Tuesday, 25 May 2010

Tuesday - Kielder - Carlisle

My final day of this expedition, with a lot of miles to cover. Packed up straight after breakfast, and got underway about 0930. The first section of the route was well known to me by now, along the south shore of the Lakeside Way, until just before the Tower Knowe visitor centre. Here began the bit I was most concerned about for today - the crossing of a vast tract of forest to join a road a few miles from Hadrian's Wall. Yesterday I took Memory Map and plotted all the junction points of forest roads marked on the map that I needed to reach and labelled them with the junction number and direction I needed to turn in. Then I saved those points out as a GPX file and imported it into BaseCamp, from where I could make a route out of those points and upload it to the GPS. This way, I would always know how far away the next junction was, and in what direction. I figured that with map, GPS and waypoints, even if I got stuck in the forest I wouldn't be lost. It worked out well. There was one moment where I was a bit hesitant, because this is of course a working forest, and it had crossed my mind that I might run into logging operations or something. I did come across a sign at one point that said 'No Unauthorised Access - Chemical Spraying' which doesn't sound good, but I could see the men in the felled area in white suits and they were a long way from the track, so I just continued regardless. It was only about a 300m stretch anyway. Having the junctions in my GPS made me feel a lot safer, because you really are miles from anywhere in the middle of that forest. At one point I followed a bridleway sign into really thick forest and cut off a corner of the fireroad. If you were walking through here it would be very boring I think. Inside the forest it was really quiet and dark. Quite spooky.

Into the abyss, bridleway in Kielder Forest

After the first long stretch was over, I emerged onto a little tarmac lane between farms, with cows on the hillside and … a Royal Mail van coming up the hill! Our postal system is pretty impressive. Let's hope the new coalition government doesn't ruin it, although I fear they will by selling off part of it. Anyway, a drop downhill and a right turn later, and I'm on NCN route 68. That's right, 68, the one that runs right past my house in New Mills. It's a long route! This section goes westward to Grindon Green (ruin) where, after a mile or so, it bears south on an old road / track. This track puts you out on a tarmac road a few miles north of Hadrian's Wall. I took a bit of an extra loop so that I could go past the really impressive part of the wall I remember from the Pennine Way - that above Once Brewed. Stopped there and took some pictures, sent a tweet (now back in signal land!) and thought a bit over the PW adventure again. The sign near the wall here makes me laugh - it reads 'In the interests of archaeology please do not walk on the wall' or words to that effect. I mean, the thing's been standing for 2000 years, had most of it taken to build the local farm houses, 'castles' and stone walls, people used to walk on it. I really don't see the problem. Don't take bits of it home, right enough - but don't walk on it? Silly. It's also rather interesting to consider that Hadrian's Wall is a UNESCO world heritage site but it is in fact a manmade fortification cutting across beautiful countryside. Today, such a monstrosity would never be contemplated - but because it's old, it's worth preserving even! Don't get me wrong, it's fantastic to have such a thing from the point of view of our history and the history of the Roman Empire, but don't you think it's strange?

That thing with the grass on, that's Hadrian's Wall

Ramblings aside, I continued on along the Roman Road which is now the B6318. This really is a straight road! Up and down it goes, undulating with the terrain, but dead straight. I turned off it onto the Hadrian Cycleway just before Greenhead, reflecting that I'd just done in less than an hour what I walked in a day on Day 4 of the PW (short day that was, Once Brewed - Greenhead, 8 miles). After Greenhead I passed through Gilsland, and on to Birdoswald, Roman Fort. Here I stopped for a rest, having done 40 and a bit miles so far, and some food. A Hadrian cheese and tomato sandwich, and a coffee. Nice. I maybe should have looked around the fort, since I'm a member of English Heritage it would've been free, but I decided to press on on the grounds that if I stopped for too long it would be very hard to finish the day's miles.

Milepost on NCN 72

Which numbered 21 remaining. I wasn't entirely sure what route I was going to take into Carlisle, but after a while I found myself on NCN route 72, which goes to Carlisle, so I stopped worrying about the route and followed the obvious signs. The NCN rarely takes the shortest route, because it aims for traffic 'low' or 'free' routes, and sometimes it feels like you're going round in circles just to avoid a short stretch of busy road. But it's great! I didn't really care how long it took to get there because I knew I'd be early for my train anyway. So passing a milepost with Carlisle 12.75 miles on it was good enough to just keep following the blue signs. NCN routes often go over any visible hill as well (again, these are usually the traffic 'low' routes) just to keep things interesting. The route into Carlisle city centre was quite involved, and at one point near a school I lost it, so played with Carlisle's rush hour traffic and one-way system for a while, to find myself back at the station. With an hour to kill I went looking for a real ale pub, but struggled to find one! A google search on the iPhone later, and I was at the King's Head. Good beer, nice, quiet pub. Perfect. 2 pints to finish off a great long weekend.

Train(s) back home were uneventful - direction and time of day meant it wasn't busy at all.

Monday, 24 May 2010

Monday - Kielder / Newcastleton

Today I decided to take it easy in the morning, to give my arse time to recover from yesterday! So I had my breakfast and then went for a walk to the Castle again. I went in the Minotaur Maze, a piece of art close to the Castle. It wasn't too difficult to get to the middle and getting out was easy because I could remember the turns I had taken. A bigger maze would've been better I suppose, but it wasn't bad.

