Matterdale and Ullswater Ride

A couple of months ago I stuffed my Trek 920 into the car and drove up to Pooley Bridge for a bit of a mixed ride. Plenty of hills and a few off road sections, hopefully nothing that the old beast couldn’t manage. Obviously much of the ride was dictated by the need for more tiles (it’s a Veloviewer thing).

Setting off and the weather was great and the hills were immediate. Matterdale was a bit of a shock that early, but at least I was riding on some lovely quiet roads. A couple of deadends followed, deliberate, one on road and the other off, before a small section of illicit or illegal riding.

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I crossed over the A66 and rode down a small track to the edge of Troutbeck Forest. As the sign said ‘no public right of way’ I continued. A lifted my bike over a padlocked fence and rode down a very pleasant track, completely devoid of anyone.

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I got slightly annoyed by this. Who are the land owners and what gives them the right to fence off such a large and beautiful area of the countryside. See also much of the land south of Lancaster and in the Trough of Bowland which has been set aside for shooting. What harm would a few bicycles actually do to your precious fenced off land. (Rant over).

Back on the road and I did a shoot loop up to Mungrisdale before dropping down into Threkeld. This next section I was a little unsure whether I would be up for it as it was a long off-road bit on the Old Coach Road.

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It was a bit rough and steep in places but I managed to ride most of it. I also saw an older couple riding on e-bikes in the other direction. Once I made it safely back onto tarmac I rode along the lakeside road back to Pooley Bridge. Not the best road as it’s narrow and fairly busy.

Not being in any rush I decided to throw in one last long dead end on the other side of Ullswater. This was a brilliant road; hardly any traffic and a monster of a switchback climb near the end.

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If you love obscure climbs this is a classic, and although it wasn’t too long my legs were feeling it. Another great little ride on roads and tracks that I’d never ridden before.

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Recommendation of the day – ride somewhere new.

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Whinlatter Forest parkrun

Me and my beautiful wife spent three nights camping near Keswick as my wife was doing the Lakesman Half. I was there in a supporting role, but it did mean that I was free for a parkrun on the Saturday while Helen tried to take it easy. I haven’t managed to find any official photos from the parkrun, but I took this one below a few weeks ago when we did the Lakesman bike route (read about it here).

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Helen gave me a lift to the start and waved good-bye as I intended to run back to the campsite, knowing that it would be mostly downhill. Whinlatter parkrun is rumoured to be the toughest and hilliest parkrun in the UK. Lancaster, our ‘home’ parkrun isn’t by an stretch of the imagination a flat course, so how bad could it be.

After a very friendly run briefing and a short walk to the start we were off, and immediately downhill. It didn’t last long before we went up, and up…

I had started slow and even though I was slower here I was overtaking a few people. With the fast guys having disappeared into the distance I had no idea what my position was, so I concentrated on the next person, slowly reeling them in. Towards the end of the run there is a narrow path which loops back onto the course, and as expected, it was steep. Thankfully the last section to the finish line was all downhill, and as I was handed my token I was amazed to see that I was 8th, although my time was 24:34. Two weeks early I had run Morecambe Prom parkrun 4 minutes quicker! Definitely the toughest and hilliest parkrun I’ve ever done, made hillier with the finish being at a much higher elevation than the start.

I didn’t hang around at the finish line long, just long enough to have my barcode scanned, before running back to the start to find the right footpath back to the campsite. I really didn’t want to have to run down the road as it would be longer and there isn’t a footpath. Amazingly I found the right footpath and followed it all the way to Thornthwaite, which was only a mile from the campsite.

Whinlatter Forest parkrun was one of the friendliest I’ve done, and one of the most unique. However, with over 600 parkruns in the UK, it’s probably one that I won’t do again, especially as I’ve not done Keswick parkrun yet.

Black Combe

At the weekend me and beautiful wife were due to meet up with her family at her brother’s caravan near Grizebeck, but as expected, we decided to make it a bit more of an adventure. Looking out from the caravan you can see the hill of Black Combe, the largest hill on the periphery of the lake district. On a good day it looks like the photo below.

