High Street North -22 miles – Hartsop – Saturday 19th May – Week 1

High Street has long held a certain appeal to me. Ever since I was asked to tackle Helvellyn on a my bike just weeks after buying my first mountain bike I knew it was the high mountain rides that I would always grab my attention. I first rode High Street back in 2004 shortly after I got my Scott Genius. With a bloke named Dave, from Blackpool. I met Dave on a ride heading for the Garburn Pass in Kentmere. For some reason Dave and I refused to settle for the obligatory knod that bikers do when they pass by each other. We ended up riding the whole route together. I remember clearly that he wore a disturbing combination of Lycra shorts and a full face helmet. Later in the ride I found a way of asking him about his opposite apparel. I casually asked, “Are you not hot in that big lid?”.  It turned out the fall face was in reaction to a major crash that resulted in surgery to his face. He wasn’t taking any chances but still wanted to ride fast. It made me question what could happen. Dave said it wasn’t like he was being daft, quite and innocent off really that went bad. We seemed to get along well, he rode an old Scott Voltage with a Stars and Stripes paint job. It was a tired looking bike against my spanking new Genius but I admired his carefree just ride and get on with it and use what you have approach. He had just been married and had just moved into a house which needed a load of work, added to this his wife was expecting their first baby. His ride out that day was a means to clear his head and recharge. Well after that first ride Dave and I agreed to meet up again in Hartsop so he could show me the thrills of High Street. I was as keen as a badger.

The Nomad out with fresh new rebound cartridge for the fork and wider bars. Despite it’s racked stance it climbs superbly.

Hayes Water Gill

8 years later Mick and I arrived in Hartsop carpark amass with muddy puddles from the recent rain. It was cloudy Saturday morning we were full of excitement for what I described as a full on Lakeland mountain biking experience. I’ve known Mick since he started riding about 2 years ago and was aware he’d not tackled anything like a high mountain pass. I tried to paint the right kind of picture for Mick so that he’d look forward to it, emphasising the 5 mile descent, or did I say 6. How many of you always add a mile for descents when inviting your mates out for ride. I think I take a mile off for climbs as well. But I needn’t bother where Mick is concerned he’s always bang up for a good climb.

We set out on the well graded bridleway after checking to see I was’nt going to take the

Is that not the Knott? I’m off!

footpath instead. There’s absolutely no chance to warm the muscles or stretch the lungs before launching hard into a grueling series of gated bursts. Ascents that have you hanging down hard on the bars, and butt perched down hard on the nose of the saddle to get the rear tire to scramble some traction from the loose trail. From the off we were egging each other not to dab. Breaking the peace of Patterdale was the sound of rushing water of Hayeswater Gill and that of two southern wide boys growling out ‘Goo on mar san’. The leg burn was immense as ten minutes ago they were couped up in the car for an hour and a half so this was a rush of blood to the legs. Every gate was a goal as we sectioned our way around Gray Crag towards Hayeswater. The trail eases before turning into Hayeswater Reserviour.

G.O.A.P mar san!

The next goal was the Knott. A slippery climb and a 350 metre G.O.A.P ascent was the only way to go. Along the way we crossed an Australian dude in his late fifties, sporting long blonde hair that hung out from under a black wooley hat and looking fairly relaxed. He opened up with, “I thought you brits were crazy, now I know you are.”  I’m not sure what’s crazy about taking a mountain bike on a mountain, it’s been going on for a while now and I’m sure he’s heard of mountain biking. Anyway I’m not the one that hails from a hot country finding himself plodging about in mud. It turned out he was from Perth and reminded me that Lesley’s uncle Ray was due over and has passed on a message to me to get a good walk ready.  We exchanged our intended routes for the day and parted company and I set off for a quick sprint towards the next unrideable section and lofted the bike again and now was set to go non stop to the Knott and no holding back. I just wanted to ride again!

Mick passing along the Straits of Riggingdale and the Knott seen left.

High Street summit.

High Street was in view with a cloud just skimming the top. The slog up this far had made me reconsider the climb over onto High Street itself, knowing we’d plan to have a look around then turn around and come back down again. We agreed to swing left away from Haweswater towards High Raise.

The trails was sweet for riding. Firm with plenty of obstacles to negotiate. Step ups, raising rock gardens and sharp slices of stone like racks of toast to slip between were all entertaining and the added height of our position all went to make up that high mountain ride I had been looking forward to. We cut left over to the cairns at Ramsgill Head to get a good look into Martindale. Mick was preoccupied with the workings of his front mech. A tinker was on the cards for certain. Out came the lube and Mick was satisfied it had restored it back to normal operation, while I was admiring the moving cloud getting caught on High Raise.

