Well, what can I say about this month’s ride. It is
simply incomparable. This is the sort of ride I used to do every weekend when I was
younger, slimmer and more stupid. The ride combines one of the best sections of singletrack
in England; Moor Divock to Ullswater lakeshore, with a classic ‘real’ mountain ascent.
It is also probably the most scenic ride in England, with incredible lakeshore vistas.
Before committing yourself to this ride, consider
a few points. Firstly this is a genuine mountain with a high point of 828m (2718ft),
so check the forecast and go well prepared. Secondly the climb form Hartsop to the
summit involves a very steep pushing and carrying section, that could last almost
an hour. If the thought of this upsets you, leave this route well alone.
Whereís the Café then?
This was my third attempt at the route this winter, both previous attempts had
been scuppered by snow and fading light. On this day the weather was superb, and
the ground also much drier than before. However, the real secret to completing the
route was starting at Howtown or Sandwick, instead of Pooley bridge, otherwise by
the time you reach Hartsop you’ll be too exhausted to face the big carry onto High
Street. By finishing at Howtown, you get the singletrack descent from Divock as a
finale, and avoid the bigger bogs near the stone circle.
Eat well at Glenridding, and also stash some food,
for when your body deserts you later on. If the tea room at Side Farm is open then
you can save the there-and-back road ride to Glenridding for nosh.
The route consists almost entirely of single track,
which ranges from fast and fun (Moor Divock descent) to technical (Ullswater path)
to grassy mountain ‘zero-track’ (the northern High Street ridge). There is a short
road section from Glenridding to Hartsop, due to the ridiculous fact that the main
track through Crookabeck and Beckstones farm is not public bridleway, forcing you
to take 5kms of road to avoid 1km of non-legal landrover track.
The ridge north from High Street is often described
as a 10 mile downhill, but the gradient is so shallow, that fun downhilling doesn’t
begin until the summit of Loadpot Hill is passed, until then it is hard graft, so
Markers Pens at the Ready
First things first. Get out a highlighter, and Landranger
no.90, and mark out the following waypoints.
Straits of Riggindale
High Street Summit
Loadpot Hill Ruins
Total distance 24 (very hard) miles. Riding time 5 hours.
Take the long approach road from Pooley bridge (by car), enjoy driving the manic
hairpins on the flank of Hallin Fell, and park under the shelter of the trees by
the delightful little St.Peter’s church, nestled in the hause. Once transferred from
four wheels to two, follow the tiny country lanes through a series of junctions.
Simply follow signs for ‘Sandwick’ and you can’t go far wrong. The roads here are
deserted even on sunny weekends, due to the length of the dead-end road. As you ride
through these isolated hamlets, consider that you are actually only half an hour
from a major motorway.
Just before reaching Sandwick, at the crest of a hill,
a wooden marker indicates ‘Bridlepath’, where you join a rough double-track. After
crossing a ford, the route becomes singletrack, before descending to a bridge. You
then have a short push alongside the wall, before dropping roughly down to reach
the lakeshore path. The sheer fact that this path is legal to cycle is a great mystery,
but a welcome one. All the other similar tracks in the lakes are ‘walkers only please’.
The views along the lakeshore path are only exceeded
by the quality of the riding. Easy sections of narrow trail are strung together with
rocky sections, and occasional drops and climbs. All this takes place above a steep
drop down the water, to upset the nervous. This section of path is narrow, and can
be crowded in summer, so be careful when the ramblers are about. Nearing silver bay
the riding becomes easier. If, at this point you are still gunning for extra punishment,
take the steep rocky carry straight ahead, behind silver hill, for an extra portion
of singletrack along the flank of place fell.
By continuing along the main track the path soon improves
into a track, becoming fast. Follow it to Side Farm, where a sign on a closed gate
asks cyclists to walk. Please respect this request for two reasons: firstly because
if you donít you’ll almost certainly miss the tea room tucked into a corner of the
farmyard; and secondly, because the farmer allows you to cycle down his access track
to the main road, despite it being only a footpath. Turn sharp right in the farmyard,
and down the aforementioned track. Upon reaching the road bear right until you reach
100 varieties of Beer
My personal recommendation for food is Kilners Coffee Bar, part of the hotel
in Glenridding. The food is good and the portions reasonable. Filled baked potatoes,
soup, big sandwiches and a good selection of cakes are on offer. For the self caterers
among you, a general store around the corner by the river, sells everything, including
energy bars, hot pies, and hundreds of varieties of beer! Whichever you choose, make
sure you have plenty of goodies with you, as the hard work is yet to come; and these
are the last shops, before you return to your start point.
Unfortunately you now have no option but to re-trace
your steps, and further, back along the road until you reach Hartsop. This is an
‘A’ road, and usually quite busy. Quietly observe the stupidity of the drivers as
they overtake on narrow blind corners.
For a little extra action, you could take the bridleway
from Bridgend to Dubhow Crag, and then turn right for Hartsop. It is landrover width,
but fun nevertheless.
Ride straight up the hill through Hartsop, where many
of the houses have amazing alpine-style balconies, ever onward to the makeshift car
park. Go straight on through the sheep pens onto the surfaced water works track.
