I am sitting typing this on a campsite in Glenridding looking out on the fells as the sun goes down, with my sleeping mat folded against a fence and my feet in my sleeping bag. I have an Eccles cake, a herby tea and have just been fed a lovely ‘one pot’ meal by my dear wife (I cooked last time – strict rota). My legs have half a day’s cycling in them in the sunshine (including Kirkstone Pass) and half a day’s fantastic mountain walking, also in the sunshine. It could get better but at this point it is hard to see how.
Today started slowly, owing to the fact that we booked breakfast for 8am. Eggs Benedict was on offer so how could I resist. We are silent fans of Best Western hotels – not sure why but they always seem to do fine, have supportive staff and not make a fuss about the bikes. This one invited us to wheel the bikes through the lobby into an unused function room and then locked it to keep them safe. Thumbs up from us – they could not have been more supportive. They even delicately told us that we had not paid – as if it was an optional extra we might consider. We had assumed wrongly we had paid on booking, but did so – and left with a smile.
The first few miles out of Kendal were gentle – the suburbs ran for a mile or so then we passed through a series of villages which were really more suburbs. Finally, out into the country and the climbing began.
We passed a ‘posh bike shop’ which specialised in taking large amounts of money from men in exchange for bikes they could lift with one finger. We were not their target market, but they did not blink when I asked to borrow a foot pump to check our tyre pressures, and Bernie used the ‘facilities’. There is no doubt that touring road cyclists are now something of an endangered species in the UK. There are many on the continent, many of whom are British, but we have encountered very few on this trip in our own country. The bike shop people looked on as I pumped up our tyres – with a look that would not have been that different if we were riding penny farthings. C’est la vie – they were kind enough not to laugh to our faces.
We did one relatively small climb then dropped down to Troutbeck to start the largest climb of the day over to Ullswater. It was a 350m climb which did not look too bad on paper – but then we did not climb it ‘on paper’ but with its series of 16% mini climbs to begin with. Tough but so are we.
Half way up we looked at the OS map we had bought in Kendal (for walking later) and discovered that this was Kirkstone Pass and is the highest pass open to road traffic (454m high). Apart from the 16% sections, it was OK. The clouds were coming lower as we rose and it all felt a bit gloomy. Then we saw the road down to Ambleside – called ‘The Struggle’. It had 20% gradients and so we can see why it is called that. Hardknott Pass – which we will not do – has gradients of 30%. There are descriptions of people who do those sorts of climbs and they should not appear in this blog.
The descent to Ullswater was magnificent, partly because the sun came out, partly because the wind was behind us and partly because it was not too steep after the first set of vertiginous drops. After doing under 40km, we ambled into the Glenridding campsite about 1.30 and set up camp.
Then we took out our walking shoes and braved the trails. This is the first time we have travelling with trainers which are tough enough for a decent walk. Our cycling shoes have cleats on the bottom so are not great, even though they are marketed as ‘hike and bike’. The walk justified hauling the shoes for the last 1500km. We walked up to Red Tarn – for those who know the area – a tarn below Hellvellyn with striding edge on one side and Swirral Edge on the other side. It sits in a natural bowl – God’s amphitheatre.
The descent was long – muscles used in a different way were objecting – but they were mollified by a short trip to the pub and a promise that we won’t put them through this again tomorrow.
So a half and half day – or two days in one. Another really memorable day.