Tour of Helvellyn – 45km/28miles – Grasmere – Monday June 18th

High Mountain Classic

With the Big 4 Day Epic looming l needed to get in some distance rides on terrain that would mimic that Keith and I would ride on the 12th of July from Pooley Bridge in the North Eastern corner of the Lake District in Kentmere, the Howgill Fells then southeast into the South Yorkshire Dales aiming for every high pass in our way. My riding conditioning was in need of a boost and the only way to do so would be to ride long and high.

To Patterdale from the A591

The Tour of Helvellyn is a well known classic ride, not classic in the sense you can see it off after a day in the office way, but classic in that it represents a purist lakeland ride that has a bit of everything. Steep rocky packhorse roads a well graded coach road and busy lakeside roads whizzing with tourists.

My attempt on this route was a solo effort which I enjoy sometimes when I know the going is not exactly what one would call a good ride but simply getting around and completing the tour not always sat on the bike but rather underneath it as required for the first third of journey. I parked just north of Grasmere at the Travellers Rest pub on the A591on the provision I would have a drink and a bite to eat to the sum of £5 when I return. Fairly doos I thought and took a raffle ticket and popped it on the dash hoping it doesn’t get pulled out the hat.

A good trail to Great Tongue

I set out in search of a good bridle path that turned right and climbed steep. No messing here opting for granny ring immediately just to spin the legs into a gentle warm up and grind out the ascending stoney track towards Great Tongue following Little Tongue Gill. The recent weather that has remained wet since High Street has gills and becks gushing white with rain falling from the fells feeding the lakes around either Grasmere or Thirlmere. The gradient steepens to G.O.A.P (Get Off And Push) status. No amount of hanging on the bars will keep the front end down so I resort to pacing out the climb it stages. This scenario always reminds me of the climb up Bram Rigg in the Howgill Fells to the Calf. Killer! The stone trail fades to that kept grass that only sheep can offer. I use the footsized steps to get a grip on the hill and begin to feel the effects of what can only be described as a full body work out pushing my bike decisively through my legs and chest out through my arms. I’m assessing the magnitude of the climb and how much is left of the ride after what is an incredibly slow start to a long day and imagine what time I would get round to Thirlmere. It seems like ages away with some much mountain before me. The only indication of progress here is clear when looking back to the view of Grasmere which looks very inviting. I think about lying in the park with a book and a beer.

Grasmere from Little Tongue

Waterfall under Fairfield

The track turns stoney but this time it’s knarley and the pace remains slow keep you from gaining enough speed to carry you across the roughest sections. The scree from Seat Sandal is responsible for what makes you think, “what’s the point of this again”? I revert to rolling to a stop and pushing before I can ride to the next unridable boulder field. It’s not a bridleway really. It’s not a path if only for the fact it’s a series of green dashes on the map. I hoist the bike onto my back as more rain falls from under my helmet, it’s head down to start the hike a bike section up to the highest point of the ride through Hause Gap below Seat Sandal to Grisdale Tarn. The role is reversed and I’m taking my bike for a walk because it’s given up and  doesn’t intend to turn another wheel until we head down. Typical!

Grisedale Tarn from Hause Gap looking to Ullswater – A banana stop.

Despite the grueling climb and lack of any proper riding I’m lifted by the view of the cool looking tarn. The sky is a mix of broken grey and white clouds occasionally interrupted with blue but not nearly enough to make a pair of sailors trousers.

I was also lifted by the prospect of a fast descent. You can bare a major G.O.A.P. for the

Just a matter of line choice eh?