After a kilometre on the water works track, a rough
track drops down to the river and climbs steeply up the opposite fell side. Despite
its horrendous appearance, the rough track will get you to Hayeswater easier than
the surfaced one. Take the right fork, and begin the ultra-steep ascent.
After a while you will find yourself with a birds-eye
view of the waterworks, where the tarmaced track ends, and probably also of several
mountain bikers shouldering their burdens up the steep fellside. (Thanks here to
my 3 unwitting photographic subjects – long live rigid forks!!) The gradient eases
before you reach the lovely reservoir of Hayeswater, nestled in the comb.
The Main Event
Look over to the slope on your right, where hordes of walkers will be struggling
upwards. That’s where you’re going! By taking the big, indistinct hairpin on this
fellside, you can restrict the carrying to a minimum. After about half an hour, when
you crest the side of the Knott, you can remount your bike. The gravel track leads
you to the Straits of Riggindale.
At the Straits, the ridge is at its narrowest, with
splendid views on both sides of the mountain. Golden eagles live in this area, so
keep your eyes peeled. High Street summit looms ahead of you. Cross the wall and
follow the ribbon-like track up onto the plateau, from the highest point of the track,
the summit trig-point is 100m to your left. From here the views encompass the entire
lake district, the north Pennines and Howgills, as well as Morecambe bay and southern
Scotland. See if you can spot the Blackpool tower. Expect possible snow cover until
the end of April.
Return from whence you came, back to the Straits of
Riggindale. For the next mile or so, the navigation is critical, so take note. First
proceed uphill, back toward the Knott, after only 50 metres or so take the path by
the cairn sharp right. This leads you to Rampsgill head. Around the summit of Rampsgill,
look for a thin track heading left, across the tundra-like plateau. If you go find
yourself on the peaked summit of Kidsty pike, you have gone too far.
From Rampsgill head the track heads ever northward
along the ridge. The hoards of walkers will have suddenly vanished, leaving you in
peace to enjoy the riding.
The High Street ridge is a gradual downhill
all the way to Moor Divock, about 8 miles away. However, the fun doesn’t really begin
until after Loadpot hill, due to the shallow gradient and bogginess of the ground.
There are also several minor climbs on route, so do not underestimate the muscle
energy required before gravity takes over at Loadpot. It is also a much faster section
in drought, or sub-zero conditions, when the bogs turn into ultra-fast ‘speed flats’.
Throughout this sustained elevated section, the rules
regarding bridleways are a little relaxed, as the track on the ground deviates substantially
at times from the right of way. ‘Permissive route’ signs indicate that the landowners
have no problem with this, so simply follow the track along the ridge-top throughout
its length, and enjoy the views.
The downhill proper begins at Loadpot hill, or more
correctly at the ruins of Lowther house of the flank of the hill. Upon reaching the
concrete platform of the old house, resist the temptation of continuing to the summit,
and take the thin track contouring off to the left. This is top-notch singletrack
which spirals off, around the side of the hill. The fun then continues across the
open moor, before dropping down on the right, toward Moor Divock.
There are several tracks in this area, created by
farmer’s quads and other vehicles. My advice is to stay up on the moor for as long
as possible, before dropping down steeply onto Moor Divock. You should then be faced
with an enormous grass slope, like a ski run, leading down to the Moor. The downhill
is long and extremely fast. It doesn’t matter what suspension and brakes you have
on your bike, it will feel rough regardless.
If you manage to stop at the bottom of the hill, bear
left along the singletrack, heading back toward Howtown.
Higher state of Consciousness
The singletrack from Moor Divock returning
to Howtown is outrageous. It is beautifully twisty with occasional rocks, and regular
water splashes. Best of all it is gradually downhill, allowing constants speeds of
around 20mph to be maintained on singletrack of the highest calibre. The worst boggy
sections how now been resurfaced with hardcore, enabling an uninterrupted downhill
blast of over 3km point. I’ll swear that I achieved a higher state of consciousness
somewhere along that track!
You have to stay on the track until it ends (no great
hardship), ignoring all side paths. You eventually find yourself at a gate emblazoned
‘private ground, cyclists please walk’. Private ground it may be, but it is still
has a public bridleway through it. Unlike the nice people at Side Farm, they don’t
repay this request, by allowing you to ride (or even walk) down their tiny 50m long
driveway to the road. Why can’t common sense prevail in situations like this? What
do you they have to gain by stopping people walking down 50m of tarmac drive, when
you can legally walk right past their front door anyway?
Anyway, rant over. Go through the gate, down 10 yards
of gravel drive, then left through another gate to a ford and stone clapper bridge.
Go straight up the slope directly ahead, crossing a concrete farm road en route,
to join a distinct track.
Follow this track, contouring at first, then uphill
back to the church and car park. You’ll be able to see the road hairpins ahead of
you on Hallin fell. At the top the hill, bear right toward the copse, and you’ll
(hopefully) find your car waiting for you.
This article is also published in www.offroadadventures-online.co.uk, along with lots of routes and advice for epic and multi-day mountain
Next Month – Something in the Pennines