I’m sure it’s not every year you get a mild first week in January. Usually spent in a sea of leftover Christmas chocolate wrappers and a state of woeful disbelief that the only really fun part of winter is over, there are few memories of what the outside world actually looks like at this time of year that spring to mind. A brave weekend cuddled up to my bike in a tent at Innerleithen is one of them.
BUT this year was going to be different. Armed with a car full of snacks and teeth gritted in determination to ride whatever the weather threw at us, we headed up past those scary and foreign motorway signs that say ‘to the North’, and the only set of proper mountains glorious England has to offer. What we found was not wind, not rain, not snow, but something else entirely: fog. Thick, relentless, miserable fog.
Nevertheless we’d travelled 3.5 hours and we weren’t going to let the fact that for all we could see out the window, we may as well have stopped in Birmingham for the views, get us down. So we put on all the thermal clothing we owned and headed out in search of prime trail, and we weren’t disappointed.
If you’re staying south of Keswick, head straight to Bike Treks in Ambleside. A proper gem with everything you want in a bike shop: friendly, informative staff that are dying to show you their favourite routes, and free ‘mapholders’ consisting of plastic clothing packaging (cheers Chris!).
Having bought a map from the handy route information board and checking out some shorter loops, we quickly decided our map reading and compass wielding skills weren’t going to get us much further than a 10km loop. Wanting to venture out a little further we followed staff advice and downloaded an 18 mile loop onto the Garmins which was featured on the Bike Treks website – featured in a previous issue of MBR.
Leaving from the shop, the ride takes you across winding roads, down rocky bridleway, over stream crossings, past dead sheep, and through a trainer soaking section of trail where the bridleway skirts a rocky outcrop via a lake.
The views of snow capped mountains in the distance and green rolling hills underneath were a reminder of how lucky we were to do this ride on the only glorious, non foggy day of the week.
Some of my favourite quotes from trail descriptions come from trail maps in the Lakes. On one ride ‘alarmingly rocky section’ left us waiting to be alarmed for a whole loop (sadly it never happened) and ‘amphibious section’ kept us guessing. They’re definitely up there with the ‘Caution! Mandatory Air!’ sign on one of the easy routes down Inners (total lie – chicken runs all the way down).
During the ride we found ourselves at frequent intervals confused, exhausted, and exhilarated. As non-locals in an endless network of bridleway we relied totally on our GPS units. My Garmin 500 did pretty well with it’s black line and arrow indicating the trail ahead, but the Garmin 705 with full colour mapping saved us at slightly more intricate trail junctions.
If I could pick any one section that totally summed up riding natural trails in the Lakes, it wouldn’t be the stream crossings, the lake detours, or the descents on boulder ridden tracks that would be at home on Goron Mountain.
It would be the moment we arrived at a fork in the trail beside a large scree slope. The trail presented two viable tracks; one to the left and one to the right, with a fast flowing loose shale stream to the centre. First we bare left. The Garmin bleeps: ‘off course’. Next we bare right. Bleep. Off course. Left with no other options we shrug our shoulders and head flat out down what can only logically be described as a small mountain river which somehow turns into a bridleway a hundred metres down the track.
Only in the Lakes.
To check out the ‘Winter Warmer’ route for yourself, click the map through to a downloadable GPS map courtesy of Bike Treks.