Up before 5am can only mean one thing – a couple of days away with Mum adventuring! We travelled up to Fell Foot at the bottom of Lake Windermere and parked in the National Trust carpark before resuming the motorist to cyclist transformation 🙂
Sustrans really find the best routes away from the traffic, we followed a lane along the estuary from Haverthwaite to Greenodd, it started off as a lovely tarmac lane and we felt like we’d hit gold, what a way to start a Monday morning! It soon turned into a coarse stone track, a bit rough for my bike with the panniers but so nice to be away from the traffic. The route turned off at Greennod and headed towards Coniston Water, beautiful lanes in the back of beyond, not the bustle of the Lake District you associate with Windermere or Ambleside, this is the ‘quiet side’ of the Lake District. It’s hard to imagine why though, the landscape is stunning even in the drizzle and then the road comes alongside the lake shore, wow what views! There were many more bikes than cars, in 10 miles we only saw a couple of cars and probably 10 bikes, what a nice change!
When me and my Mum reminisce on all the cycling trips we’ve done over the past 15 years we always come back to Inverness to Glasgow, Lochs and Glens Sustrans route as our favourite and in particular the stretch along Loch Tay but as we cycled along Coniston my Mum said ‘I think this is right up there with the best roads we’ve ever cycled.’ The fact it was so quiet was special, even in the drizzle it was beautiful.
Just before we reached Coniston the rain had stopped and the roads had started to dry out so I’d taken off my waterproof trousers and over shoes but it was soon raining again so we stopped again so I could put them back on! The weather was quite chilly and riding all day with wet shorts wasn’t something I wanted to do.
We’d decided we’d visit Brantwood, John Ruskin’s home, which is two thirds of the way along the eastern shore of the lake. We had lunch in the cafe and then went around his house. I didn’t know much about Ruskin before our visit but I learnt about an amazing man who had sought to transform peoples lives by encouraging them to see the beauty in the world. His house was full of artwork he’d produced and collections of rocks, minerals, and other beautiful objects collected from nature.
After leaving Ruskin’s house we skirted the nothern end of the lake and started the climb away from the lake along Yewdale Beck with the Tilberthwaite fells on the left heading towards Little Langdale, this was another stunning valley, completely deserted apart from the sheep and the gushing beck to the right.
The little tarmac road eventually gave way to a stony bridlepath through the trees following the undulations of the hill side before reaching a fast moving stream. There had been some erosion at the side of the stream and we had to lift our bikes up some great big concrete steps to get onto the bridge.
Once over the stream we were on what must have been an ancient pathway leading to Little Langdale, some mountain bikers passed us and we joked that our bikes weren’t really suited to this terrain but they reassured us that we were very nearly back onto a tarmac lane again.
Back on the road we cycled through Little Langdale and onto Elterwater, still we were in the sleepy side of the Lake District, the clouds were looking a bit ominous again but the rain did just about hold off. We cycled east to Skelwith Bridge and on to Clappersgate following a Sustrans path alongside the road, at Clappersgate we turned onto a little traffic free tarmaced lane along the River Rothay called ‘Under Loughrigg’, this is a gem of a road well used by cyclists and walkers which skirts the contours around the western side of Ambleside to Rydal Water. We joined the bridlepath on the southern side of Rydal Water, this is an undulating gravelled path with stone gullies carrying rainwater across the path (be careful of these on your bike), the path was very wet from the days rain. We had soon skirted Rydal Water and decided to join the road for the last half mile to our hotel.
When we arrived at the hotel (the Daffodil Hotel) we were covered in mud, mainly from the off road sections we’d covered between Coniston and Little Langdale and the stretch around Rydal Water. We’d asked to store our bikes somewhere secure rather than locking them up outside so wheeled them through reception and into the little storeroom they’d cleared especially!
We’d planned to swim in Grasmere lake but were told the blue green algae was bad and there were warnings not to swim instead we went up to our room. There’s nothing quite a good warm shower after a day in the saddle, especially a muddy one! and after a few cups of teas we were off to the spa!
Before dinner we sat in the sitting room over looking the lake (in the pouring rain), had a nice glass of Sauvignon Blanc and browsed the papers. The meal was good and I had a fantastic desert of chocolate ganache, honeycomb ice cream, cinder toffee, salted caramel ice-cream! After the early start it was good to get an early night 😊
Day 2 – Grasmere to Fell Foot
We decided not to go to the spa in the morning, we got to breakfast on the dot of 8am to get a window table over looking the lake, what a way to start the day! Back to our room to commence the ‘pack-up’, one of the many things I love about cycle touring – the transformation of ‘normal people’ into muddy cyclists! All, well the few select belongings we’d brought being packed back into our panniers. I feel I need to add a little note here……the deal with my Mum was that I would carry her things too, she decided to bring a bag to carry the waterproofs but apart from that I had everything else (including the heavy locks). I took one change of clothes for the evening and one set of cycling clothes for the two days, my Mum took two different tops for the evening to choose between and she had a second set of cycling clothes!! Had a few laughs about that!!