promise of an equally major screaming downhill. From Grisedale Tarn the trail looked good . I can remember years ago riding from the side of Dollywagon Pike on my rigid Cannondale m300 (in mango). Yes is was hard going but i was new to riding then and now after 17 years and some upgrade to riding machinery I could make a better go of  this descent. At least that’s what I had in mind. Either my memory has been romanticised over the years or it’s just plain poor, or this trail is now more technical. Do we say technical for those parts of the trail we can’t or won’t ride? The parts where we don’t dare clip in for fear of bailing it onto something that would not only hurt but would put you out of action for a while. This was not my intention today. Live to ride another day is my motto. Beside I had a big ride ahead next month and accommodation is booked an paid for. As I surveyed the trail ahead I was met with regular should I or should I not moments, do or dies that that begged the question. What would Gee Atherton do here? Could he ride it. I figured he could but as I shouldered my bike down through the boulders and steps. When I say steps I don’t mean a tidy line of equal sized treads and risers, but steps that had be kicked about forming no discernible line to choose. I stood looking at the next place to put a foot. I was convinced Gee Atherton would at least find it tricky and if he took a tumble then I’d have to say I was right to walk this part.

The trail continued in this manner for some miles. Walkers were looking puzzled at me for thinking I could ride down here. One feels a need to give it a go a bit more when faced with a group of walkers anticipating your skills on the mountain. My only hope here is they catch you on a section that is knarly enough to rattle your teeth but not enough to knock them out with a spectacular face plant. I recalled Keith’s favourite entry for the blog in this scenario is to write, “it was at this stage of the ride I realised my bike was nothing more than a very expensive walking stick.”

Ruthwaite climbing Lodge at 373m.

Sure enough at this point I confessed to have carried my bike further than I’d ridden it. Reluctantly known as Dismountain Biking. Technically this was not true it just felt like it. I was eager to make some progress with my wheels under me and hoped for a trail to ride on. At Ruthwaite lodge (climbing hut) I took another break. The trail ahead did look civilised in that it was actually man made. A bumpy supersized cobbled path punctuated with rain channels. The path was steep and required a large amount of weight over the rear wheel as the front did it’s best to dive and send me over the bars. A new found technique that seemed to work well was the pedal slowly in a high gear with the back brake lightly applied. It felt strange to be pedaling down a path this steep in this way but was satisfying in that I was at least riding at last.

The start of “the ride” the end of the walking. From Ruthwaite Lodge along Grisdale Beck to Patterdale.  Place Fell is seen through the valley.

Boats at the coffee stop at Glenridding opposite St Patrick’s Well

The ride now was a pleasant cruise in Patterdale. From super knarly to clean buff broad track with a few gates thrown in. One extreme to the other, but fast approached Patterdale and Glennridding where I pulled into a fine coffee hut opposite St Patrick’s Well on the shores of Ullswater. I shared the moment with a few tourists taking in the tranquility of the day. A coffee and my own Soreen to replenish lost vitals to set me up for the next stage of the ride. A road section on the A592 along the shores of Ullswater to pick up the A5091 turn climbing toward Dockray.

Ullswater

Glencoyne

The road to Dockray is a slow climb and but offers up great views of Ullswater. From Dockray I turn left at the pub through High Row where the Old Coach Road can be joined.

I met a three mountain bikers taking break here and stopped for a natter. Typically the chat was centered around the disappointing summer we’ve had. They were on the way to Keswick planning to use the Old Coach Road too. I set off and they followed shortly after. The old coach road is a well graded track it remains relatively level as it contours below Clough Head but evidently it’s well used from the resurfacing work taking place, but probably more to do withthe heavy and persistant rainfall suffered in the recent weeks. A heavy digger trundled along taking up the full width of the track. There was more work to be done as puddle after puddle appeared, deep to the pedals were a measure of the heavy rainfall here. This should have been a hard packed dusty road. I promised myself a return when it dried out, if ever.

The Old Puddle Path (Old Coach Road)

There are good views of the North Pennines to the north east with little in the way . Great Mell Fell and Little Mell Fell the last of the Wainwrights signifying the edge of the Lake district. Clicky this link for some HD video… Eventually the road begins to descend and dirt and puddles give way to hard stone. Gravity builds and builds as the track opens on the approach to Thelkeld common. Blencathra is massive to the right and my ride is now nudging grin factor ten as I’m blasting down Hauswell Brow. It’s on trails like this where I feel the Nomad works best, encouraging me to leave off the brakes and attack the descent. It’s a brilliant trail and I’m buzzin at last.

