Sunday, September 2, 2018

Bike Across England

Kirkstone Pass descent - Lake District National Park
Ride Report


Full English Breakfast in London!
After the Bike Across Belgium, it was a 'recovery' week in London working out of AECOM's Aldgate office. Saturday morning found us in a cab headed to the Euston Station to catch the 10:30 Virgin West Coast train to Carlisle. It was easy traveling on a fast train arriving in Carlisle in just over three hours. Our hotel was adjacent to the train station, and since that is where the tour van was to pick us up on Day 1, it was only a short walk to drop off our bags (too early to check-in) and take a lap around town to get oriented and plan the day.

On the agenda for Carlisle; attend a vigil Mass, do a little shopping, check out some local sights, and get an early dinner. The tourist information office is in the middle of the shopping area, so some shopping was accomplished along the way. The very helpful person there recommended seeing the Carlisle Castle in the historic quarter.
Military Life Museum
Carlisle Castle

The Carlisle Castle is over 900 years old, and has been the site of many historical episodes in British history. It also houses the Military Life Museum, and a cafe serving ice cream and coffee, which was very handy after touring the grounds. Back through town to the hotel to drop off a few more shopping items, and catch a cab to the St. Bebe Catholic church for Mass. Arriving early, the pastor greeted us and mentioned during the announcements that visitors 'all the way from Arizona' were attending! After two weeks of foreign language masses (German and Flemish) it was nice to hear one in English!  The same friendly cab driver picked us up and returned us to the hotel. We found a Portuguese restaurant and enjoyed a great meal before calling this one a day!

Day 1 - Carlisle

On previous tours, we had booked the 'pre-night' stay at the first hotel of the tour. This time, the small Dalston Hall was totally booked from a wedding, so we stayed in town. As it turned out, staying in town was the best plan for this tour, as Dalston Hall is a converted country house located well outside of town!

The initial plan was to eat breakfast early and get picked up early by the Ciclismo van to assemble the bikes at Dalston Hall. But since there was no garage or covered area there to assemble the bikes, and it was raining, Henrick, one of our guides, convinced the desk clerk at the hotel in town to provide a meeting room to assemble the bikes. The bikes were assembled with time to spare and we waited for the rest of the group to assemble for the van transfer to Dalston Hall.

Enrico and Henrick (our Ciclismo guides from the 2016 Ride Across Southern Italy) would be leading this trip. Frankly, having this dynamic duo lead the trip was one of reasons this tour was on the to-do list! We met them and the rest of the group in the pick-up area at the steps of our hotel. With the assembled bikes secured on the van's roof-rack, we made our way to Dalston Hall for lunch and introductions.
Dalston Hall Hotel
Enrico provides the safety brief and Garmin lesson
This would be our 5th Ciclismo tour and we were surprised that most of the guests on the tour were also Ciclismo alumni, most of them having been on many more than 5 tours! After introductions and lunch, it was time to kit up and get ready for the warm-up ride.

In addition to the normal safety brief and Garmin instructions, Enrico reminded us that we would be riding on the left side of the road for this tour. So left turns would be like right turns, right turns like left turns, and roundabouts are clockwise, not counter-clockwise. Also, unlike many pedestrian cross-walks in town, there would be no reminders at intersections to 'look right!' Ugh, we just decided to follow Henrick until we got the hang of it!
Riding on the left side of the road!
Under threatening skies, with rain jackets stuffed in pockets, it was on the road for the warm-up ride. Admittedly, riding on the left took some time getting used to!
Rocking the Ciclismo jerseys provided at the start!
The short ride would be typical of the entire trip. With rain jackets at the ready, they were on and off with the on and off rain showers for the loop through the countryside. With wet roads, and heavy traffic in Carlisle, Henrick adjusted the route to avoid town, and after a few more 'backward' roundabouts, we found ourselves back at the hotel, without incident!
Enrico and Henrick provide the trip overview
With the customary aperitifs, Enrico outlined the route for the next week of riding. This is Top Guide Ciclismo Classico route. These routes are investigated and designed by experienced guides to add the catalog. Enrico mentioned this one was inspired by the tremendous support the Tour de France race received when it spent its first three stages in England several years ago! The tour debuted last year, and this would be its second edition!
Elaborate dessert to cap off a fine meal
A fine dinner was served in the historic dining room of the hall, before retiring at the end of a very busy day!