Minotaur Maze at Kielder Castle

I had a coffee and a glass of water at The Duke's Pantry, got my little computer out and looked at routes. I decided to do the Lonesome Pine / Bloody Bush trail again, but this time extend it to go to Newcastleton 7Stanes red trail. So, a loop of about 40 miles. At the back of my mind of course is the Kielder 100, and whether I'll be able to do it or not. This weekend is supposed to be about finding that out!

Back at the YHA I got my things sorted out, ate some crisps, and got ready. Smeared some savlon at the tops of my legs to protect the skin a bit. Then I went and fiddled a bit with my bike, oil, resetting the wheels and so on. Everything good.
The trails round here really are good for XC. I'm sure downhillers don't find them exciting enough, but for my bike and me, they're perfect. The route up to Lonesome Pine is now familiar to me, and this time it occurred to me that there might be mobile coverage at the top. There was! Only stopped for a few minutes there though as it was quite cold. Nowhere near as hot as yesterday, but that's good because it was a bit too hot yesterday. Hey, I'm not complaining, but today the weather was more exercise conducive.

View back towards the reservoir from Lonesome Pine

Carried on to Bloody Bush and turned right to go to Newcastleton on the Cross Border Trail. Well signposted, but what a descent on the fireroad after the pass! Went on for ages. And Bloody Bush road really does look like an old road. It is easy to imagine horses and carts using that track, even now. If a film ever wanted to find a location atop moors with an old road, they could do worse.

Bloody Bush Toll Road

At Newcastleton I looped around on the red trail. Confirmation that Deadwater is harder than a red, this was more what I expect from that colour. Great for XC with a few hairy bits thrown in but nothing scary, and no getting off bits. Turns out that the Exposure 24 race was on Saturday, and a lot of the signage was still out. That was a 24-hour solo race, so the trail marking was quite detailed, for the dark hours. There was one bit though where it would've been fairly easy to go off an edge if your concentration lapsed at the wrong point. But all in all it is easy to see why they chose Newcastleton for this race (first running of it) - there's not a great deal to go wrong in the dark. It's not a difficult loop. Perhaps I should do that next year - 24 hours on the bike sounds a bit painful, but that's what it's all about ;)

Anyway,, at the back of the loop is the Border Stane (an engraved stone). Here I had to decide what to do. My original plan had been to go all around the red route and then up back the way I had come to Bloody Bush. However, the alternative was to come back here (to the stone) and then turn right and follow the Cross Border Trail like on Saturday back to the turning for Lonesome Pine again. Given that amazing descent would now be a climb, I decided for the latter option. Not that I'm scared of a long climb you understand, just makes it a nicer loop ;)

Newcastleton Border Stane

To get back up to Lonesome Pine, now the fourth time I've done that - it occurred to me that there really is no substitute for knowledge. Every time I've done it it's got easier, mostly I suppose because of knowing what's coming.

At Lonesome Pine, sent a tweet again, exploiting the only bit of signal coverage I've had this weekend, then plummeted off the mountain on the trails past Skyscape and down to Kielder. Those trails on the descent are fantastic, flowing, not scary, fun!
Back at the YHA I cleaned myself up and went out to the pub. Closed! Worried that I'd come unstuck and already hungry, I went back and asked Richard if he was doing dinners tonight. Turns out he was making a vegetarian three bean salad for the lady who's also staying, said there was enough for me too! Lucky, I said I'd eat anything. Ten minutes later, eating a lovely salad - I wouldn't normally choose vegetarian options but maybe I should, the times I ever have I've always found them to be very tasty, often tastier than meat dishes. Anyway.

Bought a few beers from the office and now watching England v Mexico, the last friendly before the World Cup starts on June 11. Full time score, 3-1. Not exactly as convincing as the scoreline suggests...

Today I have almost reached the 1000 mile mark on my 'new' mountain bike. I have now done 998 miles on it, since I got it last October. Tomorrow, therefore, I will pass 1000 miles, somewhere along the Lakeside Way. Today I have also surpassed my monthly record for altitude climbed on bike. So far this month I have climbed 21000m. To put it in context, the previous record month was last month at 20600m, and the previous before that was July 2009 at 15600m. I have also biked more mountain bike miles this month than any other 'since records began', which was August 2007. One may confidently assume this is the same as in my life so far. I am only about 50 miles short of my monthly record for distance as well, which means I will definitely surpass that one too, maybe even tomorrow, with almost a week to spare. God I'm good. The program mytourbook, which I use to record all my rides, is really awesome in the statistics respect, and you know how much I love statistics ;)

Sunday, 23 May 2010

Sunday - Lonesome Pine / Bloody Bush, Lakeside Way

Set off after breakfast, to explore the other man-made trails here, the Lonesome Pine and Bloody Bush trails. It's possible to link them up making a good 20 mile loop. Start off on the Lakeside Way - an easy trail that goes all the way around the Reservoir (more later). After a few miles, where the trail goes under the road, the red LP route branches off into Lewisburn Valley. This is a nice trail, much more Andrew friendly than the Deadwater Fell one - just flowing singletrack through trees. Lovely. After some time there is the obligatory fire road, but somehow the fire road in Kielder Forest doesn't feel as bad as that in, say, Whinlatter. Maybe it's the gradients - you know I'm gonna check that later when I recap the weekend, sad case that I am!

The section on the map where the Bloody Bush Start / Finish is marked isn't built yet! That kind of surprised me a bit, but definitely it's supposed to start on a certain corner, and indeed, there are red flags on trees where they clearly plan to build the singletrack, but it ain't there yet. Anyway doesn't really matter, having too much fun to moan about that. And it was sunny - hot - sun cream weather again - two days in a row, wow!

