Saturday, 30 August 2014

twenty miles of bad road

Whenever I’m in my home town in the UK, I have a choice of three cycling routes that I follow regularly, ranging in distance from 9.6 to 27.3 miles. Unfortunately, this summer a crucial section of road that is shared by all three routes has been closed to allow a new sewerage system to be installed, so I’ve had to find an alternative. This is the story of that new route, which at 20 miles is short enough that it can be repeated daily, weather permitting, without the need for intervening rest days.

The new route is shown on the map below as a series of red dots, which are followed in a clockwise direction. The last four miles are the same as the first four miles, except that they are ridden in the opposite direction.

Paula has been over in the UK for the last couple of weeks, and we did the route on each of the first three days, but then we had to find an alternative because the road between Skelton and Blencow was closed for repairs—the road surface on this section was so bad that it was often necessary to ride down the middle of the road to avoid the worst of the potholes.

Instead of turning right at Ellonby (the small hamlet between Lamonby and Skelton, which is not named on the map), we turned left, up yet another hill, through Lamonby, over another hill (see photo below), followed by a final climb through Greystoke Forest and a long, fast section to Johnby and Greystoke. We finally rejoined the original route at Blencow, having added 3.2 miles to the overall distance.

The first point of interest on the original route comes at the point marked X on the map: I feel as if I’m riding downhill in both directions (the first photo below was taken on the outward journey, while the second photo was taken on the return). Note that this road, like many other sections of the route, is just wide enough for a bike and an oncoming car to pass each other.

The first major hill starts immediately that the route turns right just before the village of Newbiggin, and the next photo was taken at the top. A deer crossed the road in front of me here earlier in the summer, but I’ve seen no further signs of cervine activity either here or elsewhere on the route.

The road then plunges down a steep hill, at the bottom of which a right turn leads onto another narrow road. The purplish mass on the right-hand side of this road (see photo) is a huge stand of rosebay willow herb. Stands of this opportunist weed are common on the sides of roads around here and are a spectacular sight in early summer.

The next uphill section begins in the picturesque village of Greystoke. The gradients are easy at first, but the last section to Johnby is quite arduous. The next photo shows Paula posing at the top of this final hill, which starts well before what appears to be the bottom in the picture. I should probably confess that we headed down the hill after I’d taken this photo, although we had passed this way in the uphill direction 30 minutes earlier.

The section from Johnby to Ellonby is relatively straightforward, except for the last half-mile, which provides a winding stretch of continuous but not unduly taxing uphill work. The shortest way back to Penrith from Ellonby is almost entirely downhill, but as noted above, a detour through Lamonby and Johnby adds a few more hills to the excursion. The next photo shows Paula approaching the first hill southwest of Lamonby.

We did the 20-mile circuit and the augmented version three times each in the first week, but then I thought that Paula needed a tougher challenge, so we followed the 23.2-mile circuit as far as the left turn towards Johnby, which we ignored. Instead, we continued towards Hutton Roof, turning left before we reached that village and heading towards Berrier.

However, this detour is not about adding extra distance, as the next photo illustrates. I’d stopped to take some photos of the fells to our right, meanwhile urging Paula to keep going (I would catch her up). Having taken the photos I wanted, I continued on my way but stopped again when I saw a splendid opportunity to capture the obstacle that lay in our path. This hill is by far the toughest on any of my regular routes (Paula can be seen as a tiny speck just starting the hill).

The second time we did this route, I decided that I wanted some photos of Paula tackling this hill, which is steepest near the top. Despite facing a 15–20mph headwind, she does look comfortable. The mountain behind is Carrock Fell, which is the only example of a gabbro intrusion in England (gabbro is chemically identical to basalt, but it cools deep below the surface rather than being extruded from a volcano).

Finally, I couldn’t resist including the following picture, taken at the top of a second hill, which follows the one I’ve just described but is much easier.

“Can’t we do something harder?” Paula seems to be saying.

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