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Yesterday it definitely wasn’t like that. It chucked it down on the drive over, the wind was blowing a gale, and clouds completely blocked out the summit. Perfect fell running weather.

We parked up in Silecroft and followed a couple of footpaths across fields, although the second field had a few inquisitive young cows who wanted to say hello. From there the path to the top is well marked and well used, and heads straight up. In his books Wainright describes Black Combe as an easy walk that the elderly can manage in carpet slippers. I was puffing and blowing as we were reduced to a steady walk. It also wasn’t long before we were hidden in the clouds, which did mean that we had no idea where the summit was, although I knew that it would be slightly less than 3 miles, all up hill. The fairly impressive Strava elevation profile can be seen below.

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As we neared the summit the winds increased, until we spotted the Trig point, surrounded by a small circular wall, which we ducked down behind for a little shelter.

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Moments later I stood up.

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Sensibly, instead of looking for a different route down and probably getting lost in the clouds, we opted to return down the way we had come up. When we return in better conditions then we’ll probably take the longer route.

Surprisingly it was far easier running down, although we did have to stop when the track split into two. We hadn’t noticed the other track on the way up. Not long after that we dropped out of the clouds, and as you can see Helen was pleased to have a view to look at.

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As we neared the bottom the field with cows now had a bull, so wisely we detoured onto the road, into the other field and back to the car.

The rest of the day was spent with Helen’s family, eating and drinking, interspersed with a walk along the Ulverston Canal and the Ulverston food festival. Overall a great day.

 

Lakesman Half – The Bike Loop

My beautiful and amazing wife has entered the Lakesman Half Triathlon this year, which is in four weeks time. Helen wanted to ride the bike loop to have a look at it and to make sure that she can make it back for the run within the time limit. I’ll let you in on a secret, she’ll have absolutely no worries about the time limit.

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I downloaded the route, we loaded up the car and headed off nice and early this morning (Sunday). Arriving at the carpark in Keswick where the race will start and finish, we found it to be nearly full. Unbeknown to us, the Keswick Mountain Festival was on, with fell races, walks, sportive and a swim all occurring over the weekend. I mention the swim because there wasn’t actually a swim. It had been cancelled due to a harmful algal bloom in Derwent Water. Lakesman are aware of the situation and are monitoring the water, but there is a possibility that the races might have either shortened swims or no swim at all. Currently refunds or referrals are not being offered. This is a difficult situation for the organisers with plenty of people venting their anger on social media. I think that it is sensible to ere on the side of caution, and it the water is deemed to be unsafe to swim in, then you have to accept an altered race. Worst case scenario, the race goes ahead while there is some doubt about the water,  and if a few triathletes fall ill people will want to know why the swim leg wasn’t cancelled.

Back in the carpark once we had set up our bikes we headed off, straight through the sportive. Fortunately they were all turning right at the very first junction, while we headed out of Keswick and onto the A66 towards Cockermouth. This isn’t a road I would normally ride on, but it wasn’t too bad on a Sunday early in the morning, although it was a bit boring. After ten miles we turned left onto a smaller road, which was actually worse than the A66 as it was narrower, leaving less room for cars to overtake. Soon though we turned off this onto a very pleasant country lane, with a great descent into Branthwaite. Best section of the route by far.

Joining the A595 there’s a great view of the Irish sea, and with over half the bike leg completed you’re nearly home. The route then does a loop through Distington and back along the dual carriageway. This again wasn’t too bad as there was plenty of room for us. Unfortunately the A595 back towards the A66 was fast with little room, so we opted to use the separate cycle lane, which won’t be an option on race day. Once we reached the A66 we had a stop and a chat. The route back to Keswick will be fast and impossible to go wrong, so we decided to enjoy the ride and head back along some quieter roads. This was slightly longer and a lot hillier, but was a brilliant diversion, especially as for much of the time we could still see the A66.

