It was with some trepidation that I fastened the bikes to the back of the car as it would be my first ride on the purpose built trails at Whinlatter in the Lake District, and indeed my first visit to any trail centre.
I was joined by Sue who had not turned a pedal for months and she was as apprehensive as I was.
The weather had been fairly kind to us and whilst there had been rain overnight it was clear and cold as we entered the car park. The car park fees include the maintenance costs for running the centre so were pretty high at £6.50 for the day.
Togged up in our best cold weather gear we set off on the Quercus trail. It soon became apparent that we would have to respect the conditions as the overnight showers had moistened the slate trails we were about to traverse. Sue followed as I scouted the route as she said she preferred to follow my route.
I advised her not to as my lines are often rubbish but more importantly she needed to develop her own skills. Given that Sue rarely rides technical trails I was amazed at how well she adapted to the conditions and soon her confidence and enjoyment increased.
So did mine as I could relax in the knowledge I was not going to be fishing her out of a ditch with all the verbal abuse that would undoubtedly follow! (from her to me of course ;o) ). With 55 minutes on the watch we pedalled back into the car park with grins all over our faces probably as much from relief as pure excitement.
Briefly, the blue Quercus trail which covers 7.5k is a very flowing single track with lots of berms interspersed with moderate climbs, some on singletrack, some fire roads. In my opinion this trail really works well and if you want to practice cornering it is ideal. There are minor optional excursions on the trail which allow the more adventurous to practice rock riding and jumps but as you imagine on this blue trail they are moderate in severity.
Lunch then followed at Siskins which is a great place to eat and warm up. It has an outside eating area for the summer or for those very muddy moles who should not really sit inside!
Charged with a bowl of soup Sue said she fancied another go! Off we went and it flowed much better second time around. We both felt confident and I tried some of the excursions. This time we covered the course in less than 50 minutes. Great trail for all standards and you don’t need to be mega fit to enjoy it. Of course if you are you can carry alot of speed through the berms and have a blast.
Then came an offer I couldn’t refuse! Sue said she was happy to sit and read if I wanted to take in the Altura Trail! What a gal! It took me a second to say yes and 3 minutes to get ready and go! Given that I was unlikely to get back to this trail centre on this holiday I decided to tackle the more challenging North loop.
The start involves moderately demanding roots and rocks to navigate and plank rides for those with more skill. The path then starts to climb along a hillside which is somewhat exposed if you get things wrong. This is mostly a middle ring climb but the uphill switchbacks brought the granny ring into play.
This is followed by the long fire road climb up to about 600 metres which is somewhat tedious, but the views over Bassenthwaite and back to Skiddaw more than compensate. I just love this place!
The fun really starts at post 17 as you start to descend and the trail gets quite a bit more technical with jumps and sections of very fast descending. Remembering the advice I got from Tony Doyle regarding “looking into the next” I surprised myself with the smooth pace I managed.
Let’s put things in perspective here it was not fast as I was alone on the trail on a very cold weekday in November. Any off would have seen me there for a very long time without assistance and without mobile phone reception I felt somewhat exposed.
One section very nearly caught me out when I approached a steep rooty right hander way too quickly. All I could do was let the front brake off, turn in and pray. It worked, just!. This last section is really excellent, think BKB for nearly 3k with more technical sections and more descent and you get somewhere near.
After nearly an hour of fun I rolled back into the carpark to find Sue freezing in the car so we both paid another visit to Siskins for drinks and cakes. What a cracking day!
Even though I had the chance to go back on another day and do the southern section of the Altura trail I decided not to. Why you may ask? Even I can only be selfish up to a point. Instead Sue and I cycled gently to a great pub in Threlkeld from Keswick, where I insisted on having the apple crumble meant only for pensioners (no comments please).
Feeling very full we then set off, returning over Skiddaw House alongside Longscale Fell, a wild, cold and icy valley that is so remote we saw nobody the whole way round.
I just love the Lakes. The riding can be very hard and short distances can take for ever. They often do for me as I stop frequently to take in the scenic splendour of the magnificent landscape.
I shall return. I suggest you try it too!