Cat Bells

Last weekend we headed off once again to the Lake District for a mini-adventure. This time for a walk up the iconic fell of Cat Bells. Lots of memories for Helen as this was the very first fell that she climbed as a seven year old with her father. Helen had never been back, and I had never been there at all.

Our route was inspired by the George Fisher Tea Round and shorter Espresso Round. We’d never heard of them until a crazy friend completed the 30 mile Tea Round. The round heads to the summit of all ten fells that can be seen from the upstairs window of the George Fisher shop in Keswick. The 12 mile Espresso round does four of the summits. Both start and finish from the shop, and if you complete the longer route you become the proud owner of a free T-Shirt.

Anyway, as we were walking we decided to miss out the flat out and back section from Keswick and start in the village of Portinscale. With the rain we were all wrapped up in waterproofs and Nelly was even wearing her little jacket.

We set off and it wasn’t too long before Cat Bells was looming before us. Not long after that we reached the false summit.

The well trodden path was easy to follow and we climbed up to the main summit to find there were dozens of people at the top. We took a few photos and then headed back down the way we had come.

We didn’t double back for too long as our second summit was Rowling End.

The sun had come out as we scrambled our way up the very steep footpath, although as we reached the top the heavens opened. In the distance we could see the formidable summit of Causey Pike. With the weather so bad and the route to the top a little too difficult with Nell, we opted to take the footpath down the easier side of Rowling End. Unfortunately this meant that we would miss out the fourth summit of Barrow.

We chatted to a couple of other walkers on the way down who said that Causey Pike wasn’t too bad, so we’ll definitely go back another day.

Back in the valley we followed the road in the shadow of Barrow as we headed back to the car. We stopped off for a coffee and cake at a lovely cafe in Portinscale before heading back home.

Our route had taken a little over four hours and was just under 10 miles, with lots of climbing. I like the look of doing the shorter Espresso Round with Helen and then maybe doing the longer Tea Round later in the year, if Helen will support me.

Another brilliant day out with my brilliant wife and our silly pooch. More days like that please.

Sadgill

Yesterday was a good day. I’ve unexpectedly been placed on Furlough for a week and as my wife had booked a hair appointment in Kendal she asked if I wanted to head out that way for a run while she was busy. I didn’t need to be asked twice as I knew just the place for a run. Last summer I cycled up the Longsleddale Valley as far as the road goes (read about it here). This time I would drive to the end, leave the car and head up and over a couple of fells.

I created a route using Strava, although my first route up and over Kentmere Pike was a little ambitious for the available time, so I opted to head up Grey Crag and then back along the bridleway.

I dropped Helen off in Kendal and then set off up the A6 towards Shap. The Longsleddale Valley is almost 5 miles of a narrow road with few passing places. I was fortunate to only meet two vehicles, and on both occasions I was at a passing place. At the end of the road there is enough parking for about ten vehicles, and on a damp Tuesday there was plenty of space.

Almost immediately after setting off I was reduced to a walk as my route appeared to go straight up.

I continued up and up, until I reached a short plateau where I was able to run once again. This didn’t last long as I continued up. The views from the top were disappointing as the sun had disappeared almost as soon as I had started.

Once over Grey Crag I skirted Tarn Crag before dropping down towards the Gatescarth Pass Bridleway. I had deliberately made my route with the steepest sections uphill and the easier sections downhill. The steep sections at the start would have been far too dangerous for me to have run down.

The bridleway surface wasn’t too bad as I nipped back towards the car. The 9km route with over 500m of climbing had taken 90 minutes and was an absolute cracker, definitely one that I want to do again but with Helen and Nell. Although maybe next time we could go over the more famous Kentmere Pike, a fell that I have never been up.

I hadn’t seen another person the whole time that I had been out, and even though there were still plenty of other cars the place was deserted. I quickly changed in the car and drove back to Kendal to meet up with Helen. Her hair appointment hadn’t finished so I had time for a coffee and a slice of tiffin. I also have to add that Helen looked stunning.

The Old Man of Coniston

The last full day of our mini Lake District break and my lovely wife agreed to walk up Coniston Old Man with me. Even though I had been to Coniston a few times in the past; on a first year undergraduate field trip, swimming in the lake and cycling along the quieter side of the lake, I had never walked up the Old Man.

We parked up in the town so that we could do the whole walk, rather than using the car park half-way up the hill. Setting off and the weather wasn’t too bad, although we both knew that it conditions at the summit could be very different. We managed to miss the disguised footpath next to The Sun public house and instead walked up the steep road to the Walna Scar carpark. From there we could follow the path as it joined what is known as the ‘Tourist’ path.

