I could be excused or accused of using the walking half of the outdoor exploits merely as a reconnoissance mission for scoping out potential for future mountain bike rides. It’s where SMASHing peaks serves the CRASHing around the great riding trails in Cumbria’s Lake District. Ah so what, it makes sense to do so. I make no apologies for pretending I’m out walking just for walking sake, why shouldn’t I eye up the quickest line on the trail in case I ever return on two wheels?
So I got smitten by the very sight of a couple of mountain bikers on the last walk we did onto Loughrigg. We had originally planned to ride the Horcum gLoop in the North Yorkshire Moors, but after the two days of persistent rain that never fares well for a moors ride, creating a creamy, muddy sludge-fest that presides after heavy rain. So I decided it was not only wise to head to the slate and stone laden tracks of The Lake District but it would scratch that itch I picked up two weeks prior. The weather was looking like it should continue to stay dry too.
While the CRASH half of my circle of pals were largely absent from this ride, Tinkering Mick was bang up for a look out. No doubt a bit disenchanted with the hum drum of the daily commute to work and suffering a bit of tarmac depression. I get it after about 20 yards until I begin searching out rock gardens that are actually rocks in someone’s garden to ride over before I loose my mind.
So early start 07:00 or just after to pick up Mick and return once again to Ambleside via A66 and the Kirkstone Pass. Today I started the tinkering. The front tyre had lost air on the journey over. A patch sorted it out and not one of your quick fix types, a proper old school patch from a kit I picked up in Coniston last year during an emergency, one with a crayon, grit paper, french chalk and squirty glue. A proper job.
The Genius gets a look out today, while the Nomad is fork free in for a service with Fisher Outdoors since the compression cartridge gave up on The Reeth ride in March.
I was concerned for this ride if only for the fact it was going to be tricky for me to navigate. I’m still no good at sticking to the intended route, especially on a bike. The map OL7 for this ride got running repairs last night and is beginning to take on the form of a laminated map due to the amount of sellotape applied to its fraying creases. I’d marked out a rather confusing looking route in an attempt to pull the best trails together in one closed loop.
I could think of worse places to get lost. I had enough Soreen to feed and small army, some go faster juice in the Camelbak and a GPS back up just in case we got completely wayward. We circled around the car park and coasted out of Rothay Park following the River Rothay to Pelter Bridge and make the stoney climb to the caves above Jobson Close and quickly down the excellent trails to Loughrigg Terrace.
Mick and I were surprised to see bikes out numbering the walking sticks. The trails around here are shared by both walkers and mountain bikers alike and from what I could tell were happy to do so. I certainly don’t mind, it’s on trails like this where your bell is your best accessory to warn walkers of your presence and that is the key to keeping a good pace. But I never forget to thank someone for stepping aside to let me by, provided I’ve still got a breath to do so.
From Loughrigg Fell we made our way down toward Great Langdale. We did so but not via the intended route. We’d missed the fork in the road that would have taken us left the long way down to the picturesque village of Chapel Stile. I’m not sure how much of a road we missed or was it a good track? I guess I’ll go back again to find out. It was at this point that the weather looked like it was about to turn nasty so we ripped out the shell jackets, rammed in some sort of chocolate biscuit, and headed down the road above Elterwater and the walking section of the Cumbria Way. I point out the walking section in case you question why we did not pick it up to ride on. You can ride on parts and that part is found further along in Great Langdale .
Chapel Stile is a pretty little village that sits at the foot of Great Langdale. It
has these very distinctive slate houses that used to be home the quarrymen in the 18th Century. They mined the green slate nearby. Today it was the scene for an organised running event only today the runners would be dressed as Santas. At least that what one of the signs said. We didn’t spot any jolly old blokes, we were the only ones close to fitting that description and Mick wore a red coat too.
This ride started out with amazing views that grew with each turn. I’d never been into the Langdales before and now were beyond walking distance from Ambleside we were swallowed up by the stunning scenery that this area offers. Mick and I were in awe of the surroundings and feeling like we had escaped and were now somewhere very special and on our bikes too. This was my favourite view of the day.
Understandably the Langdale Pikes are very popular with fell walkers, rock climbers as well as being irresistible to artists and photographers. Alfred Wainwright wrote “once seen, never forgotten” which truly describes the Langdale Pikes. John Ruskin also described it as “the loveliest rock scenery, chased with silver waterfalls, that I have ever set foot or heart upon”. On a day like this I would agree. The clouds were scattered in that way that creates windows on sunshine that light up the fells in small parts that stand out of a scene giving it contrast, depth and interest. I could tell I was going to be reaching for the camera frequently today. We turned left from the road at Harry Place Farm though the largest farm gate in the world and rolled down the wide track across the valley floor to the bridge over Great Langdale Beck, but not before flicking a sample of sheep poo from my rear tyre into Mick’s face. I thought he’d been eating my Soreen.