Day 2 - Carlisle to Ullswater

Riders assemble for the morning brief
Carlisle bills itself as the Gateway to the Lake District, and that is the destination for the days route;  Ullswater Lake, in the heart of the Lake District. The weather forecast was for on and off showers most of the morning, with possible clearing in the afternoon. It would turn out just that way. Since lunch would be at the tiny and isolated White Horse Inn, we pre-ordered the hot soup and sandwich combination.
Narrow hedge-lined lanes...

...with on and off showers
The first regroup of the day would be at Heskit Nemarket, 16 K's into the ride. A small village perched on the top of a steep river bank. By the time we arrived, most of the other guests were already there. Choosing to do a quick bottle refill and get back on the road before the legs decided to tighten, we pushed out ahead of the group. A few twists and turns put us on one of the more interesting roads of the tour.
Paved farm path with 5 gates to open and close
Many sheep/goats seeking shelter from the rain!
This freshly paved farm path climbed up a lush hillside that pastured many goats and sheep. It was basically a straight up and over shot to the to lunch spot at the White Horse Inn. Every 600-800 meters, another gate would appear and it would be time to dismount, open, ride through, and close the gate. All the while under the watchful eyes of sheep and goats. Near the 'summit' of the road, a portion of hillside had given way, forming a covered ledge where many of the furry beasts sought shelter from the rain!

Finally, a residence and then the White Horse Inn appeared in our path. Shaking off the rain, the barman noted that a) we were 30 minutes ahead of schedule, b) where was the rest of the group, and c) wondered how wet and muddy our shorts were before we sat down on his upholstered chairs.

Assured we were clean enough for his establishment, we ordered coffee/beer and prepaid for our lunch before the rest of the crowd appeared shortly thereafter.
Soup and Sandwich lunch
The soup was warm and HUGE, would have sufficed with the ample bread that accompanied it. But soon after sandwiches arrived, so with another beer/coffee they too went down the hatch before heading out for the second half the days journey.
Signs for the Coast to Coast (C2C) bike route
The route briefly followed the Coast 2 Coast bike route which takes a more direct route to our final destination in Whitby. But with much to see to the south, our route leaves that path and heads for the Lake District. The main route heads directly south to Glenridding on Lake Ullswater, and the extra loop adds a climb and 10 kilometers with a diversion to Pooley Bridge at the north end of the lake before rejoining the main route a few miles from Glenridding.
Turn-around for extra loop
We split, and of course the race was on, Debby on the direct route and yours truly with the hammer down on the extra loop to try to catch her before our arrival at the destination hotel. Rolling into the hotel, the phone buzzed with the message, "I'm here in room," she wins again!
Post-ride drinks
The Inn on the Lake was a fabulous place, and our room had a great view of the lake and mountains. After cleaning up and enjoying a refreshment, or two, it was into the van to head to the Aira Force park to view the waterfalls. Starting at the upper trail head above the falls, we crossed a rolling meadow before linking to the trail that would take us downstream.
At the High Cascades Carpark trail head
Interesting falls accessed from easy hiking trails
After a few twists and turns we hike past several spectacular waterfalls where the stream cascaded over steep rock formations.
Deep forest reminiscent the Appalachians
Pennies hammered into a fallen log for luck!
Henrick pointed out that a local custom is to hammer a penny into a fallen log for good luck. At first, this tree looked like it was covered in an unusual moss, on closer inspection, there was literally no room to hammer in another penny, so we would have to rely on other sources for our 'luck.'
Debby in a light shirt, yours truly in layers!
Back at the hotel, with the temperature dropping with the sunset, it was the end of another great day. After a great dinner at the hotel, it was time to call this one a day!
Ullswater Lake at dusk

