A ROSE BETWEEN TWO ROSES
The Lake District stands to the west; bold peaks mirrored in deep lakes, cliffs pouring rivers of scree into the ever changing waters; eastward mass the ranks of the Pennines, Cross Fell standing above the others, but all barring the way like a great castle wall. The Lake District is well-known and many know the wilderness of the northern Pennines; two of the great barriers on the various routes that lead from sea to sea across the north of England. But between them lies Eden.
C2Cing has become genuinely iconic with a variety of routes available and sponsored riders or those enjoying a challenge or seeking for pure pleasure make their way between the coastal termini. Two such cyclists pulled into the, famous cycling café at Greystoke, brothers from different ends of England who were spending three days on the way to Sunderland, as I ordered cake and tea. As we ate our cakes and drank our team, a dozen MTBs zipped past, knobbly tyres buzzing on the tarmac. And this was a quiet lunchtime at the end of “the season."
Exiting the Lakes, the Pennines become the next target, usually via the Hartside road. Yet lying in between is a Vale – and not a flat one – that would merit at least a long weekend of exploration.
The Eden Valley stretches south from Carlisle, dividing Pennines from Lake District, until it fizzles out amongst the hills beyond Kirby Stephen. The A6 and the M6, are barely noticeable. The Settle to Carlisle line has several stations in the valley and positively enhances the cycling experience, though read the timetable carefully.
Cycling here benefitted from the Nurture Eden project, promoting sustainable tourism, especially cycling and walking, in the area. Greg Stephenson, then working for Nurture Eden told me, as we had an evening spin on the lanes around Great Strickland, “There are a few things a business can do to make cyclists feel welcome; a secure place to store the bicycle, somewhere to dry gear, a cup of tea and some cake when they arrive, local information. The basics are easy.”
The project aims to attract cyclists, but puts as much time into persuading those involved in tourism that hungry, tired, though hopefully not wet cyclists, are good for business.
Tempted by …. pies
I dined and slept at The Strickland Arms in Great Strickland, on the evening after meeting Greg. This is one business that has really taking Greg’s message to heart. Some cyclists feel the need for a roaring fire and a warm welcome, a pint of ale, a hearty feed and a relaxing place to chat. Suffice it to say that The Strickland Arms was comfortable, cycle storage secure and dry, the owners amiable and knowledgeable and the pies …. well, the good news is that you won’t be turfed out of this Eden for giving into temptation.
Slow-burn fuel from one of Penny’s pies, Anton, the landlord, provided a hearty Saturday morning breakfast just to top me up. Away went my bike into a chilly sun-filled dawn; red squirrels on NCR71, and views of Cross Fell, narrow lanes and the feeling one gets that this could be the last day of an Indian summer and you should take full advantage. I made out the road Greg had recommended I ride up at some time. At the start of the day it looked inviting; away across the valley, curving up the broad flanks of Great Dun Fell, to reach the radar station on the summit.
NCR71 crosses the River Eamont near Brougham Castle, English Heritage owned and not to be confused with Brougham Hall – also a castle, but a more domestic affair owned by a community group and equally worth a visit. A left turn will take you there.
Penrith is a busy little town, so it is worth following the cycle route to avoid the main junctions en route to the town centre - the almost inevitable muddy underpass along the way is located under the A66. Penrith is a grand town with a helpful bike shop and narrow side streets to explore. In its streets you’ll find a confusing choice of cafes and shops that will satisfy all the needs of a touring cyclist – and a good deal else.
Penrith, though, is not in the Eden valley so it is over the hill and away we go on NCR71, there are magnificent views back over the town, so pull over for a moment or two. On the way down to the valley a wise rider will take care on a rattling descent as the surface is poor in places.
What else could one ask for?
Here was the Eden Valley. Amongst the settlements is Lazonby, reached by the gentle B6412, a road bereft of traffic that morning. This was my first objective. Cross Fell held my eye, simply because it was so many years since I had stood atop it. I reminded myself that this was a road and that there might be other traffic.
Lazonby is small but fully functional for most wants. A resident assured me that there was little I could not get there. If my needs could not be satisfied in this mini-metropolis, he said, “There is always the train to Carlisle.” His tone suggested that he would consider this rather extravagant or even degenerate. “We even have an outdoor swimming pool,” he said, convincing me that Lazonby was the hub of the Universe. There is an unlikely rash of outdoor swimming pools in Cumbria. Some cyclists might even do a tour based on them.
I went North and I went South
This whole area was new to me. It revealed its charms willingly, I had figure of eight route lined-up for the morning. The southern loop went from Lazonby along the east side of the river before heading back up the west side to return to Armathwaite; the northern loop took in the west side of the valley to the north of Armathwaite.
From Lazonby to Armathwaite the way undulates sufficiently to challenge irregular cyclists but should not bother those who are moderately fit. The river is hidden at the base of steep, wooded slopes, but the going is good amidst lovely countryside with undeservedly distant views.
Arriving near Armathwaite, I continued northwards. This is delightful. The road through Aiketgate opens-up fine views all round. Turning for Blackmoss Pool brings a different aspect as the road to Cotehill runs through boggy woodland.
Returning to Armathwaite, on the North Loop, largely downhill, you’ll realise how far you have climbed as you speed through woods and pasture. Take care at the level-crossing before reaching Drybeck – the likelihood is that the gate will be open as trains are few and far between. However, moderate speed, a straight front wheel and preparedness for the bumps is necessary. Ponder just how easily you climbed to deserve the glass that never runs dry – a descent that never ends. It does, of course, in Armathwaite.
