A record of my cycling trips in Britain and abroad


Heading North

Apologies for the rather long delay in adding the rest of the 3 peaks trip; however, it’s now winter, so I’m riding less, which means I have more time to update this blog…

Day 6
Cycling distance: approx. 170 km

day6route.pngSo, two peaks and about half the trip’s cycling done - halfway through! It ought to be a cause for celebration… however instead, this morning we had a conference about the path to take. We are now at least half a day behind schedule, and the pressures of working life mean that we don’t have the option of extending the trip to compensate. Simon and Polly are very keen to cut our losses and head to Ben Nevis by the shortest route - which means along busy A roads. On the other hand, I’m adamant that I enjoy the cycling part of the trip - afterall, that’s the real purpose of it - and would rather spend longer cycling each day to take the scenic routes, even if that means not climbing Ben Nevis in the end. Eventually, we decide to take different routes: Polly and Simon will head straight for Fort William, while I’ll spend longer going through the Lakes and following the national cycle network route from there on. (Of course, pride won’t let me get there any later than they do anyway if I can possibly help it!)

I set off after breakfast into the drizzle, which soon turned into heavy rain. This took the shine off what would otherwise have been a lovely - but tough - start, up a narrow winding road up out of Langdale to the north. Once over the ridge, the road descended into the trees towards Grasmere, past a sign that always heralds fun of one sort or another: 25% gradient ahead! This one was downhill. Sadly, I caught up with a car half way down, which meant I couldn’t make the most of the excessive steepness; in retrospect, this was probably a good thing in the rain!

Once past Grasmere the road levelled off giving a much flatter ride; the rain was easing and the clouds were lifting somewhat to show a stereotypical Lake District scene, the gently rolling tree-flanked road bounded by ridges on either side that could almost make one forget that a world beyond existed. It wasn’t long before I reached Keswick, where I stopped to buy a new map and the obligatory Kendal mint cake - never leave the Lakes without having bought some! Leaving Keswick to the north, the route went right past the summit of Skiddaw; seeing the signposted path it was too tempting not to stop and walk up the extra halfmile or so to the top. (Actually, looking at a proper map of the area afterwards - rather than just a road map - I don’t think it was Skiddaw - Skiddaw is close, but still a couple of miles away from the nearest road; it may have been the peak in the middle of Dodd Wood.)

dscf2362.jpgThe drizzle gave way to scattered cloud and the wind picked up. I shivered as I came out from the shelter of the wooded hillside and up on to the bleak expanse of moorland that is Uldale Fell. The wind, the grey sky and the bare, open fields gave the whole place a barren, almost mystical feel, like the tired old world at the end of Narnia or the Lord of the Rings. I was half-disappointed to reach Carlisle so soon, where I stopped for a quick bite under the shadow of the old castle. I didn’t stay long, as the grey clouds were threatening rain and I’d almost dried off from this morning. Once on the road again however the sky cleared, and it became positively sunny as I drew near to Gretna Green - for obscure reasons, Gretna is the elopement capital of Britain. I can’t understand why, surely if you’d travelled all the way even just from Carlisle you’d try to find somewhere at least vaguely picturesque, rather than just tying the knot as soon as possible? There is a little shack just across the road from the photo, with a sign proclaiming it to be the ‘wedding capital of the UK’. It looks like the most depressing place imaginable to wed your sweetheart (sincere apologies to the many thousands of couples who despite this did, in fact, get married there).

So - two countries down, one to go! With the sun out, I spent the first few hours in Scotland rolling along nicely; the afternoon was very pleasant, riding along quiet roads parallel to the motorway, but far enough away for the most part that I could neither see nor hear it; the sun was out, and I made good time. I passed through or close to many places that, while not familiar, I have visited or at least heard of before, for good reasons and bad: Annan (family connections, in a manner of speaking), Lockerbie (the Libya connection), Moffat (the Hare and Hounds have held multiple training camps nearby) and Beattock (the highest point of Britain’s railways, I think, as immortalised in Auden’s The Night Train). This last was to prove the most relevant, as I found out later, when trying to sleep!

The sun set sometime before reaching Crawford and a chill was rapidly descending. After 170km, a 2 mile diversion to a campsite was not so appealing (ok, I’ll admit the steep road up to it was probably the deciding factor) and after passing the village I kept my eyes open for a decent site. I picked a spot as far as I could reasonably get from both the river in the valley floor and the motorway on the other side of the ridge; what I didn’t see was the main railway line only a few hundred yards away. Tomorrow, I’ll see what cycling after a broken night’s sleep feels like…