Day 3 - Ullswater to Kendal

The route goes that way!
OK, its only a 36 mile day, so there's that. But, as Henrick points out, today's route will cover the most challenging climb of the trip, and its at the beginning of the route. But its not a long climb he adds, and there's one little steep section after that before the ferry ride. His confident and cheerful delivery belie the difficulties of the day!
Waiting at a RR crossing
Leaving Ullswater lake, headed toward the climb
All smiles and lake views during the 5 or so K's of easy riding to the start of the Kirkstone pass climb, with an 'average grade' of 8%. No worries, its only 3-4 miles, how hard can it be?
Not so bad as we start to climb in a cool mist
WHAT... 20% ahead?
As the K's clicked by at a seemingly reasonable grade, and lulled into a false sense of security on the 'hardest climb of the trip,' suddenly the road bends and the caution sign indicates a 20% upgrade ahead! WTW (What the What!, ok this is a family blog after all)!!!

As Phil Ligget would say, "the peloton has shattered on this climb!" The last few Ks of the climb looked like the carnage at the end of a long brevet as the riders worked through several 20% ramps and inevitable false summits! Some rode, some walked, some got in the van!

Regroup at the Pass
Its cold and windy at the pass. Complaints, elation, questions of "is this really only an Intermediate trip" quickly fade away when we don jackets and start the descent to Lake Windemere. Happy to have this one behind us.
On the Kirkstone Pass descent, before it gets steep!
Great views and 20%+ downgrades!
Its a steep and technical descent, and we stop several times to take photos and rest our hands from the constant braking. The last several down ramps into the town of Grassmere, are steep, wet, slick, with with some mud and rocks mixed in to practice MTB downhill skills! Carefully and slowly we arrive at the regroup point without incident. The Lake Windemere and Grassmere area is thick with hotels, resorts, and lake homes. We wind through rolling streets, dodging many hikers, some heavy traffic, but finally enjoying fine views and relatively easy riding as we leave the bustle of this resort town.
At the top of a 25% grade!
Flipping the route sheet, at KM 22.4 when we reach the village of Dale End, the notes say "Steep climb for 400M." Well we already covered "the hardest climb of the trip" so how steep could this be? It was probably good that the warning sign was at the top of the climb. At the top Deb said "WTW" and asked "how steep was THAT?" The reply to was, "uh, just turn-around and look!"

Less than 10 K's later, we regrouped in Hawkshead for lunch on our own. An ancient little village still intact from the 15th century. Beatrix Potter, author of the Tale of Peter Rabbit lived nearby. It was packed with tourists. The parking lot was nearly full, including several tourist buses. After finding a place to regroup and secure the bikes, we set off on our own. In addition to the finding a place to eat, we needed to find a pharmacy to reload the Excedrin/Advil supply and find some Voltran lotion.

Best lunch, and possibly the best meal of the trip!
"Every day is a great day for cake"
 A small bakery/cafe on the way into town featured huge cakes in the window, "that might be a possibility for lunch." After finding the necessary over-the-counter pain medications, we made our way back to the cafe. It was busy (always a good sign) and in addition to the huge cakes featured in the window, the daily special board said "home made fish chowder."  We jumped in and had the best lunch of the trip. Fantastic soup, ample mussels, and huge chunks of cod. The bread was fresh baked, the beer cold, and the coffee hot! Stuffed, but somehow we were able to enjoy a fantastic slice of cake! Now those climbs didn't seem so bad after all!
Fully medicated with full tummies we ride onward!
The route includes a ferry ride across the lake, but the main ferry is not running today. The guides make sure we are groupo compacto, because we are going off-route (no route notes or Garmin track) together to catch an alternative 'bike ferry' across lake Windemere to our eventual destination in Kendal. Henrick's headcount confirms that we all made it to the dock, and we wait for the ferry. The information panel at the ferry indicated this ferry was designed to both encourage bike traffic by diverting cyclists to bike paths and avoid heavy auto traffic around the lake.
Heading to the ferry
Ever been on a bike ferry? Me neither!

