Snowdrop One Hundred

My road bike is back in action, the snow and ice have almost gone. And compared to most of January the first day of February was forecast to be mild and dry. So I took advantage, celebrating the start of the last month of winter with a long ride. February’s weather can be harsh but sometimes its sun has warmth, and the days keep getting longer. And look, snowdrops are out! Surely a sign of spring’s approach.

Snowdrops

The world’s opening up again, and mine with it. A quick breakfast and I’m out by 7, planning a second more leisurely feast forty miles into the ride. I follow the River Lune upstream, cross it into Halton, and take the back road to Kirkby Lonsdale; I see my first snowdrops at dawn in its graveyard.

Snowdrops at Kirkby Lonsdale church

I take the road north-west towards Kendal. I don’t drop into the town but turn north at Oxenholme to skirt its eastern side along little-used lanes to Meal Bank. I cross the Rivers Mint, Sprint and Kent in quick succession and stop at Wilf’s in Staveley for that second breakfast.

From Staveley I climb south to Crook and then turn west to Windermere. A hundred mile ride is a day out of life. It’s a day spent moving through other places. Those places would be there anyway, but by riding through them we make them places for cycling, and they in turn add colour to our cycling biographies, and make us as cyclists.

The Windermere ferry’s a gift to Lakeland cycling. It lets you avoid bigger roads and stay off the beaten track. The rule is cyclists on last, off last, so on the other side with any cars gone you get the road to Hawkshead to yourself. It’s a glorious stretch, with Lakeland’s central fells rising up front, drawing closer all the time.

Windermere

Friday’s ferry was empty save for me, and I was given the trip across England’s longest lake for free (it usually costs £1). It’s a stiff climb off the lake to Far Sawrey. This is the ride’s literary stretch; past Beatrix Potter’s Hill Top home at Near Sawrey, and alongside Esthwaite Water into Hawskhead (the village centre’s closed to cars, which adds to the quiet pleasure of riding past William Wordsworth’s school).

Hawkshead village centre

Then it’s up Hawkshead Hill, taking care not to push too hard. I ride 100 miles rarely, and there’s a right way of riding them. That’s above all carefully! I ride with the end in mind, making sure to save something for the last third.

View from Hawkshead Hill

This is the heart of today’s ride, on roads ordinarily out of reach. I drink their novelty. The descent through the woods to Coniston Water is especially fine. Then at the Lake’s northern tip I turn south and trace its eastern shore. John Ruskin’s home is here, Brantwood. More easily accessed from the industrial south once the railways (opposed by Wordsworth) were built, the shores of the southern lakes are sprinkled with the mansions of wealthy Victorian men including, for all his socialism, Ruskin. But he loved nature and when you see his home and its views (views which perhaps contributed to his thoughts?) you can understand his extravagance.

Ruskin's Brantwood and Coniston

I pedal gently below the beech woodlands of Coniston’s sheltered shore. My legs appreciate the easier terrain but still I feel the fatigue building. The woodland’s ground is coated with autumn’s fallen leaves. Their colours are vivid after the white blanket of recent weeks.

Coniston's eastern shore

Beech leaves

I ride beside the River Crake as it leaves the Lakes, travelling south out Coniston Water towards Morecambe Bay. It flows under Lowick Bridge and Spark Bridge, where I leave it to head round to Bouth. I’m cheered by the Twenty’s Plenty sign; the push for slower speeds isn’t just an urban one, it’s happening here in rural Cumbria too.

20's Plenty in the country

The road from Haverthwaite to Grange-over-Sands takes me through Cark, Flookburgh and Allithwaite. It’s a lovely route which for the most part marks the line where hills give way to moss, marsh, mudflat and, finally, sea. By Grange I’ve covered 80 miles. My hunger for food has gone, but I know my body needs fuel. I stop at Hazelmere Bakery and eat enough to get me through the homeward leg.