There were a number of other walkers, although it couldn’t be called ‘busy’. We slowly made our way up the steep path, stopping at the old mines.

As you can see from the photo the visibility wasn’t great. We continued up, overtaking some people, and being overtaken by others, until we were at the top and could take in the glorious views. Just kidding, we couldn’t see a thing and the wind was ferocious. We took a quick photo and started to descend the other side.

Helen was in charge of navigation and knew that the path round the back past Goat’s Water was less steep and was also likely to be quieter. She was correct on both counts as she expertly guided us onto the correct paths.

Soon we joined the larger bridleway between Coniston and Seathwaite, which was more popular, and we were now beneath the clouds and could see all of the lake and the fells beyond. We stopped to have lunch on a rock placed next to a sign indicating the Old Man. Obligatory photo of an old man standing next to the sign.

We quickly walked through the very full car park and returned to Coniston. In need of coffee and cake we stopped at the Meadowdore Cafe. As we did it started to rain. Brilliant timing and the first time that we hadn’t go absolutely soaked. A great day was had by all. Of course it might be nice to visit again when the views are better, or we could go off up a different hill. There are so many more that we haven’t walked yet.

The other blogs about our little Lake District break can be found here and here.

The Cumbria Way – Keswick to Caldbeck

Me and my lovely wife generally take the first week of September off work as children are back at school and the weather is likely to be not too bad. Originally we had looked at cycling for a week, but due to a pandemic and such like we opted for just a few days away at Helen’s brother’s caravan in the south lakes. However, before we stayed at the caravan we had planned a mini adventure at a dog friendly hotel/pub in Caldbeck.

Saturday morning, wearing our running gear, we set off nice and early to drive to Caldbeck. The village of Caldbeck used to have daily buses to and from Keswick and Carlisle, now there are two buses on a Saturday and nothing on any other day of the week. First bus arrived at 8.30am and after a short loop to Hesketh Newmarket and back we were on our way to Keswick. A short stop to allow a herd of cows to pass and another brief stop for an Audi driver to get out of the way before we arrived at our destination. Keswick was very busy, even at 9.30am so we were happy to head off north out of the town and onto the Cumbria Way.

The Cumbria Way is a 73 mile route from Ulverston to Carlisle. We were using the Cicerone guide book which splits the route into 5 stages, with optional mountain versions. We were sticking to the regular route as the mountain route added an extra couple of miles.

As we walked past Fitz Park we noticed that there was an event on, although we only saw a couple of runners much later on. The start of the route was again busy as we walked up Spooneygreen Lane, the main walking path up to the start of Skiddaw. Fortunately when we reached the Skiddaw carpark most people headed off up the climb while we skirted Lonscale Fell, gently making our way upwards.

As soon as the route flattened a little bit we began to gently run. The idea was that we would walk the uphill sections and run the flat and downhill sections.

Soon the amazing Skiddaw House Youth Hostel came into sight, stuck out in the middle of nowhere. A former shooting lodge which could easily have become derelict, but was saved by volunteers and today thrives as a very out of the way place to stay.

From Skiddaw House we followed the river Caldew all the way to the end of Mosedale road, below the slopes of the formidable Carrock Fell. This brought back many fond memories as I went on a week long field trip at the start of my second year studying Environmental Science as an undergraduate at Lancaster University. Perfect place to stop for a sandwich.

From here the Cumbria Way headed up Great Lingy Hill, made harder by the torrential rain which had begun just as we had finished our lunch. (This is why there is a lack of photos from here to the finish). We sought refuge in the Lingy Hut, along with another man who was walking all 214 of the Wainwrights. He seemed in good spirits despite the weather, although he only had another 30 to do which he hoped would only take another three or four days.

The route from here to Caldbeck looked fairly straight forward, up and over High Peak and down into Caldbeck. However, during a nasty hailstorm at the top we managed to lose the correct route as we descended. At an unexpected junction a walker pointed us in the right direction as we could see the village in the distance. Another wayward footpath sign sent us off into a random field before we found the route once again. At least it had stopped raining at this point.

We ran the last mile into the village, and as I went into the Oddfellows Arms for our room key, Helen dried off Nelly, who had been the best dog in the world all day. The Oddfellows Arms has mixed reviews, and while the room was a little shabby it was very clean and the shower was hot. Additionally the staff were incredibly friendly and food couldn’t be faulted.

