Sunday, 14 September 2014

Tour de Coniston

Following on from the last posting about mountain biking in the Peak District I've also done very little in the Lakes. Although I grew up there I didn't take up mountain biking until some time after I moved away (to North Wales) so I've only done maybe four or five days of riding in the area. Whereas the Peak ride was before my skills session, this was the week after so hopefully I'd be able to put things in to practice.

With good weather forecast for the weekend it looked like it was worth heading over. As it happened the Saturday was pretty poor weather wise and we didn't get out at all, apart from a quick drive up on to Pinhaw to watch the Lancaster bombers fly by which was cancelled because of the bad weather. So an early start on Sunday morning saw us heading up the A65 through the morning fog hoping that we didn't collide with any of the idiots driving without lights.

Our intended route was a tour of Coniston Water and took in two of the classic Lakeland descents: Walna Scar Road and Parkamoor. I'd found it on the PedalNorth site () as one of the harder routes. Parking up at Blawith (pronounced Blah'th) it was still pretty cold so I decided on a full jacket rather than a simple short sleeved jersey - big mistake!

On Blawith Common with Caw and the Coniston fells on the skyline

The route headed west over Blawith Common towards Green Moor before cutting north towards Torver. We'd done a few of the trails on here some years ago in April. Now though the bracken was fully grown and the stony singletrack felt hemmed in. Even on this first easy section I was beginning to warm up, about the only benefit of the long sleeves of my jacket was not being scratched by the bracken. At the first high point of the day I was waiting for Cath and noticed a fox running away through the bracken, you quite often see them early in the morning before the numbers of walkers and bikers increases. The first descent was fast and ended with a great splash through a ford - no dry feet today then.

Making a splash!

The next bit we'd done before and was basically a traverse bashing through bracken to reach a steepish vehicle track. Not technical but you did need a bit of oomph to get up it. From the top there's a great view of the Coniston fells as well as a view in profile of the next big climb up to Torver Common. The descent is fast and rocky and leads to a small tarmac lane before we cut across to the main road and head back on ourselves to find the start of the bridleway.

The climb is steep from the first gate and becomes indistinct after a short while whereas the footpath is more pronounced but steeper forcing a push. Eventually we figure out we've gone wrong and get back on the track. It's a long climb but again is about lung and leg power rather than anything technical like rock steps. By the time the angle eases we are a long way above the road we've just left. The last bit to the next road is much easier.

Climbing up towards Torver Common

Then it's in to the first of the wooded sections and even on the fireroad it feels distinctly claustrophobic in comparison to what we've done so far. There's a couple of bridleways that cut corners and these provide a technical interlude. The described route takes you to Stephenson Ground then follows the west side of the wonderfully named River Lickle towards Walna Scar however Cath had done this before and reckoned it was a bit much as a climb so we stayed in the woods and followed the fireroad to Natty Bridge.

Snaking ahead on the fellside was a ribbon of hardcore, obviously some path "improvements" had taken place but it looked distinctly out of character. Fortunately it ended at the top of the slope, unfortunately it didn't provide a way across the first boggy section. A bit of walking and we were soon back on terra firma and heading along a great piece of easy singletrack that contours the western side of White Pike. In front was a magnificent panorama of the upper Duddon and Esk valleys, the skyline consisting of the Scafell range round to Bowfell and Crinkle Crags.

On the bridleway above Dunnerdale with the Scafells, Esk Pike, Bowfell and Crinkle Crags forming a magnificent backdrop.

Heading down to the old mine workings.

After another boggy interlude the track sped us easily through the old mine workings to the Walna Scar Road. This is now shut to motorised vehicles and was resurfaced about ten years ago. It's still steep though. I make it a short way before having to get off and push again but it's only for a short distance before the angle drops enough to make it rideable. Well, just about, it probably took more energy to ride than push. Even so I couldn't ride the last steep section to the col.

Cath on the last bit of the climb up Walna Scar

There was quite a breeze on the col so for once I was glad for my jacket. Cath arrived a few minutes later. As we were grabbing a bite to eat and admiring the view a mountain biker came up from the Coniston side, surprisingly he was the first person we'd seen since setting off. A bit of a chat about the state of the track on our respective descents and we were ready to roll.

The first couple of hundred metres of track was smooth and fast and I began to wonder if the tales of the trail being sanitised were true. Then it began to get rocky, not excessively so but it was obvious that the elements had been at work. As the track steepened there began a set of zig-zags and it was a case of taking a line that used the widest radius turn for each even if that meant heading through some rocky territory. A temporary respite from the hairpins only lead to a steeper section of open bedrock, fortunately there was a good run-out so it was a case of look ahead and let the bike run and do its stuff.

Cath descending Walna Scar. Grizedale Forest and Parkamoor just beyond Coniston Water.

A rock strewn channel followed by more hairpin bends (this time with attendant walkers) and the angle eased and the surface dramatically improved down to the old packhorse bridge over the outflow from Goat's Water. Below this the track surface was loose rocks again and I knew there were two "rock gates" coming up. The first was straightforward being just a simple double step that you could take at any reasonable speed. However there was a walker coming up who then stopped in the gap. "There's another cyclist coming down" I shouted to him so he promptly moved to the middle of the gap! I repeated the warning and he suddenly realised what I was saying and moved to the side just in time for Cath to come through. The second rock gate was a get off and walk but it was easy after that and a long easy descent threading our way through the walkers to Coniston.

Time for a cafe stop and some well deserved grub! It was also really warm so off with the jacket for the rest of the ride. The next mile or two was easy being on the roads round the head of the lake but having "memorised" the route description I wasn't sure just where the bridleway leading in to Grizedale forest left the road and it was just off the edge of our map! We managed to get the right one and began the climb. Pushing at first until the angle eased we took guesses at which track to take all of which proved correct and it wasn't long before we were on the ridge.

In to Grizedale Forest. Coniston Water, Coniston and the Coniston Fells behind.

Again the feeling of claustrophobia returned along with pure guesswork as to which track to take. Luckily some mountain bikers appeared and gave us directions, well "Keep going on this track to the sharp left bend then go straight ahead at the sign". About a mile later the sharp bend appears and we bear off on the old singletrack to emerge from the forest high above Coniston Water with fantastic views.

On The Park leading to Parkamoor.

The track to the old farmstead at Parkamoor was fast and not too bumpy. This must have been an amazing place to live. There's a short pull up to gain the start of the descent down to High Nibthwaite though to begin with the track traverses the fellside undulating in and out of the various small becks. "It gets rocky" says Cath and soon we come to the first of the rocky sections, somehow I manage to get a good line through this and roll out the other side. Cath had come to a halt but went back and gave it another go.

On the descent to High Nibthwaite.

The next rocky section was a walk though watching videos of this we should have taken a sneaky line off to the side, ah well, next time. More traversing of the fellside led to the longest rocky section, 100 metres at most, in three parts I got the first and third but messed the line on the middle bit. Things started to get faster and soon we were in to the bottom hairpins which began to get steeper. Before I'd chance to drop my seat I was rattling over rock steps trying not to brake and also not let the bike buck me off. Finally we are at the gate. All that's left is to follow the road and cross back over to our starting point.

Only 37Km or so, this felt like a big day out, including all the food and navigation stops we were out for about 6 3/4 hours but knowing where to go would cut quite a bit of this out, six hours is probably a reasonable time.

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