It's one of those things for our little brand - getting out for a ride isn't always easy.
Last Saturday, at the end of an unseasonably clement February week, one of us was out smashing the first TT of the season and then collecting her medal for winning the NWCCA cross league. The other was trying to keep a household with three young boys (and a visiting niece) in it vaguely calm by taking everyone to the local pump track for some bicycle fun in the sun. Difficult not to want to ride in this weather!
In previous years, we had been integral to the running of the Lune RCC's Coal Road Reliability Ride - a brilliant 100km leg breaker over the Lancashire Fells, the Yorkshire Dales and Cumbrian borders - but this year the club decided to in-source the ride. So the one that wasn't nursing a (well-deserved) hangover decided to look elsewhere for a late February, child free, challenge. Variety being the spice of life and all that. What followed was comfortably spicy enough for the Scoville Scale.
We'd decided to head out to the farthest reaches of the Western Lakes (so far that O2 thought we were in the Isle of Man!). When we let people know we're going out for a ride through social media, often we don't keep track of who's coming or how many. Given the aforementioned family, and the fact that the mornings have been so bright recently, we set a very early start time to meet in Broughton-in-Furness Market Square for a 7.30 roll out. A few familiar faces, more unfamiliar. Even some local lads from Millom. (Oh sh*t, did we do the route right?) That wonderful first 5-10 minutes where you're trying to gauge who's got what bike, kit and possibly form. A merry random band of 7.
We set off into the hazy light, sat just above the mist line in cold February sunshine. After unsettling the locals by avoiding the most obvious road to it's foot, we found our way round to the start of longer way up Corney Fell. It’s the westernmost pass of the range of hills that includes its more famous cousins Hardknott and Wrynose. Whilst it's nothing like as savage as those monsters, it is (at the weekends anyway) empty. Vast and empty. After a long drag up to the top we were met with stunning views of pockets of mist resting in the vacated valleys below. Over the brow we would normally see the open ocean beyond. Today though we were above the cloud and the sea was still under its big fluffy blanket. It too possibly put off by the early start?
The descent of Corney Fell is a belter. Fast. Straight. Steep. A racer's descent. (Watch out for the sheep and the crosswinds.)
After safely navigating down into and across the bottom of the Esk Valley we rode on to Holmbrook and Gosforth (not the way the locals would have gone. Possible black mark). Then we turned East and back through the quiet lanes of Nether Wasdale and on to Wast Water, approaching this iconic dead-end road from the North and West, rather than the more common South corner of the lake. We were greeted by simply mesmerising vistas of the lake and the giant mountains (Scafell and Great Gable framing Wast Water beautifully). The original plan was to ride the length of the lake and have a pint at the Wasdale Head Inn, but after two of us went down (gently) on a monumental diesel slick spanning the rest of the road that way, we thought better of it. We grabbed photos and gawped in awe.
The road back to Broughton from here could have been much easier than we made it. However, even the locals seemed to enjoy the double down of spice that followed - over Birker Fell and then the malignant Kiln Bank Cross. The former is steep, long and exposed. On a still and warm February day it was a visual feast. One of the most beautiful, breath-taking and becalming places we've ever been. The climb itself is in two stages, a steep ramp away from Eskdale which plateaus slightly and then rises up above you into the heavens. No false summit, just a steady grind for a mile or two. All the while trying to tear your eyes away from the relentlessly astonishing views to your left. The open road at the top across the Fell was beautiful today. On another day (especially in February!) it might have been a torturously hellish roll. The descent on the other side into the Duddon Valley is very steep and includes some treacherous hairpins at the bottom, it'll do you well to remember these the first time you ride it!
Instead of the lovely roll down the Valley to Duddon Bridge, we had one last spicy hit to take in. Kiln Bank Cross. What was immediately afterwards described by one of our group as a "hard-7" in response to Mr Warren's assessment. It felt like an 8 today. Maybe more. But we had some passes in our legs and we'd not had a crumb of cake between us. We rode up to the foot of the climb with one of our locals who explained tha his dad had always taught him the climb was “three lumps of effort after the first cattle grid”. But that was the last we saw of him as he shot off up the hill on a 36/28, barely breaking sweat. Lakesmen/women. They're made of different stuff. We accompanied his dad up instead. Much more civilised, and we took in the wisened local knowledge to family walks and MTB trails etched into the sides of the never-ending landscape.
Over the top we rolled through the villages of Broughton Mills and Hawthwaite before sprinting the last mile for home with one of the best rides in living memory fresh in our legs and minds.
It's hard to describe (or even photograph) just how magnificent these hills, lakes and vales are. We're smitten with the Forest of Bowland, we'll always love the Yorkshire Dales and the more well-known parts of the Lakes. Even the comparative rat race of the Fred Passes. But this. This was really special. If you're coming to the Cold Dark North, and you want a ride that's at least one level beyond what you imagined. Do this ride. And then probably do it again in reverse. We were admittedly helped by the fact that it was a day that would have felt great in May, in February, but this ride would have been brilliant in the rain. Marginally less brilliant, arguably.
So that's the Wild West. It may be hard to get to. But that's one of the reasons it's so beautiful, so remote, so vast and so wonderful. It's pretty high on our scale, hot as hell and hard to boot.
Our route was 85km and took in about 1,600m^. You can see it in Komoot here. If you’d like the GPX, let us know.
It's not for the feint hearted, there are 3 very long steep climbs and descents, exposed fells and not much phone reception in places. There's free parking in the Market Square at Broughton-in-Furness. The Broughton Village Bakery is excellent (but closed on Sundays) and we wouldn't recommend that you attempt the Corney Fell road during the weekday rush - it's the short cut for Sellafield traffic and could be ruined by getting caught in the "Sandwich" as our locals described it.
Thanks to those that came and rode with us as always. We’ll let you know when we’re exploring next. If it’s anything like this one, you won’t want to miss it!