The Western Lake District


8.1 miles/13.1km
Height Gain 214m
Highest Point 115m
1.5 hours approx

16.2 miles/26.1km
Can be ridden in either direction but we prefer anti-clockwise
Height Gain 778m
Highest Point 299m
3-4 hours approx

19.2 miles/30.9km
Height Gain 1961m
Highest Point 792m
6-9 hours approx

issue19pic2The first thing you need to know about this issue’s route guide: whilst the Lake District is a busy and popular National Park, some of these routes really do take you into the back end of nowhere. Wasdale Head (the start of the medium and big loop routes) is miles away from anywhere sizeable and does not have the facilities of the bigger towns like Keswick or Ambleside. Nor are you likely to find a phone signal at most points during these rides. That said, when you do get there (and allow plenty of time – I got stuck behind a car coming over Hardknott Pass which apparently had a speed limiter set to about 8mph) it is a quaint little place set amongst some pretty awe inspiring scenery. Just don’t be expecting to find a cash point and a curry house. When a few of us attempted the medium route last summer we opted to do it anti-clockwise. You can ride it both ways but we prefer it this way around (despite the section that will have you shouldering your bike). During that great day I don’t remember seeing another group of riders the whole day. There were plenty of sheep though. For various reasons we actually started our attempt from Eskdale Green. After skipping down the fantastic rollercoaster bridleway alongside the river we crossed over into Boot. Our progress was immediately halted as a farmer tried to bring a huge flock of sheep over one tiny donkey bridge without them dashing into the adjacent craft centre. We watched with amusement, munching on a pasties, until I realised one of the blighters had it’s head in my open Camelbak. Fighting your way through a group of startled sheep, who are penned in by a donkey bridge and three collie wolf-hounds, in order to save your jelly babies invariably results in words from the farmer. Ride careful around livestock, kids. The route up Eskdale fell was a little steep and technical at the start, then it levelled off but became somewhat soggy (but rideable in all but the worst weathers). The descent down to Wast Water is cracking good fun and well worth the effort of getting up there. Rock-strewn singletrack, the  glistening lake to your left and – because it is so remote – it is a much quieter descent than many in the Lakes.

issue19pic3After a pleasant/awful (delete according to the wind direction) spin along the road along the shores of Wast Water you will be faced with a stiff climb up through the edge of some woodland. The climbing doesn’t last too long however – as getting over Irton Fell will be a push! Just as you are beginning to question the sanity of the route designers the treeline will appear on the horizon and your spirits will be raised. Soon enough you will be sat in the shade of Miterdale forest looking back onto Great Gable and the central peaks. Unless of course you are huddling under the conifers desperately trying to blow warmth into soggy gloves like we were. At least we had the jelly babies, eh? D’oh! Again, the uphill struggle results in a descent well worth the effort you’ve put in. A classic woody wheeze with some very fast ‘tunnel vision’ stretches, mossy rock gardens, lots of roots and one particularly gnarly section of consecutive drops which we just had to go back and do again and again until we cleaned it without dabbing. A quick warning about the route: in a couple of places (particularly around Burnmoor Tarn) the trails can be very vague. We were lucky as two of the group had ridden here before – both of whom had got lost when they first attempted this route a few years ago!


issue19pic4Remember to pack your map and compass and don’t get suckered in to following tempting but incorrect trails. Another thing worth mentioning about these routes is that for most people it will take a depressingly long time to get to the start of them. As day rides, all these routes will push the time-travelled versus time-riding ratio to the limit. As such we highly recommend finding somewhere to stay in the area and basing a full weekend of riding here. If you are feeling really keen you can add the Short route to the Medium route to make yourself another Big Loop. Personally I’d suggest arriving late on friday, getting up very early on saturday to do the Big Loop (which is much, much tougher than its length suggests – check out the height gain!) and then having a go at the Medium route on the sunday if you’re still in one piece.

Need To Know


Getting there:


Not easy. Or quick. First of all get to Windermere and take the A591 to Troutbeck Bridge. Then take the A5075 followed by the A593 until the Broughton junction. Take the A595 signposted for Workington til you get to Ravenglass. Pass through Ravenglass and take unclassified roads to Santon Bridge and then onwards to Wasdale Head. Phew. Time for a pint?

Staying there:

There are YHA’s in Eskdale (Tel: 019467 23219) and Wastwater ( Tel: 019467 26222) but they aren’t open all year. The National Trust have a campsite at Wasdale which is paricularly handy for the marvellous Wasdale Head Inn and microbrewery. The Burnmoor at Boot comes recomended from our mate Aidan and they do local guest beers, often Gales, which is nice. Visit for details.

We stayed at Hallflat Farm Cottages, Santon Bridge Wasdale, Cumbria, CA19 1UX Tel: 01946 726233
This picturesque cottage complex dates back to the 18th century and is situated in prime Wasdale territory and provides a perfect base for exploring the more remote and uncommercialised western fells and lakes.

Bike shops:

Not terrifically local we’re afraid. Your best bet for any kind of useful service and supplies is either Keswick Mountain Bikes in… er… Keswick (Tel: 01768 775202), Bike Treks in Ambleside (Tel: 01539 431245) or Wheelbase in Staveley (Tel: 0870 6003435).

Categorised as:

North West England