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.

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