Saturday, 25 June 2011

A Sting in the Trail - Day 5


After the debacle of the previous day and still suffering from the disappointment of having to seriously depart from our intended route, we set off on the final leg of the journey in good weather, confident that the worst was now behind us.
Apart from a daunting but ridable (makes a change) climb up Crawley Side out of Stanhope, from then on it was 35 miles of mostly downhill with the wind behind us. Our route took us along Waskerley Way, a disused railway track now cycleway over the spectacular Howns farm viaduct, beyond which the route changes its name to the Consett to Sunderland Railway path.

Apart from crossing a couple of roads, this is a stretch of pleasant cycleway and footpath, complete with sculptures. A short climb at Cox Green where we cross the River Wear to join up with the River Wear Trail for the last three miles of the railway path and eventually the track gives way to tarmac three miles from the coast. Across the river again here and we head for the north pier at Roker, and nearly a mile along the pier to the lighthouse, and we're there!

After a pleasant evening in a motel just outside Durham and yet more Theakston's, we travelled back to Newport on the Tuesday, dropping Chris off in the Midlands and returning the bikes back to Saracen. It must be said that the bike served us well over some difficult and testing terrain and suffered no mechanical failures whatsoever and not even a puncture between us.

The task was then to set about collecting the money people so generously pledged, particularly the staff of Newport Council. We raised in excess of £1,000 for the Stroke Association and we were well pleased with that. I would like to thank my fellow rider Chris Moody and Ashley Davenport for their support and companionship, in particular to Chris for his planning and organisation. The three of us would like to thank Paul Crumpton and Sarah Thackaray for driving the support vehicle and 'being there'

We would also like to thank......

SARACEN MOUNTAIN BIKES of Warwick for the loan of the excellent Sahara Elite front suspension bikes, spares and clothing.

PEDALAWAY, Llangarron for the saddle bags and bar bags.

THE HANDMADE FLAPJACK COMPANY of Coventry for their generous donation of my favourite food in assorted flavours!

W BEN EVANS CHEMISTS, Caerleon Road, Newport for the First Aid materials.

SPAR SUPERMARKET, Caerleon Road, Newport for Mars Bars, Lucosade Sport Isotonic drinks and Bananas.

McCANN ERICKSON for the mobile phone.

ROBERT BROWN for the cellnet phone.

STANDARD TRAFFIC SIGNS, Newport for the decals on the support vehicle.

DEREK PURDY & ADRIAN GIDNEY for researching the route (although there must have been times hen their ears were burning!) and MOUNTAIN BIKING UK for publishing the route details.

Sunday, 19 June 2011

A Sting in the Trail - Day 4


It had rained all through the night and was still raining early morning. The forecast was for continued rain throughout the day and cloud cover at 1,000ft. We knew that our route over the northern Pennines that reared up before us would take us above this and therefore knew conditions would be poor. Wet weather gear on, we soon began the climb just out of Kirkland. Initially there was a good farm track, but it started to bite after a few miles. Unfortunately we were going against the grain of the strata which made it more difficult and we were again reduced to walking. By now the rain was driving and visibility decreasing as we continued to climb. As we reach the top, visibility is no more than 50m.

It was becoming difficult to distinguish track from stream owing to the volume of water coming off the fells. What should have been a well-defined track that linked to the Pennine Way above Cross Fell suddenly disappeared, with no obvious route in any direction except the way we had come. It was here that we make a foolish error of judgement. Instead of re-tracing our route to see if we had missed a turning, or taking account of the appalling conditions in such a bleak location and resolving to complete this section by road, we continue in the direction the route should have taken us by compass bearings in an effort to recover the track.

Lost in mist near Cross Fell!
The next four hours proved to be the most miserable and desperate I've ever spent as we push the bikes, which by now were becoming a serious hinderence to our progress. We wander for six miles like this and were by now well and truly lost, with no features to pinpoint our position on the map. The only option was to take a direction that would bring us down from this dreadful place (who said Hell had to be hot!) which was to be north-east. After what seemed like a lifetime and with constant detours around deep gullies we came upon a dry stone wall. Somehow making the correct decision as to which direction to follow the wall, we begin to descend. Our spirits rising, we eventually drop below the mist and see a tarmac road below us. Never can mountain bikes have been so please to see tarmac!

