Aaaaarrrghhhhh! Shit. That hurt, alot. I had been flung through 180 degrees but remained
on the bike until it was horizontal. My shoulder throbed and a golf ball size lump
grew from my shin. As I sat trying to clutch two injuries my audience of stunned
school children gathered to see me suffer. ‘Look at his leg’, ‘Is his bike alright?’.
Yes, yes let me suffer alone, please!
And that was the start of our epic adventure, 5 miles in, days of rain filled skies
had given way to a beautiful warm day, here we go!
Day 1: Whitehaven to Ambleside – 43 miles
Beautiful clear skies, warm sunshine but away to the Irish sea clouds gathered and
begin a roll in our eastly direction. But with enthusiasm in our hearts and legs
we ride off to our waterside rendevous.
In Whitehaven, ridiculous complex road works conspire to keep us from our first goal
of the day, a picture oppo at the pier. Repeated cul-de sacs and security fencing
divert us seemingly further from the pier but eventually the days first summit is
reached. Obligatory photos and away, out of the towns one way system looking for
seemingly elusive c2c signs.
The sustrans trail out of the town is a great way to start, its fast and smooth giving
us the perfect warm up to the days challenge. After 5 miles of hello, morning and
other niceties to the locals our first crisis arose in the shape of the school kid
ambush as mentioned at the intro.
Ten or so miles on and sustrans pleasentries turn to country lanes and the gorgeous
approach of Ennerdale. The ride through here is stunning, views across Ennerdale
Water and up to the high fells were truely inspiring. Further on the forest consumed
us, allowing brief respite from the ever increasing midday heat.
At the end of Ennerdale is Black Sail Youth Hostel, the perfect place to take five,
hit the energy bars and get your head ready for the c2c’s first challenge. All along
the route we had swaped places with a large group of riders from Derbyshire, who
were in equally fine spirits despite the impeding intensity that is Black Sail Pass.
From the hostel the pass doesn’t look to bad, and in reality it isn’t. You may be
able to ride a vey short way from the hostel but thats it. Then its a pushathon and
a carry as the trail steepens. On the way up a I met a Cambridge Uniiversity student
playinh hare & hounds, now & again the sound of a horn could be heard and
his ears pricked, alert ready for the chase. He grew bored of my puffing and panting
and my inability to talk and carry a bike.
The climb took me 40 minutes, my two colleagues about 10 minutes less (somehow, even
if I had gone faster I suspect that they would have gone quicker still!). More energy
bars at the top, enjoy the quite stunning views before us, quick photo (look we’re
on top of a mountain) and then realise that its a plummet off the top. The trail
has been paved to prevent erosion, unfortunately the paves make riding very treacherous,
so you’ll have to push again for the first few hundred metres or its rideable in
a ‘I like hospital food’ kind of way. After that it eases and you can mount, although
by now your senses have started to be battered, so its on and off at regular intervals.
It does get better and eventually its great fun ripping down to Wasdale head. Theres
a pub here for food and drink and a good place to at least get some more water, we
only took the latter option and quickly continued.
Next up is Sty Head, the trail is rideable up to a junction where you have two options.
The low track is apparently rideable further (it does look it) but has a very steep
ascent at the end. The track to the left is a push and carry job but its a much more
gradual climb. We took this track and spent the next 45 minutes pushing with an occasional
scramble over loose scree and larger rocks until the summit was reached. Fantastic
views once again (the views are amazing hour after hour, they give you something
to focus on away from the effort) and take five to enjoy them, go any faster and
its even more of a sweaty blur.
From Sty Head we head across and up towards Rossatt Pike. If any of it is rideable
then it will take a superhuman effort to do so or you have to write for a mountain
bike magazine! It can’t be done, no way, not a chance! The track passes a tarn (which
we mistook for Angle Tarn) and continues up until finally Rossett Pike is attained
Catch your breath, keep eating and hydrating. The next half a mile down and into
Rossett Gill is shite! Very, very steep and very, very loose rocks and scree do their
best to liberate you from your bike. To say I took my time is a huge understatement,
but after eight hours I couldn’t go any faster anyway! Every now and again I caught
a glimpse of one of my colleagues as they disappeared out of sight below huge rocks,
but that I could see them confirmed that it really was hard going.