Great Mell Fell and Little Mell Fell from the Old Coach Road

I arrive at Wanthwaite and grab breath totally pleased with myself and in love with the riding today as the slog of the previous hours blend into the experience of the whole ride. It’s a Tour of Helvellyn. It’s got it all. I descide the tour has three experiences. The first is a hard and frustrating grind to Patterdale. Secondly, pleasant, fun and adrenaline fueled to this point where the third section begins as a tame and tranquil road ride around the back of Thirlmere Reservoir.

The last section of the Old Coach Road descent to Wanthwaite

I pick up the grassy single track bridleway at the Foot of High Rigg through St John’s in the Vale. It’s a roller coaster trail of short up and down blasts. A good workout for the fingers and thumbs as well as the legs. The weather now was ideal. The sun was out. I was reveling in the surroundings taking a step back for the riding giving more time to look around. At Sosgill Bridge the bridle way comes to and changing to a footpath so I turn left onto the B5322 as far as the Green where I cross the A591 and head for the dam, the head of Thirlmere Reservoir.

Thirlmere Reservoir

The Reservoir was built in the 19th century to supply Manchester with water to keep up with the increased growth of industry.  The reservoir and surrounding forested valley is owned and managed by United Utilities, a private water and waste water company.

Dam plaque.

From here the sun dipped behind the fells that make oy the likes of Bleaberry Fell and High Seat, I decided to take the quieter back road the edges around Thrilmere. I nice meandering section of tarmac if the was ever such a thing. Actually after the strains of the day I didn’t mind the easy road back to the Travellers Inn espcially as I could look across the reservoir to admire the back of the Helvellyn range, the Dodds and Helvellyn itself lit brightly by the late afternoon sun.

Overall I was feelling very pleased about how I faired against the test of this tour. It was intended to bench mark my riding condition and I was now confident that I could attack the 4 day epic dispite what it had in store. All I needed to do now was continue to putin some regular distance rides from home and I’ll be ready. I finished the day with £5 odd worth of goods from the Travellers rest in exchange for parking there all day and took home a snickers and bag of crisp and some nuts. Should have gone for the cream tea.

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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.

Saturday 21st April 2012 The Langdales – 31km

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.

Like Batman trying to find the keys for his cave. Mick at the Caves over Jobson Close

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.

Down to Loughrigg Terrace toward Grasmere, but take the right hand track next time to avoid unrideable step up on the left track.

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 .

The slate houses and the Holy Trinity Church in Chapel Stile

Chapel Stile is a pretty little village that sits at the foot of Great Langdale. It

I can feel a tinker coming on.

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.

Lingmoor Fell left and Loft Crag and Harrison Stickle on the right from Great Langdale near Harry Place Farm.

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.

From the Bridge over Great Langdale Beck

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.

Nice signage!

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

Chapel Stile Village from above Baysbrown Wood

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.

Mick cleaning it.

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.

Tarn Hows from Iron Keld

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

The Coniston Fells from Iron Keld

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.

Stephen How and I nearly went over the bars.

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

Is that Ivy Crag over there?
No that’s Ivy Crag behind you.

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

Cheers for the ride!

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!

Clicky here for some Go Pro video of just a few of the best bits.

Loughrigg Fell from Ambleside – Ambleside – Easter Sunday 8th April – Week 3

Smaller alternative to the big mountains but with all the charm.

So what do you do on Easter Sunday? The weather has returned a wintery reminder of what April is supposed to feel like. Showers and dismal looking clouds on the move to find someone else to drench. I guess that’s the thing about putting a walk diary together. It’s often said if you want to be sure your are going to do something then you should write it down at least because until you do it’s just an idea.  As many S.M.A.S.H. companions may have learned that’s it unwise to forecast the days weather based on what one sees from the cosy confines behind their bedroom window. To be fair, for a moment I had second thoughts about making a move into the grey outside that I woke to on Sunday morning. It’s always a different matter once you cross the Pennines, the arched spine of the country that gives rise to two weather systems, one either side. I reminded myself of this and gathered the last of the necessities and pressed the lot into the car boot and made for our normal meeting place.  My walking possie today was a small handful of friends and family. Keith, keen to pop his SMASH cherry having kept abreast of our outings during his time in Dubai and just about anywhere else you can imagine at least where you can get an internet connection. Keith had been bigging his mum up about her extraordinary walking ability earlier in the week and enquired as to whether she could be considered able enough. Well we shall just have to see. Jean was soon being referred to in mind mind at least as Keen Jean. She’s one of those naturally energetic looking people. Sat in the passenger seat wound like a spring ready to go dressed in a casual easy to move about in kind of way.The rest of the crew were home brewed. Lesley and the small people. Jack and Emily didn’t even enquire as to where we were going, they just know they are going for a walk and they love it when new faces turn out so they can show them how to go on and tell them what they’ve done so far.