Cockermouth was a revelation, with a wide street lined with trees. This isn’t an area of the lakes that either of us have visited, although I did a triathlon there many years ago, before Stava. Cockermouth; we will return. There’s also plenty of signs pointing to Maryport, which sounds like a classic Game of Thrones town.

If you’re going to cycle from Cockermouth to Keswick there really is only one route; up and over Whinlatter.

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Whinlatter isn’t one of the ‘hard’ climbs in the Lakes, but it is still a bit of a beast, although we were climbing it from the ‘easier’ side. I had also never climbed it from this side. Helen wasn’t particularly keen on this hill, but the huge grin on her face after the glorious descent made it all worthwhile. Back into Keswick and once again we were mistaken for sportive riders. A couple of years ago we did the Tour De Bolton sportive and I was saddened by the dozen riders waiting outside the school gates to take part in the sportive without paying for it. I really hope that the marshalls didn’t think that we had done the same thing.

My thoughts on the Lakesman Half bike route is that most of it is on roads that I wouldn’t normally ride on, but on race day, with so many other triathletes on the roads it should be fine. The main roads also makes it easier for the organisers, with fewer marshalls required at critical junctions. I’ve chatted with people who have done Lakesman in previous years and they have all said that the roads were not an issue.

If you’ve entered Lakesman I wish you all the best in the world. As for me, I’m really looking forward to supporting my amazing wife as I know that she will surpass all of her expectations.

 

Howgills Half Marathon

A few months ago me and my beautiful wife were looking at races to enter, specifically a half marathon in April or May. It would be used as a warm up race for later in the year when Helen attempts the Lakesman half ironman distance triathlon. (Legally it’s not a Half Ironman as it isn’t an M-Dot race, and therefore it must always be referred to as a half ironman distance race.) I digress. After looking at various races we decided that the Howgills Half Marathon organised by Epic Events would be perfect.

We had both done another race in the Montane Trail Series last year in Grizedale which had been a brilliant race (read about it here). I had also done the Howgills Triathlon a couple of years ago, which should have rung warning bells as the run had gone up Winder Fell (read about it here).

With a 10am start from Sedbergh, which is only a 30 minute drive, it wasn’t an early off, although Nelly, our unruly Pointer, knew that we had our running gear on and was most perturbed when we left her at home. As with all trail races there was a mandatory kit list, especially as it always seems to rain in the Howgills, except for last Sunday, when it was sunny, hot, dry and hardly any wind.

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We arrived in Sedbergh in plenty of time, parked in the correct field and picked up our numbers and t-shirts, before queuing to use the port-a-loos (very unpleasant).

There was also a marathon on who were setting off 20 minutes before our race, so we cheered them on as they set off. We then had a quick chat with Steve, an old friend who had completed the Bowland Half Marathon with us last year in horrendous conditions (read about it here).

Once we were off the route went directly up Winder Fell, dropping down slightly before heading up The Calf, which tops out at almost 700m high. There was then a very pleasant section along before the two routes split off with the marathon runners continuing on while we turned right. There then followed two very steep technical descents, where as always I was overtaken by more than a handful of runners. I really need to practice running downhill.

There then followed a short out and back section to the feed station set up on a farm near Narthwaite. I re-filled my water bottle and grabbed a couple of Jaffa Cakes before setting off over the very narrow footbridge. I waved at Steve as he was running towards the feed station and set off towards Sedbergh. The next few miles were fairly easy going along footpaths with very little climbing. We had been warned about the final hill, but after Winder and The Calf how hard could it be.

Swearing, lots of swearing, that’s how hard it was. So steep I was almost crawling up it. We didn’t even go all the way to the top, but it felt never ending. Eventually the route followed the contours of the hill before another steep technical descent. We crossed a small stream where I dipped my hat, which then promptly gave me a headache because the water was so cold. Finally I could see and hear the finish area way down below.

