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

Mountain Biking UK - - THE BIG RIDE - Words Max Darkins Pho­tos Russell Bur­ton

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.

Fi­nal flurry

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?...

Last one to the Ea­gle’s Head buys the beers!

In con­di­tions like this, be­ing the faster rider means be­ing the drier rider too!

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.

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