GRIZEDALE FOREST, LAKE DISTRICT
We don’t normally head to trail centres for our Big Ride, but this is a perfect ‘Plan B’ route for when the weather turns, with a great mix of natural and manmade riding
The mountains of the Lake District are full of amazing natural trails. They’re generally not for the faint-hearted though, which is why manmade mountain bike routes have been developed here too. It’s one of these that we find ourselves at this morning. Grizedale may not be the first place you’d think to head to when visiting the Lakes for a classic MTB ride, and to be fair it wasn’t on our Big Ride list. But if the weather isn’t on your side, like today, it makes sense to stay low and sheltered. It’s actually a decent destination whatever the conditions, because as well as having a good, natural-feeling waymarked trail, the forest is home to lots of superb unmarked singletrack. Oh, and there’s a visitor centre with a cafe, bike wash and good bike shop – which we’ve made some last-minute calls to today, to arrange this alternative location for our ride.
Rain, rain go away
As we wind our way wearily along the narrow, twisting roads leading to the Grizedale Visitor Centre in our van, we’re unsurprised to find the car park virtually empty upon arrival. The rain is lashing down on the windscreen and running down the road like a river. Our first port of call is the cafe and then, with cups of coffee in hand, we make our way to the bike shop. It’s a proper bike shop too, with a fully stocked workshop and lots
of shiny parts to browse and poke, as well as being the largest bike hire centre in the Lake District, with demo rides too. Furthermore, it’s where we find Pat, the oracle on the riding to be found within this forest. Pat is equally interested to meet our snapper, Russell Burton – the man who designed and built the North Face trail here many years ago.
After stories are shared, trails evaluated and more coffee is consumed, finally the rain gives up, so we decide it’s time to kit up. Sadly for Pat, as shop manager he’s store-bound for the day, so fellow employee Jake Wright collects up his riding gear (which lives in the shop for such emergency situations) to join us on today’s ‘Plan B’ ride. We follow the North Face trail to start, which involves a little tarmac to warm the muscles first, before an interesting singletrack climb starts to wind its way up the hillside. The way the trail twists and turns using the rocks already there makes it difficult to believe it’s not natural, and it’s shed the morning’s rain well, which makes it into a fun climb. Well, as enjoyable as a climb can be...
At the top, we peel off to head out along a fireroad. Recent felling offers some fine views down the valley as we make our way to the new black-graded section of trail, just off the North Face route. It’s a great addition to the riding in the forest, especially for people who like to get their wheels off the ground. Top fun but not for the faint-hearted, there are big berms and jumps throughout. You need to keep your eyes peeled for splits in the trail, because there are some double-diamond sections, which indicate extra gnar and are intended for expert riders only. Be warned.
At the bottom, we’re all buzzing – until we remember there’s now a forest road climb to bring us back to where we left the North Face trail. After gurning our way back up, we rejoin the purposebuilt trail for a bit more singletrack, before being spat out onto a forest track. A little way on, we’re peeling back off it again, this time to leave the shelter of the forest on a nice firm trail heading for Parkamoor. Along the way, we eye up some tantalising trails to our right, which are blocked off by tree trunks to warn people off, as we pass Heald Brow. Jake informs us that there are plenty of enduro lines like these in the forest, and it’s well worth coming back when one of the races is on, to sample this superb off-piste riding.
Show us a wheelie, mate!
We leave the trees and head into the biting wind to climb the short, rocky track up onto Park Crags. The hilltop provides some wonderful panoramic views over Coniston Water and beyond. It’s the views that help make riding in the Lake District so magical, so this one needs to be appreciated despite the weather. Dutifully, we sit down on the damp rock and break into our trail food, soaking up the atmosphere (quite literally) and a reasonable amount of rain.
With views and refreshments taken in, the cold, wet wind drives us away sooner than we’d have liked, but it’s a fun drop down the hillside so we’re
not too sad. We’re not going all the way down the fun, technical descent to High Nibthwaite today, though. Instead, we drop down past the farm building, lush green grass and a dozen Duke of Edinburgh’s Award hikers, who request wheelies and jumps as we pass. After a short, sharp, rocky climb we head off left, across the moor and back towards the forest. We’re aiming for another, dare I say, even better trail.
This one is split into three sections, by forest tracks cutting across. It starts off with some fun, twisty singletrack, which grows in technicality as we go, before finally becoming a fast, frantic and very wet blast. Bouncing and ricocheting around, I try my best to watch out for any slippery roots or mud that’ll change my speed or direction, but it’s nigh on impossible, due to all the spray from Jake’s bike and my front wheel that’s hitting my face. Well, that’s my excuse for letting him pull away and fly off down the hillside alone.
At the bottom we look a wet, muddy mess. The ride has provided us with so much good riding already that we could quite happily duck into the pub just down the road in Satterthwaite and call it a day. But the chance to ride the ‘Breasty Haw’ sounds like an offer too good to turn down. Breasty, it turns out, means ‘hill’, and haw, ‘trees’, so it’s named after the steep woodland here. Disappointing. Well, actually not so, because after winching our wet bodies up the hillside to the top, there’s another superb descent waiting for us. The fun starts soon after joining the singletrack. Undulating at first, the trail soon points downhill, twisting between rocks and popping off others. Momentum builds as we descend, before a final flurry sees us skittering over slippery roots and dropping down to the road.
There’s no time for a rest, because the tarmac heads upwards. After a short, sharp ascent, we head back into the forest for more climbing. Forest tracks and singletrack eventually lead us to pop out at the Moor Top car park, where the plan is to rejoin the North Face trail. Going left here lets you enjoy the last, long singletrack descent to finish. But by heading up, backwards, along the green-graded Hawkshead Moor trail for a bit, you can take in more of the North Face singletrack. So much, in fact, that you’ll ride virtually all of the singletrack on this trail. It’s good fun too, so worth the detour, and it’s all brilliantly rounded off with a long, fast, flowing descent where navigational brains can be switched off and you can just enjoy the flow.
The trail pops us out right by the bike wash – which doubles as a body and kit wash today – before bikes are bundled into the back of the van and we cold-foot it to the cafe before it closes, for some much-needed sustenance. If you’ve ever hesitated about coming to ride in the Lakes, stop delaying. When even a wet weather, ‘Plan B’ ride can be this darn good, you know that this stunning location has something special that you need to come and discover for yourself.
THE LAKE DISTRICT The Lake District is a region and National Park in Cumbria, north-west England, which has just been awarded UNESCO World Heritage status. Covering an area of 2,362km2, it’s packed with technical trails. WHERE ARE WE? www.lakedistrict.gov.uk Carlisle Keswick Penrith Lake District National Park Grizedale Blackpool PRO FILE max darkins JOB CREDENTIALS MTB route planner Max loves travelling up and down the country, searching for the best routes for you to ride, and he’s the man behind www.roughrideguide.co.uk
Last one to the Eagle’s Head buys the beers!
In conditions like this, being the faster rider means being the drier rider too!
DOWNHILL, POINTS THE TRAIL SOON PPING KS AND PO TWEEN ROC SEES TWISTING BE INAL FLURRY BEFORE A F OFF OTHERS, PPERY ROOTS G OVER SLI US SKITTERIN
plan ahead In rugged areas like the Lakes it’s always good to have a ‘Plan B’, just in case the weather closes in and makes higher routes too perilous.