We wanted to do a combination of things today, cycle back to Fell Foot, kayak and swim in the lake, we hoped Windmere wouldn’t have the blue green algae that had stopped us swimming in Grasmere.
There were a few options for the ride today, we could cycle down either the east or west side of the lake, both had their advantages and disadvantages but we decided to go with the western side. The first part of the ride traced the route we’d taken yesterday but we decided to ride the first part on the road to avoid the tough off road section around Rydal water. We turned off the main road just at the end of Rydal Water back onto the little Lane to Clappersgate, it’s an absolute gem, it’s almost flat and circumnavigates around the back of Ambleside to Clappersgate.
When we got to Clappersagte we joined the Sustrans route number 6 to Bowness on Windmere. The path follows the western shore of the lake to Wray Castle where cyclists can get the ferry to Bowness. The path from Clappersgate is off road all the way, on a path of rough gravel and a few tree roots! It was a real treat being on a traffic path as the road was busy at times. We were treated to some lovely views:
Somehow or other we missed a turn and ended up going down a lane to Wray castle campsite, we decided to carry on thinking we’d just join the path but ended up going along a muddy path littered with exposed tree routes which meant we were unable to ride. We walked the bikes through the trees and kept hoping that round the next corner we would see a nice gravel bike path, unfortunately we were a little bit further off the path than we had hoped. Eventually half an hour or so after going wrong we came back to the Sustrans route and were glad to be back on our bikes again. The path ran just metres away from the lake shore through the trees and when the sun shone it glinted through the leaves, it really was stunning.
Unfortunately we weren’t on the move for long before I heard that characteristic noise easily mistaken for the sound of a dry leaf caught by the brake calipers rubbing against the tyre but I soon realised I had a flat back tyre. Another flat tyre, two in the space of 2 months and I can’t remember when I last had a puncture before that! It was straightforward to swap the inner tube out and we were able to easily check where the hole was by dipping the damaged tube into the lake!
The path continued to follow the lake shore all the way to the Claife Viewing Platform about half way down the western shore and the route now came onto a single track tarmaced road which provided access to the small marina we’d just passed. Mum said we should look out for somewhere for a bite to eat and a cuppa soon, and if like magic as we rode just another 20 metres or so along the road we came to a National trust cafe set in a pretty courtyard and ordered some quiche, a cream scone (both to share) and the all important tea!
The cafe was a pretty little building in the grounds of to the Claife Viewing Platform, a few quotes had been painted on the wall and the one below really took my eye. I’d been thinking during this trip how lucky I was just to be fit enough to be able to cycle around on this mini-adventure so it was quite fitting. For me the ‘small’ things in life are having access to the outdoors to cycle, to run, to walk, to just enjoy the beauty of nature with people I love spending time with.
This quote just reinforced the thoughts that been provoked by reading about John Ruskin’s life.
We took the opportunity to look at the map and decide on the route for the last part of the ride, we took a rather unscientific approach and counted the number of gradient arrows on the two alternative routes and then chose the one with the smallest number! The road we followed was the closest road to the western shore and it really was a fantastic road, a good tarmac surface with just small undulations for the first few miles with the lake coming in and out of view as the road wound through the woodland. We weren’t quite so close to the lake shore as we had been on the gravel path but it was nice to be back on tarmac and it was almost traffic free. Then the hill came!!! We knew it would be a steep long climb but once we were at the top we enjoyed a steady downhill still expecting another hill which we soon realised wouldn’t materialise and we were soon at Lakeside on the western shore. From Lakeside it was just a short pedal around the bottom of the lake and back to Fell Foot.
We packed the bikes into the car and got changed ready for kayaking. We hired a two person kayak for 2 hours and paddled off up lake Windermere. My Mum had been a senior canoe instructor so she sat at the back and gave me paddling tuition while we glided along the lake. The weather was perfect, it was partially cloudy, not raining and the wind wasn’t too strong. We explored some of the little islands and inlets and enjoyed just sitting on the water taking in the views, how lucky we were!
To top the trip off we stopped off at the Mason’s Arms on Strawberry Bank on the way home for an evening meal. Just a couple of miles from my late Uncle’s house we have very fond memories of all the walks to the pub we did over the years, although I wasn’t going to risk the 6% raspberry beer today before driving back!