Epic day in the Lake District – Carlisle to Keswick (57/20,298ks, 815m)

(written by Dave)

I’m not sure where to start.  While we only rode 57k/35m today, we had one of the hardest days on a bike we’ve had in a long time.  We took back roads from Carlisle to Keswick.  We had planned on riding a slightly longer route and finishing in Ambleside but MASSIVE headwinds forced us to make a midcourse adjustment.   When we finally made it to Keswick, Nancy learned from the folks in the tourist information office that gusts at the tops of the hills were hitting 60 MPH.  But we’re getting ahead of ourselves.

I read the weather report at camp this morning and noted that 20 MPH winds from the southwest were forecasted.  We were heading that direction but I kept quiet about it, I mean, come on, how bad can it be?

We had a wet start, no sun and lots of overnight dew.  That meant that we struggled to get the tent dry and a slightly late start.  We rode the short distance to Carlisle, crossing over Hadrian’s Wall (we think, there was no sign).  Hadrian’s Wall is a popular hiking track these days.  The wall itself was built in 125 AD by the Roman Emperor Hadrian, with hopes of keeping out the invaders from the north.  For whatever reason, we missed the whole thing!

We stopped for maps at the tourist office in Carlisle and also grabbed a second breakfast.  When we left town, I noticed the wind whipping some alleys between the buildings and was a little worried but didn’t think much of it.  When we reached the end of town and the protection of the buildings, the winds hit us full speed, right on the nose.  It was roughly 20ks to the start of the Lake District proper and it took us almost 2 hours to cover the distance.  There were some steep hills and the wind grew more intense.  Both of us recorded speeds of 5KPH for good parts of a couple climbs – they were 15% gradient and with the headwind it was very difficult riding.  By the top of the hill we agreed to adjust the route.

Both routes went roughly the same direction, relative to the wind, so we were just hoping the shorter ride would help us survive.  We had some 16k of riding through the ridge area on the north end of the Lake District NP.  This is where the wind was the worst, and possibly hit that 60MPH that we’d heard about.  It was quiet scenic, not that we could look around.  At one point I was in my lowest gear, going down a hill at 9KPH, pedaling.  When you consider that my bike and I weigh close to 140kg (300 lbs), it has to be a pretty strong wind that is able to push me backwards up a hill.  Controlling the bikes in the gusts was very difficult.  We were both worried we might end up back in Scotland if we lost grip or broke concentration for a second.  We stopped once behind a stone wall for a break; both of us were just stunned.

Other than the one stop it was just a long long grind.  I stopped every now and again to take photos but it was very hard to keep the camera steady.  There are no trees and you can see for miles so Nancy was always in my sight.  She approached one turn and took the wrong fork.  I tried in vain to yell out and get her attention.  I was a little far back due to my last photo stop and she didn’t hear a word I said.  I caught her at the top of the hill and we continued on – thankfully both routes were about the same.  Though it would have been fun turning round and riding with the wind for a mile.  It seemed to take forever to finally make a slight left turn and have “only” a crosswind for the last 10k.  It helped a lot that we had now finally descended off the ridge and were getting a little shelter from the full buffeting.

We were finally making time and thought we had it made when I noticed a funny noise from my chain.  I thought it was just the wind and I kept riding.  Big mistake.  A few k later, my chain snapped, whipping into and breaking my front derailleur.  If I’d stopped, I could have fixed the problem without breaking the derailleur.  We were only 5k from Keswick but we had to come up with a new plan.  I flagged down a couple cyclists heading the other way and learned that there were a couple good shops in town.  I decided to try fixing the bike by putting a spare link in the chain and jury-rigging the derailleur.  This sort of worked – though the chain skipped I could sort of pedal and move forward.  We limped into town and headed right for the first recommended shop.

I walked into Keswick Mountain Bikes not expecting them to have the parts but at least hoping that they could help.  The staff there was great.  They quickly figured out that we were end-to-enders and went out of their way to assist.  Their repair shop was really backed up but they managed to find a derailleur, new chain and best of all, they put everything else aside and got stuck into my bike.  They replaced my derailleur, chain and replaced my frayed rear brake cable, all in 30 minutes (I had not noticed the cable, they did it without me asking).  How lucky are we, to break a part that we didn’t have a spare for and in less than an hour to have the bike professionally fixed with new parts?  Wow, thanks KMB – you guys are great.

We were really thanking our lucky stars at this point because had we not changed routes, we would have probably had a broken bike a lot further from help.  We talked at dinner how we might have jury-rigged things to get more that the 5k we needed to.  We could have done it but the winds had slowed us down so much, we would have finished in the dark.  It is really amazing every mechanical issue that we’ve had on this trip has happened in a “lucky” place.  Today, our luck held.

While I worked with the guys on the bike, Nancy found a nice B&B in town for us to spend the night in.  It was raining now so we didn’t really want to camp, and after the exhausting day in the wind, we probably couldn’t have gotten the tent up anyway.  Warm showers felt nice, but both of us exited the shower about ready to collapse.  I’m pretty sure that adrenalin played a role in getting us here.  And by now, we had none left.

We had a nice quiet dinner and are now sitting in our comfy B&B watching the Paralympics.  We are not sure what we are doing tomorrow but we are pretty darn happy to be here right now.  We’ll probably ride at least a short distance tomorrow but let’s see how we feel in the morning.  So far, the Lake District has been a wee bit harder than we thought it might be.

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13 thoughts on “Epic day in the Lake District – Carlisle to Keswick (57/20,298ks, 815m)

  1. Nancy & Dave

    Congrats on making it to Keswick.

    Your note reminds me of my teenage years cycling. On my end to end route we went South to North, but the equivalent day was Slaidburn (near Settle) to Carlise. over Shap – probably the most challenging climb in the U.K.
    I think the day before was Chester.
    There’s also some good off road cycling (bike carrying) in the Lakes if you haven’t had enough.

    Plus I remember holidays camping in the rain and car journeys over Harnkont and Wrynose passes – like going over a rollercoaster in a car. the passes used to be littered with broken down cars with their bonnets up – steaming.

    I look forward to more from end to end.

  2. Wow. Just when I think you are out of the proverbial woods, here you are again! Wind. My least favorite weather condition. Now I want to put you in a cave and tuck you in and pat your heads and go “there, there” … and maybe read you a Winnie the Pooh story where Piglet is very brave.

  3. Sounds like you had a tough ride ….. an epic day! If you get a chance visit Castlerigg Stone Circle which is near Keswick and stands on a superb natural plateau commanding a superb 360 degree view over the surrounding fells. Jonathan’s dad used to live near Keswick and if he was still around I would have arranged for you to stay with him. The hills are short and steep. I have not ridden a bike Harnknot or Wrynose but have been on them in the Mini and struggled :-).

  4. must be winds all around the world coz we’ve got them whipping our ass here too. I still think I hate rain more than wind. I feel for you…..

  5. epic day……. thankfully it worked out…… it must be all the power coming from the cranks causing the chain to snap…….. power on….

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