It had been a long tough day, with almost 17 miles under our belts in 6 hours. We had 8 very tired legs between us, although I don’t think it will be too long before we’re looking at doing other sections of the Cumbria Way.

The Classic Forest of Bowland Loop

The Forest of Bowland is a legendary area to cycle; quite possibly one of the best areas in the UK. Bradley Wiggins used this area to train, and his one charity sportive (Ride with Brad) also used these roads, as have numerous other sportives, including the legendary and toughest of them all, The Bowland Badass (160+ miles with 18,000 ft of climbing). Many cycling magazines have also had features based on this classic loop. My lovely wife doesn’t particularly like hills, but even she loves this loop (85km and 1,200m of climbing).

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The classic loop starts and ends in Lancaster, heads out to Wray, up over the fells down to Slaidburn, round to Dunsop Bridge, up the Trough and the back of Jubilee Tower and returning into Lancaster. There are hills, many hills. Going clockwise you’ll climb #75 and #143 from Simon Warren’s excellent Greatest Cycling Climbs books. Anti-clockwise and you’ll hit #76 and #79, depending on your exact route. Adding in a couple of extra miles you can also attempt Newton Fell, #176. Generally we go clockwise so that we can stop at the excellent Puddleducks cafe in Dunsop Bridge. We also usually descend Cross of Greet, but yesterday we opted to climb Bowland Knotts as Helen had never done that route.

Earlier in the year we did this route, but there were traffic lights on the main road towards Wray, and there wasn’t enough time to get through on a bike before they changed, where upon we were shouted at by car drivers coming in the other direction. Very unpleasant. Yesterday that particular road was a joy to cycle on, although there were definitely more people about, going for a drive, on motorbikes, or cyclists in pairs who didn’t look like they lived together.

Out of Wray there is a nasty little climb before the road dips and dives it’s way along, running parallel to the main road, with stunning views of Gragareth, Whernside and Ingleborough, made all the more stunning by the lack of air pollution. We stopped for a photo when we reached our start of Bowland Knotts. Technically, the bottom of the climb is almost a km down the hill, but from where we started it is still 6km to the top. Never too steep, but it does go on.

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As we climbed there was a coconut smell in the air emanating from the in bloom Gorse bushes. There was also a home made sign with ‘Go Home, Stay Home’ written on it. Maybe a little over the top, especially as the Forest of Bowland covers an area of just over 800 square kms. Theoretically, if you were to stand in a 2m by 2m box (social distancing) you could fit 200 million people in the Forest of Bowland.

At the top, the views were even more amazing.

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We had a little walk about at the top, waving at another cyclist as he came over, before we set off over the cattle grid…

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and down across Stocks Reservoir.

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We both looked at the water thinking how great it would be to swim in. Unfortunately reservoirs are one of the most dangerous places to swim, with a cold water temperature all year round, unseen dangers and no lifeguard.

We continued along the very worn road, which needed to have new tarmac laid years ago and still hasn’t, past the Gisburn Forest mountain bike centre and down into Slaidburn. Out of Slaidburn is my wife’s favourite hill ever. Short but very steep and a couple of years ago cycling this loop with her youngest son she nearly took him off here. I kept my distance as we rolled in Dunsop Bridge. No cafe stop but we did have a break for snacks and water, before the climb over the Trough, not the easiest of climbs when you’re on your heavy touring bikes, although at least we have plenty of low gears.

We opted not to go over Jubilee Tower, instead taking the slightly easier but longer route past Bradley Wiggins’ house and for some reason a life ring on a tree.

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Both feeling a little tired we took the A6 from Galgate back in Lancaster, a road that we would never use, but wasn’t too bad. There are some good points about the lock down.

Back home and Nelly was very pleased to see us, and after feeding her we took her out for an hours walk before hitting the beers and an early night.

If you’re from the area, you’ll know this loop very well, and if you’re not you should make an effort one day to take a ride around the Forest of Bowland.

 

Blencathra

Yesterday I wrote about our little walk up Skiddaw last Saturday (read about it here), and as we were in the Lakes for two days, this blog is all about the Sunday.

After a great nights sleep in The Kings Arms Hotel, and an equally great breakfast we loaded up the car and headed off for a shorter walk from Goosewell Farm over Low Rigg. Unfortunately the road up to the farm was closed, so our back up plan was to walk some of Blencathra. I love how Alfred Wainwright didn’t really like the name Saddleback, so he used the ancient Cumbrian name of Blencathra instead. So many other people also preferred this name that on OS maps the hill is known as Saddleback or Blencathra.

