Thursday, 25 June 2015

Back o' Skiddaw

Before I began looking at the Bob Graham Round I'd done no walking in the Northern Fells of the Lake District. Even then I only visited the summits of Skiddaw, Great Calva and Blencathra that are on the round itself, Mungrisdale Common was visited as a default since the route passes within a few metres of its "summit" (probably the least prominent summit of any of those in Wainwright's books).

In the last couple of years I began visiting the remaining fells as part of getting all the Wainwrights done and last year I completed the Northern Fells book with a day on the mountain bike ticking off the last four. Of course concentrating on the fell tops means that you leave the valleys largely untrod so with a ride organised around the bridleways of the area it was a chance to put that right.

Over the years there has been quite a bit of mining in the Lake District - the lead mines of Newlands and the copper mines around Coniston being the best known examples but there were several mines in the Northern Fells and these lasted until quite recently, the tungsten mine in Grainsgill    for example closed in 1981. One of the legacies of these workings are a series of tracks that are ideal for mountain biking.

A bit of road work to begin with then the tracks began. One thing about the Northern Fells is that they don't peter out in to lower ground, they just stop so you get great views from the Pennines all the way round to the Dumfrieshire Hills. The track snakes its way around the fell sides undulating along but generally upwards weaving its way in and out of sets of old mine workings. Eventually there's no more up and it's a blast of a descent to the next little bit of road.

A short climb up this then another section of track, greener this time, leads down to the longest road section leading round to the start of the track to Skiddaw House. I've walked down the first tarmac bit of this when fell bagging but other than crossing the tracks at points when on BG recces and attempts the next fifteen kilometres was going to be all new to me.

The challenge on the first part is blindingly obvious: the climb up by the side of the waterfall of Whitewater Dash. Fortunately it's mostly up a bit then recover on a flattish section then up again. Unfortunately the last hundred metres or so steepens and becomes loose so maintaining traction and forward momentum begins to take too much energy so it's just easier to get off and push. From just short of the gate however it becomes rideable again. Once at the high point of the track it's a fast blast down to a ford across the beck. Left line or right? Cath chooses right so I follow her and we both come to a halt in the middle of the beck! Not the only ones apparently.

A short climb up to Skiddaw House and it's an enforced wait as one of the riders behind punctures both tyres. There are a couple of teams out reccying the BG that I can see, obviously I know where to look. With the wind it gets pretty cold by the time we are moving again. The track following the Calder is singletrack for the next four kilometres or so, constantly interesting chosing the best line around and over rocks and boulders until eventually it becomes landrover track then tarmac and it's freewheel back down to the cars.

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