The ferry deposited us in a recreation area on the other side of the lake. Enrico set up the van in the parking lot under a zip line. As we topped off bottles and grabbed snacks for the final push to the hotel, screaming tourists would zip by overhead!
Leaving the lake and heading towards the hotel
Of course, another hotel uphill finish!
The route through downtown Kendal was a bit tricky, but we made it through town to the Castle Green Hotel. As a fitting tribute to a climbing day, another half-mile uphill finish featuring a 5% average grade with a 10% max just before the hotel parking lot. Enrico was there to cheer each rider as we rolled in!
Extra-loop to a pub
The extra loop for this day was a van ride to a local pub in Kendal for a beer tasting and history lesson of brewing in Kendal. Starting outside in the hops garden, but chased inside because of rain, we enjoyed the beer and interesting history. Back at the hotel, a little laundry duty, then dinner and this day was done!

Day 4 - Kendal to Hawes

Day 4 is a transition day from the Lake District to the Yorkshire Dales. The route notes describe the terrain as hilly and "leaves very little room for flat terrain!"
Rolling hills, big views, rain
Before the heavy rain
Somehow, with each turn the views become better and better as we make our way toward the Yorkshire Dales.
Stone walls covered in moss
Deep green meadows, hillsides, and moss covered stone walls indicate that today's weather is in no way unusual!
Entering the Yorkshire Dales National Park
Earlier in the day when Henrick was getting the machines ready for the days ride, he noticed the headset on my Calfee was slightly loose (safe but potentially damaging to the bike's headset). Unfortunately, the headset bolt that needed adjustment was a 30mm Torx for which my tool kit lacked. The Ciclimo tool box also lacked that tool. Enrico was surprised that it was not there so after the group set out, he sent Henrick in the van to find a store in Kendal and get one. Henrick found and procured said wrench (the only one in stock), so I could make the adjustment at the first regroup. He double checked my work at the regroup and we entered the Yorkshire Dales National Park and left our mechanical worries behind!

Did I mention that Ciclismo Guides are the absolute BEST!!!

More spectacular hills, descents, and fantastic view were the order of the day as we entered the fabulous Dales!
Enrico: "Really, there is a flat spot, just ahead"
Making the classic mistake of believing the weather forecast, and taking the rain vest on the bike and leaving the rain jacket in the van, the sky's open up about 5 miles from the lunch regroup and we arrive dripping wet! 
Arriving at the lunch regroup in the rain
With no real letup in the rain during lunch, much of the discussion was on the riding conditions (wind and rain) and who was heading out on the extra loop. Intrigued by the lore of the Ribbleshed Viaduct, and already soaked from the rain, why not put on the rain legs, retrieve the rain jacket from the van and check out the extra loop?
Extra loop destination: Ribbleshed Viaduct
Henrick said there was 10 kilometers of climbing before the turn-off, so we could each make the extra loop decision later. Nearing the top of the climb, the van flashes by and Henrick sets up an impromptu regroup at the turn to the extra loop. Providing refill bottles/supplies, and taking the headcount of the extra-loopers Henrick is helpful and encouraging! Sticking a few energy bars in the pockets, its onto the extra loop, a rolling out-and-back route, but into a huge headwind! Finally the famous Ribbleshed Viaduct (longest in on the Settle–Carlisle line) comes into view through driving rain and fog. A Motorcyclist was also seeking shelter under the bridge just before the actual span. We compared notes on the effectiveness of rain gear while he enjoyed a smoke! Starting to feel a chill, it was time to head out and hammer away to generate some heat and cover the last 20 K's to the hotel in Hawes.

