South West Lake District Easy Route – pdf
Time: 1 hour +
Total Ascent: 303m
South West Lake District Medium Route – pdf
Time: 1h 30mins+
Total Ascent: 619m
South West Lake District Hard Route – pdf
Time: 2 hours +
Total Ascent: 951m
Despite this area of the Lakes being quiet, our little epic was anything but… The roar of gale force winds, icy blasts of hailstones and the expensive sound of very gritty drivetrains were very much part of the widescreen sensurround ‘Proper Mountain Biking’ experience we had in January.
A friendly warning
First things first, don’t let the following story put you off riding in the South West Lakes. Although our experience of the less-thanperfect weather and navigational blunders are worth bearing in mind, these are the types of challenge that can be dealt with or avoided if you know what you’re doing and give you a sense of adventure and satisfaction that cannot be achieved by sticking to the Easy Stuff.
A short but windy road
As we got our stuff ready in the car park on the shores of Coniston Water we could tell the ride was going to be hard work. The strong gusts of winds blew our helmets off the bonnet of the car and our bikes, which were leant against a wall, were sent crashing to the ground.
Forget righteous red socks – wind is the true enemy of mountain bikers. We weren’t looking forward to the first couple of kilometres of our planned exploratory route because they were alongside the Water and as such offered precious little in the way of shelter. Yet for some reason the Weather Gods took pity on us and the first 15 minutes of cycleway and gates were eerily still. We reached the main road at Torver in good time and were nicely warmed up to working temperature. It was at this point that the Gods got bored with being kind and unleashed their pent up fury upon us.
Somewhere a gigantic wind turbine was switched on, loaded up with hailstones and aimed straight at us.
The next couple of kilometres of road were probably the most arduous either of us have ever experienced on a bike. The road was straight and flat with naught but empty fields either side – there was nowhere to shelter from the intensely cold and sharp hail. So it was just a matter of heads down, teethgritting determination.
After what felt like several lifetimes we finally exited from this wind tunnel of road to head off up a severe minor road climb. Normally severe road climbs elicit moans and groans but not this time – we were just so happy to be out of the wind. Although this novelty soon wore off for Matt as he realised his gear hanger was bent and the mech wouldn’t go into lower gears. Eventually we reached Broughton Moor Forest and we could get to do some decent off-road riding. The bridleway that cuts through the forest packs an awful lot of entertainment into a relatively small space: twisty descending over slippy roots and unexpected rocks, an enjoyably demanding short, sharp climb and a ‘faster blaster’ final flourish bottoming out at the River Lickle.
Some you win, some you lose
After a brief road climb to Stephenson Ground Farm (that would have been briefer except we had an impatient rev-happy 4×4 driver behind us that we were duly obliged to keep waiting as long as possible) it was time to go for a little exploration over the Dunnerdale Fells.
After a bit of sheep-clipped short grass there followed 2km of limestoney singletrack that ran parallel to the river down to our right in a most entertainingly demanding kind of way. Although we didn’t want to stop riding and lose our flow, the views behind us of the Irish Sea demanded some quality gawping time so we had to really.
As the footpath from Natty Bridge joined our bridleway things went a bit wrong. To cut a long and predictable story short we mistook an enticing sheep track over Caw Moss for the trail we actually wanted. After 20 minutes of increasingly vague and marshy hike-a-biking we checked the map and realized we were wrong (the slight clue being that we were heading for the wrong side of the 608m tall White Pike).
With our lesson learned and 45 minutes lost we were back on the right track. Unfortunately the slight gradient that had been ‘entertainingly challenging’ on stone singletrack became ‘bloody exhausting’ when combined with the soggy grass and sucky puddles that the track now consisted of.
Note to self (and everyone else for that matter): never ride this track this way again unless there’s a hosepipe ban in operation. Our cup-half-empty sense of frustration at having just ridden something the wrong way quickly gave way to a cup-half-full sense of anticipation at coming back to ride it the right way sometime in the future; that is going to
be sooo ace.
You ain’t seen nothin’ yet
Eventually the track firmed up and spat us out halfway up the infamous Walna Scar Road climb. If we thought the wind was strong at the start of our ride it was nothing in comparison to the bonkers sideways gales here. We took shelter in an old tumbledown slate hut and ate our sarnies and jelly babies. It was clear that the weather wasn’t going to get any better (probably worse if anything) and the already fading light was doing that ‘sympathetic landscape’ thing that you learned about in English Lit classes. We had to get a move on.
The climb up over Walna Scar isn’t particularly technical but the sheer sustained Hell-perfected gradient of it makes it
demanding at the best of times. In the worst of times it ends with pushing. During our time up there it involved walking up in Burnley-towncentre-at-midnight stumbling zig zags while strong side winds buffeted our bodies around wildly and made our bikes levitate horizontally at our sides.
The very tail-end of the climb turned 90 degrees and the abusive side winds turned into wondrous tail winds that literally blew us up the final fifty yards without us having to turn a pedal.
I’d ridden the Walna Scar Road descent towards Coniston a few times before and it was memories of a-hoonin’ and a-hollerin’ down its wide, rocky and jumpy length that had kept me from just laying down in a ditch and ending it all during the previous painful period of side wind insanity.
The last laugh
We lowered our saddles and rolled off the crest of this classic descent, eager for some well-earned adrenaline. Just as we were approaching the first rock-infested chicane the Wind Gods played their trump card: almighty shove-in-the-back gusts that made it nigh-on impossible to control our bikes. Now even the tail winds were against us (if you know what I mean).
So with great reluctance we dismounted our bikes and pushed. Now was not the time to have a silly accident – and I’d quite like to finish at least one Lake District ride without having to call Mountain Rescue thanks. At one point I lost my grasp of my bike and the wind promptly bowled it down the track ahead of me. I could think of nothing else to do but burst out laughing, and Matt quickly joined in with the hysterics.
Eventually we got low enough down the fell that we could remount our bikes and we rode on eggshells back down into Coniston (we hadn’t yet had a puncture and didn’t want to push our non-existent luck).
Upon arriving back at the car park I fully expected the car to be on fire or at the very least clamped. As luck would have it, it was neither. After a lightning fast change of clothing and packing away of bikes we were on the road back home.
There was a palpable sense of relief and a weird kind of triumph in the air. Upon immediate contemplation we had gambled and lost. But as is usually the case with this fantastic thing that is mountain biking, after further reflection we realised we had not lost at all.
We had won another little bit of experience. Another little nugget of camaraderie. Another small chunk of character
had been built up. And whole new sack full of reasons to keep riding bikes had been earned.
Unless you live to the West of Coniston then leave the M6 at Junction 36 and follow the A590, A59 then either the
A5094 for Coniston or keep going on the A5092 and minor roads to get to Seathwaite.
Coniston Tourist Information Centre 01539 441 533.
Various B&B’s and pubs in and around Coniston. Coniston Coppermines Youth Hostel 0870 770 5772.
Loads of places in Coniston [including the Black Bull, home of the fi ne Coniston Brewery – Alcohol Ed]
Newfi eld Inn in Seathwaite.
Biketreks in Ambleside 01539 431 245
More Route Info:
‘Lake District Mountain Biking’ by Chris Gore and Richard Staton (VG Guidebooks). Contains 27 routes from 12 to 60km long. Special bonus sections include the best downhill runs, climbs and singletrack in the area. Available from www.singletrackworld.com/shop
Posted on: December 9, 2008