It was much cooler up here and the perspiration from all the up hill exertion was now chilling on the skin so time to move on and warm up again. We looked out for the trail I nosed ahead searching for a suitable line onto the old Roman road known as High Street which would descend for about  6 miles to Loadpot Hill over crossing over RedCrag and  Wether Hill.

The Northern Fells from High Raise

A quick burst up to High Raise for a sit down for snackages and to soak up the view. Though we were already doing enough soaking up ourselves. My shorts were feeling a bit heavy without a mud guard to catch the rain. Mick did a 360 video from High Raise at 802 meters while I needed to send a picture to absent friends, just to show them what they were missing of course.

You put your Soreen down for 5 minutes and someone rides over it!

The problem was as we soon found out, the path of which there are many are not so easy to navigate on a bike. The bridleway is not always as well defined as some of the footpaths. Mick sped off in front, launching huge rooster tails of rain water from his rear tire, giving me a power shower soaking. We soon found ourselves slipping down a vanishing singletrack off to the left of Red Crag slowing to a boundary wall at the head of Mere Beck. There was no definable path ahead. We checked over the map to realise our unintended position meant more pushing up onto High Street. We rejoined a trail presuming to be the High Street bridleway.  The going was soft to softer still to say the least. Short bursts of riding interspersed with technical meanderings around boggy sections that looked like they might but probably wouldn’t swallow you whole. I’m always way to cautious around deep puddles that I can’t see into. Ever since I trashed my Scott, dropping my front end at speed, square onto a stone edge buried on the far side of a deep bog. It was some years ago. Folding a front wheel like a pringle, stressing a head tube and busting a pair of forks then launching me into a superman grass slide on my face, well it just makes me edgy now. The damage to me had nothing on the damage to my wallet after that spill. A new frame, new forks and front wheel to put it right again.

The remainder of High Street was slow and frankly frustrating.  It just never gets going. It was flatter than I remembered but the flattness was only brought to mind because I needed to understand why it was so wet. It was much drier when I rode the roman road so many years ago, so never considered the geological aspects of the descent other than I remember it was very fast. So where was the fast bit today? It was there but it wasn’t being fast.  Just lots of hanging arses of rear tires to keep the front light to avoid ditching the front end into soggy quagmires.

Singletrack terrace for 3 miles down to Howtown with superb views across Ullswater

We eventually pulled up at Cockpit after finally getting some speed above Barton Fell but it was ill reward for the effort attained by pushing to over 800 metres. I don’t think I’ve ever lost so much height so slowly and ending with the feeling of fatigue in the legs at half way. I wanted to give more for the next section of the ride which was far more promising. The trail cuts back west and south west onto sandy coloured hard pack. A welcome contrast to the spongy grass we’d been subjected to for the past 2 hours. The sun was shinning on Ullswater inviting a cluster of white sporting boats out from the yacht club.

I set off hard, hungry to build some speed up and rid me of the ride experience so far. The trail does not disappoint here but sadly my legs did and began to feel the grip of cramp setting in. I lifted myself off my saddle and found holding that position was not helping but the terrain said I should. I figured I’d ride it off and pushed on eager to turn a bigger gear. The stiffness eventually eased as the trail descended ever quicker. The rhythm of the track inspired more speed and and an attacking position. The trick now was to make out the details in the trail between what were deep puddles and what could be ridden through at speed knowing that the wrong decision at pace could result in a big off. The trail narrows and broadens. In parts it’s smooth and others it’s sketchy. We learned the area was subjected to 2 days of hard rain. We were pleased we’d just missed it but it still made for a very wet ride turning sections into shallow streams. This path was also enjoyed by walkers too. We came upon a couple of families out for the day and slowed to a crawl, they ushered their little people as well as their nana to the side of the track. Having fitted new bars on this week I’d forgotten to replace my bell and was beginning to miss it. The squal of a disc brake is not nearly as polite as the tinkle of a bell to warn walkers of your presence. After a couple of nice fast kickers for long jumps, we throw out an anchor and swerve into Howtown catching our breath grinning about what had just been a great mountain biking experience. All over too quickly, but then great trails like this are never long enough. Clicky here for some HD video that includes a short view of the High Street bog section to start with some accompanying drum and bass i’ve been listening to recently.

Dirty boy!