Heading home

The route from here’s a familiar one, across the flat moss roads, then beneath Whitbarrow Scar to Levens, and from there across the River Kent and south via little lanes I’ve learnt like most cyclists to link up as a peaceful alternative to the A6. The last part of a long ride’s so different from the first. My curiosity in the wider world’s blunted and replaced by growing introspection, as tiredness reallocates my body’s dwindling resources. Places through which I pass no longer grab my attention; they’re still there, but my focus now is on turning pedals and steering home. I don’t dislike the sensation, it’s part of the long ride experience. A hundred mile ride starts with a target and ends with a memory, but perhaps the best bit is – back at home at the day’s end – the feeling of exhaustion earned.

I wonder whether I’ll ever tire of what feels to me now like the pure privilege and pleasure of a full day spent on my bike?

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5 Responses to “Snowdrop One Hundred”

  1. Tom Cahill Says:

    A good tale as usual. Although I almost missed the part about the bright sunshine which forced you to put on shades.

    Three questions. What is that light on the front? Do you have views on the best light that really lights up? Also I thought you were more an Ultegra type than a Tiagra man, but I guess this is your (as they say in Britain, but never here) your “winter bike”. And lastly, are those Gatorskins 28 or what? I have some that size and type on my only road bike. Really comfy and not a puncture in three years. Mind, I don’t ride in the wet, Does anyone ever say there is a better tyre than Gatorskins or whatever they are called now. I mean for roadholding and puncture resistance. People who only ride 23 have no idea the comfort they are missing.

    • Dave Horton Says:

      Thanks Tom.

      My front light is an Exposure Maxx; a few years old now, so I’m sure it’s been replaced by a new model, but it’s superb, a piece of kit I wouldn’t do without. Expensive of course (I think I paid £230), but worth every penny to give the freedom of riding in the dark, which is a lot of potential riding time, especially this time of year.

      Actually my ‘good bike’ (which will come out maybe at the end of this month, for Lune RCC’s ‘Coal Road Challenge’ (a reliability ride), if the weather’s OK) has Campag Veloce, which is equivalent to Shimano 105. But yes, this is my winter bike, a hack bike, almost (although when I were a lad we reserved the name ‘hack bike’ for really cheap bikes, often saved from the scrap heap, which got you through the winter and taught you to be tough). Part of me would like something better, part of me sticks with the philosophy that your race bike is as good as the difference between it and your winter training bike, so make sure your winter training bike isn’t too good .. ‘-)

      My tyres are 25 mm Gatorskins. I was recommended them by Jim and Jules a few years ago, and have never had a reason to be dissatisfied. I ride them all year round, but switch to 23 mm in spring, and back to 25 mm in autumn. I have ridden (and liked) 28 mm in the past. I check my tyres for thorns and glass working their ways in every few days, and regularly dig out bits which would probably cause a puncture in time. I still get a few punctures, maybe one every thousand miles at this time of year. And they sometimes slip, but not often. I really like them. I’m not sure what I’ll use when I start riding crits at Salt Ayre in a couple of months though. When I last rode a crit (1985?!) I rode tubs, but I don’t think I will now.

      Even now, with the amount of riding I do, and with how much I love cycling, I’m still strangely loathe to ‘throw’ too much cash at it. (And as I don’t currently earn a regular wage I’m unwilling to persuade Sue that investing in ‘my hobby’ is ‘really worth it’!)

      Hey, I’m speaking in Parliament on Wednesday – at the All Party Parliamentary Cycling Group’s Inquiry into how to ‘Get Britain Cycling’. Not sure how that happened, but I’ll be sure to have a good time!

      Not sure how you managed to see all those details from those photos – have you got a magnifying glass?!

  2. Don Says:

    I’m jealous that you can ride into the Lake District from your door. Its a 5 hour drive for me! I wonder if I can persuade my wife to move north when I retire..

  3. Stepan Chizhov Says:

    I love that ‘Twenty’s Plenty’ sign! =)

  4. Fat Bloke on a Bike Says:

    Too much work, too much travel, outside interests and kids’ activities mean I am a cyclist who doesn’t cycle (almost). Vicariously experiencing the glories of my home turf through your blogs and casting envious thoughts your way!

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