Switchbacks up to northshore at Lonesome Pine

The last bit up to Lonesome Pine, obviously so-called because it's a big pine on it's own on the hillside, is first a steep rocky set of switchbacks, and then, north shore. Lots of it. There is a junction at the top where Bloody Bush goes left and Lonesome Pine goes right. On the board there it even mentions the Kielder 100 from last year which was the first 100 mile singe lap mountain bike race run in this country. The winner took 8 hours something. I won't! Anyhow, the north shore is 2m wide! Apparently, this is because if it's a windy day, it can be so bad that you need 2m to be blown into. But there's a lot of boardwalk up there - more than I've seen anywhere else, so far.

Crossing a felled area towards Bloody Bush

Turning left, the trail goes down off the hillside, and into woods. Again, lovely flowing singletrack, although the Bloody Bush trail does feel a bit more rugged already. Climbing again through the forest, totally disorientated, emerging onto a felled area again. Then a long descent with some avoidable jumps thrown in. There's a chimney visible across the moor, but I can't look at it properly because it would mean taking my eyes off the trail, which wouldn't end well. Getting closer to the 'chimney', I realise that it's the Bloody Bush pillar. On arrival, this is the England-Scotland border, and the pillar is engraved with the costs of passing the toll and the distances to various places. Fascinating!

Bloody Bush toll

I put a toe in Scotland, then carry on with the trail, down a brilliant singletrack / fireroad descent. Eventually I arrive at a point I was at yesterday, where this time I turn left and go back up to the corner where the Bloody Bush trail is supposed to start, and back up to Lonesome Pine. This time turn right, and drop down fast on north shore, rocky trail and flowing stuff through trees.
Passed by Skyscape, some kind of viewing experience for the dark night skies here in this remote area of the UK. Then some awesome singletrack descending on rocky trail down a valley, and into the lower forest. Crossing a few footpaths now as we near civilization, and the Lonesome Pine trail dumps you out at The Bike Place, bike shop.

Altogether, fantastic XC trails.

Getting hungry now, decided to ride to Leaplish to The Boat Inn for lunch. That was good - an outside table overlooking Kielder Water, watching boats, pint of beer, pint of coke, burger and wedges with chilli mayo.

What to do now? Well, I had thought to go back to Kielder and follow the 2009 Kielder 100 route, but in the end I went round the whole reservoir on the Lakeside Way. On the way, crossed over the dam - wide! - and then about 10 miles back along the north shore of the reservoir to home.

On the Lakeside Way, south shore.

Getting back to base a realised that my bottom was quite sore! Some chafed skin near the top of my right leg. Not good. Stuck some savlon on it and hope for the best I guess - still 2 days cycling to go! I suppose part of this weekend was about seeing how my body copes with four days of sustained cycling effort on this bike. I'm finding out :) Anyway, it doesn't feel too bad, should be ok, but better safe than sorry.

Dinner tonight was in the Angler's Arms, a lovely roast lamb plate - big! - with mashed potato, cabbage, carrots, turnip, peas and a Yorkshire pudding. Fab.

Saturday, 22 May 2010

Saturday - Carlisle - Kielder, Deadwater Trails

Up early, 0630. Washed bike. Packed bag. Train at 0901 from New Mills Central. Met Ciska at Piccadilly for a coffee, and bought some travel sized toiletries from Boots, good for my small rucksack. Train out of Manchester at 1016. The usual nonsense trying to get on the front carriage. A large group with a wheelchair got on, then got off again when the station guard realised they couldn't change platforms at Oxford Road. Hmmm. Anyway, meant I could get on easily with my bike.

Standing and messing about moving the bike until Lancaster! Then the train was almost empty, across the Lakes. Some funny girls came to use the toilet - three of them - and played pranks with the door, first repeatedly opening the door while their friend was inside, before she had time to lock it, then, funnier, repeatedly closing the door while another friend was trying to open it! Well, you had to be there. It was the most eventful part of the journey - apart from the scenery which was beautiful, especially in the glorious sunshine.

Got off at Carlisle, of course, and set myself up outside the station in the shadow of the Citadel. Got on NCN route 7 northbound, passing by Carlisle Castle. It's English Heritage - had forgotten that. There must be an outside chance that I will visit it on Tuesday, if I have time and if there is somewhere good to lock my bike up.

A few miles outside the city I rang Alison to wish Aimee a happy birthday - apparently they both (ie. Andrew too) love the Gruffalo colouring pencils I bought, but they're Aimee's of course. Hope that doesn't cause too many problems!

After some miles, I ended up on NCN route 10, the Reiver's Way. My carefully planned route to stay on country roads with little traffic worked brilliantly. I only saw one car in 25 miles, or thereabouts (only a slight exaggeration, I assure you). The downside of this route was that it didn't pass anything like a pub or cafe, which by the end I could have definitely done with. Anyway, after passing Bewcastle, the miles passed by until I arrived at Kershope Bridge and the Scottish Border.

Kershope Bridge, Scottish Border

Here I joined the Cross Border Trail, basically forest road which follows the border and Kershope Burn (or I suppose, follows Kershope Burn as does the border). Starting on the English side, but soon crossing over into Scotland, a long, steady, gradual climb ensued, but in glorious hot sun. Thirsty, I was running out of water. No chance to refuel, I just had to keep on going ;)
At the waymarked point, I left the fireroad and crossed back into England. Some singletrack through a felled area, then back on fireroad. Ultimately it joined up with the trail markers from the Kielder routes, but I kept following the Cross Border signposts, which dumped me out finally on the road, which I followed for the final few miles into Kielder Castle.

