The English Lake District
We lugged the bikes here, we lugged them there, we lugged them every where. To our minds, or at least to Dicki’s mind and what little I have that masquerades as a mind, the trails in the Lake District are, on the whole, too technical to be much fun with our mediocre skills.
Lungs feeling like they are about to burst there is no need to take my pulse, I can feel every heart beat pounding in my head. The floor of the sapling lined bridle-way is littered with lumps of slate, each of which seems to hold a vendetta against my front tyre.
The sky is blue, cloudless. The view of barren rolling hills stunning. A succession of large rocks now gang up on my front tyre, I gasp for more breath, my thighs burn, I can go no further and come to an undignified halt slumped over the handle bars.
Dicki pulls up next to me and during an admirable struggle not to collapse he reminds me why it is that we had taken to visiting the Peak District and Exmoor for out mountain biking excursions rather than the technically far more challenging Lake District.
The morning goes well though with some fine entertaining riding. Some wide open fire tracks through forest, some smooth single tracks across open moor land and some challenging rocky sections with a back drop of majestic views all beneath a sky with just enough wisps of white cloud to add some interest to the deep blue.
Alas it was not to last. Well, the sky lasted, that is the blue sky lasted, but we soon became of the opinion that the best bicycle for our chosen route would be a seven kilo road bike as for the next day and a half we shouldered our machines up hill and down dale as the terrain proved to be technically very challenging. It was made even worse by the carefully positioned sections that promised for all the world to be ride-able only to bite savagely at us 30 seconds after we remounted.
It was whilst crossing the Black Sail pass that we realised that as a trek it was a fine route with some wonderful views, but as a mountain bike journey it was rather disappointing.
To his credit Dicki had chosen some fine inns for our nightly rests. We stayed in several lake side taverns and at one as an added bonus we were entertained by the farm yard antic’s of a solemn soul who could best be described as looking like an illustration of the village fool from a Dickens novel. A giant of a man with a baby face, the waist of his baggy trousers pulled up towards the top of his ample belly and the bottom of his britches having clearly fallen out with the top of his short wellington boots. I at first found him a most amusing and entertaining character. But as time wore on I developed a deep sympathy for him as his slumped posture and lolloping gait revealed a deeply depressed soul. People such as this always serve as a reminder of just how blessed my life is.
The following morn we began our ride on a sealed road winding its way slowly up and along a narrow valley. The climb was a fine gentle climb, what I call a Chinese style climb after the gentle gradients of the Chinese mountain climbs. Then, up ahead loomed the final kilometre, climbing almost vertically to the top of the pass. After 70,000 kilometres of cycling around the world and many thousands of miles in the Andes and Himalayas I cannot recall a road that looks quite so intimidating in its intensity to reach its highest point.
The road was, of course, ride-able, but only just. With road bike geometry I suspect it would have been quite different, but with the long travel of mountain bike forks making the front of the bike quite high the trick was to get your weight far enough forward and to make the power stroke smooth enough to leave the front wheel on the ground whilst still maintaining enough power to climb the hill. A rather tiring juggling game on the steepest section but satisfying when achieved.
Sweeping through the tarmac corners on the down hill was a joy as was the next section of bridle-way. A challenging but ride-able rocky track taught us that A: we had gone the wrong way on a rocky decent and a consequence B: shortening the front suspension on rocky climbs can make a huge difference to the ability to complete the accent without resorting to carrying. Quite why it take us two years of adjustable travel forks to discover this we are not sure. Dicki also learned C: that the front wheel stopping abruptly on a rocky decent results in a little flying, an undignified and painful landing and a rather impressive bruise.
Back on the right track we topped a small rise and there before us lay a land of Hobbits. The view was stunning. The trail looked lovely as it wound its way into a a fairy tale valley. This was what we were here for and all the climbing and carrying was worth it for this moment alone. A little up and down lead to final decent to Keswick. Of course there had to be a rocky challenge but for us but it was pretty much ride-able all the way, although I did wonder what my poor old hard tail machine made of the pounding.
Keswick was the only town we stayed in. It is set in a beautiful area but the town itself has, in my opinion, little to it save for its location. An insight into local activity and behaviour could, we thought, be gleaned from the informative signs in pubs that explained to patrons such interesting facts as the illegal nature of recreational drugs, that one should not shout outside the pub nor should one smash glasses, and when entering the pub the proprietor expected one to be fully clothed. Ah hum!
And then came the rain. The final day’s ride was intended to take us up and over Helvelen. It was the sort of plan that seemed quite splendid when sat in Dicki’s lounge perusing OS maps over a bottle or two of red wine. Armed with information from a couple of knowledgeable fell walkers, closer inspection of the contour lines on our map and a clever but confusing Ap on Dicki’s telephone we decided that a pleasant day of winding back roads, light trails and cosy taverns would be preferable to another day of dragging a bicycle up one side of a mountain and then clambering stumbling and falling down the other side.
So that, in short, was our ride in the lakes. It was a fine few days away in a most beautiful part of the world. To be in the mountains with such fine weather was a privilege and one we enjoyed immensely. There was a lesson learned, or perhaps more accurately a lesson reiterated, if your mountain bike skills are middling, which I suspect for the majority is the case, then the Peak District and Exmoor are better options.