We were mud splattered, but beginning to dry out under the sun. The sky had broken up into blue and white in time for a pint and a sit down in the charming rear garden of the Howtown Hotel. It was fairly busy with walkers taking a well earned break in the sunshine. Mick and I provided some spectacle in our a riding garb looking like we’d been dragged across the moor backwards. Had the pace been any slower we may well have been going backwards! The rush of the Ullswater single track had perked us up and knew the rest of the ride was of a different character altogether.

Before we might be embedded into the garden bench we gathered ourselves together and attempted to start the legs up once more. We head out up the steep and twisted road. We made a quick pit-stop to apply some lube. The sodden trail so far had washed off any chain lube invoking that dry annoying squeak. Silently on then we searched about the roadside to pick up the next section of bridlepath above Sandwick continuing along the lakes edge. The trail again starts out buff and gives way to loose baby head boulders and some sunken stones to be hit square on or wiggled around into more technical decsions. Simply go for it or back off to avoid any over the bars dismounts? Hanging out over the rear wheel was the order and then let the brakes off to swoop down then up again. The dropper seat post was a god send on this trail as was a rapid rise gear shift. There are a few sections that just can’t be ridden. If only there was more time to carry some speed then maybe. The technical nature of the trail was not so much about what was on the ground and deciding line choice and such but just as much about gear management.  Although I was cursing some parts I sensed I was some way ahead of Mick now. I hadn’t heard from him in a while and turning round to see if he was behind, he was no longer there. I think I just got into a zone, enjoying the challenge of this trail, it was absorbing and must have stretched out a gap.  I pulled up a by an old fella that was out walking the fells, when he commented that it couldn’t be easy on a bike. I got talking and found out he’d been a moutain biker in his younger days before the term mountain bike was coined. He was fit looking old man and his walking pace was to be admired. Naturally walkers assume you have no interest in walking, considering it too laid back for someone wearing protective armour.  I’m always keen to set them right and recount a few fells recently SMASHed with friends and family. It always raises an eyebrow.  I sped off but not long before I figured i’d use another G.O.A.P section and the old guy caught me up a again.  I slowed and this time made it an excuse to wait for Mick to show. As I waited I had chance to take in the location and the peaceful surroundings. The time of day was perfect for riding here. As I predicted we would be riding in sunshine , though admittedly I wasn’t so sure on the sunshine part but it would light this side of the fell,over the lake. I’d seen it before from the other side as the sun made it’s way down behind Helvellyn catching one of  Ullswater steamers making it’s last pass of the day. It was delightful place to be.

After about 15 minutes Mick appeared over the grey stone. He wasn’t complaining but he was spent. As I was, but he admitted he was feeling it more an a hard tail. But credit due, he’d done well. My concerns about taking friends out on trails like this cause me to wonder how they will react. I’ve had some poor reactions in the past from friends I’ve invited on rides and I’ve never seen them for company again. Mick, I’m pleased to say is more forgiving  and made of better stuff, he relishes a chance to challenge himself. So when a couple of mountain bikers heading in the other direction come by I’m pleased because it reaffirms that I’m not making this up. In my mind I’m saying, ‘look we’re not the only ones slogging it out here.’

All the character of a footpath, great for riding.

After weighing up the technical merits of the ride after such a hard time on High Street we agreed we were not feeling as nimble as we might have been. That spring in your legs and the dexterity needed to pull the bars up quickly was not there. We were just a couple of miles from the finish and coasted down to Patterdale onto the tarmac return to Hartsop. After just 22 miles we were surprised how exhausted we felt. For me it was a big wake up call that shouted out to get more saddle time in before the big 4 day epic in July. This was the kind of riding I’d do with a bit more each day for 4 days. So I was pleased if anything that I’d at least put myself to test. With a tour of Helvellyn in June of nearly 30 miles I knew I had to get some distance training in fast. Mick would miss that ride on account of getting married on the same day. I’ll be sure to let him know how it goes. But if I don’t show at his reception party then I guess he’ll know why.

Tinkering Mick will me Married Mick next time out.