Found the YHA no problem (there's not much in Kielder!) and got my key. I'm the only one in the dorm tonight, perfect! Decided to have dinner in the hostel tonight - soup, tuna pasta salad, and fruit salad. Very tasty :)

Excited about the prospect of MTB trails, I went out straight after dinner to do Deadwater Trails, the man-made route up Deadwater Fell. I reckoned I had enough daylight left to do the 10 mile loop, and so it proved. The climb up onto the fell is quite long and drawn out, but with the failing light of the wonderful day, the views back down the valley to Kielder were impressive.

View from the top of Deadwater Fell, looking north

Now then - Deadwater Trails is a red route. But, parts of it are very difficult. I don't like scary downhill stuff, and I think this trail is black in places. A wuss, I am, but hey - I've done a lot of these kinds of trails, and I reckon this is, in places, technically harder than all of the other red routes I've done. It's just not my thing I guess. Even though I know they must be rideable because they're man-made, I can't do it. Fear, and my hardtail XC optimised bike conspire against me! So I won't be going back and doing the black section of this trail, not on this bike ;)

Got back to the hostel, found no one around to give me the bike shed key, so, as I'm on my own, took my bike upstairs to bed.

Wednesday, 19 May 2010

The Marin Roughride

Still undecided about whether to do this race this year.... here is last year's route. Note that some of the trails are only open to bikes on the day by arrangement with the landowners.

Hayfield Loop

Last night I did the Hayfield Loop route as published in this month's MBR. These are all my local trails, but I'd never done them in this order before - there are so many options round here it'd take forever to do all the different combinations. The first half of this ride was much harder than the second. I still can't clean the climb from Kinder Reservoir onto Middle Moor :( But I can now clean the Rowarth descent, and I only fell off once, on the drop down to Peep O' Day.

Kinder Reservoir - still can't clean this climb :(

Tuesday, 18 May 2010

Lake District reflections

Inevitably after a great outdoor weekend away, there will be some reflections. And inevitably the conclusion will be, I need to go back there and explore some more! You know, I haven't spent much time in the Lakes really - I mean I've been lots of times, but it occurred to me this weekend that I've not been up many peaks there, nor stayed in too many of the YHAs. An evening of poring over the maps and the Wainwright books was called for. That's what I did last night. Tried to find interesting routes for the mountain bike, but also considering going on a walking week there too. The Wainwright Memorial walk sounds like it takes in most of the famous peaks in about 5 days - perhaps with some tweaking it could be made a bit longer :) There are some amazing locations in the Lakes of course. I think what has happened is that last time I went, in August 2008, for a week, we didn't really see much in the way of views on account of the weather. I had forgotten how amazing the views are!

So it is possible that in the summer I will go for a walking week in the Lakes. Sooner I may go on a long weekend tour on the mountain bike :)

Nice hat.

Monday, 17 May 2010

The Lake District Day 3 - Awesome Skiddaw Loop

And awesome weather! We've been really lucky - it has rained, sometimes heavily, but only while we were asleep! This being the last day, I decided it was time to do a 'proper' ride. It would be a shame to not have done a single route out of my Lake District Mountain Biking book, so I chose to do the Skiddaw Loop. Something like 30 miles. I can say, without risk of exaggeration, that this was one of the best rides I have ever done on my bike! Maybe the best. Everything was perfect - the weather, the scenery, the tracks, the descents, climbs, distance, everything! Of course, the weather could have totally ruined it, but it was lovely - hot enough for short sleeves, but not hot enough to be uncomfortable.

Started off going up the track we came down on Saturday, but this time continued beyond the head of the dale to Skiddaw House. For some reason I had forgotten that this was a YHA - must be great staying there. There is a true wilderness feeling up there. In each direction you look, you can't see anything like a building or a road.

Turned right at Skiddaw House, sublime singletrack and sketchy, rocky in places track down Mosedale. Saw a walker, probably had stayed at the YHA. Just great biking in great conditions.

Right down this dale, miles of brilliant mountain biking

Turned left on the road in Mosedale, then looking out for a track to the left after a few miles. Needn't have worried, it was obvious to find, just before a cattle grid, like the book said! Good track then, climbing up past old mines. The descent to Fell Side was clear. A bit more road and then picked up the Cumbria Way, another great track, and an absolutely superb grassy descent!

Descend, fast, on grass

More road, before the final piece of amazement - the path up past Dash Falls back to Skiddaw House. Tough climb in places, but totally doable - just the right sort of difficult. And super spectacular views. I'm going to run out of superlatives soon.

That's where we're going, up!

Looking back down the track to Dash Falls

From Skiddaw House, after a brief pause, I blasted it back to Threlkeld down the same path.

Skiddaw Loop, awesome

Got to be some of the best biking I've ever done.

Sunday, 16 May 2010

The Lake District Day 2 - Old Coach Road

Today for my bike ride I wasn't sure whether to go north to do some bridleways around Skiddaw, or south to check out the Old Coach Road. I decided on the latter. Again, I wasn't really in the mood for a major outing, just exercise in beautiful surroundings. Turns out the Old Coach Road is part of the National Cycle Network Coast to Coast (NCN C2C) route, off-road option. It's brilliant. The climbing is on loose rock, which is always tricky, especially the way my bike is set up, but it was all doable. In fact it was so good that when I got to the end of it, I just turned around and did it in reverse. I saw one other person on a bike, and a couple of walkers, with dogs. I did have a vague plan to take the bridleway up Matterdale Common towards Great Dodd, but again, I'll leave that for another time.

