The wheel thing

Bri­tain’s racy new cy­cling route

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - DESTINATION EUROPE - GAVIN BELL

It’s a safe bet that keen cy­clists who raced around the Tour of Bri­tain route in the Lake Dis­trict ear­lier this year didn’t stop for a scrump­tious pub lunch at the Black­smiths Arms in Broughton Mills.

They prob­a­bly barely no­ticed the leafy woods in Lor­ton Vale and, as for tak­ing time to muse on the spir­i­tual ethos of 12th-cen­tury Cart­mel Pri­ory, no chance.

For the less com­pet­i­tive among us, a new cy­cle tour of­fers the pos­si­bil­ity of en­joy­ing them all at a more leisurely pace. The su­per-fit can zoom around the 315km Lakes and Dales Loop in a cou­ple of days, or in one day if they’re so minded, but my wife, Claire, and I opt for a six-day itin­er­ary to give us time to savour the beauty and drama of Wordsworth and Bronte coun­try. Or so we think. We haven’t counted the hills in the net­work of lanes and mi­nor roads that opened in March this year.

We be­gin in Pen­rith, Cum­bria, and it is sur­pris­ing how quickly the din of the mo­tor­way gives way to bird­song in quiet coun­try lanes. Within a few kilo­me­tres we are in a world of hedgerows and wild­flow­ers, and sheep graz­ing in green fields that look like in­stal­la­tion art. This is a land of peace and plenty, of old stone barns and rus­tic pubs, and road signs mea­sur­ing dis­tances in quar­ter miles. It is farm­ing coun­try where cars are few and far be­tween, and we are more likely to meet a trac­tor than a coach.

Our first stop is Greystoke Cy­cle Cafe, which caters for cy­clists with snacks, chain oil and bike pumps. Scoff­ing home­made cake in the tea gar­den, we gaze across a meadow at Greystoke Cas­tle, once a bor­der for­ti­fi­ca­tion against raids by wild Scots. It is bet­ter known to read­ers of Edgar Rice Bur­roughs as the home of Lord and Lady Greystoke, the par­ents of Tarzan, Lord of the Jun­gle. The au­thor’s choice of the cas­tle is a mys­tery, but the fic­tion has not de­terred the lo­cal pub, The Boot and Shoe, from sell­ing Tarzan T-shirts.

The rum­pled pro­file of the north­ern fells is ris­ing to meet us as we ride on, but mer­ci­fully our way skirts the great shadow of Blen­cathra be­fore de­posit­ing us in the ham­let of Cald­beck in time for lunch. It is ab­surdly pretty, with ducks in a bab­bling brook and an Old Smithy tea room with ta­bles by a wooden bridge. It is like a film set for ru­ral Eng­land. On we go, through ham­lets of hob­bit­like houses of stone and slate to a ren­dezvous with Rob Green and his van. Rob and his wife Sarah have trans­formed 17th-cen­tury High­side Farm near Cock­er­mouth into a stylish B&B that serves as a train­ing base for triath­letes, and as a yoga re­treat. It’s not easy to find, so Rob gives us a lift from a nearby inn, and for good mea­sure drives us later to an­other coun­try pub for din­ner.

Our se­cond day in the sad­dle be­gins well with a me­an­der by a river through Lor­ton Vale, with the stern majesty of Grisedale Pike ris­ing to one side and Loweswa­ter Fell ahead. So far we have been skirt­ing the fells, al­low­ing us to ad­mire them with­out hav­ing to climb. Then we hit Cold Fell. It is a long, ar­du­ous climb and the de­scent is no fun be­cause it co­in­cides with knock­ing-off time at the Sel­lafield nu­clear plant and traf­fic treats the moun­tain road like a race­track. The next part of the route doesn’t look like much fun ei­ther, as it in­volves a cou­ple of kilo­me­tres on a busy main road. So we stop at the Stan­ley Arms in Calder Bridge, have a cou­ple of shandies, and after due con­sid­er­a­tion call for a taxi to take us and our bi­cy­cles to our abode for the night in Eskdale. When the go­ing gets tough, the not so tough sen­si­bly or­der a taxi.

A com­fort­able, wel­com­ing inn is of para­mount im­por­tance to weary cy­clists, and the 17th-cen­tury Wool­pack Inn at Hard­knott Pass in Eskdale fits the bill with pleas­ant rooms and good home-cooked food. Next morn­ing, though, we are con­fronted by a tough as­cent of more than 240m up Birker Fell, and an es­sen­tial truth of cy­cling in the Lake Dis­trict. Whizzing around it on a light­weight rac­ing cy­cle is one thing, toil­ing up steep hills on tour­ing bikes laden with cloth­ing for a week is an­other. Harry Berger, our ge­nial host at The Wool­pack Inn, is sym­pa­thetic. “It’s a hard climb,” he says. After a pause, he adds, “I have a bike car­rier on my car.” Sportive cy­clists would be ap­palled, but we are re­lieved.

From the sum­mit the land falls away in a wild panorama of hills dom­i­nated by Scafell Pike. Hav­ing avoided the ef­fort of get­ting here, we ad­mire the views and en­joy a free­wheel­ing de­scent down the other side. Next day we are trans­ported back to the Mid­dle Ages in the mag­nif­i­cent in­te­rior of the Pri­ory Church of St Mary and St Michael in the ham­let of Cart­mel. With mon­u­men­tal

A cy­clist on Hard­knott Pass, in the Lake Dis­trict, top; prom­e­nade at More­cambe Bay, above

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