A last minute impulse and a not altogether bad weather forecast on the Boxing Day club run led to the discussion of an impromptu mini-tour. Despite no notice at all Joaquin, Andy, Code N and myself could make it, Kendal Hostel had a room an we were on. A late night session loading routes into the GPS that were as beautiful, quiet and interesting as possible with options for the weather ensued; and an early morning start saw us braving the gloomy drizzle in Stavely. With the promise of it clearing later I opted to reverse the route and do Kirkstone last in the hope the cloud would lift, so we were off through the intricate and interesting lanes east towards Sedbergh, Code N whimpering in pain and crying “My eyes! My eyes!” Something to do with my new flashing day lights I believe.
The clagg was still down at Tebay, where we stopped for a bite outside the pub and apologized to the landlord – he was an hour too soon for our lunch. Would the forecast sun turn up? A rolling B road took us to Orton, with some very beautiful vernacular architecture around a big enclosed green and fish pond, including Petty Hall, built in 1604 and looking fresher than we felt.
Onwards and upwards to the moor on which Shap sits, where shards of light began to pierce the clouds – the plan was going to work. I hadn’t seen this road since we used to meet my grandfather here for family picnics in the 1970’s.
Shap is a long thin and tiny market town, the name possibly meaning ‘pile of stones’. For us it was more a pile of chips as it boasts a fine chip shop at pains to tell us that everything it serves is ethical, sustainable and very good for you. It’s a good chip shop, but as we had made the mistake of stopping for breakfast at a motorway service station where chips and burgers were the only option, it was a pile of chips too many for me.
With half the distance done the sun was properly out and the eastern edge of the Lake District fells were emerging from the murk in all their splendor.
Quiet lanes took us to Pooley Bridge and onto the main road down the side of Ulswater. This road can be rammed in the summer, but this day the traffic was not heavy, the road was fast, and the lake beautiful. Code N and me took turns on the front, with Andy cunningly keeping his powder dry for the hill.
Past Glenridding, base for walking Helvellyn, the going home rush hour started as the road begins snaking through the hills, with Kirkstone Pass hidden. From this side it is testing but not ridiculously steep, and pacing your way up will get you there – with this amount of traffic you don’t want to be wobbling across the road having overcooked the lower slopes. Andy decided to hit the front for the first time that day and surged off, climbing well. We were racing the dark, and descended the rutted top section in the dusk, before a lovely finish on small lanes to Stavely, to complete the 60 mile circuit – quite enough with the short days of the last gasp of the year.
Joaquin met us at the agedly wonky Kendal Hostel in the evening and after a civilised self-cooked meal we recovered enough to drag ourselves next door to the Brewery Arts Centre bar, where Joaquin was able to experience English ‘humour’ and what passes for conversation in Centreville. He took it well. At least he took it better than Andy did when he found out the hostel had somehow forgotten our 7.30am breakfast order! Not a good start to a day aiming to include Hardknott and Wrynose passes….
9.30 saw us setting off from Clappersgate near Ambleside, again opting to leave the mountains until later to allow the blustery weather to improve. Joaquin bounced up the hills, being younger, fitter and fresher, the complex of lanes taking us over small wooded lumps and passing near Tarn Hows before dropping into Coniston, where Andy was consoled for missing his full English with a take-away coffee. The main road south was unavoidable for a few miles, until a steep lane took us over the hill towards Broughton Mills.
It was at the top of this hill with wide open views to the sea and beyond, beginning the descent to Broughton Mills, that Andy’s back tyre blew out and had him on the verge trying to avoid a heavy landing. Closer inspection showed a hole in the tyre, for which Code N fashioned a reinforcing boot patch out of the old innertube using stone age technology. A stone! He used it to cut it out, very resourceful.
It didn’t seem sensible to deal with steep mountain passes with rocky drop-offs on a bodged-up temporary fix, so we reluctantly turned back and headed on the fast road down to the bottom of Coniston, checking the tyre every now and then. It took a while for a suitable lunch stop to emerge, but The Red Lion at Lowick Bridge made up for the missed breakfast with it’s warm open wood fire and good food. Code N’s Cumberland sausage curled on a mountain of veg and yorkshire pudding was at least as big as some of the local fells, while me and Joaquin plumped for the 3 Bean Chili. Yum. Andy had half the menu.
A bloke walked through the door and did a double take. “Centreville? I used to be in Centreville!” The next minute he and Code N were hugging like the long-lost friends they were – it was Phil Doherty, they’d ridden a lot together back in the day. Phil had one eye and his method of descending was apparently to ask his companions to put on a rear light for him to follow. On one tour he had been battering everyone on the hills, so at the lunch stop they sneaked a large rock into his saddlebag. He didn’t noticed and continued to batter them on every hill! He looked in his boot for a spare folding tyre, and if he had had it, it would have been the icing on the cake.
Replete, we headed for Spark Bridge, and climbed with café legs over to Oxen Park and on to the lane which follows Dale Park Beck, just to the east of Grizedale. The wind had dropped and the sun was out. What a road! A long quiet wooded valley with lovely houses every now that seemed as natural as the trees themselves, it was the highlight of the trip for me, and we all agreed that it was no less enjoyable a ride than the passes would have been.
A swoop down to Esthwaite near Beatrix Potter’s cottage took us on to Hawkshead and the last testing climb of the day up Hawkshead Hill. Don’t tell anyone but I missed a turning at the bottom that would have saved us a bit of climbing. Never mind, they will never know. Reversing the morning’s lanes to Clappersgate, we arrived in the dusk. We’d made full use of the available light again, done two great routes with lots of new roads, and I felt like I’d been away for a week not just one night. And we’d left some unfinished business…are you on?
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