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The last downhill section on the road was hard on my tired legs, but moments later I was running around the field and through the finish funnel, to be handed water and a medal. As I was coming towards the finish the announcer was starting the prize giving, beginning with the vet 60 winner! There are some very quick ‘older’ runners out there.

I headed to the car to drop off my medal and to change into my finishers shirt, before returning to the field to wait for my wife. As I was queuing for a coffee I spotted Helen running down the road, much earlier than I had been expecting. I hobbled over to the finish line for a hug and to congratulate her as it had been an absolutely stunning performance from Helen.

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Helen was a little emotional and also full of swear words, mainly about that f****** last hill. A few minutes later the winner from the marathon returned, in just under four hours. I can’t even imagine how he had run it that fast, although Helen pointed out to me that the marathon had hardly any extra elevation than the half, which made me feel slightly less old and rubbish.

Overall it was an excellent race; well marshalled with plenty of arrows out on the course. It would have been difficult to have got lost. We will definitely be doing more events from this series, although probably not this particular race. I think I am right in saying that it was the toughest half marathon that I’ve ever done. Three days later and my right thigh (my leading leg) is still sore from the descents.

Of course when we got home the day wasn’t over, as we still had to take Nelly out for a walk.

Quiraing Mountain

As with most cyclists I love a good hill to climb. I’m also an avid collector of Simon Warren’s books; The 100 Greatest Cycling Climbs, sequel and subsequent regional spin-offs. So when my beautiful wife booked us a weeks holiday on Skye, and that we would be bringing our bikes along, I had to check to see if there were any climbs near to where we were staying. Low and behold, climb #170, Quiraing was ten miles away. Confusingly though, it is given a 5/10 rating in the Another 100 Greatest Cycling Climbs book, and a 6/10 in the regional Cycling Climbs of Scotland book.

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We had been for a run on our first full day on Skye and had been caught in a sudden snowstorm, so when the forecast was good for the Monday we decided to go for it. Many of the roads in the area are very narrow with frequent passing places, so you get used to having to pull over to let cars past. It can be frustrating and slow going, but we were on our touring bikes anyway.

The ten miles to Saffin Bay flew by with amazing views almost constantly, and then we were are the start of the climb. The revised score is only a 6/10, while our local climb, Jubilee Tower is a 7/10, so how hard could it be. We slowly made our way up the lower section, stopping a couple of times to let cars, vans and a minibus past.

The, just beyond the cemetery, we saw the road curving up, with a couple of hairpin bends and plenty of snow at the top. It looked formidable.

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“Steady way” was our motto as we slowly made our way up, avoiding cars coming down and the snow in the middle of the road. I stopped at the last hairpin to take a few photos and to warn Helen if there was any traffic coming down.

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And then we were at the top, where the car park was full. We opted to push on down to Uig, the gentle side, with much less traffic, although we had to contend with a horrific head wind.

Fortunately, we changed direction for the last four miles back to our rented holiday cottage. Funnily enough, we both said that the climb looked far tougher than it actually was, and turned out to be a pleasant climb. It was the middle of March and there were still quite a few cars on the hill, so I would not want to cycle up there in the middle of summer as it would be far too busy.

Barbondale

Barbondale Valley is quite probably one of the greatest roads to cycle on. Located in south Cumbria it climbs gently from the Village of Barbon with spectacular views until a steep drop down into Dentdale.

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This photo of my lovely wife doesn’t really do it justice, especially as it was dull and overcast last weekend, but even then it was amazing. I’ve written about this valley a couple of times in the past, once on a 212km Audax, where the guys I was riding with had never been there (read about it here). The annual Coal Road challenge also uses this road, but in the other direction, with the steep climb out of Gawthorpe and the long gentle descent. This climb is mentioned in Simon Warren’s book ‘cycling climbs of the north-west’, although it only gets a 7/10, and is called Stone Rigg Outrake, which no one ever calls it. I’ve also blogged about the Coal Road challenge (read about it here).

If you are ever in the area there are so many great roads, but this is one that is often overlooked, which is a shame.