Editors note: After posting a smart-ass comment on Facebook regarding the Ribbleshed Viaduct, and its alleged appearance in 4 Harry Potter movies (purported reason to complete the Extra-loop, as if we needed a reason ;-), an English friend provided these links that conflict with that description. Purported viaductReal viaduct, you decide. As if you can believe anything on the Internet, including this blog! Hat tip to Paul Scowen. Who was Harry Potter anyway?
The descent to Hawes
Putting the viaduct in the rear view, it was a 12 mile run to the hotel with a HUGE tailwind on rolling, wet, and sometime rough roads. Eager to get this one done, and being totally focused on the road, it was surprising when the downloaded GPS data revealed a top speed of 45 miles per hour on this segment!

Rolling into Hawes, and coming upon a few members of the group unsure of the route, we compared notes and guessed that my computer was on the proper route and followed its track guiding the way up to Simonstone Hall just outside of Hawes. A classic estate on a lush hillside, that was converted to a hotel, was an excellent place to stay.
Simonstone Hall Lobby/Patio
Unfortunately, the sheep dog demonstration we were really looking forward to was cancelled due to the heavy rain. At least there were plenty of sheep grazing on the grounds, many loudly complaining about the rain, to watch and listen to. So all that was left was some light laundry, reading, and libations in the bar before dinner!
Not bad

Day 5 - Hawes to York

A new guest joins the tour?
During the morning rider brief, a peacock happens by and seems keenly interested in the route description. The route notes say; "hilly with a mix of short sharp climbs and more long and gradual climbs" which seem to cover all possibilities. Its basically a short day with only 33 miles; but with 3500 feet of climbing. When the climbing exceeds 100 feet per mile, warning bells go off! Apparently the peacock felt the same way and decided to skip the ride!
Gayle Beck Falls
At least yesterday's uphill finish provides a downhill course to warm-up on. The route makes its way back through Hawes and crosses the River Ure. The climbing begins again as we head toward Gayle and follow the Gayle Beck for 5 miles of climbing at an average grade of 6%
Base of the climb leaving Gayle
The climb unfolds before your very eyes
Back in the open and climbing towards Kettelwell the group spreads out on the ascent. Typical with a climb through a large valley to a pass, we follow the Gayle Beck stream, but with each meter up the climb, the stream diminishes until it was just a trickle as we near the top.
Heading toward another 20%+ false summit
Also typical with a long climb, this one had several 'false summits' where the road would tilt up to 20% plus. After reaching the top of that ramp, the grade would ease, to reveal still more climbing and several more ramps to go!
Reaching the pass
Even after reaching the pass, there were several more sharp uphills crossing the gap before we finally started a long and scenic descent through very lush farmland.
River Wharfe cuts through a farm
On the descent we followed the River Wharfe toward the next stop in Kettelwell. On the valley floor, the route is on narrow farm roads with lush green meadows teeming with sheep.
The Power of the Dark Side
There was a short regroup in Kettelwell, which was packed with tourists on foot. Apparently there was a scarecrow competition going on and the voters were going from entry to entry to eventually cast their ballot. We saw this one, just as the sky's opened up for some more showers. Luckily, our cappuccinos were ready and the outdoor table had an umbrella that provided shelter until the showers let up!
More valley riding
Leaving Kettlewell we head toward the last climb of the day, another long one with several steps/false summits to Greenbow Hill. We decided to ride at our own individual pace on this climb, and after reaching the top and turning back, we rejoined after only a few minutes later!

We reached Pateley Bridge for a light lunch before boarding a bus for the short transfer to York. Traffic is heavy in this region and Enrico said there is no scenic/safe way to cover the ground in the time we had on this tour.
River Ouse in York
We arrived in York and settled into another very nice hotel. Next up was a walking tour of York that started on a very busy street during rush hour.
Roman ruins
The Shambles in York
Our guide wrapping up the tour
The tour was interesting, but being near the end of the trip with tired legs, we were happy the guide wrapped it up after 90 minutes.
Tour de Yorkshire poster in the Golden Fleece Pub
We took the guides recommendation for a local pub, the Golden Fleece, and enjoyed a few cold ones and some great pub food.
Heading back to the hotel after another great day