St.Mary’s church on Vicarage Road into Rothay Park

We set off at 08:15 and arrived in Ambleside at 10:15 booted, bagged and baited at 10:30 as well as robbed on a bank holiday for parking, but in Rydal Road carpark that was quickly begining to fill was a heafty revenue not to be missed by the local council I guess.

Loughrigg is to Ambleside what Catbells is to Keswick in that it brings out all the families  keen to tick off their first proper mountain and fell runners out for a mild challenge. Though I still think of Loughrigg as a hill. It’ll struggle most days to loose its head in the clouds and thankfully today was looking like one of those days.

There’s a different feel to this walk as it takes a while to get away from the of the town. Walking past the shops on Compston Road, the school, the church in Vicarge Road into the park all full of busy.

Emily desperate to climb anything. Low Pike and Red Screes in the background.

We cross the packhorse bridge in Rothay Park onto the lane and then begin the zig zag climb up to Ivy Crag now following the small people. Checking around to see every one was not giving me one of those “you said it would be an easy walk” looks.  I think everyone was fine. I didn’t want to make anymore promises that would later be used against me should anyone turn round an back out. Jean looked comfortable, in fact more so than Keith, but Keith always had that eye of determination that one has when they come out with someone close to them. Keith joked about getting off his bike and pushing last friday in the moors but what is there to get off when you’re already off. Collapse on the floor I guess in front of your mum? No way.  In no time at all we were onto the fell proper holding gates open for other walkers was now par for the course. Though Emily preferred to just climb over them than to simply open them. No one likes a show off.

Deer Hows

Loughrigg Fell is a mass of mounds and crags, that are great for exploring. There are clear broad paths as well as faint narrow ones that spur off on all directions beckoning you to go and have a look at the view from another vantage point. As we neared the top more people seemed to be out

Small people messing about.

enjoying the hill as we were. All manner of disciplines from casual family walkers to hardened fell runners all impeccably polite stepping to the side if you had a pace over their own. I think Jack’s early attempt at chasing down a fell runner was borderline rude though overshadowed but the comic value. We wondered how far he’d go to keep up with him. He excused himself the humiliation, conveniently distracted by a tree that looked like it was worth climbing. So he let the fell runner off.

Small Fell runners near Black Mire

Already the summit was in view and this came as some surprise to Lesley, she was enjoying this walk, especially as Jack and Emily were so lively and energetic. We took our time though and this is something I felt I needed to work on. Good advise from Lesley. I know I have a default pace which is one that is set to push myself so that I actually feel like I’m exercising rather than walking.
I have a tendency to setting a heart rate that

The Oblitorator…of cairns and chocolate coated condiments.

just puts a little to much space between me and my companions. I think it comes from mountain biking alone for so many years. Just pushing myself without anyone else to consider. It’s a habit I guess and one I should be aware of when I have company. Jack pointed observed one woman who he said was wearing make up to cover the fact that she had red cheeks, blushed by the stiff climb. Funny enough but then went on to remark that another woman didn’t even bother. I don’t know which is the lesser of the two insults but it’s wise to sometimes talk loudly over Jack incase someone takes offense. So we stopped some more and took in the fine views over towards the Coniston Fells and  Langdales, as well as a KitKat, but other chocolate coated biscuits were also available most carried by Jack, a gardian of anything chocolaty though relieving him of them can end up in a fight to the death.

