Horbury Pontefract Castleford (road biking) Route Details

Route Description

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Introduction

A moderate road bike ride from Horbury, to the eastern parts of Wakefield, including Sharleston, Featherstone, Pontefract, Castleford, Normanton.

Conditions

A mixture of busy A roads, cycle tracks and residential streets

Narrative

I headed out from Horbury across the river Calder's valley, and along the south of river to Crigglestone. The landscape here is flat, but still marked by the overgrown remains of the once triving coal mining industry. Here if you didn't know the history, you'd just wonder at the names of streets with coal relevated names, and puzzle at the huge numbers of old railway lines which cross the road.

The road from Crofton to Featherstone was easy enough but busy. I paused a while at the Featherstone War Memorial. Recently opened, a huge wall shows the names of the war dead from the town. There was obvious pride in the memorial, with the wall being surrounded by a well tended garden, and in contrast with the town which looked very worn out, which is understandable given the hard knocks the former coalfield has taken.  I paused for a while to reflect on the names. It was clear from looking that for a small mining town, the number of casualities was huge (850 from WWII). It also struck me that as each name also had a rank, that none of the dead from Featherstone were officers. Junior officers suffered casualities as much as the men, so presumably in the days of a rigid class system, Featherstone was not a place that produced officer material men. It was interesting to see that in WWII, the numbers were vastly small than WWI, but a good proportion of the names where from the RAF.Since the end of the WWII, some names had been added from other conflicts, although nothing from the most recent activitiy in Afganistan.

I then set off again mulling over the series of misfortunes which have happened to the town. Coal mining was dangerous, but reasonably well paid. But strikes and pit accidents made even the boom years seldom easy. In world war one a good propertion of the town's men had gone to fight, and many didn't return. Since the 1950s the mines where in decline, and after the bitterness of the miner's strike the pits all closed. Coal still shapes the area, as you can see coal tips, and in the medium distance the looming towers of the Yorkshire Powerstations, even if now they burn coal from Columbia not just outside the gates.

Pontefract continued in the same view of ex mining towns, but the cycle track passing around the race course at least gave a break from the road. I arrived on the edge of the huge new lesuire complex built on the site of the Glasshoughton mine. Where pitheads stood, you can ski and buy stuff. I guess any employement is better than nothing - but to me at least this seemed to sum up the UK over the last 50 years, where industry in all it's dirty forms, has gone leaving sites to build lesuire facilities where everybody can buy and sell good made halfway around the world, and ski on snow made by burning coal from the otherside of the world.

After that I was soon heading along the busy road to Normanton and eventually, I broke out into the countryside, to pass through Heath, with it's improbably grand and landscaped parkland, and chocolate box village. I assume in times gone by the wealth generated all around could enable the lucky few to live in Heath, and sit on the hill looking at all the industry around them.

After Heat, a short ride mostly offroad found me back home.

 

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