DISTANCE 38 miles (61km)
MAIN CLIMB Eakring Hill
TOTAL CLIMB 260 metres
ACHTUNG! Crossing of A616 and A617
From starting out as a young racer who was part of the Yorkshire Road Club’s winning British Best All-Rounder team of 1958, through being the Canadian team manager at the 1970 Commonwealth and 1972 Olympic Games, to working in marketing with Raleigh in the Nineties, Mike Breckon has spent most of his life in cycling.
When he wasn’t directly involved with the sport, Breckon was organising Canada’s first assault on Everest, running his own Himalayan trekking company, or working for the Edmund Hillary Foundation. It’s hard to think of anyone with a CV better suited to ensuring the National Byway project is a success.
But Breckon has something extra: a passion for the simple pleasure of riding through the British countryside on a bike. Breckon’s passion forms the DNA of the National Byway, and it is the thing that makes it greater than the sum of all the traffic counts and other statistics that have gone into creating it.
Reason to ride
“Actually the Byway combines my two passions, one for cycling and one for history. People ask what the difference is between the Byway and Sustrans. I say that Sustrans provides an opportunity to ride while the Byway provides a reason.
“What I mean is that, yes, we have a route that fits within certain strict criteria, like a traffic count of no more than four vehicles per mile when you are travelling at 10 miles per hour, but the Byway also passes through our heritage. On average there is one place of interest in every five miles of the whole route,” Breckon explains.
The Byway is basically a place-to-place signposted route around Britain that seeks out the quietest roads. “And there are far more than you think,” says Breckon. At certain places there are loops, circular routes that start and finish in the same place, that are designed to give a taste of what the Byway is all about.
One of them is the Newark-Southwell loop, which is on the East Midlands section of the Byway, and is particularly dear to Breckon’s heart, as he lived in this area for many years after he returned from living in Canada.
The first part of the loop runs along the East Midlands Byway route, with the busy first couple of miles north out of Newark being ridden on a cycle path.
“We got the council to build that for us, and every time I pass, either on the bike or in my car, I see at least two or three cyclists using it,” says Breckon.
He leaves the path at South Muskham and once the busy A1 has been crossed by bridge, the Byway descends. “The qualification for a road to be looked at for inclusion is four cars per mile, but it averages out at just over two per mile,” Breckon says. “I ride it all. I am doing about 100 miles a week, every week, working on the final stages of the project. I look at the map before I try a road. I can usually pick the quiet ones. I think most experienced cyclists can do that when they look at a map,” says Breckon.
Through Ossington and Moorhouse, on roads that were once part of some good road race circuits, Breckon arrives at Laxton and one of the key heritage sites on this loop. “It’s the only place in Britain where you can see strip farming. Rather than individually fenced fields, the land is divided into three huge open fields, and each one is farmed in strips. The surviving manorial court meets each year to decide how the strips will be farmed.”
In Laxton, the loop separates from the main Byway route, which pushes on to Gainsborough and ends its passage through the East Midlands in Barton-upon-Humber.
There’s another hill to climb, then a right to Kneesall, and past a fine 500-year-old farm house.
Then it’s downhill to Eakring, and a climb up the biggest hill on this undulating but not severe route. The peaceful woods on the left at the top have a surprising secret. They were once home to the biggest inland oil field in Britain, which was crucial during the Second World War. The oil was extracted by a group of Americans called the Oklahoma Roughnecks, and there is an impressive bronze statue of an oilman not far inside the entrance to the woods.
Charlie’s last night
From there, the road descends to Kirklington then follows a disused railway line to Southwell.
“There is a lot of history here,” Breckon says, as he pauses at an open green surrounded by fine houses, called the Burgage. “There’s the Norman Minster, the Saracen’s Head pub, where Charles I spent his last night of freedom. Lord Byron lived in one of the houses on the Burgage, and the Bramley apple came from here.”
It’s up hill again, then, to Hockerton and across the A617 and later the A616 to Caunton. “All the crossings of main roads are chosen after taking into consideration the visibility and the existing street furniture, and they are always within an existing speed-restricted area,” says Breckon, before riding on through Caunton and back onto the main route at North Muskham.
“There,” he says at the end. “What could be better than that? Someone from London could come up on the train to Newark from King’s Cross, have a nice ride around that route, a good meal here in Newark and be back in London in no time.”
And in essence that is what the National Byway is about. It’s user friendly. Uncomplicated maps of each section give you all the route-finding and heritage information you need, and the route is well signposted, but the star is the British countryside. Enjoy it.
YOUR GUIDE: MIKE BRECKON
* Aged 71, lives in Fulbeck, Lincolnshire with Carol. He has four children
* Wrote the Ron Kitching biography, A Wheel in Two Worlds
* Produced a radio series entitled Goddess Mother of the World, about Mount Everest, that won the Grand Award at the New York International Radio Festival
* Says that the film Munich, which is based on the Munich Olympics terrorist attack, is very real. He should know because his room was on the opposite landing
* National Byway website is www.thenationalbyway.org. You can order all the maps from there
Start at Newark-on-Trent and head north on the cycle path running alongside the A6065. Turn right (TR) on unclassified to South Muskham. Go over A1 bridge and TR to Norwell. TR and 1st turn left (TL) in Norwell. TL to Ossington. In Ossington TR to Moorhouse, where TL to Laxton. TR to Kneesall (all unclassified).
TR in Kneesall onto A616. After 100 metres TL to Eakring on unclassified. In Eakring TL to A617. At A617 TL to Kirklington. In Kirklington TR on unclassified and follow signs to Southwell Trail. Follow Southwell Trail east to Southwell. TL on unclassified and cross A617 and A616 to Caunton. In Caunton TR to North Muskham and retrace route back