The Old Coach Road

After that, went to Keswick again to get a few things - meths for my spirit burner, some bacon for tomorrow's breakfast, bread and snacks. I impulse purchased a wind up lantern in the outdoor shop. That's cool - very light, doesn't need batteries, and very bright. Apparently one minute of cranking gives 25 minutes of light. Perfect for backpacking. On the way to Keswick we stopped off at Castlerigg Stone Circle. I must've cycled right past it last year and didn't notice! Anyway, it's kind of amazing, given its setting and everything.

Castlerigg Stone Circle - awesome location!

Then we went into Borrowdale to do a walk. Stopped at Roshthwaite and walked a 5 mile loop towards Seatoller and back along the Allerdale Ramble path and around Castle Crag.

Rosthwaite from the Allerdale Ramble path

Later we went to the Coledale Inn for dinner - that's a really nice place. One day I will stay there and see what it's like. I ate there several times last year when I did the Whinlatter Altura race.

Saturday, 15 May 2010

The Lake District Day 1 - Lonscale Fell

Camping! With Ciska. We drove up this morning and set up camp near Threlkeld. Burns Farm campsite - just what you need - not fancy, but clean and well run. Had a momentary forgetful episode about putting the tent up. I think it's only about the 6th time I've pitched it, and then not since last September, so I was confused to start with. But it got sorted out in the end.

Burns Farm campsite, Blencathra view.

First off we went to Keswick to get some supplies and something to eat - turned out to be at the Lakeland Pedlar, Wholefood Cafe - vegetarian, but that's ok I don't need to eat meat with every meal. Sort of. Had vegetarian chilli - very nice actually. Big bits of carrot and a lovely salad on the side with all the sorts of things I never eat but are really quite tasty.

Then it was back to the camp and set up for bikey bikey and runny runny. We decided to tackle Skiddaw - perhaps not the gentlest introduction! We made it up the steepest initial bit of the path - actually I was quite impressed with how far I got before I inevitably lost control and traction and had to put my foot down. When Ciska arrived at the same point, we both decided we'd had enough of that path! It's damned steep. And we weren't out to prove anything to ourselves today, so we took the path around Lonscale Fell instead. That was much better, although the exposure at one point was quite frightening. On the premise that where you look you go, I had to get off and walk that bit! Then the track became very technical as we descended to the head of the valley. The track on the east side that leads back to Threlkeld was really good riding. Wide, undulating, rocky in places, but not too challenging. On this occasion, just what I wanted. Ciska said the surface was a bit too hard for her feet.

See that zig zag path? It looks easy from here, but it's not!

We met back at the camp and then got ready to go for dinner, which would have been in the Horse and Farrier, but it was full, so we went to the Salutation Inn instead. They're owned by the same people anyway. After we looked at the adult menu instead of the children's one, we ordered and ate. Lekker! Back to the tent for a sleep.

Lonscale Fell. The Lake District makes it hard to take a bad photo, especially with weather like this!

Friday, 14 May 2010


This weekend I'm off to the Lake District. Camping in Threlkeld, taking mountain bike, hoping to do some great trails. Weather forecast is for sunny intervals tomorrow and monday, but heavy rain on sunday. Well, they never get it right for the Lakes, so it could be anything. Last time we went it was mizzle (mist + drizzle) all week. Fingers crossed.

Hope to get up Skiddaw (bike, run or walk), and maybe up Great Dodd on bike via an old track I see on the map. Maybe take in Whinlatter forest as well. Think there's a nice pub in Threlkeld, and the camp site (Burns Farm) looks good. Excited!

Taking Feet in the Clouds with me too, hoping to get suitably inspired to get back fell running. One day I'll do that Bob Graham Round, mark my words :) I could probably walk it, and run in between the peaks, in less than 24 hours. Well, maybe. Shame there isn't really an equivalent to that challenge for mountain bikers. Hmmm. Maybe someone can invent one! To be a serious challenge it'd have to be on a par with BGR in terms of time. So it should be doable inside 24 hours, but not without some serious thought and planning and training. Something like a distance between 150 and 200 miles on a mountain bike will sort you out good and proper. Thoughts on locations and routes?

CVMBC - 41st

So the results for the CVMBC are up - thanks to RichStwit for alerting me last night :)

Remarkably my comment of a few days ago that my time for this year would have seen me 41st last year, was bang on correct! So that's 41st out of 302 entrants, 274 finishers. Just scraping inside the top 15% of the field.

Unremarkably it means that I didn't finish in the top 40, let alone the top 25. Still, there may be several reasons for that as I've tried to go into in the previous couple of posts. I was thinking I wouldn't do this one again next year, but it looks like I may have to, to try and improve. The only other 'super-A' priority race for this season is the Holme Valley one in September, another fast course which I did really well on last year.

I will change my tyres to the Race Kings, after this weekend. Probably.

Still undecided about the Marin Roughride. The problem is that I have to go to the USA that week for a conference. Oh heck that's not really a good excuse.

