Lake District Recce 16th – 19th April

A write up of our recce trip to the Lake District, to prepare for the club trip there in September.

Day 1

I arrived at Andrews a respectful 15 minutes early to load bikes and kit into what proved to be a really home from home, with food, alcohol, furnishings and tech that would put a four star hotel to shame. My driver and I set off towards the M5 the skies optimistically bright to match our mood. Not even the regaling of refrigeration and air conditioning tales that caused us to venture on to the M42 dampened our spirits. Navigation was apparently to blame; though in my defence when on the motorway general straight on means stay on the motorway. I digress; abet the small diversion skies stayed bright as we wound our way slowly up Kirkstone Pass and then down below the crags of Hartsop to the northern shores of Brotherswater.
The campsite was as I expected, a well-stocked shop, warm clean wc and shower block, washers, driers (coin operated) and plate washing facilities. On arrival a young Fagan type lad who I think thought he was more akin to William Wordsworth picked Andrew’s pocket for a princely sum for the pleasure of a hard standing and electric hook up. By 4pm one stealthy Cube and a brick like Kona rolled down the hill towards the shores of Ullswater the clouds gathering ominously above Sheffield Pike and dwarfed Glenridding.

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East of the lake the weather was good and the terrain to our liking. From road to bridle way, passed daffodils and grumpy farmer we road (and walked on subtle request) onto rocky single track to Silver Point a turreted peninsular that’s northern slopes dove down to Silver Bay. The riding around this small rocky outcrop was fun and it was here we experienced the delights of snippers in the grass a common Lakeland hazard or is that feature, for lurking in the tufts of grass are egg shaped boulders nestled in groups waiting to stop dead the unwary rider and launch them face first onto their brothers.

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From Sliver Bay we attempted to find a higher level track to take us back to pastures of Patterdale and up the road into Glenridding; this higher level path eluding us at least until the Sundays ride and we returned the way we came, the ominous clouds now breaching the hills to tumble down the valley via Stick Pass. The wind drove rain, then hail that turn to snow and blew into our face as we made our way to The Travellers Rest.  A pint of Jenning Lakeland ale being all that was needed for the weather to calm and to ride back down the west side of Brotherswater  and the Inn in evening spring sunshine for another beer and for one princely pound an hour of wifi.

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Day 2 

The day started crisp and dry hovering around freezing; the hills bathed in sunlight the green of the vale white with frost. Coffee and drone flying followed by a full English and more coffee.

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Bikes loaded half an hour later we arrived at Whinlatter Trail Centre. Light winds, fair weather cloud and Winlatters high wooded location made the conditions perfect for our first attack on The Altura North red trail. The first part of the run began with a quick downhill blast before we climbed in earnest. The climb, in places, akin to White Level at Afan, but with some dramatic ledges their steep sides dropping way into the trees. This is where we had our first mechanical of the day. Chain snapped. Plenty of faffing with rubbish quick links before we continued up a mix of single track and fire road before the trail levelled out then descended along the edge of the woodland where we began to gather momentum only to be dragged to a halt once again with the second and third mechanical of the day. Looking back to see what had locked the back wheel I was surprised to see that the inner tube still inflated was on the outside of the tyre. Under the watchful eye of Andrews camera I carefully deflated the inner tube, removed the wheel re-seated the tube and tyre and re-inflated only to find the valve was faulty, thus an inner tube change ensued.

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Double mechanical sorted we began what proved to be a fairly relentless downhill run through a densely wooded section, where I managed to have a little ‘off’ out of sight of Andrew and his helmet camera. Other than that the run through the woods was excellent, so good in fact that I forgot I couldn’t jump, hit a large root drop and cleared a long diagonal root below just waiting to off the timid rider so sweetly I heard  Andrew gasping in amazement behind me. Out of the woods at speed and into an immense berm that swung sharply down to the left sends the rider hurtling through further berms and jumps back into the trail centre. By the time we reached the bottom I was shaking with excitement and grinning like a madman. Not a long trail at about 9k but certainly full of features and drama.

Popping back out by the mobile 4 star accommodation we stopped for a little faffing before we headed to the café for tea and scones. Service was a slow as it has always been, but decent grub and plenty of tea/coffee. Refreshed and keen to sample the delights of the South loop of the Altura Red we struck out again.

