With its stunning mountains, endless walking paths and cosy pubs serving proper Cumberland sausage, the Lake District is my favourite part of the UK. My mum grew up in Ambleside in her teenage years, so we have spent many years visiting for walking holidays with family. Earlier this year I started thinking about how long it had been since we had last visited, around six years, and decided it was high time we went back for a family holiday.
Traditionally we have stayed in the northern Lakes near Keswick as it offers some of the best walking. For this trip we booked the Rowling End house in the Newlands Valley. It’s in an amazing location with several circular walks starting on its door and well equipped for several couples and kids, with two living rooms, a boot room and large kitchen/dining room.
Having confirmed my work sabbatical just prior to the trip I could only take a week for the trip, giving me six whole days of working and cycling once I’d accounted for the train from London and back. It’s around four hours by train and by leaving after work I could make the most of my time in the Lakes.
Day 1: Newlands Round
The first day we opted for one of my favourite walks in the Lakes that started a short drive away at the base of Catbells, from the village of Stair. It’s a gentle climb up to the top, making it popular with families and those out for a stroll rather than anything too strenuous. At the top, you are greeted with a sweeping view of Derwentwater and Keswick.
We continued along the ridge over Maiden Moor and High Spy, before descending down to a tarn where we had our picnic with a great view down to the valley below. After our lunch we started the sharp climb up to Dale Head and back along the ridge over Hindscarth. As we started to come down the clouds gathering throughout the day were looking increasingly ominous and we felt a few drops of light rain as we came down Rowling End, a fairly steep descent back down to the valley. Back on the flat we headed through Little Town and crossed over the river back to the cottage. The bridge was destroyed in the floods of 2015 and so we used the crossing stones, which of course was mega slippery and my boot when straight into the river!
The walk on Strava – https://www.strava.com/activities/1008085837
Day 2: Great Gable
The following day my family arrived from Carlisle and we made a plan to climb Great Gable, one of the most famous mountains in the Lake District. One of the best ways to tackle it is via the Climbers Traverse and the Needles Ridge, which is a tricky climb with loose scree. We opted for the easier route and drove to Honister Slate Mine and approached the mountain from the north side. It’s a steady climb up with a bit of a scramble across Windy Gap before you reach the summit of Great Gable.
From the top we descended down heading south east and then continued along the valley past Styhead Tarn where there were people camping – beautiful spot for it – then crossing Grains Gill, through Seathwaite and onto Seatoller. From here you can make the final climb up Honister back to the slate mine, or in our case wait at the bottom to be picked up! My uncle had promised a pub on the way back, but everyone in Seatoller was shut, so we stopped at the Swinside Inn on the way back for a beer in the sun. A great little pub with a big beer garden that catches the sun.
The walk on Strava – https://www.strava.com/activities/1010215149
Day 3: Newlands and Honister
By the third day in the Lakes I was itching to get the bike out and explore some of the nearby hills. I had plotted a couple of short loops from the cottage, which would serve as a warm up to the full Fred Whitton route that we would be tackling on Wednesday. I had brought my newly built Cinelli Experience, an aluminium frame with my brother’s old Record groupset. We headed out from our cottage, taking the easier way up Newlands.
I’d been having issues with the clearance on the rear wheel and straight away I knew something was up as I was struggling to keep up with Tim on the flat. I knew the climbs here would be tough, but going up Newlands was a proper slog. After Newlands we passed around the edge of Buttermere and onto Honister, taking the steep approach from Gatesgarth. The climbs in the Lakes are pretty imposing on the bike, as you cycle along the floor of the valley you can see the road dramatically ramp straight up to a gap in the mountains to take you back down the other side.
As per the previous climb, Honsiter was a real stinger and I watched Tim sail off into the distance. I had been in good form recently, so I was beginning to question whether I’d overdone it with the walking in the days prior. After the Honsister slate mind we carried om through Borrowdale and back along the edge of Derwentwater to Keswick. When I got back to the house I had a look at the bike and could see marks on the tyre wall where it had been rubbing the chain stay. That would explain the extra resistance!