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Blencathra from Threlkeld – near Keswick – Sunday 6th May

Blencathra’s ‘other’ ridge

For anyone who visits the Lake District from the North East over England’s spine the Pennines via the A66 will most likely face the mass wall of mountain with the distinctive ‘Saddleback’ shape. Blencathra is one the most accessible of mountains, at least if your hail from over our way. I can recall (before I ever walked on any fell) the times I passed by this range so close to the motor way. It runs so close you have to crane your

Hall’s Fell Ridge to Hall’s Fell Top

neck to see the top from the car. It’s imposing and to me back then looked far from accessible. In fact I don’t believe I had a notion that anyone would walk on it. I mean how could you, more over, why would you want to? But I think even then as someone who had no comprehension of the pleasure it gives to take a path up to the top of a mountain, I still wondered what it would be like to stand on it. The weather concerned me. It always looked grim and unwelcoming as if it was saying, ‘you can have a go, but you need to know what you are getting into.’ I’m not an experienced climber, mountaineer by any stretch of the imagination but I look at these peaks now and just want to be at the top, now with more of a sense of curiosity. I wonder what you can see from that one?

Those early musings must have had some sort of impact on me. This will be my fourth visit to Blencathra having always ascended from Scales. One failed attempt at Sharp edge with my wife’s uncle Ray trying to ignore the fact I had a viral infection that had me stopping after every 10 steps, you can imagine what peering over the Edge felt like. I don’t really do heights as it is. Ray swore blind we needed ropes to scramble the last hands on section onto Atkinson Pike. He talked me out of it, we retreated back to Scales Tarn and ascended via the common route to Hall’s Top.

I wanted to make this walk a little different. One where we could get our hands on a mountain and figured the way up should be a scramble via the other ridge on the face of Blencathra. Hall’s Fell ridge is a prominent rib that has some excellent options for anyone looking for taster for scrambling.

Today was blighted only by the absence of friends and family. The week had mowed down some of our sturdy companions. Abs, with a chest infection and Emily with a cold. Nicole also worse for ware, threw a sicky. Lesley of course stay home with Emily which was a shame as I was looking forward to helping Lesley get her own back at Blencathra after I once misguided her first attempt on any fell, throwing her in the deep end. We bailed about two-thirds of the way up and didn’t speak for bit afterwards. But after her stirling effort on Haystacks and Fleetwith I figured she was better conditioned now for a crack at Big Blen. But after all the hype she missed out. 

Anth, was super enthusiastic as ever and  he’s clearly excited about the prospect of SMASHing higher peaks. They appeal to him, because Scafell Pike looms in August on the diary. Blencathra will wet his proverbial big peak whistle I think.

For Jack, it’s just another day out with his dad and whoever else might like a look out. It’ll be a chance for him to SMASH his personal altitude record. I think his highest prior to today was the Old Man of Coniston, 803 meters which he SMASHed when he was 5 years old. At nearly 10 he can’t remember much of it now. He prefers not to.

From Thelkeld we start out through the village to Gategill and pick up the footpath taking us directly onto Hall’s Fell Ridge. In no time at all the gloves were on. Can you believe it started to snow? I wanted to say it’s was sleet because it can’t snow in May surely? But it was snow. No chance of it settling on the ground, that wasn’t any concern but what was would be the state of things to come at height. Looking skyward we could see white clouds of snow moving in from Keswick and another one just below Knowe Crag to the left of the ridge. I wouldn’t describe it as threatening; but more bizarre. The temperature was just 9° when we left the car and the sky was breaking up and the lambs seemed joyful enough in the fields and generally it was still pleasant weather.

I decided to take the sting out of the first 150 meters by taking a faint track diagonally across the fell and then cut back onto the main path. The height gained quickly offering views west of Derwent Water and to the South-east, Great Mell Fell. We spread some yards between us making our own way onto the ridge stopping to watch the reaction of sheep to Jacks wooly hat. Sheep often loose sight of their little ones too and need to get by anyone in the way.

Once on the ridge, the grassy fell gave way to a loose slate chipped path flanked with bare rock crags. We aimed at the false summits on the ridge and marked them out for a sit down. I figured halfway would be a good time to take a break. The experience so far was already so different from any other ascents on the S.M.A.S.H calendar. From this standpoint the shape of the peak is more pinnacle than the approach from Scales. Alfred Wainwright gave more pages to Blencathra than any other Lakeland peak in his guide books. I think he makes reference to seven ascents of Blencathra giving considerable praise to the Hall’s Fell route.

Anth enjoying a wide open space over looking Clough Head with Threlkeld quarry below.

From here on the ridge narrows and the stone crevasses signal the way forward.  Once on the ridge the temptation for me at least was to stay on it, despite knowing the path is just a few meters below. I invited Jack and Anth to take the hands on alternative. Before long we are all coiling ourselves and springing to the next ledge, flexing and grappling with the mountain and hefting our way upwards.  As we moved on we each take our individual view of the ridge seeking out the most interesting lines.

