Monday, June 10, 2013

The Lakes- Exploring the North

To be honest I have been intrigued by the idea of riding in the Lake District for years and perhaps a bit apprehensive having walked there in the past. It is also 4 hours away!
Last year I finally managed a day riding in the South Lakes around Ambleside with a combination of trail centre and natural riding. The 'natural' riding was one of the best days I have had on the bike despite wind and rain, so I finally 'got' the appeal.
I have since been reading the "Lake District Mountain Biking" Book form Vertebrate Publishing and had suggested North lakes could be an option for a weekend away. Out of the blue the chance to do a 'recce' came up this month sharing the trip with a walking buddy and so I found myself in Keswick youth hostel for a couple of days exploring.
There were a number of options for routes. My first idea was to try the Winlatter Trail Centre and then try a natural route. There were two obvious choices - The Borrowdale Bash, (just featured in Singletrack mag), and  a Skiddaw loop. With some advice from the STW Forum I decided to do the two natural trails with Whinlatter as a bad weather back up.
The plan for Saturday was the Skiddaw route as it was over 30 miles, but the morning brought rain and low cloud, so reluctantly I gave up this idea and headed for Whinlatter.
There were a few hardy mountain bikers there, but I passed many more road cyclists on the way up - I guess Winlatter is one of the 'passes' that people try to do in a day, there are a number of road challenges in the Lakes. The rain was still coming down heavily, but I set off on the blue trail for a 'warm up'. This was quite a testing trail, more so with the rain. Maybe it was the weather, but way marking did not seem that good and with a closed section diversion I found myself going around in circles! So, I set off again, on the red this time. The terrain is challenging and steep and I found one of the climbs to be the steepest I have come across in a trail centre. Once again I lost the trail and ended up back at the car park. The mistake I made at this point was to stop because I very soon felt chilled. With the rain still pouring down I decided to call it a day. From what I saw I would like to try this centre again, in better weather. Cafe seemed good, there is a bike shop, but parking was a massive £6.90.
Lonscale Fell
After killing a few hours in the town the rain finally stopped and with some fresh kit on I set off to do part of the Skiddaw loop by Threlkeld and up to Lonscale Fell. Heading up the bridleway from Threlkeld soon reminded me what attracts people to the Lakes - the scenery was fanatastic and very soon a sense of remoteness set in. Lonscale Fell is well know for some tricky rocks and narrow hillside trail. It did not disappoint and I took it very carefully being on my own. Most is ride-able if you are brave, though maybe easier when dry. After Lonscale you meet the Skiddaw summit trail and from this point there is a fantastic downhill for about 2 miles! Ended the day with a big grin and back to the hostel for a shower, beer and good grub!
Sunday Morning was better, so off to tour Derwent water. Locals had given me some 'extra' off road bits to try, but as there was still much wetness I gave these a miss and headed up the road to Watendlath - a climb that proved less difficult than predicted. Once again scenery, views and remoteness were features of the route. The tiny hamlet of Watendlath does have a tearooms though!

I knew the descent to Rosthwaite was challenging, but it was certainly more technical and rocky than expected (and wet!). So was ultra-cautious and walked anything that I felt unsure about. It reinforced the message from the previous day that the Lakes is not really a place to ride on your own and on this basis missed out the Castle Crag descent, said to be even more tricky!
Despite the weather I had a great time. Keswick or Ambleside are good bases for rides and as long as you accept that you may have to push and carry at times the riding is top class! Got to go back and do these two properly in better weather! Also tempted to do Skiddaw summit as it offers the longest downhill run in England.