After much needed cups of tea in an oasis of a cafe, we get our bearings and are shocked to see just how far north we are of our anticipated position we really were. We make our way to Stanhope by road and arrive safely though somewhat late at our accommodation - the Queens Head - and it sells Theakston's

Day 5 (final day).....

Saturday, 18 June 2011

A Sting in the Trail - Day 3


The morning greets us with fine weather so we stow the wet weather gear and reassemble the bikes. The first few miles out of Ambleside are a mixture of good farm roads and bridleway to Troutbeck, with a superb view over Windemere on the way.  Out of Troutbeck our route takes us to High Street, an ancient road first documented by the Romans and used by traders and drovers.

Chris heading for the top of Yoke!
Here we are to make our first navigational mistake. We are not sure how we managed to miss it, but we know now that the bridleway split, with High Street proper following the valley before making its ascent. We took the higher route, perhaps through following the many walkers that were out that day.

This route was to take us along the ridge line, up and over at least three crags, and whilst the views it afforded us were good, the going was difficult after the rain of the previous night and it was back to shouldering the bikes. It was not until we were within a mile of rejoining the correct route that a walker enquired as to our presence on a footpath. After studying the map further we realised our mistake. A look back along the route we had just taken and we were not in the best of humour after our efforts. Chris commented to the walker that it didn't make much difference us being on the footpath as we had carried the bikes for the last six miles!

Chris and I enjoy the view over Kentmere reservoir
Picking up the route again at Thornwaite Beacon, we climb steadily, now thankfully on the bikes to the summit of High Street (828m) the highest point on the whole ride. From this ridge there is an incredible view of Haweswater reservoir as we ride the straits of Riggindale, bearing right towards High Raise. Here you get an amazing feeling of height and space. Thereafter the plateau ride was mainly downhill, but crossed by boggy strips where, if the wrong route is chosen results in almost sunken bike - guess who always took the wrong route!

Across Loadpot Hill we start the long descent down to Askham, cross over the M6, through Temple Sowerby and on to the Youth Hostel at Dufton. Lo and behold the only pub in Dufton happens to be right opposite the Youth Hostel, and after more Theakston's and darts, we retire to our bunks for a well-earned rest.

Day 4.....

A Sting in the Trail - Day 2


Me shouldering my back on the long climb out of
Wasdale Head to Sty Head
With a little trepidation, but the advantage of a full English breakfast, we set off for on the next leg, to Ambleside. Notwithstanding the description of the route in the magazine, and a study of the map and the converging contour lines, there was no substitute for the real thing to convince us of our task. A few miles along Lingmell Beck we started the gradual, but nevertheless unridable climb up to Sty Head.

By this time we literally had our heads in the clouds, so no views to compensate for the climb. Alas, when we reached Sty Head the climb wasn't over. There was another 260m of height to be gained before we reached Esk Hause at 75m. This was to be where Ashley achieved an incredible 'head plant' after failing to successfully negotiate a stream, resulting in his bike being stuck vertically, wheel deep in mud, his feet firmly in attached to his pedals and him forming a human bridge over the water!

Chris and Ashley negotiate the rocky climb down Rossett Gill
After a technical, loose downhill there was another climb up to Rossett Pike. Unfortunately there was not to be the usual reward for gaining so much altitude as the downhill into Mickleden is an incredibly broken and rocky climb-down the top section of Rossett Gill. The well worn track along the valley bottom had been 'improved' by the addition of loose stones. This made it drier but not any easier for walkers and even more difficult for bikes - thank heaven for the suspension!

A welcome sight along the valley is the Old Dungeon Ghyll Hotel. After an orange juice and lemonade (no not a pint of Theakstone's, though the temptation was real) and a short rest, we continued, with the onset of rain, with the remaining section to Ambleside and the Youth Hostel on the banks of Windemere. 

Arrival at Ambleside Youth Hostel
The rain was forecast to continue throughout the night and the following day so we were resigned to the prospect of wearing waterproofs for day three. We spent an our or so on some routine maintenance on the bikes and lubricate the now dry chain and gears. In the absence of any secure storage for the bikes, they had to be partially dismantled and locked in the van for the evening.

Day 3 .....

Friday, 17 June 2011

A Sting in the Trail

Firstly, my apologies for what is essentially very 'old news' but I have just stumbled across my original printed write-up of the off-road ride I did in April 1993. I thought it had been lost forever so I would like to share it with you and indulge my reminiscence ........

