Pedals and pints: Northern Monk to Ilkley

It’s a truism that the best pint you’ll ever taste comes at the end of a long ride
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It’s a truism that the best pint you’ll ever taste comes at the end of a long ride, so when I saw on a map the four North East breweries in this month’s box, I knew it was time for the Ferment brewery bike tour we’d been talking about for the past 18 months.

Lacking the legs for a serious climb, I persuade my friend and colleague Alex Robertson to take on the more challenging route across the bottom of the Peak District, between Redwillow and Thornbridge, while I agree to tackle the more urban spin from Northern Monk to Ilkley.

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It’s an absolutely stunning day by the time I arrive in Leeds by car, and Northern Monk’s city centre Old Flax Store home has never looked better. The brewery’s Billy Marshall is on hand to greet me and share a sip of its Heathen NEIPA at the in-brewery tap room, The Refectory. Although I’m only able to nose and sip (safety first) it’s a cracking beer

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We also take a walk around the brewery floor, to shake hands with head brewer Brian Dickson and pay our respects to a fermentation vessel containing one of this month’s Beer52 brews, Striding Edge. It’s already delicious straight out of the tank, and I look forward to seeing it again soon.

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But right now, it’s time to head out, with water, food, sun cream, camera kit and sensible shoes all packed. My lovely lightweight cross bike suddenly feels a little top-heavy.

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My route is pretty straight, taking me out of Leeds north through Headingly and up into the much more scenic surroundings of the Wharfdale, and then west across the bottom of the Yorkshire dales – one of my favourite places on earth – down to Ilkley and its eponymously names brewery. It’s going to be a very different day from Alex’s (who has already set off – keen) as most of my route will take me along fairly level A-roads, albeit cycle-friendly ones.

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Leeds town centre is the part of this journey that I’ve been dreading; I’ve never been a fan of urban cycling, particularly when it’s a city I’m not hugely familiar with. Fortunately, despite its slightly arcane one-way system and the constant censorious chirruping of my Garmin, it’s not as bad as I’d anticipated, and before I know it, I’m out into the suburbs.

Honestly, the first half of the journey is pretty uneventful, with some gentle climbs, plenty of other cyclists around, and a John le Carré novel in my left ear. Just outside Otley, I stop at the Otley Chevin Forest Park for an ice cream and some photographs.

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Leaving Otley though, I split off from the humdrum A660 and veer north into the Dales proper, cutting through Newall and heading up towards Askwith and Denton. Here, the scenery and the road open right up, and the glorious bank holiday sun paints a picture postcard scene on the rolling hills and traditional stone cottages.

There are a few gentle climbs, which I barely notice with the amazing view to my right, before a long, gentle, satisfying descent into the pretty town of Ilkely.

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I manage to cycle past the turn-off the brewery itself several times, eliciting more shrill honks of disapproval from my Garmin, before eventually finding it tucked at the end of an unlikely-looking residential street. This is definitely the place though, its car park packed with Ilkley’s distinctive ‘powered by beer’ vans and its infamous, matt black ‘party fire engine’.

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I’m late, but just manage to catch brewery director Luke Raven, who introduces me to the team and gives me a quick tour of the brewery floor. The team is pretty busy – not least with brewing our beers – but they’re welcoming and very tolerant of a lycra-clad photographer getting in their space.

We’ve always been big fans of Ilkley’s beers at Beer52, so it’s a real thrill to be able to able to meet the team and see the place where the magic happens. More broadly though, so much of our enjoyment of craft beer is based in its stories, and a journey like this really enhances the experience, particularly in a part of the world with such a rich brewing heritage.

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As I roll away from Ilkley back into the Dales (that lovely long descent is less lovely on the home) I’m struck with the wish that I hadn’t asked Alex to cover the second leg of this journey alone. Maybe next year we can get some members along for the ride? Watch this space…

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