What better after a long, wet winter than to travel south for a roadtrip? Not to spread out the beach towels unfortunately, but to visit the wettest place in England at the head of Borrowdale. Perhaps it’s Stockholm syndrome, and secretly I’ve grown to like the squelch of a nice soggy chammy – but hopefully it’ll be some time before it comes to that. The excuse for the roadtrip was to meet up with the annual St Andrews uni cycling club trip, although the overall effect was to make me feel a little old.
MWIS was being as optimistic as ever, forecasting 60mph winds up high. On the basis that blind optimism beats scientific forecasting though, Seb, Craig and myself set out from Stonethwaite on Saturday to hit some passes and explore some new singletrack. We rode and carried up some technical climbing, crossing the watershed in dense, wind-blown fog before dropping into a fantastically technical descent in Far Easedale and down to Grasmere. A short up and over on footpath cuts a long road detour round to Langdale, and was hypothetically nice and dry, with a theoretical section of exposed alpine singletrack in a natural ampitheatre gulley that we . We stuck to the road. Obviously. From there it was one more pull up to Stake Pass and a long return down some frankly ridiculous switchbacks (the literal incarnation of ‘turning on a sixpence) that the straight line on the map had never hinted at, and along the valley to Stonethwaite. Day one done!
I’ve wanted to do the classic ‘Four Passes’ route for a few years, but the scarcity of opportunites to make the drive and fickle weather have always stopped me so far. With the day before having turned out beautifully, we decided to ignore MWIS’s warnings again and head out. We drove up to Honister slate mine, where we waved goodbye for now o some of the others, as we were due to meet them later en route. Wharnscale’s pretty good really isn’t it? I get what all the fuss is about now. After the festi-tech we wasted little time on the short carry up to Scarth Gap, where we met both the others and the impending rain at the same time. Clothes got soggy and the rocks got greasy as we moved together over Black Sail, but moral was kept warm and dry by a tactical chip diversion to Wasdale Head Inn. The hillwalkers all seemed to have gone home as we set out again towards Styhead Pass with cloud and darkness gathering. A lone figure could be seen above us, probably heading to the rock feature of Nape’s Needle but eventually disappearing into the mist. After hours of hike-a-bike and technical descending legs threatened to mutiny, but tasty treats were on hand to be summoned from the depths of the backpacks where they had been forgotten months ago, and a final slippery descent welcomed us (sometimes a little sideways) back to the River Derwent and Seatoller. As a ride it was worth the long wait – but is four the magic number of passes, or is there an extension out there to make an even more mythical summer’s day of it?