Jean – AKA Keen Jean

All together now – Big Arms for Loughrigg…S.M.A.S.H.ed

A short staircase climb onto Loughrigg summit greets you with a fine stoney plateaux, a trig point and half the worlds populations and his dog. I overhear someone ask a couple of fell runners how long it took them. 15 minutes! Not bad I suppose it only took us an hour and 15 minutes and we were just walking and clarting about. A supreme effort and one worthy of a sit down with some ham sandwiches, at first on the windy side towards Grasmere and then some more on the warmer southern side overlooking Windemere. The best aspect of this walk is the constant surrounding bodies of water you see. Loughrigg Tarn, Elter Water, Windemere, Rydal Water all make up that architypical lakeland walking experience. Little wonder it’s so popular so why would it not be a little crowded on a Sunday when so many are fighting crowds in busy shopping malls. The neighbouring peaks can be seen across Rydal. The lower ones that make up the epic Fairfield Horseshoe. Low Pike and Nab Scar being the ends of the shoe. The mightier Peaks of Dove Crag, Hart Crag, Fairfield and Great Rigg are greyed out today. That’s a walk reserved for those made of sterner stuff and powered by more than crisps and a kitkat. Haribo maybe?

Jack and Emily set off to find a geocache hidden not to far from the summit point and found it easy though again a  little disappointed to not find anything of use to them inside. The rain was beggining to make an appearance from the Langdales darkened clouds prompted a move. So we whipped out the jackets and took our summit photo before heading down the North Bank towards Grasmere and Loughrigg Terrace. This is a fine a walk with a view that lasts.

The drop to Loughrigg Terrace is another thigh trembling descent that winds down on a well built path sturdy enough to cope with the thousands of boots that tread it each year. This of course is where the small people effortlessly accelerate down towards Grasmere. Lesley did her best to chase them down but they were in the zone and out of site. I caught them up just as they were about to descend on the wrong path to Rydal Water simply because that’s where the people infront of them were going.

Loughrigg Cave

Back on track we all bunch up and took the high road contouring the fell above Rydal Water to the very impressive Loughrigg Cave, not a natural cave it is actually created from an old slate quarry blast, but is extremely impressive and even has its own small lake inside and a duck!

Jack and Emily have a look about in the cave then we drop down North East to Pelter Bridge were they are treated to an Ice Cream again. This is becoming customary at the end of their walk. But they did great and Emily has vowed never to be carried again on a walk, but then added “unless it about 10 miles” then she might. The last leg is a saunter along the lane admiring some impressive properties to return to Rothay Bridge and into Ambleside. Having walked 6 miles, exploring this fell everyone was pretty much done so once more made for the

nearest tea shop, the Chocolate Bar on Millans Park for some fine tea and hot chocolate on a big sofa. A cracking walk and for me I’ll be back for a C.R.A.S.H. tour of this fell though maybe I’ll savour this one for a weekday when it’s a little more bike friendly.

Fancy a scramble up Halls Fell Ridge onto Saddleback in May?

Believe it!

Saturday 12th February 2011 – Borrowdale Bash

Starting in Keswick the classic mountain bike ride with great views. Lake District – 16.7 miles

After the last two instalments we had eyes on the weather for the whole week prior to going to Borrowdale.  It’s when you go to the Lake District that you always put more hip swing into your sun dance just praying the sun will shine so you can take in the views that a good Lakeland ride brings as standard, though the weather is always unpredictable. For me Keswick stands out as the wettest place on earth, I just imagine rain whenever I think of Keswick. So Thursday was a gorgeous bright clean day and already Craig and I were thinking this could be a good for the weekend. Friday was scheduled to rain but then turn around again for some sunny spells on Saturday for the ride. We remained hopeful.

Saturday morning came with and overload of wetness and dullness that we had not really counted on. Was this going to be another character building ride that would test our resolve? Another one like the last two would have been hard to bare. I would have seriously considered going back to fair weather rides like the Jessie I was.

But it’s always worth remembering that if you are heading to the other side of the Pennines then it is so often a different picture. If it’s sunny here then it wet there and sure enough it was wet here and sunny there.