The ride on Strava – https://www.strava.com/activities/1010998058
Causey Pike and Rowling End
Later that morning we headed off on a tried and tested classic, taking in the nearby peak of Causey Pike. We headed out from the cottage alongside Stoneycroft Gill, then starting the climb up to the intersection between Sail and Scar Crags. If you are feeling energetic you can make the dash up Sail and back down before continuing onto Causey Pike and along the bumps that lead the way to the summit. It was pretty windy at the top and after taking a few photos we headed back down, a bit of a scramble down a rocky outcrop especially with kids and seniors in tow. Most of the group then cut left taking a fairly gentle path down the valley whilst I continued along the ridge and down Rowling End, which has a bit of steeper route down at the end. The route finished back at our cottage, so it was back inside for tea and cake and feet up in the living room.
The walk on Strava – https://www.strava.com/activities/1011372223
Day 4: Red Pike
On day 4 we set off for nearby Buttermere with our group splitting into three for an easy, medium and difficult walk. I had the ambitious plan to climb up Red Pike from the edge of Crummock Water, heading along the ridge over High Stile, High Crag and Hay Stacks, then down Fleetwith Pike to the edge of the lake.
We started fairly late and didn’t get to Buttermere until around 12pm. The weather forecast wasn’t look great for the afternoon so we set off with full wet weather gear. We didn’t have the best start as we couldn’t locate the path and had to backtrack at some point to get back on track. It was a pretty beautiful climb up around the side of Red Pike, passing waterfalls as we climb up next to the river. The rain started to fall as we got onto the ascent and by the time we got to the crest of the hill the clouds had descended and visibility was reduced to just a few metres. We continued for a little way, but given the path continued close to the edge of the ridge we figured it would be best to turn around and head back the way we came. I’m never usually one to turn back, but sometimes it’s just not worth it, especially if you can’t appreciate the view from the top. By this point we were thoroughly soaked through, as the rain was so heavy that nothing was keeping the water out.
We got back to the café by Buttermere pretty bedraggled and met up with my cousin who’d walked around the lake. There was no sign of my Dad and uncle who had headed straight up Haystacks and after waiting for an hour or so we were starting to get a bit worried. Eventually we drove up the side of the lake, anticipating the way they’d be walking back. At the foot of Fleetwith where you can see the Wainwright memorial, we found the two old nutters. A little bit wet with a grin on their faces, happy that the B team has become the A team having successfully gone up Hay Stacks unlike us.
The walk on Strava – https://www.strava.com/activities/1013077550
Day 5: Fred Whitton route
For my last day in the Lakes I’d agreed with my brother to have a crack at the Fred Whitton route, which is undertaken as a notoriously tough 180km sportive around the Lakes every May. I’d been tweaking my setup the night before to try and avoid any tyre rub on the frame, at which point I’d spotted that the tyre was rubbing against the front derailleur clamp… not ideal! We started early and although it was chilly it looked like we were going to have a nice day ahead of us.
We started out from Stair, heading north towards Braithwaite and the first climb of the day on Whinlatter Pass. As we hit the climb it became immediately apparently that my tyre was rubbing as I was going nowhere fast. I let my brother steam on up the climb and stopped to adjust the wheel. After some adjustment, it seemed better and we carried on around Loweswater and down to the next climb – Burn Edge. At this point I was struggling quite a bit and knew that something wasn’t right with the bike setup, with extra rub on the clamp was killing my speed.
We continued, knowing that the worst was yet to come with the double whammy of Hardknott and Wrynose Pass at 66km. Hardknott is 2.6km long with an average gradient of 12%. The road rises up ferociously from the valley floor as a series of short hairpins before disappearing over the top of the mountain. As soon as I hit the climb I was struggling again with my tyre rubbing and making painfully slow progress. The road was a little damp and I was battling hard to keep traction but at some point half way up I veered across the road and had to unclip. Embarrassingly I had to dismount my bike and push my bike to a relatively flat bit of road on a hairpin, then took several attempts to get going again – nearly coming off my bike in the process.