Tuesday, 11 May 2010

CVMBC further analysis

At the risk of this getting boring for everyone except me, here's some more numbers comparing my ride this year with last. The column of interest is compare, which shows mile-by-mile whether I was in front (black) or behind (red) my time last year. The last column shows where on the course that mile is. I think this pretty much rules out some of the stuff I said in my report... I made up most time over Wort's Hill, where I remember last year getting stuck in a big queue of people, and having to walk over the hill. Also made up time climbing the steep road on Huck's Hill. Put that down to lighter bike? Interestingly I lost time on the Wessenden Head climb - strange because that didn't feel any slower, although the last bit was tough so maybe I was more tired there this year. The road descent off Wessenden Head maybe was indeed the tyres. But the differences are a lot more concentrated in a few significant places than I expected. Hmm. It is very interesting nonetheless to have done exactly the same route, in similar weather conditions, a year apart.

Monday, 10 May 2010

CVMBC position update

Judging by the photographs at the 25 mile point on the flaming photography web site, I was about 43rd with 5 miles to go. I know I passed a few people towards the end, so hopefully I made it into the top 40. That is consistent with my time for this year getting 41st last year.

Sunday, 9 May 2010

Colne Valley Mountain Bike Challenge - CVMBC

Today I did the CVMBC - a race I did for the first time last year. I guess the short conclusion is that my main goal was to beat last year's time, which I did, by 7 minutes. I wasn't too impressed with this at the finish, but maybe I am being hard on myself. More later.

First of all I should say that the CVMBC is extremely well organised and the organisers should be congratulated for this. I've been to a lot of these events over the last 18 months, and this is among the best in terms of organisation, and also in value for money. For the entry fee (£15) you get proper marshalling (i.e. a marshall on every significant route point), a T-shirt and a goody bag with 3 SiS products in (probably worth a total of £3 alone in a typical shop). There is no electronic timing or internet registration, so that may save a lot of money compared to other events, but it doesn't really matter - the system they have is fine for these things - we're not olympic athletes after all. I've been on other events which cost £25 and had not even proper signs, never mind marshalls, no goody bag, no T-shirt, but they did have electronic timing and internet registration. Which option would you prefer? I know my answer.

Anyway, since I've been doing a lot of cycling in the last 12 months, and since I've got a new carbon frame hardtail (well, new this 12 months), I expected to be able to make a dent in my 2009 time of 2h51m (58th out of 345). I also decided beforehand that this time I would go down to the front with the 'big boys', mainly because the start of this race is a fairly long and steep cobbled road climb. The riders queue down an adjacent lane - last year I got stuck on this climb behind lots of people and spent the first section of the course weaving past people. So, this morning I was perfectly placed! On the right hand side (left bend first and second), three rows back from the front. There was some whisper of one the front guys being an international-class competitor. I knew I wouldn't see some of them except in this first 100 m before the bend, but hey, last year I didn't see them at all!

The wait was quite long, but the sun was out so I wasn't cold. Heart rate 105bpm. The whistle went, everyone set off. Literally 5 metres later, a massive pile up in front of me as (I think) someone tried to cross in front of others. Not good. I avoided the carnage, just, glad once again of my choice to ride mountain bikes in flat shoes. Nobody seemed to be hurt, just annoyed, so on I went.

The plan worked at least in the sense that I didn't have to pass people much. It should go without saying I think that those riders less fit and able than me would be behind me the whole course. That is why I guess it is good to be at the front at the start. People want to come past me? That's fine, but there weren't that many actually as I remember.

The first off-road bit is a descent to a river, and I remembered it as a possible danger zone as it was quite rutted and last year someone blasted past me and nearly took me out! Anyway, this year I think that track has been resurfaced to gravel, so no problems, except for the usual when riding fast on gravel. Sure enough, another casualty at the bottom of this descent - looked like a possible collar-bone, but people were attending, so OK.

The next danger point from my memory was in the quarry, a steep slope to go up and down - this was where I knew I must be a better technical rider this year, because it didn't cause me any trouble. Last year I had to get off and walk down it, which I now know was harder than riding! Confidence is everything :)

After that I had it in my head that there was nothing else to bother me, except keeping going and pushing for the time improvement. So it proved. The nasty climbs were all still there, but mostly where I remembered them to be. The steep farmer's field bit after Marsden again had me pushing, but me and everyone else!

It was quite hot and perhaps today I should've consumed more fluids on the way around. I had the same problem again with my bottle - namely that the holder seems to get bent and therefore doesn't hold the bottle in. After a few miles (and having lost it once) I stuck it in my jersey. Have to look at different design of holders. Maybe I'm bending it when get the bottle in and out, or maybe the vibrations of going over bumpy ground are doing it. I've lost 2 bottles recently because of this. And yes, I had replaced the holder :)

The climb up onto Wessenden Head was really beautiful today - lovely light. Also of course brought back memories of the Pennine Way which joins the track about half way up. That last bit up to the road is a real pain - you think you're there and then you're not. Even that time (third time I've done it) was tough.

But off the top of there, you know this course is beaten. It's down down down for a bit, then more tracks around Meltham, and on to Blackmoorfoot Reservoir. Really putting the power on now down into the valley.