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Where the North run is pretty much a big up and big down the South terrain was a little more varied and with it more technical. Mechanical number 4 ensued almost immediately we entered the trail: Another puncture, we could hear the calls of ‘go tubeless’ from the disciples of goo all the way from the Facebook page of SMTBE.  Andrew managed firstly to forget a spare tube, though he did thoughtfully pack a skinny bike tube, and then had various issues with puncture repairs and super tight rims. After much faffing and swearing by the both of us Andrew had to take himself into the woods and make like the hulk to finally re-seat the tyre over the rim. We set off again. This was the last of the mechanicals for this day, though little did we know more challenging mechanicals waited.  For me, this trail was a little daunting at times with some large rock gardens and rocky drop offs. Andrew and his borrowed Kona 153 coped with the terrain admirably. That said with all its challenges the trail was immensely enjoyable and a good contrast to the North’s terrain. Indeed the end of the trail seemed to come far too soon and we found ourselves back at the 4 star again. A quick discussion and we agreed to ride the North loop again, though Andrew’s preference was the South. This time a clean if not untidy run under the watchful eye of the head cam found us back on the car park and making our way back passed Keswick and a coming to life of phone communications.

One specific text throwing our next day’s ride into a quandary: Nigel our ride guide had text to tell us that he had had an off while running a line in preparation for a race (he is an Orange Pro Rider) and was now sat at home arm in a sling. It looked like our ride up Helvellyn and down Stick Pass would be on our own.

Back at camp after beer and more quality fodder our attentions turned to the fading light and conversion about the next days now unguided ride and agreed that if the weather was good we would make our own way up onto England’s 3rd highest peak, if not then we would stay low level and plot a route around the east coast of Ullswater. It was then I noticed Andrew looking dreamily up into the hills and I knew what was on his mind, he wanted me to take him up the Priest Hole.  Uhmm! That’s a cave set high in a large rock formation at the top of Dove Crag, I know the scramble route up, which with the light weakening might be important. The route up was direct and at last I had found something I was truly quicker than Andrew at. A brisk hill climb and scramble had us chatting with a loan camper and sharing a Carling kindly left by previous cave dwellers, the last of the light faded. We departed the caves ledge with just enough light to make it down to slip into the shadowy folds between Dove Crag and Hartsop to make our way back to the pub in the valley 700m’s below by touch light.

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Day 3

The plan was, after losing our guide, weather conditions dependent, an attempt on scaling all 950m of Helvellyn, ride its ridge then take the iconic Stick Pass back down to Glenridding. Laying cocooned in my sleeping bag while the wind tried to tear bits of the vans façade suggested plans would be different. As we stepped into the grey of the morning and looked up towards the mountains to the west, thick cloud backed up against them and higher cloud hurtled west to east and our ride decision was easily made. We would take the low level option east to Pooley Bridge.

Taking local advice by way of a young man at the bar in the Brotherswater Inn we headed out on the route we had ridden the night we had arrived then turned right to climb up on to Bordale Haus in search of a promised quality downhill run. The climb was immense and soon got the better of us both, calves burned as we pushed up the last 200m’s or so before being presented with a kilometre rock garden descent, the upper most track even too much for Andrew to attempt ride. We picked our way through slab and boulder for a short time before this track became what we hoped a downhill blast. This route set the tone of the morning ride: A bridal way of short rideable section and implausible rock garden descents and stepped climbs.  It was not long into this section that the rocky terrain took its toll on my rear mech’s  a glanced blow to the derailleur twisted the hanger which sent the jockey wheels into the spokes. Ginger attempts to straighten out the derailleur appeared to work and we rode fitfully around the hip of the hill that the lake lapped up to. Eleven kilometres done and three hours passed when we came across civilization by way of a pleasant café where cake and refreshments where taken and Andrew took time to go and inspect a ‘small’ mechanical issue of his own. Early on while rocks took pay to my derailleur Andrew had managed to drop so far of his saddle that he had sat down on his back wheel which in turn dragged his crown jewels towards his seat post. Lycra no match for neoprene and metal, Andrew ordered his tea and scones in the style of Mini Mouse.

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Refreshed we took stock and decide we would take the road to Pooley Bridge where we would make our way back up into the hills toward ‘The High Street’ where a long descent had been promised. We had barely got going when one more fateful twist of the mech hanger sent my derailleur into the spokes this time, much like Andrews nuts the back wheel tore the derailleur completely off, damaging the chain, rear cassette and shifter. After much faffing a 3 ten became a single speed. This set up worked well for some time, though had me riding in the style of John Jefferies or is that the Churchill dog. We even managed to find a fun off road descent into How Town. Our luck held all the way down to Pooley Bridge and into the climb east to the run that would double us back towards the way we had come. Once more the Lakes had the last laugh as I toiled my way up to the top the climb in single speed, gravity appeared to be getting heavier or perhaps Andrews’s nuts were now caught in my back wheel?  Eventually I gave up and pushed the last few metres to the summit. It was then I discovered the chain had shifted up a cog and was so taught the back wheel barely turned. It took some time to drop the chain down but by then the tension had damaged the hub bearings: Fortunately not to the point of total collapse.

