The Dales has exceptional cycling terrain, both on and off-road, as well as endless hiking paths. Cycle hire is available in several locations.
Feature: Cycling for Softies: E-Bikes
Traditionally the hilly topography of the dales has made it an extremely strenuous ride for everybody but experienced cyclists or those with super quads, but a couple of rental shops have now started hiring out e-bikes to help novices get up the ascents. Advances in the market have made these bikes cheaper and more reliable, with batteries that can typically last a day.
Having the extra power in your sails opens up a world of scenic trails that previously would have been off-limits to inexperienced cyclists. Try the excellent Dales Bike Centre for rentals, or the new Yorkshire Cycle Hub in the North York Moors. Prices are generally about a third more than a standard push bike.
Feature: Mountain-Biking in Swaledale
Swaledale – the quietest and least-visited of the Dales – stretches west from Richmond, its wild and rugged beauty in sharp contrast to the softer, greener dales to the south. It's hard to imagine that only a century ago this was a major lead-mining area. When the price of ore fell in the 19th century, many people left to find work in England's burgeoning industrial cities, while others emigrated – especially to Wisconsin in the USA – leaving the valley almost empty, with just a few lonely villages scattered along its length.
The many rough tracks that criss-cross the moors and hillsides around the pretty village of Reeth, 12 miles west of Richmond, make this part of the Dales a paradise for mountain bikers. In spring 2018 the national park tidied up some of the pre-existing trails to create the Swale Trail: a well-signposted, 12-mile cycleway suitable for novices and families.
The picturesque route, between Reeth and Keld, follows the River Swale past abandoned settlements, farms and old dry-stone walls. Parts of the route trace quiet roads, but most of it is on well-maintained cycle paths. It's not completely flat, but there are just a couple of gentle ascents and plenty of places for a pitstop.
Many cyclists like to pause at the King's Head in Gunnerside for a pub lunch at the midway point. It is a linear route, so bear in mind that you'll need to factor in time to make it back to either Reeth or Keld – expect the trail to take about three hours one way. Dales Bike Centre can hire standard or e-bikes from the start of the trail in the pretty village of Fremington just outside Reeth. Swaledale Yurts at Keld can also rent out bikes to guests who'd like to do the trail the other way around.
Feature: The Settle–Carlisle Line
The 72-mile Settle–Carlisle Line, built between 1869 and 1875, offers one of England's most scenic railway journeys. Modern diesel trains ply the route between Leeds and Carlisle via Settle about eight times per day, stopping at several Dales stations with good access to hiking. Alternatively, book onto a vintage steam train charter that runs along the same route without stopping.
The line's construction was one of the great engineering achievements of the Victorian era: 5000 labourers armed with picks and shovels built 325 bridges and 21 viaducts and blasted 14 tunnels in horrific conditions – nearly 200 of them died in the process.
The first section of the journey from Leeds is along the Aire Valley, stopping at Keighley, where the Keighley & Worth Valley Railway branches off to Haworth, Skipton (gateway to the southern Dales) and Settle. The train then labours up the valley beside the River Ribble, through Horton-in-Ribblesdale, across the spectacular Ribblehead Viaduct and then through Blea Moor Tunnel to reach remote Dent station, at 350m the highest main-line station in the country. The last halts are Appleby and Langwathby, just northeast of Penrith (a jumping-off point for the Lake District), before the train finally pulls into Carlisle.
The entire journey from Leeds to Carlisle takes two hours and 40 minutes. Various hop-on, hop-off passes are also available for one or three days. You can pick up a free SCL timetable – which includes a colour map of the line and brief details about places of interest – from most Yorkshire stations. Vintage steam train charters include the Dalesman and Cumbrian Mountain Express; check www.uksteam.info/tours for schedules.