After the last drink station (only stopped at one today) you know that you've got two nasty climbs to go and then you're at the end! They're both on road though (OK a little bit of track thrown in!) so not much to fear. Started passing a couple of people by this point - I wondered if that would happen today. Those heavy full-suss bikes finally taking their toll ;)

The final drop down to the finish is a pretty steep path, which I think has had new gravel put on it. I nearly lost it big time into the corner half-way down! What a story that would have been!! But between the bike, me and a bush, we managed to keep me upright. Confidence dented, the last 100m of that path was a bit nervous, but I made it :)

Time for this year - 2h44m - on exactly the same course as last year. Like I said at the top, that's 7 minutes faster than last year, but I was expecting more. Time to look a bit at the differences and reasons (excuses). The obvious excuse is, as I said yesterday, I've had a cold all week. Not a proper cold otherwise I wouldn't have gone, but a rattly cough. That must make some difference to my fitness I suppose. But let's break the course down:

First section, start to first drink station: last year, 53m32s, this year 49m10s. 4 minutes faster. I assume that is due to my start position and not getting stuck behind people. Also, maybe my peak output is higher. I spent most of this section this year trying to control myself! As in, heart rate too high, ease off, ease off. Maybe different attitude towards this race this year. Wanted to go faster, but maybe I already was overdoing it, as we'll see...

Second section up to second drink point: last year 37m56s, this year 34m38s. 3 minutes faster. OK now I'm starting to believe there's been an improvement!

Up to third drink station: last year 32m10s, this year 33m05s. Hmm, now I'm slowing down. This section is a fairly long and fast road descent and then the climb up to Wessenden Head. Didn't feel slower, but clearly it was.

Up to fourth drink station: last year 25m35s, this year 26m17s. Slower again. This is mostly downhill on road, one offroad descent, and level-ish tracks. This result sets me wondering about my tyres. Last year I was on Continental Race Kings. This year I'm on Schwalbe Rocket Rons. The Race Kings probably have less rolling resistance so will be faster on roads. For a fair comparison between my old and new bikes I probably should've done this race on the Race Kings. I did think about that beforehand, but my bike's been behaving so well that I really didn't want to mess with it.

Last section to finish: last year 22m04s, this year 20m51s. Faster. This section is mostly uphill apart from the last nasty bit.

I will put these slower bits down to i) cold, ii) tyres, iii) perhaps not drinking enough.

But maybe I'm being too hard on myself!

Last year my time for today would have seen me take 41st place instead of 58th. For this year I hope the results will be posted in the next few days. I will report back with the position! Looking around at the end, I may have finished in the 30s. Fingers crossed :)

Good course, good organisation, good weather. Legs a bit stiff now as I write this :)

I suppose on a positive note I should realise that doing 30 miles on my mountain bike is no longer a big deal. Bodes reasonably well for the Kielder 100 in September, if I get in...

Saturday, 8 May 2010

Day before CVMBC

Race tomorrow! Nervous, a bit. Just been out for a quick blast to make sure the legs still work. Had a bit of a cold this week too so not ideal preparation - getting my excuse in now! The bike feels good though - was going to wash it but have now decided not to mess with it. Will wash properly tomorrow evening :)

Tuesday, 4 May 2010

Gear test - North Face Crank 25 rucksack

This last weekend I used my new cycling specific rucksack for the first time. It was great! It's not super big, but it's big enough to get enough stuff in for a typical weekender, and it's very flexible. One of the best features is the big 'helmet' pocket at the front. Quite why you'd want to put your helmet in it I don't know, but I stuffed my waterproof jacket into it and that worked fine since you don't have to then put that in the rucksack compartments. It also makes it very easy to get on and off which I did several times on Monday due to the changing weather.

Apart from the 'helmet' pocket, the bag has three big main pockets, and several little ones. There is a small one on the front which is perfect for keys, cards and change, spare batteries, headphones, etc.. and one on each side which will easily hold a mobile phone, ipod, or a slim camera. There is a tiny pocket on the belt strap which I didn't use, but could fit some coins in. Two of the big pockets have subpockets - two net ones with zips and some zipless pockets. The bag is very versatile because of the number of pockets, and I certainly didn't fill it as full as it could've been. Indeed, next time I will probably put in a few extra clothes in case of wet weather. I did travel light this time, but when you're carrying everything and mountain biking, that's what you want! And you don't want things sloshing around when you descend rocky paths. I even managed to get a few books in and my Asus EEE PC laptop :) which the bag protected very well. I didn't notice any strange movements even on very rocky terrain, due to the fit of the bag. There is the clever little whistle on the strap, and the shoulder straps are slim and wide making it comfortable.
The only thing I can't comment on yet is the performance of the bag in the rain, because it didn't rain this weekend! But so far I'm very pleased with it!

I bought mine from wiggle.

The North Face Crank 25 rucksack, packed up, after I got back home ...

... and here's all the stuff that was in it!

Forest of Bowland

For the Bank Holiday weekend just gone by I decided to go and explore a bit of the Forest of Bowland, somewhere I'd heard of but never been. I think this is because it lies between the Yorkshire Dales and the Lake District, and so always went to one or the other, and missed it! Needless to say, it's beautiful - remote moorland, quiet country lanes - perfect cycling country. There aren't many off road tracks, but the ones there are are brilliant, as we'll see below.

I stayed 2 nights in the Slaidburn YHA. This was a good choice - I mean, you get what you expect, but everyone is quite friendly and they are still much cheaper than a B&B or hotel. This YHA used to be a pub - and Slaidburn means "slaughter by the river" - just so you know.

Slaidburn YHA

The first day, Saturday, I took the train from home to Preston for the princely sum of 14.50 GBP return. I am always slightly nervous about going on the train with my bike, mainly because I'm always worried that there won't be room to fit in. The Transpennine Express from Piccadilly to Preston was full to busting - but! I know a trick on those trains. You go to the First Class carriage at the front! No one ever goes there because they assume it's all First Class, but it's not! You can stay in the (quite large) area near the toilet, where there are about 6 seats and plenty of space for a bike. You have to stay with it, but I'd do that anyway and for 47 minutes it's not too bad.

