Tarquin's cycling pages

The Lake District

Trips done in this area

TripDurationDistance (miles)
21 August 2004 - Grizedale Forest loop2:3010
16 August 2004 - Great Langdale South loop1:454

Sample pictures

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Area summary

The Lake District is not a cycling area. I don't care, I don't care, it is not a cycling area!

Virtually every outdoor pursuits shop has a book, map or leaflet saying where to go cycling, but practically all of them concentrate on road routes. Only a couple of miles in total are devoted to off-road, and even then, only to bypass slightly longer sections of road.

Most of the A roads are actually B roads with a white line painted down the middle, without there actually being enough space on either side for a car. Most roads are lined with stone walls making mistakes very costly. The occasional cycle lanes are usually on roads that do not have enough space for them, so the cars drive on them anyway. Roads often climb and fall steeply or wind up steep sections, giving all the pain of a hard climb with none of the satisfaction of a long downhill.

The mountains (including the highest in England) are riddled with footpaths and bridleways. Many have been stepped with natural flagstones making them impossible to ride up and uncomfortable to ride down (full suspension actually makes the more gentle ones fairly enjoyable). Paths that are easy (or safe) to cycle up are usually marked with 'NO CYCLING' signs.

There is a cycling centre in Grizedale Forest that has an entire hill forest with several forestry trails, and its own guide map (available at the visitor centre). The forest is mainly coniferous, so most (but not all) good views are blocked by trees, so this forest could be anywhere, and you would never know. In my opinion, a forest is a forest is a forest, and if you go to the Lake District, you will probably want to see some lakes. A couple of them have bridleways down the edges totalling a few miles. Several miles more of road cycling are required to complete loops.

The drivers in the area are fairly aggressive. When you approach a narrow section on a bike or in a car, oncoming traffic will almost never slow down to let you through first. In fact, more often than not, they speed up and try to use both lanes to force you to wait. Driving or cycling is like playing a never ending game of chicken. Get ready for a few 'that car is going to hit me' moments.

A note on parking; Most roads will have pull-ins or verges where you can park. In good weather, you will need to arrive early to secure a space. You can also use official carparks. Virtually all of these, in towns and countryside, are Pay-and-Display (there seem to be more free car parks in the North of the park, as well as a few more navigable footpaths). Most of the car parks in scenic areas are controlled by National Trust, and you would do well to become a member first, as this makes parking free in their car parks. Membership is (at the time of writing) about £16 for ages 13-25 (£36 for older), car parks are usually about £6 for a stay of longer than 4 hours, and only one person needs to be a member and register the car for it to be eligible for free parking.

On the positive side, bike hire is available in Ambleside, Windermere, Ravenglass and the Grizedale Visitor Centre, and may also be available in a few other places (I think I saw bike hire available in Keswick). The cost is usually between £7 and £15 per day. You will also need some proof of name and address, and in Ambleside, you may also need as much as £150 credit limit on a credit or debit card to use as a deposit. A deposit may also be required elsewhere (it is not required in Grizedale). In Ravenglass, advanced booking is necessary, as the cycling trip needs to coincide with the train times.

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