We arrived in Keswick at about 09:30 with driver Craig, Tinkerin’ Mick and myself setting straight to work on a puncture before I even put my bike on a trail, must have been something in Craig’s van. We had struck lucky today this was just the weather we had been dancing for all week and couldn’t imagine wanting to ride anywhere else. We had been seduced by the landscape on the way and agreed that we never tired of seeing the likes of Blencathra and Skiddaw and other heights on the journey that had stretched cloud clinging to the sides lit up in the morning sunshine.  The carpark was empty and we set about gearing up. Though there was one key piece of gear missing today which was the Map! That was still in my bathroom. I know the Borrowdale Bash is a relatively easy to navigate ride but it always pays to take a map anyway. But all was not lost because I’d put the route into a GPS unit normally used as a backup would now take the lead in getting us round today.

Padded up we set off south straight down the B5289 Borrowdale Road looking for the fork left that climbs steeply to Ashness Bridge. It was at this point I checked the GPS which seemed to fail in its attempt to see any satellites at all. I did worry too much at this point as Mick assured us that this was the only turn left on the road. It was steep enough and felt about right so we pressed upwards into Ashness Wood on the narrow tarmac road. As we ascended Derwent Water was easily seen through the trees flat and calm, water was everywhere gushing becks from Walla Crag and Ashness Fells into the gullies at the road side. We continued heading south east toward the sunshine up to Ashness Bridge as spot that is probably one of the most photographed bridges in the Lakes. You’ll see picture postcards of it in any tourist shop. It was a nice spot and deserved a moment to take in the view from here and good time to catch a breath. We even posed for a couple of shots and Mick and I rode back down to ride back up over the bridge for the camera for the purpose of this diary of course.

It's a picture postcard alright, look there's Tinkerin' Mick. Why aren't you smiling Mick?

From here continued along the road beside Watendlath Beck as we passed Derwent Water we were now flanked by rugged outcrops on both sides, Brown Dodd and Grange Fell on the right and High Seat and High Tove on the left we squeezed through to Watendlath Tarn where we turned up steeply. There were two possible routes to choose but something told me it was always going to be the nastiest looking. Can only remember from looking at the map a couple days before thinking that’s going to a **** of a climb. But couldn’t wait to get started because I knew the downhill drop into Rosthwaite was going to be a blinder. So picked a spot which was a step up, about a foot high that I thought I could peddle to without dabbing if I could make it over the step up then I’ll have done ok.  It was a wide track so you could choose any line but the trail was well gnarly and baby heads all over the place rolled around. Grip was always going to be a problem in the wet. Maybe in the dry this could have been doable and more so with a better pair of legs.  We all dabbed and got off and pushed and carried the remainder of the climb up to Brund Fell excited about the fall on the other side. Craig carried his bike like a handbag containing nothing but a lipstick such was the speed he ascended while Mick and I shouldered our bikes like a sack of spuds slipping a sliding along the way. When we arrived on top Captain Birdseye was out on a ramble headed towards us, all dressed in navy blue, his famous full white beard was immaculate as always, but today he was incognito because he was wearing his dark shades. I scrambled for my camera but couldn’t spark it up in time for a sneaky photo. Gutted! I love his fish fingers.

Launch pad for a downhill blast and a puncture.

At the top was a great view of Rosthwaite down below with Dale Head and High Spy filling the horizon. The trail set off smooth then as soon as it dropped it got super technical. If you’ve ridden Garburn Pass then you’ll know what I mean.  It was rideable in sections until you found yourself completely on the wrong side of the trail for the next rideable section. It then opens up a bit and was able to get on with the drop. Just when things felt like they were going well, everything went wobbly at the back then Craig pointed out I blew the back tire probably pinched on a rain bar which were the biggest I’ve seen and required a hefty bunny hop to get over them. We stopped for a tube change and some of Craig’s standard fair (fruit pastels) and an opportunity to chat on with few walkers going up. Craig threw me one of his excellent inner tubes that resembled a patchwork quilt. I was so surprised that I never held onto any air I put in it as he must have spent ages on mending it. Whilst I appreciated the kind gesture I had to make do with one of my own.