Since publishing this blog, I'm devastated to write that Ashley, our ride companion, and my cycling friend I had the pleasure of mountain biking with for many, many miles, was cruelly taken, too early, too young (49), in June (2013). RIP Ashley. May there be a nice bike and a dance floor up there for you.

Coast to Coast Mountain Bike Challenge
15th - 19th April 1993 - In aid of the Stroke Association

The Romans nicked the best route, but then they didn't have bikes and were more interested in building roads than riding off them!
I do not know what it was made us do it - a grave error of judgement, a mood of rashness and overconfidence, or perhaps more realistically, a decadent desire to combine adventure by day with comfort by night. Whatever the reason, our planning and research never prepared us fully for what we we were subsequently to face. The idea was Chris Moody's (a senior designer with Kilvington McCann Design), with whom I had worked with during Newport City Council's Corporate Identity project after he had read an article in Mountain Biking UK about a route researched by Derek Purdy and Adrian Gidney.

We both agreed that if we were going to undertake such a project, then we should take the opportunity to raise money for a worthy cause and we were to choose the Stroke Association.

We concluded that four riders would be a sensible and safe number and Chris recruited his brother-in-law Jim, and I invited Ashley, my usual riding companion. Unfortunately Jim was to suffer a hamstring injury a few weeks before the ride which ruled him out. At such a late stage in the planning it proved impossible to find another rider. Nevertheless, we considered three riders to be just as safe a number and so Jim's departure did not affect our plans.

Ashley checks the bikes on-route to Whitehaven
The route to be taken was split into five daily sections, with pre-booked accommodation at the agreed evening halts. This was not done on an even split of daily mileage, but took account of the different terrain we would encounter as we progressed along the route.

Paul, Sarah and Chris at a service station halt
To enable us to travel as light as possible, we had a support vehicle (my suitably decaled VW caravanette) carrying clothing, food, spare parts etc. which met us at the pre-arranged halts. This was driven by a friend of Ashley and myself, Paul, accompanied by his partner Sarah. This allowed us to carry only those essential items needed for that day's ride.

The route embraced the same industrial cultures at either side of the country - shipbuilding, coal mining (remember that?) and the smelting of iron ore - yet passed through some of the most spectacular countryside in England.

We set off early the morning of Wednesday 14 April from Newport, picked up Chris from the Midlands, and from there went direct to Whitehaven. After a pleasant night's rest in farmhouse accommodation and a hearty English breakfast, the three of us set forth.


Our first day's target was to reach Wasdale Head. After a few miles of road we joined the Whitehaven to Ennerdale Cycle path, described in the lierature as "linking the sea to the fells" It climbs gently and led us easily into the challenge. The distant fells of Ennerdale and the Cambrian mountains came into view, got nearer and nearer, and we were into it. From the end of the cycle path, a few miles of tarmac led us to a good forestry road. This took us into the heart of the hills, past Pillar and Steeple on the far side of the lake (Ennerdale Water). As we cleared the forest by Black Sail Hut Youth Hostel we were confronted by Great Gable, one of the giants of the Lake District.

The first big test was to start here, 400m beyond the hostel - the climb over Black Sail Pass (569m). It was a daunting prospect after such a leisurely beginning, and there was no way around it! It was a case of shouldering the bikes and heading for what seemed forever upwards, under the gaze of some very bemused hikers - a look we were to get used to as the ride progressed.

The consolation, in addition to the tremendous view down to Wasdale was to be the equally tremendous downhill. The view had to be appreciated from the top, for we needed all our concentration for the descent.

Weary, but well satisfied with our progress we arrived at our first night's halt at Wasdale Head. There to meet us in the support vehicle with a welcome cup of tea was Paul and Sarah, a ready-made audience for our tales of the day, not least of which was the climb over Black Sail Pass.

During our evening meal at our accommodation we chatted to a fellow guest, a frequent visitor to the lakes, who enquired as to our plans. After explaining our purpose and revelling in our self-satisfaction at the climb now behind us, we enquired as to what was before us the next day. She suggested that we wouldn't want to hear, and said no more about it save to suggest we took a packed lunch and some ropes! Before retiring to our beds we indulged in a few pints of Theakston's in the Wasdale Head Inn.