Six Harrogate ladies take to the hills
Over the last couple of years, being the spouses of MAMALs (Middle Aged Men in Lycra) my friends and I have succumbed to the joys of being on two wheels. Mainly indulging in ‘social’ rides which always centre on a coffee and cake stop, we’ve taken part in increasingly challenging sportives over the last two summers and when the idea of doing the ‘Lakes and Dales Loop’ was suggested, we thought, why not? As six reasonably fit women in our fifties, we thought we should push ourselves to the next level and take on a new challenge. While I would highly recommend our expedition, we did learn some important lessons along the way…
A relatively new route, the circular cycle ride covers 196m in total, through some of the UK’s most stunning scenery as it meanders through the Lake District, the Yorkshire Dales and the Eden Valley. We opted for a four day ride, starting from Bowscale, near Penrith, where we happened to have somewhere to stay base, travelling across to Seascale on the west coast before dropping down to Ulverston and back up towards Kendal, Sedbergh and Appleby-in-Westmoreland before heading home. We planned overnight stops at 50m intervals and organised for a local taxi company, Gosforth Taxis (who were fantatic!) to transport our bags every morning.
Having done some gentle training in preparation with one or two rides a week, plus spinning classes and our usual exercise regimes, we felt ready for the challenge. Fortunately, as we set off on our trip in May, we had time to view Blencathra basking in the Spring sunshine in the distance as we cycled along quiet country lanes and admired the gentle Lakes scenery. While enjoying our first lunch at a lovely pub, the Kirkstile Inn in Loweswater, we smugly commented that perhaps we should have attempted the three day option.
However, the afternoon proved a little more strenuous with some hillier terrain followed by a slight mishap with signage which resulted in us having to cycle the last five miles down a busy dual carriageway past Sellafield! While generally the route is pretty well signed, the organisers do need to take another look as some of the signage is either confusing with signs pointing in both directions or junctions with no signage at all! Be warned, do not rely on your Garmin, it is far from fool proof and we were kicking ourselves for not having the comfort of a good old OS map to fall back on…
When we eventually arrived at our hotel in Gosforth, we were feeling a little less sprightly and having replenished our carbs in the form of meat pies, we were all in bed by 9 o’clock! Next morning, after a hearty breakfast, tyre pumping and chain cleaning, we set off once more. There’s nothing like the Lakes in the sunshine and we were lucky to be able to enjoy glorious views of awesome peaks as we headed South. However, while we thought the route skirted the mountains, we soon discovered that it actually required us to tackle some of the steep, winding passes – the ones which always have an old guy who’s driven up, sitting at the top on a fold up chair with his flask of tea !
Having congratulated ourselves on fighting our way to the summit (partly on foot!), after stopping for a snack, we hit another problem as I had a puncture! After much discussion and 45 minutes of group effort as we took off a wheel, removed a tiny thorn, replaced and pumped a new inner tube and finally replaced the wheel, we weren’t feeling quite so happy. Make sure you have tyre levers, a spare inner tube and a small CO2 tyre inflator with you – and that you’ve practiced changing a tyre! Fortunately, the new tyre held out and, after another tortuous climb up a mountain pass, we were soon tucking into a well-earned lunch at the fantastic Broughton Bakery.
Unfortunately, our complacency that the tough climbs were behind us was short lived as we faced another mammoth mountain road, snaking as far as the eye could see. We soldiered on, even managing to stop off for tea and cake, but, like us, my bike seemed to be whining and groaning with every passing mile. We tried taking the wheel off and putting it back on again, but still the noise continued, rising to a persistent shriek as we dropped down into Grange-over-Sands to the welcome sight of the huge Victorian Cumbria Grand Hotel. As we seemed to be the only guests under the age of 70, a few eyebrows were raised when, clad in lycra, we wheeled our bikes through the reception before hobbling to our rooms for a much-needed bath to ease our weary legs.
After such a gruelling day in the saddle, we were a little subdued as we indulged in a lovely dinner at Rogan & Company in Cartmel. We were all quietly worrying about whether our middle aged bodies (not to mention my groaning bike!) could cope with another day like the one we’d just survived. Luckily, a phone call to a very technically-savvy husband resulted in us slightly loosening my front disc brake which magically solved the ear-wrenching noise. Day three started relatively calmly as we covered 30m or so of fairly flat ground, arriving in Kirkby Lonsdale in time for lunch. As we headed towards Dent on a fairly ‘lumpy’ road in cyclist lingo, we were hit by head on wind and felt like we were cycling through treacle for the next hour! A hair-raising one-in-seven descent into the village was the piece de resistance as we battled on towards Sedbergh and another much-needed refuelling stop.
Leaving the village, we once again missed any Loops signage and had to take an alternative (and very hilly!) route to finally stagger into our stop for the night, Tebay Services Hotel. Do not be put off by the name, the only family run service station in the country, it proved to provide extremely comfortable and good quality accommodation. Luckily, we’d planned to eat there, which was just as well as I don’t think any of us could have ventured any further.
Day four proved to be a doddle compared with the previous two days. We enjoyed fantastic scenery and quiet country roads, eating up the miles as we headed back to Penrith. While most days we hadn’t reached our hotel until after 6pm, we were back at our starting point in Bowscale by 4 o’clock, ready for a quick cup of tea before driving back to Harrogate.
Overall, it was a great trip with a lot of laughs along the way, but I would highly recommend that you prepare yourself for a challenging ride – while we were all fairly comfortable riding 50m in a day, we hadn’t appreciated that we’d be climbing 4,523m of elevation during the four day trip!
- Do lots of training (including five hours plus in the saddle and steep climbs)
- Take plenty of energy snacks and water with you
- Make sure you’re well equipped with good quality cycling clothing and a repair kit (and practice changing a tyre!)
- Book a taxi to transport your luggage
- Take OS maps – don’t rely on loop signage or a Garmin!
- Make sure you’ve researched plenty of coffee, lunch and tea stops!
Susan Reid, Harrogate