Eventually the gradient lessens and you think, ‘this must be rideable, PLEASE! To
prevent any more erosion drainage channels have been cut across the trail every ten
metres or so. The channels have large slab like stones creating sides that can be
bunny-hopped but this is difficult as getting it wrong could potentially wreak your
wheel, so what do you do? Get off and walk (again), off/on, off/on and so it goes.
When you really have had enough the trail lets you go and you can ride (honest) quickly
and hammer down towards an enjoyable drink at the Dungeons Ghyll pub, great.
Go on get on your bike, Ambleside is only twenty minutes away and its a chance to
stretch out your legs on some quick roads. There is supposed to be an off road section
to Ambleside but we voted against it as by now we were well knackered and the real
challenge was still ahead of us. We headed to Low Wray campsite where our tour operator
(Ted Gillman Tyne Valley Holidays 0191.2847534) had left our gear and tents (yes,
All day the weather had been great and the evening held too, allowing us to eat as
much pasta related food stuffs as possible. But with clouds begining to form we couldn’t
help ponder tomorrow and just how hard it was going to be. The recurring theme all
day had been just how unrideable most of the day had been. A recent c2c article in
a bike magazine had said that two km of ascent was unrideable and less descent unrideable.
This is a joke and anyone considering the route should bear this in mind, did they
even do the route?
Day 2 – Ambleside to Rookhope 72 miles
Black clouds greeted us and we knew a hard day was going to be a wet hard day. Still,
bacon sarnie, energy bar and a litre of energy drink persuaded me to start. A gentle
road introduction back into Ambleside gets legs warm and lungs open, a bridleway
links Ambleside to Troutbeck and it is hard going, alot of it is rideable but in
places you will push. Forty minutes later we’re in Troutbeck where we have a guest
rider for the day join us.
Through Limefitt campsite and a track takes you up to High Street. The approach to
High Street is beautiful, a time to really enjoy being out here and everything mountain
biking is about, it doesn’t last! The trail goes vert and you’re pushing/carrying
all the way up until it levels off sufficiently (this is a long way up) close to
the junction with the ridge path from III Bell.
The rain was holding off and the views were stunning, a quick break (longer for all
my faster/fitter friends) and we continued towards Thornwaite Beacon. Its a nice
ride if slow as you follow the ridge slowly up and north, the trail dips and rises
to staggered summits every so often and most of it is rideable (no, really!).
Just as we are about to start a descent disaster strikes and Nigel our guest rider
has problems. His freehub has died and wants no more. A few emergency phone calls
(i’ve never carried a phone before, but it usefulness is undoubted) to get Nigel
a lift home, and we abandon him to a long lonely walk down off High Street (he is
a mountain guide, so its not so bad).
On such a long day its vital to keep going and that we certainly did. High Street
is quite an effort, bogs everywhere and lots of wet grass to make progress quite
slow, even downhill. Its not until Loadpot Hill is attained that you can really fly
and fly we do, for all the struggle of keeping my friends in view on the ups (and
on the flat!) its worth it so I can disappear effortlessly on the downs (hey guys,
its all about experience and momentum!). As I descend I start looking across the
plain to our next major obstacle, Cross Fell, yep it looks pretty intimidating from
here, still theres twenty miles to get your head around it.
Down into Askham village and we stop for a fine lunch and fill the drinks bladders.
Approximately twenty four miles gone just under fifty to go! Generally its a flat
cruise across the plain to Cross Fell we went quite quickly if only due to the amount
of miles we still had to cover.
There is an off road interlude along the way where you undertake a river crossing,
it isn’t deep enough to cause a problem today but on the other side there is nowhere
to gain acess to a field and a gate further away. We climbed over a barbed wire fence
and through lots of nettles. No-one had been here for a lone time that much was obvious,
should there be a gate on the other side of the river? Anyway we clambered over a
barb wire fence and into a field of nettles which stung our soaking wet bodies, nice!
Just before the entrance to the track up Cross Fell we stop to rest and eat, its
now 4 o’clock, we’ve been riding for 8 hours the clouds are black and we can feel
the rain coming. We’ve still got around 30 miles to cover and we are tired, gulp!
The initial climb is rideable but its not long before its just too hard. We start
to push it starts to rain. We creep up the fell side on a gradual track that is a
pleasure after yesterdays ankle turning grind. I interrogate a walker coming down
as to the state of the terrain on top, he assures me he has seen people riding on
top. Is it too good to be true?
The rain gets heavier and an all enveloping mist is descending the higher we go.