At the top I caught up with Tim who was chatting to another rider and we continued on down to the valley, ready for the next climb. The Wrynose ascent starts straight away, but at 1.7km long and a mere 8% average gradient it feels like kids’ stuff after Hardknott. With the climb done we were edging towards half way and the weather was getting more pleasant. I however was feeling totally done in, and with several big passes still to come I was wondering if I would make it round.
On the run into Ambleside we went over Oxen Fell and Hawkshead Hill, neither particularly tough compared to what had come before, but with tired legs they both hurt. We eventually arrived at Ambleside after 4 hours and 15 minutes, 100km in and over half way through. We found a nice spot for lunch in the sun and I broke the news to Tim that I may have to cut the ride short. I checked the route back and saw that I could cut back direct to Keswick on the A591, however it wouldn’t be particularly flat. Some food lifted my spirits and Tim talked me into carrying on – I checked the bike again and there was noticeable rubber around the clamp, not ideal.
10km out of Ambleside we hit Kirkstone Pass, one of the longer ones on the route that averages a more civilised 6%. The Tour of Britain came up it in 2016 via The Struggle, where Bradley Wiggins dismounted his bike and briefly ran up the hill in a homage to Chris Froome. I was much more professional and stayed resolutely seated, once again watching Tim disappear up the climb and putting about 30 seconds into me. We later learned that our Mum used to come up here from home in Ambleside to drink with her mates at the Kirkstone Pass Inn, not a bad spot for an underage pint!
After Kirkstone the route heads north towards Patterdale and skirts the edge of Ullswater before passing through the delightful Glenridding, it felt like we were riding through the Lake District’s equivalent of Lake Como. I was finally starting to feel more comfortable on the bike and I wondered if I’d now worn enough of my rear tyre that it was no longer rubbing on the clamp!
After leaving Ullswater we headed over Matterdale, a not insignificant 2km climb that averages 7%. Over the top we descended down to Troutbeck and turned onto the busy A66 that takes you towards Keswick. The bike was once again feeling like my friend, I was loving her and I felt like she was loving me. At one point I was surprised to look back and see that I had gapped Tim, especially after he had been laying down the hurt all ride. It was cool to pass by Threlkeld where we’ve stayed many times, a little village that sits beneath Blencathra.
From Keswick we debated whether to cut back the short way home or carry on south and do the final two climbs of Honister and Newlands. This time it was me convincing Tim to carry on and after a pit stop for a gel he seemed good to go. The route took us down south along Derwent Water to Borrowdale where we started the final two climbs – Honister and Newlands. We’d done them both two days earlier, but approaching the opposite way. On the early ramps of Honister Tim seemed to be struggling and dropped off my wheel, I kept going as we had agreed to meet back at the house if one of us was off the pace (I had said that thinking it would be me). After the initial steep sections the road levels out before a final set of hard ramps up the slate mine at the top. I decided to wait at the top, posed with my camera ready to capture Tim as he came over the top. He arrived looking a bit ruined and so we stopped in the café for a bottle of coke, then descended down to Buttermere and the last climb of the day.
I was enjoying my second wind and wanted to give Newlands a proper crack to make up for my poor showing throughout the rest of the day. I left Tim behind and went pretty hard up the climb, much to the amusement to a few tourists driving past. It was a nice relief to reach the top after a long day in the saddle and knowing that the house was at the end of the descent. Tim is a much better descender than me, so I went full out down the hill to ensure I wasn’t caught. The ride back to the cottage along the valley was longer than remembered, but after a few kilometres I arrived back home to find the rest of the gang in drinking in the garden.
I leaned the bike up and grabbed a beer, pretty content to have done the whole 180km in just under 8.5 hours and be the first to arrive back. Probably one of the tougher rides I’ve done, not helped at all by the rubbing brake. I’ll be back one day to give the sportive a go.
The ride on Strava – https://www.strava.com/activities/1014403051