With some time on my hands, and the looming prospect of a few weeks back in an office, I decided to take myself on a last minute Lakes mini-tour. I floated the idea with the rest of Team Mug Dangler, but ultimately this was to be a solo adventure.
I like youth hostels a lot. Each one is different, yet predictably same. The building and location change, but you still know what you’ll find. A bed, a bathroom, somewhere to cook and somewhere to dry your shoes. Friendly staff and fellow visitors from across the globe, each with their own story to share… often whether or not your want to hear it. When you’re not an experienced wild camper, who (like me) might not have all the right kit, knowing you are ultimately aiming for a known quantity is very reassuring.
Day 1: Clitheroe to Arnside
I’ve cycled from Clitheroe to Arnside a few times. When I first got into cycle touring, I concocted this route as a shake down ride for a bigger Welsh tour. It was as simple as looking at the YHA website, picking a hostel that looked nice and then looking on the map to find a station that was as far as I felt I could cycle. Each time I’ve cycled this way, the route has come out a little different, but always featured bouncing through quaint villages like Slaidburn, Wray and Hornby, crossing the lovely Gressingham Loyn Bridge and grinding up and over the Cross of Greet. The Cross isn’t as famous as the Trough of Bowland, which is to the West, but is a rolling beast of a climb similar in character to the Cat and Fiddle.
The new addition to the route this time, thanks to following Google Maps, was a grassy and cobbled ride along the canal by Tewitfield Marina. This took me parallel to the M6, then across the motorway, through a farm yard and out to final stretch through the Yealands: Conyers, Redmayne and Storrs.
A changing selection of dappled green-hedged lanes, shaded tunnels of trees, exposed moorlands, views across the Lakes and plenty of climbs – both short ‘n’ shocking and juicy long grinders – with the payback of exhilarating descents, this ride out to Arnside is a challenging and interesting 40 miles. I started later than I liked, and with showers and a cold wind, it was hard going at times. But one of the nice aspects of riding alone is that you can just settle down into your own pace and get through it. And when you get to the top of that hill, you can take your own time to enjoy the view.
I arrived into Arnside around 7pm, missing out on a chippy tea from the very good shop on the waterfront. But I was content with cooking myself dinner in the communal kitchen, and enjoying some nice red wine from the youth hostels reception. Arnside, through you still book it through the YHA and get a discount as a member, is now an independent hostel. This means that it’s got some features you wouldn’t see at a YHA hostel… such as the resident cats and dog. Sat in a nook, listening to podcasts, the canine patriarch of the hostel joined me for a pleasant chat before I headed up the wooden hill to Bedfordshire.
41.9 miles. 4109 ft of ascent. Route on strava.
Day 2: Arnside to Coniston Coppermines
I started the day with breakfast at the Bakehouse Cafe on the Arnside waterfront. Today I was heading into, for me, relatively unchartered territory, winding my way north and west past some of the most famous lakes in the District.
First I headed north along the Kent River, then west, over a killer hill between Witherslack and High Newton. At one point I took a wrong turn, and tried to correct it by cycling along a footpath which ran through a church yard. Of course this is when my shoe lace decided to get wrapped around my pedal. I cut myself free with my trusty penknife, while some monk looking old fella gave me the stink eye. Wait, what… shoe lace? Yeah. Part of my new more relaxed approach to cycling, fitting with the GUTM ethos, is cycling everywhere in Converse.
Turning North, I skirted the A590 and crossed the River Leven at Newbury Bridge. The sun had come out, and I followed wet, rolling country lanes past Lake Windermere and Entwistle Water to Hawkshead. With just a handful of miles to my destination – the Coniston Coppermines YHA, which wouldn’t even open for another three hours – I stopped for a late lunch in a pub. I basked in the afternoon sun for a good hour, listening to American tourists attempting to navigate the complexities of a British pub.
A jacket potato and two pints of bitter shandy is exactly what you don’t want to have in your belly for Hawkshead Hill. It’s an unforgiving beast of a climb, a terrible combination of narrow and busy, making getting off and pushing feel sketchy. At the top you are welcomed with a stunning view, and an enjoyable roll down into Coniston, where I stocked up on dinner ingredients in the Co Op. Half way up to the Old Man of Coniston, the Coniston Coppermines YHA (to differentiate it from the other Coniston YHA) is reached by a 500 metre gravely climb. I walked it, passed by the climbers and hikers till the road leveled out.
That evening I was befriended by a pair of Belgian hikers, with whom I shared dinner and some wine. Before bed, I took a glass outside and watched the sun set over Coppermines Valley.
35.2 miles. 2830 ft of ascent. Route on strava.
Day 3: Coniston Coppermines to Ulverston
I had originally planned to head home via the train from Oxenholme Lake District, but needing to be back in Manchester at a decent time, this was frankly a little further than I fancied riding. A friend suggested Ulverston as a closer and less hilly alternative.
After a fried breakfast at the hostel, I packed my bags and rolled down the hill to Coniston. Working my way round the top of Coniston Water, I followed the National Cycle Network Route 37 to Ulverston. A sunny morning, the roads were positively teeming with cyclists, and it felt like summer had finally returned.
I rolled into Ulverston with plenty of time, passing through busy streets as it was their carnival, and enjoyed a quiet wait at the cute station. The less said about tackling the British rail system, the better.
16.6 miles. 877 ft of ascent. Route on strava.
A love letter to youth hostels…
It’s easy to forget what we have on our doorsteps.
And it’s easy to buy into orthodoxy about what an adventure looks like. “Micro-adventure” has become synonymous with bivy bags and bike packing, which I totally get the appeal of, but there’s also an element of machismo that we can frankly do without. “Oh, you’re not brave enough to go sleep on the side of a mountain alone…”
No thanks. Give me green lanes and a flat dry place to sleep at night. Add wine and a shower, you’ve got me hooked.
So don’t dismiss comforts and convenience of a good ol’ youth hostelling trip. They might not be cool, but they are still dead good.
Pinnacle Arkose LTD 2017 Adventure Road Bike, which I kindly have on loan from Evans Cycles, with my old faithful Brookes B17s saddle, flat pedals for relaxed riding and extra Topeak adjustable bottle cage. This cage was intended to carry my Trangia fuel bottle… but did a fine job of carrying extra fizzy drink bottles.
Luggage was an Ortlieb Bikepacking Seat Pack and Wildcat Gear Ocelot framebag.
Words and pictures – Ella Wrendenfors.