Following the cairns takes through the gloom and up to the summit, we have been talking
earlier about how we hope the track is rideable downhill, now is the time to find
out. After a few on and offs the track is certainly rideable and its fun, lots of
rocks to test your nerve and it goes on and on. We pass a bothey and I can see some
lucky bastard having a hot cuppa, absolute torture! The trail compensates and its
quite technical in places, despite the fact I’m knackered and its begining to really
chuck it down, this is a wicked descent. This is why I bought a S-Works FSR, high
speed comfort on the rocks! Perfect when your knackered and still want to have fun.
The rocks catch one of us out but its only pain and anyway this is fun! For quite
a few miles we plummet, ever down and ever colder, legs are turning blue and our
toes are perishing but I’m having a ball!
Finally at the valley floor we stop on the road to map read and munch. The reality
sets in, its still about 20 or so miles to go. And under seventeen hours is the record?
I really don’t believe it and so say all of us! A cruel very steep off road climb
takes us up the valley side where we start a long slow (bloody slow) road grind up
the valley. Its at this point that I start to go backwards and the first time I think
I’ve taken on to much. I can feel the bonk coming on and I have to stop to force
an energy bar down my throat, my arse is raw worse than i’ve ever experienced and
somehow (‘cos I love it!) I continue. Putting my weight back on the saddle is agony
until I get used to the pain and then I don’t want to have to get off! My friends
tell me that we’re nearly at the head of the valley and assure me its a long downhill
until the final climb of the day.
It is a very long downhill but now the rain is coming at us horizontally and its
freezing. We stop to inform our b&b that we are going to be late (very late)
and decide that the final off road ascent should be abandoned in favour of an on
On the final road climb two of us are reduced to walking, there isn’t much left of
enthusiasm and energy and my arse can’t cope any more. It takes about half an hour
to gain the summit in thick fog and lashing rain. The descent is wild, 45 mph appears
on my computer and rain whips my face, I should probably slow down but my senses
are numb. We turn onto the A689 for a last blast before the junction leading to Rookhope.
Its a slow gradual climb to the b&b in Rookhope thank god. When we arrive our
host offers us a beer! We chew on his hand! Then he tells us to get cleaned up and
he’ll drive us to the pub where there’ll cook us a meal despite the late hour (its
9.30pm and we’ve been riding for 13.5 hours!). We are completely blown away and near
delerious with gratitude. The meal is amazing the hospitality fantastic, 3 beers
and I’m good for nothing.
Day 3 – Rookhope to Sunderland 45 miles
Awake to beautiful, clear skies and more importantly, a hot shower and full-on breakfast,
NICE. From Rookhope we join the Sustrans c2c, its straight from the b&b and instant
height gain. Its a geogeous off road track thats rideable right to the top, so thats
what I did while strangely, my two hill monster comrades pushed (ah, the hare and
the tortise). This is the last serious climb of the adventure and it certainly gave
me a spur to get up it. At the top there’s great views (what else) and the track
starts to go downhill, quickly, for mile after mile. Even when the gradient levels
the going is brill, fast and smooth a complete contrast to the previous two days.
You now start to meet other riders and civilisation arrives with stiles railway bridges,
roundabouts etc. The urge to hammer is irresistible and I suspect thats what most
people do. In a way its a shame because there are some great sculptures along the
way, representing the industrial north meeting its agricultural boundaries, the JCB
cows are particularly cool but at 20 mph its difficult to cast a fine eye, oh well
may be next time.
As expected, the only navigational problems occurred as we reached Sunderland. Various
building and development works are on-going with the result that parts of the trail
are out of bounds, so improvise and find an alternative.
With the docks in sight we were within touching distance and my arse was telling
me too get off for good. At the Marinas Activity Centre we met Ted Gillmann for the
ceremonial handing over of my car keys. Ted will transport your luggage and deliver
your car from Whitehaven to Sunderland at fantastic prices. His service includes
tailoring everything to your needs, for example, he found us campsites, dropped off
and picked up our gear and found us the wonderful b&b at Rookhope (call Mike
Leathers 01388 517577), he arranged safe parking at Whitehaven (1946 692178) and
generally went beyond the call of duty, nice one Ted and cheers Mike at Garden Cottage,
So, at Sunderland how did we feel? Tired, elated and bloody sore and as we packed
and drove south we still pondered, Seventeen hours? Pull the other one.
Copyright David H. Jones August 2000