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We didn’t really have enough time to do a full loop, as I had to get back to Lancaster to take a shirt that didn’t fit back to M&S. I was at a work meeting in London the next day and wanted to look smart, hence buying a new shirt. I digress. We parked at the lower car park in Threlkeld, which was already full, and walked up over a trip trapping troll bridge on our way to Gategill. The path up Hall’s Fell looked easy to follow and we could see plenty of other walkers up in the distance.

The route was steep but manageable, until we neared Hall’s Fell Ridge, described as one of the finest routes up Blencathra. If we had done a little more research we would have read about an experienced walker who fell to his death only last year. There was one very exposed section near to start of the ridge which I’m not afraid to admit, scared the hell out of me. It reminded me of that time as a child when my Dad took me and my older sister to St. Paul’s Cathedral with the intention of going to the top. At the time it wasn’t open to the public, but my Dad knew someone who gave him the key. Up and up we climbed until we reached a metal walkway, which to my little seven year old eyes looked at least a million feet in the air. This added to the fact that the walkway was a metal grill and I could see through it, meant that there was no way on Earth that I was walking across it. My Dad couldn’t leave me so we all had to walk back down, much to the annoyance of my sister.

The walk back down Hall’s Fell was almost as hard as going up. You can see in the photo below how steep it was.

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When we almost at the bottom a large group of walkers passed us on the way up. Rather them than me, and if Hall’s Fell Ridge is bad then the even worse Sharp Edge must be terrifying. Nelly was also happy to be back off the ridge, with a field devoid of sheep to have a quick scamper.

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Of course, much like the previous day’s walk up Skiddaw, we’ll have to come back, although the longer loop via Blease Fell and Scales Fell will be the route we’ll take.

Oh, and I did change my shirt, Helen trimmed my beard, and I looked incredibly smart in old London town.

Ward’s Stone Run

I like to try and get in at least one run a month which is at least a half marathon distance. If I’m not feeling very inspired then this would involve running to Morecambe, doing Morecambe Prom parkrun (read about it here) and then run home again. A couple of weeks ago I was feeling inspired to drive up to the car park at the top of Jubilee Tower and run from there. Unfortunately I headed up the wrong shooter’s track.

Second attempt and I drove to Tarnbrook, a farm in between the two big road climbs of Jubilee Tower and The Trough. Parking up a couple of km before the farm the first section was on road, before heading into the open access land, generally the preserve of pheasant shooters. It is still pheasant season, so I decided that if I saw anyone who looked like they were shooting I would turn back. I don’t think that I look like a pheasant, but I didn’t want to take the risk.

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I’ve been up Clougha Pike a few times and across to Grit Fell, but I’d never run from Tarnbrook Fell. One good thing about the shooter’s tracks is that they are great for running, even in road shoes, although I did walk up the steeper sections. Linking the summits of Grit Fell and Ward’s Stone is a footpath, which was fairly easy to follow, even when the fog descended.

For safety I was wearing my running vest with water, gels, food, compass, whistle, paper map, phone (with digital map) and a foil space blanket. I had also told my wife where I was going.

Ward’s Stone apparently is the highest peak in the Forest of Bowland, although I couldn’t see a thing at the top, and if it wasn’t for the Trig Point I might not have known that I had reached the top. Definitely a little bit of Type II fun to be had there. I started to descend slowly and carefully, not wanting an accident, knowing that there is almost zero phone reception. Saying that, Timpson did manage to send me a text letting me know that my dry cleaning was ready to collect.

Halfway down the other side and the path splits at a fence. From here the route was fairly straight forward; just keep the fence to my left until I join another shooters track. Downhill all the way back to the farm, with only a couple more km back to the car. I was surprised by how good I felt during the last road section, and I even managed Lancaster parkrun (slowly) the next day.

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Final distance was 22km with 633m of climbing. One of the best runs that I’ve done. I was buzzing when I returned home. What is a shame is that I can’t run with Nelly, our unruly Pointer, as the whole area is strictly ‘no dogs’. However, the notice at the start of the shooter’s track with the ‘No Dogs’ sign, also stated that it doesn’t apply to dogs under effective control on Public Rights of Way. Am I right in taking that to mean that as long as Nelly is on a lead and we don’t stray off the footpaths onto the areas where birds are nesting, I can run with her?

Additionally, the shooter’s tracks would be fantastic on a bike, but again, definitely not allowed.

Next time that I’m up there I will try to run to Wolfhole Crag.

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.

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.