5,913 million km. That’s the distance between the Sun and Pluto, the dwarf planet in the Kuiper belt. Pluto was previously thought to have been the 9th of the planets in our solar system. But we’re not talking about an interplanetary adventure here, it’s actually closer to home than all that.
The former East Coast mainline railway between Riccall and York now hosts a 10.2km tarmac track suitable for cyclists, walkers, wheelchair and pushchair users alike. With the sun at one end and Pluto at the other, the planets are spaced to scale along the trail with each 100 metres on the track being equivalent to 57 million km of space.
Cycling to the planets
We started out on our bikes late on a cold November Sunday morning. Despite the cold, and the restrictions enforced by Covid-19, the path was surprisingly busy. Walkers, runners, families on bikes and serious cyclists too. Leaving Riccall on the narrow path it soon started to widen and we came across our first of the planets. Pluto was depicted by a stainless steel sphere atop a concrete sewer pipe. Not only is the distance between the planets to scale, but the sizes of the planets are also to scale. Pluto in this case has a diameter of just 0.59 cm relative to the sun at the other end of the trail which measures an impressive diameter of 242cm. Each planet has an information plaque giving you more information. Next to the track the finger post tells you that 2.4km further along will be Neptune.
There’s more to discover than just planets
As you ride between the planets, there is more to discover. There is seating along the route with information boards about the birds you’re likely to see there. There’s the Fisher of Dreams – a sculpture by a local artist that sits above Naburn Bridge. A 1/3 scale model of the Cassini probe and a model of Voyager 1 which was the first manmade object to leave our solar system. The path goes alongside fields, through wooded areas, over bridges and is largely flat. There are just a few bumpy bits where the tree roots are starting to push the tarmac up a bit in places.
The Brunswick Shop
Pass by the planet Jupiter and you’ll come across the Brunswick Shop. This Community Interest Company provides a place for people with learning difficulty to work. The plant nursery provides the shop with plants, as well as seasonal organic fruit and vegetables. They also make and stock a range of gift cards, bird boxes and other craft items.
Shortly after the Brunswick shop the path leads into a quiet housing estate on the outskirts of Bishopthorpe. Follow the signs and it soon brings you back to the continuation of the path.
The last section of the route takes you under the A64. Here there are a series of bumps to have fun riding over and around and then you arrive at the sun. Nearly two and half metres in diameter it’s constructed in fibre glass supported by steel and it stands on a foundation of 10 tonnes of concrete. You’ve arrived!
Just 500 metres away is the Askham Bar Park and Ride so it’s easy to park and start at this end during busy times of the year. As we discovered, parking at the Riccall end is limited. We didn’t want to block a resident’s driveway so we ended up parking some way into the village itself.
Continuing into York
Once we’d arrived at the Sun it wasn’t the end for us. The route had followed the national cycle network route 65 thus far and we decided to carry on following the route into the centre of York. This took us across the race course – with a random bugler playing the last post. We cycled past the Millennium Bridge and finally along the bank of the river Ouse into the town centre. This was the muddiest section! Lots of fallen leaves and recent rains meant that our tyres were flicking up the mucky water as we went. Mud guards will need to be on the list of things to buy next.
We stopped in York to eat our picnic and warmed up with our flasks of hot chocolate and chai latte before turning around and heading back again the way we had come. On our way north we had shouted ahead to walkers and runners to let them know we were going to overtake them. Everyone was pretty friendly and we all gave each other plenty of space. But on the way back we found ourselves in a four bike convoy with the front bike ringing their bell to alert pedestrians as we followed on behind. This is definitely the way forward as the path opened up in front of them and all four of us went sailing though without having to change gear and slow down every time – something else for our ‘new kit’ shopping list, a bicycle bell.
The Saturn Trust Cafe
Our favourite place on the way back was a stop at Saturn’s Trust Café. A shed selling hot takeaway drinks and snacks. We warmed up with hot chocolates with whipped cream, and ginger and chocolate chip biscuits which were perfect to fuel us for the rest of the ride. All served by a very friendly and smiley Bolivian lady. There was a selection of seating, a table tennis table, a hoop throwing game – I’m sure it will be packed on a summer afternoon with the silver birch trees able to offer dappled shade from any sunshine.
After the short stop we got going again. The path was quietening down now and we made good time back to Pluto and then the final stretch to the van. By the time we had finished we’d extended the 6.4 mile trail into a 21 mile there and back route. So not quite an actual 5,913 million km but with a bit of imagination we had hurtled through space on our Sunday adventure. We really felt we’d earned our roast dinner when we got home. And we had learnt plenty about our solar system on our adventure.
Have you walked or cycled this route? Which was your favourite section or planet? Tell us in the comments, we’d love to hear about your experience too.
You probably know that we hike or kayak more than we we cycle. While we cycled this route you can walk or run it. There are pubs signposted from the route so you can easily grab lunch somewhere and make a full day of it. To find more walking routes from us click here.