Working away in Scotland, earning brownie points from the wife, a knackered knee and unbalanced medication were the reasons that meant it would only be Stu and I who were able to make this trip. I’ll leave the reader to guess whom each excuse related to. The red herring being that “Stu the Thumb” was present and therefore someone else was using his excuse. When it became apparent that it would be just the two of us, Stu’s suggestion would be, to quote Monty Python “and now for something completely different”. Not only had we been walking for several years, but Sunday morning bike rides had also become a regular event. Why therefore didn’t we simply combine the two? With that gem of an idea and also the fact that Paul, with his dislike of heights, wouldn’t be with us, we automatically thought of Blencathra via Sharp Edge. Brilliant, now we had a plan.
Due to the 6.00 am departure we reached the hamlet of Mungisedale in time to reassemble the bikes and make an 8.30am start. There were two options of route, a long one and a short one, however as we wouldn’t have to make our decision for an hour or two we set off with an open mind. In no time at all the reality of bike riding through the Lakes hit home. It’s one thing walking along a mountain path, but cycling along a narrow, muddy, rock strewn uneven excuse of a path is entirely another. Constantly having to balance on this surface, having to get off and carry the bikes and above all else keep clear of the embankment at the side of the River Glenderamackin made for really slow going. At that rate of progress we’d be lucky to get to the base of Blencathra never mind complete either of the proposed routes. Thankfully after the first quarter of an hour the path became a little more even and all we had to contend with was the constant grind of the ascent. It was damn hard work and much to our consternation we were hardly pulling away from a couple of walkers who were using the same route.
Having somehow managed to keep ahead of the following party and reached a height of approximately seventeen hundred feet we stashed our bikes in some deep rough. With my last bike being nicked from the shed last Christmas I wasn’t going to take any chances and so using the heaviest duty lock and chain I could find both bikes were partially dissembled and duly locked together in such a way that it would have been nigh on impossible to cart them away. Now for Blencathra. Whether it was the energy used in propelling those great lumps of metal to that height or simply we were knackered, either way the ascent up to Scales Tarn seemed pretty hard work. Any lethargy appeared to disappear as soon as we could see Sharp Edge. Clearly it isn’t that great an undertaking; however there was some degree of a breeze and the ridge very clearly lived up to its name. Stu and I haven’t done a great deal of scrambling for some time and so the nicely polished rocks on the apex of this route made for a few cautious moves to say the least. Admittedly the total lack of grip on my boots probably had something to do with it, but even ignoring this fact there were a few airy moments where we were both clearly keen to keep a maximum number of points of contact. On some of the diagonally slanted sections we had to rely upon a few finger grips in order to move from one foothold to the next. It was quite exciting even if a little precarious. After no more than twenty minutes we were stood on top of Blencathra looking at the rather hazy views of the northern Lake District. To the east of Skiddaw we could make out the youth hostel at Skiddaw House, which was somewhere that we hoped we’d reach later in the day.
As it was pretty cold at the top we decided that there wasn’t a great deal of point in hanging around and freezing our nuts off. The result was that after this brief snap break we made the descent north east of Foule Crag and down to the col that links Blencathra with Bowscale Fell. By far the best view to be seen was the side elevation of Sharp Edge. Apart from looking particularly steep this great rocky ridge made the group of walkers who were gingerly making their way along its crest look totally insignificant. They appeared miniscule and almost threatened by the towering lump of dark shadowy rock. At the time of the scramble it seamed quite easy, however this view didn’t really appear to confirm that. In no time at all we had found the bikes and quite unbelievably I still had the padlock key. What a nightmare it would have been to carry down the mountainside one helmet, two wheels and the rest of the bikes all locked together in an unmanageable tangle.
