Thursday, 9 June 2016

No mud but plenty of rocks

By Colin Morgan
Saturday, June 18, 2016 - 22:56
colin morgan's picture

The Lake District isn’t at all like Surrey .. for mountain bikers, it has a major difference – an almost complete absence of mud! This can be put down to the rocky terrain and the amount of rain. Mud wouldn’t last 5 minutes. So, rocks were the theme of the riding over the weekend.


Fourteen Redhill MTB riders arrived at a superb bunkhouse hidden deep in the woods on the Brathay estate, just outside Ambleside, at various times on the Thursday evening.


Helen, Andrew and Julian headed off on their bikes to the pub in Elterwater for food and drink, while another group went into Ambleside for some night life. Rob from WildeBike, who had organised the highly acclaimed trip to Dartmoor last September, had arrived in his custom converted van (fully equipped for bike storage with sleeping for 4!). After he had offloaded supplies for the weekend he drove up to Elterwater to join the group sitting out in the evening sun. Unfortunately that left Gwyn, who arrived late with wife Gill and son Aled, unable to get into the bunkhouse. As mobile phones were of limited use in the area, he had to wait until people returned from the pub to unlock the lodge.


It was decided that we would all ride in one group and so Rob had the services of his son Fin, who is a student in Outdoor Leadership in Ambleside (and a qualified guide) and Ewen, who both know the area intimately. They are also young, and very strong riders, and Fin powering past the group on a climb to reach and open the next gate was a regular sight over the weekend.


Friday’s ride was to the south of Ambleside, deep into Beatrix Potter country. I confess that I didn’t spot any rabbits, nor any red squirrels which we were assured are common in the woods. The first section took us along cycle paths which have been built in the field along side the admittedly quiet country lanes since I last rode in the area. Very cycle-friendly! Reaching the woods at a point called Base Camp (not quite as high as the one on Everest), we climbed on before being challenged to tackle a short rocky (I warned you) climb. Having despatched that, we were rewarded with a long stony descent across Claife Heights, popping out onto the road at Far Sawrey. A series of quiet roads and bridleways took us into the forest at Grizedale, climbing on fire roads until we reached a storming singletrack descent which took us down to the road which runs along the east coast of Coniston Water, and a charming tea room where we sat out in the sunshine and enjoyed an excellent lunch.


Unfortunately, what goes down … after lunch we headed back up into the forest on what seemed to all but the professional guides to be an unrideable (rocky!) track. We were learning fast … We passed Hill Top, Beatrix Potter’s home, which was mobbed with Japanese tourists (who knew the rabbits made it all that way?). The ride finished with an exhilarating (rocky) descent to the shore of Windermere and a relatively easy ride back to the lodge. A hard day’s riding, we had covered only 30 miles but had climbed 1,560 metres. The legs knew all about those climbs!


Rob had planned an evening meal out at Lucy’s on a Plate restaurant in Ambleside, a place somewhat dominated by the aforementioned Lucy. Having pre-selected our meals, we might have expected that they would be delivered reasonably accurately.. unfortunately two orders of Lasagne were missed, and when the waiter was chased, we were assured that they were on their way (not) until eventually the waiter agreed that they had been forgotten.  By the time they arrived everyone else was ready for desserts. A shame, as the food was good otherwise.


Saturday brought a grey day with some light rain. Fortunately, it was warm enough that it wasn’t worth putting on waterproof jackets. The ride started out along the same tracks to Base Camp but then headed west though Hawkshead and past the tourist honey pot of Tarn Hows on a track which roller-coasted up and down the hillside. Crossing a main road, we climbed to some disused slate quarries. The bridleway down the hillside consisted of plates of slate which sounded like a xylophone as the bikes clattered down over them. One of the advantages of having several guides was shown as Rob took a short-cut to the lunch stop to pre-order plates of sandwiches. Reaching the pub in Little Langdale, drinks were barely purchased before the food arrived. Excellent guiding!


The highlight of the afternoon’s ride was the bridleway along Loughrigg Terrace, which traverses the hill side with spectacular views over Grasmere and Rydal Water. We then visited a large cave in a disused quarry, now flooded, where Andrew could exercise his fine tenor voice and entertain us with arias from the operas (before being told to put a sock in it by some of the more forthcoming members of the group). An extremely rocky descent finished a fine ride. 25 miles and 1,300 metres of climbing.


Back at the lodge, various people tried to persuade the TV to work so that we could watch the opening England match against Russia in the Euro 2016 tournament. No luck .. the staff at the lodge suggested that the signal wasn’t very good when the weather was poor (it had started raining by then). A national calamity (of missing the match) was averted as Rob has a TV in his van. The fan zone then gathered under the awning, sitting out and being bitten to death by midges while England toiled to an undeserved draw. Meanwhile, Rob had persuaded the BBQ to light in spite of the rain and in due course excellent home made burgers were served to the troops.


Some of the group had to miss the Sunday ride as they had to return home early, but ten of us tackled a route east over the classic MTB route over Garburn Pass. This is a long, and in places very steep, climb to the pass at a height of 450m followed by a challenging and very rocky descent. There were some tumbles, and one or two chose to walk down the more gnarly sections. After the pass had been stormed, the ride took us around easier tracks before finally returning to Ambleside from the viewpoint at Jenkin Crag. You won’t be surprised when I tell you that the descent is very rocky!


Finally, congratulations to Rob for organising a superb introduction to the area, to the guides for sprinting ahead to open gates (that’s a luxury!), and to Gwyn for putting the trip together. An excellent weekend.



lots of photos here
Little video here