Back on the proper trails now which were just delightful to ride on for a mountain biker. Up and down the gears through the becks and the streams.
Jackets were off now, the shower was short-lived. I couldn’t believe it was not even lunchtime we seemed to have covered quite a bit of ground and were now heading into Baysbrown Wood to find a climb to take us over to Little Langdale. I clocked a bike rider on trail up on the left so questioned whether we should be up there. A clear bridleway was marked on the map about 400m before Elterwater Hall and looked on first impression like a better off-road alternative. The climb was soon a G.O.A.P affair and reconsidered, but in a rush of enthusiasm I spied another track. We dropped back down in front of a handful of walkers rubbing their index fingers over their maps and we peddled upwards on a fine-looking trail that I thought would take us up and over to Little Langdale. I didn’t and ended at the disused Banks quarry. Still the view was worth the climb looking over the Langdale Valley to Chapel Stile and Elterwater village standing among masses of discarded slate. As we climbed I spotted a piece of slate just laying there on the trail that someone had scratched into it “Keep going”. That sort of thing really does not help the likes of me, I’ll take it as a sign that we are headed in the right direction. Which we wasn’t!
Another check on the map and it was obvious the clear bridleway was not going to take us to Little Langdale but fade into a footpath come goat track
back in the direction we’d come. But all’s well because we a had a chance to blast down the excellent trail we’d climbed.
We correct ourselves and dropped swiftly into LIttle Langdale steering away from the pub, to crack on with the riding. We crossed to massive ford of Greenburn Beck and climbed over more slabs and slate to Hodge Close. Mick and I were enjoying the technical climbs that permeated the ride now. Challenging each other to clean the climbs without dabbing. Some dubious cheating from myself using the stone wall to balance a bit but in a way which I thought was acceptable.
From here on we were climbing for Iron Keld around Arnside Take the highest point of this route at just 266m. We’d make this our rest point before the long steady descent to Skelwith Bridge.
We dumped the bikes down and in a quiet vale overlooking Tarn Hows and fueled up on Soreen and other stuff. We walk up on Iron Keld to get a look at the view of the Coniston Fells
Somehow I’d managed to make right old monocle of my glasses, and left one of course. Fortunately Mick had a spare pair and took this shot complete with helmet hair and malt loaf teeth. Very fetching!
I wanted Mick to set off ahead of me so I could set up a shot him on the meandering trail. I used to say photography gets in the way of the riding, I’m not so sure now, I think they go very well together.The next part of the ride was just superb. It had everything a trail riding mountain biker could ask for. Narrow single track, stone and slab kickers, open grassy power ups into more step and drop offs. More variety than you could shake a stick at all in a non-stop descent. I did nearly throw myself over the bars. Not sure how it really caught me off guard, I just remember being launched forward I presume I had my seat post locked up to high. I’ve got out of the habit of lowering the post on downhill sections since I had been used to the dropper post in the Nomad. I really did think I was going off in a big way too. I’ve never had any high-speed crashes, more lows speed dismounts over something technical. I was lucky today to get away with it. I did video of the near miss but it didn’t look so bad from a pilot’s view. But was enough to turn my stomach at the time. What I could have landed on was not in any way going to be a soft landing.
With arms completely pumped from the descent we made our way along the road to Skelwith Bridge and climbed back onto the sides of Loughrigg Fell underneath Ivy Crag
on the last leg now to Ambleside. I was just beginning to feel the onset of some muscle fatigue after all the climbs were steep and I took this as a personal fitness marker for future rides, given that they are planned to be less forgiving than this route. Mick was feeling good about his conditioning, affirming his daily commute to be paying off when you get into the places that are more demanding.
Once we climbed again onto Deer How it was all downhill from now on to Rothay Park. What a screaming descent that it. Did this ride just get better? It was in all without doubt one of the best. This area is superb mountain biking territory. I wouldn’t hesitate for a moment to go back. It’s on the list for a re-visit so call me up if you want to explore the Langdales, I’ll take in all the navigational foppery as well, it would be hard to beat for all out variety and scenery.
We packed up and set off home via Kirkstone Pass and dropped in for a pint of Kirkstone Black which is black as the barmaid kindly pointed out. We chatted about the merits of the ride and that bits we enjoyed the most. The feeling was one of complete satisfaction. Tired enough to know it wasn’t easy but just right in so many ways. As we left the pub there was a group of roadies in full retina burning blue and yellow lycra. Aside from the spectacle of old blokes
in skin-tight get up, I couldn’t help but feel they were missing out on something, they couldn’t take their bikes into the places we had and that’s where mountain bikes can get you, deep into the wood and disused quarries, over the fells and crags and high peaks that is the attraction of this part of England. I love it and can’t wait for May to get up really high on High Street for more bike riding over the bumpy bits. Sorry lads, you can keep your spandex and skinny wheels!