To say that I was looking forward to this trip (3rd -5th June, last weekend) would be a little bit of an understatement! After April’s 5 day trip to Snowdonia, a trip to the Lake District with 7 of my mates and to have 3 days guiding by Tom Hutton (MTB Guiding), simply couldn’t come soon enough.
The weather is always a concern when you pre-book a trip, invest some money and book time off work, and we were all secretly watching the weather and trying not to curse it by posting forecasts on Facebook – because it looked like we were going to be in for a treat!
Day 1 – Garburn Pass
On Friday, 8 of us from MB Swindon, met Tom and Steph of MTB Guiding at around 1pm for a pre-ride briefing, at the little village of Ings on the A591 just outside the famous town of Windermere. We then set off on our first ride of the weekend through the Garburn Pass. This ride through the classic Lakeland pass was a gentle 20km to warm us up for the weekend and provided us the chance to get to know our guide and get a taste of what he and Lake District had in store for us over the next few days.
The climb out of Ings was halted very quickly as we met some road workers laying gravel on fresh tar. We had to turn back and spend some time picking gravel from our drive trains and cleaning tar from our stanchions. The adventure was underway!
The diversion only meant we had to take a slightly different road to the start of the ride towards Applethwaite Common. Once our wheels were off the road and on the tracks were were very happy to take in the scenery and get our first glimpse of Windermere to the West. The Garburn Pass climb is approx 5km and ascends around 250m before you get any assistance from gravity. This was perfect to introduce us to the terrain we would be riding for the weekend, and after some rocky scrambles and heavy breathing we were at the top of the climb with Kentmere in our sights and a fantastic loose rocky descent ahead of us.
Reminiscent of a recent trip to Cadair Idris, the Garburn Pass descent presented us with plenty of rocks of all shapes and sizes, cheeky little drops and plenty of nerve testing moments. As is common this splits the group with some tearing off and others being a little more sensible. Everyone survived and we were very happy with our first descent in the Lakes.
One more small 100m or so climb and then it was mostly road to bring us back to the start point and for a few local brewed ales at The Watermill.
That evening we met Jo, our chef for the weekend and she cooked a lovely risotto for us and took our orders for breakfast and packed lunches.
Day 2 – Langdales and Lakes
Saturday was hot and first night excitement meant a few too many beers and not the best sleep for most. Why didn’t we listen? Today we had 35km and 1000m of climbing to do on some of the UK’s finest countryside.
Today we were going to head towards Little Langdale via Black Fell, Holme Fell and plenty of great views, climbs and descents including one particularly excellent one through Sawreys Wood. All of this was great but it was going to be thwarted by a few punctures to slow us down. This was ok as it simply meant that those without punctures had more rest and snacking time and opportunities to challenge each other on trail features.
We refreshed in Chapel Stile with hot and cold drinks and took the fantastic return route past Grasmere and into Rydal Water. Loughrigg Terrace is a real highlight on this route with some awesome views of Grasmere and Rydal Water and when foot traffic is minimal its a real blast to ride too, Its almost 3km from Deerbolts Wood to Steps End Wood and part way along we stopped to explore a cave in the hill side. The weather was so good but we were very lucky with the amount of walkers and were hardly held up at all.
The sun was hot and so were we, so we decided it was time to sample the Lake district properly and had a swim in Rydal Water. This is the life!
Doubling back over Loughrigg Fell we made our way back to Brathay via Skelwith Bridge and a pub – The Skelwith Bridge Hotel, Talbot Bar.
Tom Hutton had delivered an absolute cracker of a ride and the day was topped off with a Mexican BBQ prepared by our lovely Chef Jo.
Day 3 – Lakes Point to Point Epic
As the day began it was clear that 2 of the group were having reservations about our 3rd ride. Due to a couple of offs one rider was in some pain and another was not feeling well – perhaps the heat was too much. Either way you have to be committed and fit and Sunday had a lot in store for us, so caution was wise.
However, the start of the day was the easiest part. Instead of pedalling from our lodge we were treated to a shuttle from Bike Bus Adventures. We loaded the bikes and Graham drove us the 10 miles or so to Coniston and up to the foothills of The Old Man where we were to pick up and pedal the Walnar Scar Road and begin our Point to Point Epic for the day.
The views were amazing and the riding again did not disappoint. We arranged to meet Graham (Bike Bus Adventures) to collect our struggling riders after the first descent. It was a shame to lose a few on such an epic ride, but this is most often for the best. Injured and ill riders can become more injured and as well as hurting themselves, become a liability for the group. We said our farewells and continued our trek to Woodland Fell.
The weekend was perfect, but something was conspiring to ruin it for us, wet tar, punctures, hurting riders and now our guides free hub. Without going into the detail, we had to say goodbye to Tom about 15km into our 47km ride. At this point we had a discussion about the route, safety, tools and kit. Tom’s business partner Steph is currently embarking on Mountain Bike Leadership Awards to assist with rides and to deal with situations like this; and while she is not technically qualified, she is a very experienced rider and knew the route we were taking.
Tom handed over his walkie talkie (the only guaranteed way to communicate in these hills with poor phone signal), and GPS device with the route waymarked on to me. One of the other guys took the map and we had a discussion and quick pop quiz on the route.
Tom planned to get Graham to pick him up, fix the bike and rejoin us further along the route. Unfortunately this didn’t work out – while we had Steph and her knowledge of the route, radios, a map and a GPS we were now technically unsupervised and no longer being guided. I mostly took up a position at the rear and Steph took the lead for the remainder of the day. The pink line on the GPS allowed me to check that Steph was leading us the right way and the radios came in handy once or twice for us to correct each other en route.
The rest of the day went according to plan. A long hot climb above Coniston dodging marathon runners and 4x4s rewarded us with some amazing views when we stopped for lunch. After this we continued over Furness Fell, through Grizedale Forest and eventually arriving at Windermere. Another swim was in order and this time we all went in to get some relief from the heat.
After consuming our final snacks and putting our hot dusty clothes back on we hit the roads and cycle tracks and meandered back to Brathay Hall to pack up for the long journey back down south.
None of us had ridden in the Lake District before and we were all thoroughly impressed with the stunning world famous National Park and the riding was exactly as Tom had promised.
Tom is a genuinely nice guy and MTB Guiding runs a great trip. Tom loves riding in the Lakes and while we were customers/clients for the weekend not once did it feel like we were a job for him. The trip was well planned in terms of food, accommodation, routes and also the shuttle service for the final day.
Tom has also written numerous guide books on the lakes and other UK locations – go check em out on Amazon.
Want to read some more, then go and see Richard’s blog theres a large pint of IPA in it!