So anyway, I arrived at Preston and set up my gadgets and off we go! I took National Cycle Network route 6 north out of Preston. That was really well signposted - I didn't have to think which way to go once. The Ranger system (of which I am part of course) must be working well I think. The route near to Goosnargh has obviously changed since my OS map has it going through the grounds of a hospital, but now it is clearly impossible to do so and the current OS maps like on bing.co.uk show the actual route going around on the road. Just north of Goosnargh I diverted off the NCN which continues to Lancaster, and headed via country lanes to Chipping, where I stopped in The Sun Inn for food - bangers and mash in fact, and a pint of Black Sheep.

After Chipping, my route took me off road, turning north at Leagram Hall Farm and proceeded via the North Lancashire Bridleway to join a good track at Stanley. A road mile further on and another left turn took me via a good track to a bridleway leading through Lower Fence Wood. This was a fun bit of singletrack through the trees, subsequently over open moorland and then a fantastic grass descent to Hareden.

Superb grass descent from Mellor Knoll to Hareden farm

Next I followed the road to Dunsop Bridge, but decided to leave Dunsop Fell for tomorrow. Continued to Newton, turned left and went up a climb to New Biggin, getting good views of Beatrix Fell, Burn Fell and Dunsop Fell. Finally, the road drops down sharply into Slaidburn.

Upon arriving, found the YHA and the local pub, Hark to Bounty, no problem. Slaidburn isn't a big place, and they are next door to each other. It was four o'clock but the YHA was not open yet. Another cyclist, Steve, had arrived. He was obviously doing a big ride because his bike was covered in panniers! Turns out he was on the LEJOG, day 7. He'd come from Ellesmere that day. Then a girl arrived on a full-suss mountain bike, with a big rucksack. She was going to go walking and had biked in from the train at Clitheroe. Anyway, 5 o'clock came around and the warden arrived and let us in. I had a shower, and then went across the road to the pub to look at my map and so on.

Slaidburn, a quaint village on the Lancashire/Yorkshire border

On Sunday I went and did a big ride over Salter Fell (great track) and looped around quiet lanes to the road that goes through the Trough Of Bowland. The track across the fell is really brilliant - I didn't see anyone else up there except for sheep and two motorcyclists (probably legal as it's an 'other route with public access'). The track was quite loose and rocky in some places making some tricky climbs, but most of it was lovely offroad moorland track. Once back onto road, some farm gates had dead moles hanging from the nearby fences! I'm not sure how that is supposed to deter the creatures (if indeed it is), since they can't see anyway. But hey! Interesting local custom? Competition between farmers? You decide.

Fabulous track over high moors of Salter Fell

The road through the Trough of Bowland is great, especially in the north-south direction I took it in. A steep initial climb, followed by some rolling hills, followed by a gradual climb gets you to the top of an awesome and steep road descent through the Trough proper. Didn't (couldn't bring myself to) stop and take a picture! At the bottom was a roadside cafe where I got a cheeseburger (0% meat? only kidding - it was lovely) and a mug of coffee.

At Dunsop Bridge I took the bridleway that I passed on Saturday. That went up a farm road to Whitendale where the path turned steeply up Dunsop Fell. A fair amount of that was unrideable (for me, at least), so it was 20 minutes of hikey-bikey. Not my favourite thing. But then, the descent back down to the road was mostly grassy and finally some great singletrack requiring concentration. The last bit was farm field agricultural bog rubbish, but only for a couple of hundred metres or so. In total, that route was about 38 miles.

Descending off Dunsop Fell - Stocks reservoir and Gisburn Forest in the distance

I got back about 14:45 and locked the bike up, went for some chips in the pub, then sorted my stuff out to go back out to Gisburn Forest and do the trails there. I didn't want to hump my bag around so I only took the minimum stuff. The trails were very good - some tricky rocky bits, but some nice singletrack through trees and across forestry land. Not too much fireroad :) At the black Whelpstone Crag bit (of YouTube fame) I ran into a couple of guys. One of them was going to do the steep bit - he wasn't wearing a helmet - nuts! Anyway, shortly after I caught them up again and they asked if I wanted to go around with them. I did for a bit, but then I was getting a bit tired since I'd already done about 50 miles at that point! So I called it a day near the reservoir and roaded it back to Slaidburn.

Boardwalk in Gisburn Forest

Had a nice evening looking at maps and reading my book, had a lovely lasagne in the Hark to Bounty, then Vicky (walking girl) came in and we stayed there until nearly midnight! She was very nice - it is good to run into people at random like that and get on with them :)

On the Monday I left the hostel after sorting everything out, and made my way back to Preston on a vaguely circuitous route via Waddington - where I stopped for coffee and coffee cake, and saw a bit of the Scarecrow Festival - Birdy Brow (tough long road climb) - and Ribchester, where I saw the church and the Roman Museum. It might be good to go in there one day. A bridleway (the Ribble Way?) took me along the river to a road leading to Longridge - then joined up with NCN 6 again to get me back into the centre of Preston.

Direct train to Hazel Grove meant that I decided to bike back from there. Almost rained on me, but held off. Home! Great weeked, total of 131.5 miles, 6603 m of ascent, 12 hours 33 minutes moving time in the saddle. Brilliant. Also, the weather was pretty good - I could see the views all the time, it didn't rain, and it wasn't too windy!