Jack getting a hold of the mountain in the snow!

The ridge was busy today with most choosing to make their descent on Hall’s Fell Ridge. A committee of unlikely looking fellas were having a meeting on the ridge and eyeballing the best way down across some slippery slab sections.

The only way is Up!

After 2 hours and 10 minutes we pop directly onto Hall’s Fell Top, the principle summit point of Blencathra. There’s none of that over the brow and walk 100 yards to the trig,  it’s there as soon as you peer over the last of the ridge to find a small sorry-looking cairn and a concrete ring in the ground marking the summit. There were a few walkers on the summit and asked one lone guy if he would take our photo. Jack has now bagged his 25th Wainwright at 868 meters, so well done Jack. He was modest as usual about his latest achievement. I wanted to show Jack and Anth Scales Tarn and Sharp Edge. We turned right dropping down toward Tarn Crags off the path to find a stone to sit on. The view north from here is dominated by the rounded face of Bannerdale Crags with Bowscale Fell to the left. The east has Souther Fell and the A66.

Sharp Edge and Scales Tarn. With Bannerdale and Bowscale Fell behind.

It’s deadly quiet though and we sat to try to hear the conversations of those down below at Scales Tarn beginning their ascent via Sharp Edge, regarded as not fit for walkers. You need a head for heights, which I don’t and besides in this changing weather it’s smooth and sharp edges are best avoided in my opinion. The deep bowl shape holds sound in and makes it easy hear others talking that would otherwise not be heard at such distance.

We picked ourselves up and returned to Halls Fell top to join the South East track to Gategill Top and onto Knowe Crags. We neared the edge to get a giddy view down one of the many gullies to witness snow blowing from below us, carried by the wind tracing the side of Blencathra.

On Stern Blencathra’s perilous height

The winds are tyrannous and strong:

And flashing forth unsteady light

From stern Blencathra’s skiey height,

As loud the torrent throng!                       Samuel Taylor Coleridge

The snow was merely a shower and passed over leaving a white muslin like veiled scene. It was a surreal view like someone had been messing with the contrast setting. From the foreground through to the mountains of Skiddaw, Latrigg, High Rigg, the Newlands and Clough Head had their own shade of grey. You could make out Great Gable and Sca Fell too on the skyline.

Tewet Tarn in the foreground – Thirlmere and Derwent Water – You can just make out Sca Fell in the distance.

“That’s snow right there lad.”

With each meter lost in height we gained a clearer view of the path ahead down a zig-zag trail. It’s slow and hard on the knees. But as the path leveled (slightly) we sat down on the long grass as the snow gave way to sunshine we finished our lunch and took out the binoculars. We could spy out some walkers on High Rigg and into the model town of Keswick.

The conversation continued to be dominated between Jack and Anth since Jack heard mention of Derwent prompting him to recount every detail of his time spent at Derwent Hill, the outdoor adventure retreat for school kids. As it’s funded by Sunderland Council, a lot of adults from the north-east can remember their tales of outdoor malarkey with their school-mates. Anth had a chance to immerse himself in nostalgic memories with Jack confirming nothing had changed and everything was just as Anth remembered about thirteen years ago. Every swing, splash and jump was relived in vivid detail. Jack is looking forward to going back in October to learn more crazy songs about a materialistic bird with a yellow bill.

Stepping over Blease Gill

We cut back into the ingress on a buffed track to Blease Gill and right into the wood. Threlkeld is a pretty little village with well-kept houses made from the local quarry. There are more pubs than you can shake a stick at too. The sun was out for good now and the perils of snow far gone.

The Horse and Farriers looks like a good setting for a pot of Earl Grey from Twinnings. It was by Anth’s standards a fine cuppa made all the better by taking it outdoors to chat about the day against a perfect Lakeland back drop. After nearly 6 miles this walk crams in everything you could ask for from a day on the fells. Strenuous walking to bust the quads and calf muscles, a scramble for beginners, massive views to try out your peak spotting skills and the obligatory changing Lakeland weather experience. Which ever way you prefer to scale Blencathra it will please anyone with the slightest appreciation for getting out on the fells.

Clicky here: Vital Statistics for this Walk

Walk Route Summary:-Threlkeld, Gategill Farm, Hall’s Fell, Hall’s Fell Ridge, Blencathra Or Saddleback (Hallsfell Top), Gategill Fell Top, Knowe Crags (Blease Fell),Threlkeld.

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