Those who have pushed hard to reach Armathwaite’s fleshpots will find shop, pubs and places to rest and refresh. Railway enthusiasts may have screeched to a halt to admire the Drybeck Viaduct. They will arrive shortly after those who do not have the age of steam in their blood. Don’t worry, Armathwaite may be small but there will be plenty to go round.
A sustained incline
The shops and pubs are not Armathwaite’s only attractions. It has beautiful bridge over the Eden; one of those places where sitting and watching the world dawdle past is likely to interfere with your training programme. I should love to spend an evening in such a place, at the end of a long days ride of course. However, whatever time of day, this is the spot to gird up your loins.
I have seen the “Coombs Hiil climb” which becomes immediately apparent after turning for Kirkoswald, as a “sustained incline”. Incline it is and sustained it is. It jolly well sustained itself a lot better than I sustained my attempt to get up it at speed. This was not one for middle-ring or, possibly, middle-age. Beyond it the route beyond undulates vigorously, but the scenery invites a stop and good look over the deep gorge of the invisible river.
Kirkoswald offers several refreshment stops if you put your brakes on quickly enough. The proximity of the two pubs suggests good business. There is also a shop. Take your choice. On this sunny day the outdoor seats were taken and, in any case I was rolling happily for a few miles. Or so I thought.
At Kirkoswald, I left the loop to Lazonby incomplete, and headed up the hill for Glassonby and down the dale to Little Salkeld, where there is an excellent café at the mill. This was excellent cycling on quiet roads, though a full range of gears was used.
The little green at Glassonby would have been a rest stop on a warmer day. It wasn’t especially easy to withstand the temptation of the shade beneath the broad boughs as it was, but so pleasant was the cycling that the wheels were kept on turning.
Elvis has left the village green
Within a the few miles to Langwathby, I was passed by numerous C2Cers pedalling their way up into the Pennines. They waved and smiled as best they could whilst turning stoically up hill, while I shot down to Langwathby. This was another surprisingly long descent. I habitually find that the amount of ascent seems to be totally out of kilter with the descent. This was one of the idle thoughts I pondered as I sat outside the Shepherd’s Inn, watching cyclists passed-by more or less rapidly.
Then Elvis Presley and Evel Knievel turned up on a fifty cc scooters totally unfit for leaping anything and so weighed down that even I on my steel touring bike may have given them a run for their money over a short distance. They, though in all likelihood it was probably fancy dress, were accompanied by a teddy bear and a selection of super-heroes. These C2Cers were on mopeds and such like. Evel and his mates came from Teeside, members of a motorcycle club. This was their annual charity ride - a double crossing from sea to sea.
Westmoreland, Appleby in
Skirwith, Blencarn, Milburn, Long Marton, are out of the way villages along the way to Appleby-in-Westmoreland. The way offered delightfully effort-free cycling. A left turn here would have led to Greg’s jolly jaunt up the one-in-fours to Great Dun Fell. As it was, the sunshine was turning hazy and the view would have been limited – honestly. Instead, I soon had tea and cake in front of me in a café in the former county town of Appleby.
General strolling about made a sortie to Kirby Stephen out of the question. I had initially planned this. I’ll blame my failure to fulfil my plan on chatting over breakfast with Anton, though it would have, in truth been a long day and there were hills aplenty on the way back to base.
For me it was over the hills to Great Strickland. The Eden has several tributaries hereabouts that have created deep valleys of their own across the grain of which lay my way; energetic but glorious cycling. A stop at the White Horse in King’s Meaburn and at the hidden waterfall under the bridge at Morland; there were too many stops to admire either nature or the works of man. It is just that kind of area. It certainly gave the impression that it was well off the beaten cycle track; there was not one other cyclist for the entire section. There should be cries of “Shame, shame!”
This was one the most interesting areas in a fascinating and beautiful area. Route finding is simple with good signage, but take your time to pick your way taking some time over. Occasional cheeky ascents are frequent in corrugated landscapes such as this. Shortest distance is not, hereabouts, equal to quickest, easiest or most scenic. However, as in the old song, wherever you wander there’s no route too long – so long as the sun shines. – and you will not find the scenery or the villages disappointing. You might even find yourself breathing more heavily and seeking more excuses to stop and look. Some of the villages have pubs, but do not bank on them being open at lunchtimes.
At the Strickland Arms, as the sun began to drop, there was Anton to lock my bike away, Penny ready with the pastry, several very large teddy bears (Bradley Bear Wiggins, Cavendish Bear and Bear Froome), one of Sir Bradley’s yellow jerseys, a bunch of friendly locals and preparations for the morrow. But, as I sup my pint, and think of the marvellous day out I had had in “the bit in between”, I’ll leave you to decide when you’d like a taste of Eden.
Ask Anton about the bears and Sir Bradley. It is all part of the Strickland Arms cycling phenomenon.
www.thestricklandarms.co.uk Staying, eating, drinking and chatting here were all a pleasure. My bike enjoyed it, too.
http://www.visiteden.co.uk/outdoor-adventures/cycling-in-eden Visit this website for just information on almost any topic to do with tourism in the Eden Valley. There are a variety of downloadable materials to support your visit. The routes described extend from day rides to multi-day tours that extend into the Dales and the Lakes.
Rather frustratingly, my Eden Valley ride took in OS 1:50000 sheets 85, 86, 91 and 92. Get organised and have one specially printed! https://www.ordnancesurvey.co.uk/shop/custom-made-maps.html or print your own https://www.ordnancesurvey.co.uk/shop/custom-made-maps.html
UPDATED AND REPUBLISHED SEPTEMBER 2016