Craig was so good at carrying his bike up the fell he carried it down too.

As I was pumping hard on the rear wheel a couple of fell running lasses came bounding up through the rocks. Mick sniffed them through the trees before either Craig or I saw them but as they got closer we could see why. I swear one had a beard and the other was built like a monster truck, she was in front and nothing was getting in the way. She didn’t even have time to say a cheery hello.  But the Dave Lee Travis look alike at the back with side burns, she was friendly enough. I kept pumping to myself and thought my forks looked a bit saggy so chucked a bit of air in there too.  We negotiated our descent to Rosthwaite across becks and through gates of course until we arrived at the smelliest tea shop…………………. in the world. 

At this point I knew the GPS link up with Sputnik was no go and resorted completely to memory of Memory Map from nights before.  We need to head into Honister Pass which then turns back to skirt Dale Head before it heads north. We could clearly see a gully and figured that was Honister Pass so stuffed in some malt loaf and headed off along what looked like a very mountain bikey sort of trail. It felt right until we started climbing on grass then G.O.A.P and carried until we could eventually see our error. Sorry my error.  Mick got out his phone he’d borrowed from James Bond and attempted a call to Sput Nick to see if he could figure out what had gone wrong. But it was fairly clear now that Honister Pass was further south and we’d short cut the route by heading up Lingy Bank on footpath up onto Castle Crag where we should have headed into Seatoller from Rosthwaite. Still we pushed a second time up onto the Bridleway at Castle Crag. 

This was a good looking trail which soon changed character as it falls through Low Hows Wood. Another big wide trail where a light front end was needed to avoid any over the bar rapid dismounts. It was one of those where you wanted to be clipped in and at the same time you didn’t so dropped down with one in and one out just in case.  It was cracking drop. I didn’t ride it as fast I would have liked it was just too gnarly and kept saying to myself stay off the brakes, let it roll. I had everything I needed for this trail except the skills to blast down it. It was one of those trails that you could stand and talk about all day debating how to ride it.  But I was pleased I only dabbed at the point I caught Mick up who was getting a good seconds taster for Lakeland trail riding. Craig seemed to enjoy it too and we all piled up at a gate where a few wrinkly walkers cheered us down to the gate.  Both Craig and Mick admitted to a couple of light offs on the way down but nothing major which was good because a big fall on this trail could be nasty.

Castle Craig...

We pushed on toward the Grange feeling like we’d seen the best of the ride and poodled along some roads looking out for the next turn up left to ride under Catbells. I was looking forward to this bit the most because it typifies what this ride is all about which is a ribbon of single track clinging to the fells with Derwent Water way down below. We picked up the Allerdale Ramble trail after a conflab about how we got onto it via a footpath and cursing the fact I left the map on the bog. Mick and I agreed (kind of) that we need to use the footpath to get onto the bridleway. As we climbed we could see were the two parted and felt better about our lack of proper navigational equipment.

More photo opportunities presented themselves as we overlooked an uninterrupted view of Derwent Water. I set up a group shot to remind us of what we all thought was a good ride out in perfect conditions.

The TRON suit is not a good look!

Unlike the last ones where we couldn’t wait for the ride to end this one was anything but. We cut this one short and missed a good section though only lost a couple of miles, I think it was a good trail missed though.  But the last of the Borrowdale Bash was still ahead and what a great finale; super fast with little kickers thrown in for some long jumping. 

Does Mick look like a spider?

Craig blasted down while I sat just back from his shoulder not heroic enough to try a narrow pass. He knew I was there but wasn’t giving away his line. One erratic move from Craig would have had me I the lake so I sat there pushing the big ring, both of us at full tilt to Hawes End. Mick wanted to go back and do it again.   No one would have argued with that idea. In fact by the end we all agreed we should come back and do it all again, we seemed to get back too early at 14:30. Shall we go round again?

The Borrowdale Bash is one of the best known mountain bike routes around and still stands as one of the best even when you do miss out the good bits. It will always be there so we are going back hopefully we’ll bring a few more along for ride.        

Who’s up for it?