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The weather had been kind, the Near Eastern Fells had held up the cloud all day and early afternoon the sun shone and stayed with us as we turned back down a quick but fairly featureless drop into Pooley Bridge to catch the last Steamer departing to Glenridding, avoiding a 15km stretch of road. Once off the steamer a slightly slow ride west of Brotherswater took us back to the campsite, where food, beer, wine and whiskey were the order of the evening. We agreed on reflection that evening buoyed by Hobb Gobbling that the ride had been a success. We had learned much about Lakeland terrain, found where not to go and overcame some serious mechanicals. The mantra for the day

‘We broke our bikes/selves so you don’t have too’ Service above and beyond to the SMTBE cause.

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Day 4 

Tuesday began bright, cold and still. The excesses of the night before calmed by a full English, coffee and the spring sunshine rising over the fells and flooding the dales.  A quick inspection of the bunk house: a room with 3 bunk beds in it, clean and fairly sparse, which will do and I suspect will contribute to, when not riding in September,  more time in the hostelry which has an impressive whiskey shelf, local and guest beers.

The days ride would be, after some more expert local advice was up the long climb to Bordale Haus, then down into Bordale to re trace the ride the day before to Pooley Bridge and the long descent back to How Town to return home by an undecided route on the west side of Ullswater.

After we rode and pushed are way up onto the Haus plateau; well done Andrew for riding a good way up that hill on the 153 brick bike, I was a little lacks and suffering quietly from a little too much of the happy juice the night before so got of early for the push of shame: My super light Cube not aiding my spinning head and weary legs. Only the inspiration of being passed by an old man of 80 plus heading up and over the saddle (on foot) gave encouragement to keep going. On top lazed the early morning walkers enjoying the warming sun. Here we studiously inspected our map and promptly continued a climb adding another 150m elevation to the 400m already done before we decided that we had gone  the wrong way. Still what goes up must come down so we did via the well-trodden path with loose gravel and the obligatory Lakeland rock gardens we had ascended. The descent was steep but rollable which the Cube coped with admirably, if a little skittish on the back wheel at times: something that I became more used to as the days ride moved on.

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The route off the hill was by way of turreted crags and a boulder filled ravine. The route was steep at first but once clear of the crags the boulders thinned to rideable size, loose scree adding to the at first technical decent until we could free wheeled quickly the kilometre or so into Boredale. A mixture of back road and a fun grassy descent brought us back to the shores of Ullswater at How Town.  From there we retraced our tracks to Pooley Bridge and climbed to the Cockpit Stone Circle, this time not burdened by an ever tightening back wheel the going was easier. From the Circle the 4 kilometre down we had turned back from the previous day awaited us. This descent was straight and fast and we both agreed that if ridden again we could have gone much quicker.

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For the third time in three days we peddled the road north towards Penrith and back to Pooley Bridge for a well-earned rest, a final Lakeland pint for me and a coke for Andrew as in less than two hours we would be heading back down the M6 with him behind the wheel of the magnificent jalopy.  With time short we opted to take the direct road route back to Glenridding, a pleasant ride in the sunshine that felt more downhill than up.  Level with How Town on the east of the lake a steamer sailed out and level pegged with us for the next five minutes, it was then that Andrew wondered aloud if we would get to Glenridding before the steamer. Well that sounded like a challenge to me! I set off at pace and hugged the contours of the lake, up hill and down dale as the steamer seemed to have the edge headed diagonally toward the jetties. As I climbed the last hill that turned me away from the lake I could see my race with the steamer was going to be a close one. By the time I descended into the town and thrust towards the jetties I was just a head, Finally with my front wheel jammed up against the jetty barrier I pulled out my phone recorded and the steamers last ten metres of arrival. Job done I headed back to Brotherswater, a coffee and packing before heading home to Wiltshire.

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I have walked the lakes for years and until last year I had never thought of riding the hills. I had on occasions come across that odd bred of mountain bikers plunging downhill grinning like lunatics; little did I know I would be one of them and understand that the grin was a mixture to ecstasy and terror! The Lakes with their rock gardens, massive climbs and descents, along with unpredictable weather, and once acclimatised to the terrain is a perfect venue of any aspiring rider to extend their capabilities and techniques in some truly majestic surroundings. We pitted ourselves and our bikes against the mountains and at times the mountains won, but the longer we stayed the better we understood that to ride the Lakes you have embrace them and all they have to offer with gusto, a little lunacy and bravery. Both Andrew and I agreed that our recce away was very worthwhile and we returns south better riders for the experience.  On a personal note I would like to thank Andrew for driving and for his excellent hospitality during our stay. After a long days riding good food, good company and a comfortable roof over my head made for a thoroughly enjoyable four days.

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On our return in September we would ask that riders ensure their bikes are fully serviceable, with a good stock of the usual spares and tool kit. In addition quick chain links, spare tyres and even a mech’ hanger would be a good idea. Suitable ride clothing, knee pads and elbow pads at the very least. Full face helmet and other protect clothing would not be a bad thing as would a first aid kit. Other than that bring your courage and bags of energy: Oh and some money to buy the event hosts a drink or two.