Day 6 - York to Whitby

WWI memorial just outside of York
We leave York in the morning rush hour, but soon find ourselves rolling through fields and forests on country roads for the first 35 miles of the route.
Easy farm lanes with great views
Kirkham Priory ruins
The first regroup is at the historic Kirkham Priory ruins. It is a British Heritage site with small shop and ticket booth. A free WC was also available and appreciated! Another great place for a regroup!
A public bridal way through a farmers equipment yard!
Big Green Tractors!
We continued through farmland, including the equipment yard of a farmer, to the town of Pickering. Another lunch on your own, and the guides recommended a fish and chips place on the main street.
Classic fish and chips!
We went on ahead into town and found the fish and chips place as Henrick and Enrico secured the bikes. A few minutes after we were seated, Henrick and Enrico walked-in! The great meal confirmed the choice and we all headed back to the bikes.

Back on the road, the farmland finally gives way to the North York Moors National Park. A stunning landscape with high grassland/tundra one would see in the Sierras, only to sharply descend in to a lush valley, then climb back to the tundra, then repeat, and repeat, and repeat!
"beware the Moors"
These guys didn't mind us passing through
Lush Valley
High tundra
At the final regoup, several more climbs to go
Henrick set up the van and regroup at the top of the final climb in the Moors. Still ahead the route leaves the Moors and descends to a valley for several more steep climbs to Whitby and the end of the journey. The wind was whipping and we used the Van for shelter from the wind. The multiple climbs and descents in the Moors caused Deb's knee to flare up and she reluctantly, but wisely chose the van for the finish.
Yup, 33%
Turned out to be the right choice, this doozy was one of the final climbs. Actually it turned out to be on last year's route, and the current route went around it. But since last years route was pre-loaded in the Garmin, and the van was going to come through this way, why not give it a go!
On the descent to Whitby
The North Sea and Sandsend, just a few Ks from the Hotel
400 meters along the beach, then up to the hotel!
Rolling into the hotel, we skipped the post-ride libations, because there was only one hour to pack the bikes, shower, and get ready for a walking tour of Whitby. Getting the bikes in the boxes in record time, cleaning up, and getting to the lobby a few minutes early, there was just enough time for some refreshments before heading into town for the walking tour and our final group dinner.
Our very authentic guide in Whitby
Whitby Abbey ruins provided materials for many building in Whitby
Whitby is an isolated fishing and whaling village and has a recorded history going back to 657AD. Our guide was quite a character and filled us in on quite a few aspects about this very interesting town. For example, Bram Stoker spent time here and part his Dracula novel was set in Whitby and inspired by pieces of local folklore. Rain caused us to hurry along and make our way back to the main square for a celebratory aperitif and final group dinner.
Another great meal to finish this trip

Day 7 - Head for London

We said our good byes to the guides and the group over breakfast and packed for our scheduled cab at 11:15am.

After the taxi did not show up (didn't have record of the reservation), the next available 15 minutes out, and the hotel van busy with wedding, it was going to be close to catch the train out of Whitby at 11:58. Luckily, with only minutes to spare, the back-up cab driver had the great idea to go to the first train station outside town instead of fighting traffic to the main Whitby station. The plan worked like charm and we were on our way! Next time, confirm the cab reservation!!!

Local Train, no large luggage storage!
After each stop he would bark once!
With two train changes and tight connections, and some more travel luck, we made it to London and took a cab to the Airport Hilton hotel Saturday evening. Sunday morning we caught the noon flight to Phoenix and arrived home after a great trip!
Back on the big metal bird from Heathrow to Phoenix
While the Ride Across England was surprisingly more challenging than the longer Ride Across Belgium, it was outstanding in its own ways. The difficulties of riding on the 'wrong side' of the road, insanely steep climbs, and plenty of rain were nothing in comparison to the outstanding aspects of this trip; fantastic routes through places we never have been and would never find on our own, incredible views, great accommodations, fun guests, and of course the most excellent guides Enrico and Henrick that took great joy making it all happen!

We'll be back for another Ciclismo ride, now we just need to figure out which one!

Steve Atkins