The route up the hillside had been damn hard work, however the return journey was something else. This was much more like our expectations as no peddling was needed; we simply freewheeled down the bumpy grass track all the way to the stream crossing. Having pushed the bikes up a particularly uneven section to the col above Mousethwaite Comb we needlessly cycled up towards Scales Fell and a height of over 1,900 feet. Stu’s face on this section was a real picture. He had a great-contorted grimace spread from ear to ear and looked as though he was about to bust a blood vessel. It was ironic that we finally turned around once we’d realised that the path we needed started at the bottom of this climb. Oh hum, or as Mike would say, “Go Figure”. Once on the track down towards Scales all concern over the climb was immediately forgotten. It had to be as the descent was just about the most frightening I’ve ever made. For a good sixty seconds I gripped on for dear life, my brakes were just about full on, the track was covered in loose grit and therefore very slippy, people were standing back out of our way, there was a terrifying drop to our left and all the way down I had a real battle to keep the bike on the track. It’s not too fine a point to say that my whole body was tense and rigid with concentration. When the stile at the bottom was finally reached I literally slid to a halt by riding into it. Both Stu’s front brakes and mine had worn away and were non-existent. Now that’s what I call mountain biking.
The pub at Scoles was our reward and after a short break to repair the brakes and of course a pint we continued on our way to Threlkeld and then uphill (although on tarmac that was also a killer as well) all the way until the road gave way to a dirt track. This track would take us all the way to Skiddaw House. However getting there was easier said than done. At one point it was like trials riding. We were riding over all manner of rocks, grass tufts and having to avoid a constant array of gullies. All of a sudden Stu started falling one way and so I decided there was a route free around the other side. Unfortunately Stu then overbalanced and started falling towards me as I tried to stay upright. The result was that rather spectacularly I found myself flat on my back amongst a great pile of Granite. Yes, it did hurt quite a bit and I was sure that I’d sprained my wrist a little. Anyway, having bounced our way for another mile and a half we came across The Skiddaw House Youth Hostel or at least the building that was the youth hostel up until 2002. It would seem that budget cuts had closed this fine facility. Whether it opens again in 2004 we will just have to wait and see. Whilst I went for a look around Stu simply ligged art. He said that he was absolutely goosed and when I returned the sight of him sprawled out on the damp grass was proof enough for me.
It was quite a nice feeling taking it easy in the sun and simply wasting away the best part of an hour. We also had the peace of mind that the majority of our return route would be downhill and therefore relatively easy on our tired limbs and lungs. Well, at least that was the thought. The reality was something quite different. Yes, it was mostly downhill, but due to the extremely uneven terrain it was not just physically tough, but also mentally draining. For the second time in the day I was about to come a cropper and this time it would be big style. I was riding downhill at quite a decent pace, starting to feel more confident with the handling of the bike and my ability to avoid all manner of obstructions that lay in my path, when for some reason I looked over my shoulder and…. Wallop I was over the handlebars and flying through the air until the inevitable thud when rather like an old flying machine I landed in a crumpled heap. I can still hear the thud and the accompanying wheeze as all the air was forced out of my lungs. Somewhat coincidentally Stu happened to look behind himself to see me laid out and was soon back with me checking all was well. Ok, I’d picked up a few pretty decent cuts and bruises but again for the second time in the day I’d cheated anything more serious.
The remainder of the route back down towards the tarmac road was taken at a tentative pace as I most certainly had no intention of repeating these two incidents. The third incident was much more inevitable. Just before we reached the end of the rocky path my back inner tube finally gave way and Stu’s puncture repair kit was brought into use. The need to repair this puncture was a blessing in disguise as in truth I was glad of the chance to sit on the embankment and take a rest for a few minutes. Again the change in terrain was looked upon as a chance to take it easier. Again we were wrong. Yes, the going was reasonably flat, but we were now riding straight into the teeth of the wind. Not only was this hard work, but also pretty cold going. In truth we were both knackered when we arrived back at the car we were more than grateful that we’d only done the short ride! Would we do a bike and hike again? Of course we would, this outing may just open up a whole new pastime.