, before descending into Coverdale. This valley feels narrower and more hidden away and secret than Wensleydale. The road is single track and weaves through stone hamlets, like Gammersgill, Horsehouse, Braidley and Woodale before crossing the river and taking you out onto the moor and up to the top of the mighty Park Rash climb.
From this side, it’s only the last few kilometres where the gradients start to bite: around 2km at an 8% gradient, though bear in mind you’ll have been slowly climbing ever since you turned off for Wensley. You feel in the middle of absolutely nowhere. There are huge views across the windswept moorland. You can see the odd stream that has gouged its way into the hillside flowing off North Moor to your right and your only companions are cows and perhaps the odd sheep. It’s phenomenal.
As you look over the top of Park Rash, there are staggering views down to the hills around Wharfdale. The first few hundred metres of the descent are viciously steep. Why the road builders didn’t pop in a couple of switchbacks is anyone’s guess. As it is, the road just drops vertically downwards. A white knuckle ride and no mistake.
3. Kettlewell to Hawes: 50 to 75 km (via Fleet Moss)
Once safely down to Kettlewell, it feels like coming back to civilisation as a road takes you through picturesque Wharfdale, with its verdant pastures divided up by stone walls and its charming villages.
You turn off left in the pretty village of Buckden. You’re now in Langsthrodale and this was one of our favourite stretches in an outstanding route. The road sits alongside the rushing River Wharfe, with moorland rising up on either side. There’s the odd farm and tiny hamlet, but barely a soul around. The gradient along here is persistently uphill, but it’s draggy rather than steep and it’s time to enjoy the relaxed gradients and the bucolic scenery.
It’s as the road turns inland and leaves the river, that the gradients rise and you’re now on the steep section of the climb up Fleet Moss. It’s a beast of a climb that will take you up to over 600m. It is mostly 6-7%, but watch out for the final brutal corner at the top, where it must be nearing 20%. It’s basically one long, straight climb upwards with a corner at the top. It’s relentless and the weather on top can be very variable. It may be the less vicious side of the climb, yet it’ll undoubtedly feel hard work coming, as it does, at the end of the ride.
From the top of Fleet Moss, it’s another hairily steep descent down to Hawes. If you like speed, don’t get stuck behind a car!
There are lots of villages on this ride, and many have pubs. Most are unlikely to serve food throughout the day, though you should be able to get crisps and drinks outside of those times. The larger villages such as Askrigg, Kettlewell and Hawes have shops, should you need them. There’s also a small village shop in Buckden.
Read our Tips for cycling in the Dales before you head out.
If Askrigg looks familiar to you, it might be. It was the setting for much of the TV series All Creatures Great and Small, based on the books of James Herriot.
If you’re with family, they may be interested in visiting the Aysgarth Falls and the nearby Aysgarth Yorkshire Dales Park Centre , which is housed in a converted railway cottage. There you can find out everything you need to know about the falls.
Fans of Wallace and Gromit will doubtless be happy to be cycling through Wensleydale. If you want to go one step further, in Hawes you can watch Wensleydale cheese being made in the making at the Wensleydale Creamery on Gayle Lane. You can even buy a lump to take home - though probably not a good idea for your jersey pocket!
Hawes also offers the Dales Countryside Museum set in the town's former railway station. There’s lots of information here about local farming, wildlife and the history of the Dales. More importantly, there’s a bike shop here and cafe too.
Carlton in Coverdale is the largest village in Coverdale and lies along an important route from Wharfedale to Wensleydale. It was recorded in the Domesday Book in 1066, but may be much older. Today there are just over 100 residents and 35 of the 90 houses are holiday homes. We received a warm welcome and good coffee in the Foresters’ Arms pub.
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Don't miss our main guide to the Yorkshire Dales, which has links to all our rides and information on where to stay, when to visit and bike hire. You can find links to more of our route guides in the Articles section below. Happy riding!
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