Arnside to Garsdale Head; Devoke Water
Before describing the bike ride I went on the day after the Ambleside trail race, I should put in a mention of the Mill Yard cafe in Morland. Prior to Covid I’d been here a few times, and always enjoyed it: Penny and Tim live nearby so are fairly regular patrons, in particular for the take-away pizzas on a Friday or Saturday night. I’d be invited to stay at their house after the run, and Penny had suggested we go to the cafe that evening.
Wow! I mean, wow! The best pizza I’ve ever had. The base wasn’t so thin that it had burnt, but nor was it too fat (I don’t like thick doughy bases). It was a perfect balance of thin but just risen enough. And the chef is generous with the cheese – gorgeous stringy mozzarella which produces strands almost like spaghetti, and which, like spaghetti,, you can’t – and shouldn’t be expected – to eat neatly. I also like the fact that you get to choose your own toppings – or you can go for the chef’s own option, which is whatever he feels like at the time. The only problem was that Penny and I shared a garlic bread with mozzarella first, and then struggled to eat more than half a pizza each. Tim, late home, benefitted from having the leftovers… I loved eating in their outside yard as well: it is a genuine old mill building, so is a really attractive building anyway, and the yard makes a great outdoor eating area.
The following morning my quads were aching a bit but we had breakfast and then headed off to drop Penny’s car at Garsdale Head before Tim took us and our bikes to Arnside. The weather looked promising: it was still quite muggy but it was dry. It was a relief that Tim had helped out, as it would have meant an awful lot of to-ing and fro-ing at the end of what turned out to be quite a demanding bike ride if we’d then had to drive back to the start to pick up a second car.
Arnside is lovely, but I always find Morecambe Bay and the various estuaries that empty into a bit bizarre. I grew up near the Severn/Bristol Channel, which has one of the highest tidal differences in the world, so you’d think I’d be used to seeing the sea disappear into the distance. I think perhaps what is different about Morecambe Bay is being aware that the tide can come in very, very fast – drownings are not unusual – so I’m always slightly on tenterhooks near it. A siren sounded while we were in the car park unloading our bikes and I wasn’t at all sure that it didn’t mean that the tide was about to rush in and wash us all away.
The initial part of the ride was along fairly flat country lanes. There are a lot of nature reserves and so forth in this area and not a lot of development. It’s not an area I know terribly well, being at the opposite end of Cumbria from where I live, but I do have the experience of having valued Silverdale fire station, just down the coast into Lancashire (if you ever want to see a slightly unusual fire station, that’s the one). Like much of Cumbria you do feel that you are quite a long way from anywhere, although we crossed both the A6 and the M6 as we made our way in an easterly direction along the Cumbria/Lancashire border.
A climb uphill between trees led to a great view in a southerly direction, before going through Hutton Roof (a place whose name has always intrigued me – we didn’t stop to look but apparently it’s got great limestone pavement/crags) and then descending to Kirkby Lonsdale. As we started to go down hill Penny got a bee in her bonnet – sorry, I mean in her helmet – just as three girls of about half our age came up the hill in the opposite direction, looking as if the climb was no effort for them whatsoever.
Kirkby Lonsdale is great. I’d only passed through there before, and not seen the town centre, which has a lovely old market cross – where we stopped and ate ice cream – and also a river which looks like a great place to swim. Definitely worth a return visit sometime.
The route now took us up past Barbon Hall and into Barbondale, which was absolutely beautiful and also really enjoyable cycling. We stopped at a bridge which had been rebuilt after Storm Desmond, doing our usual thing en route of exclaiming how stunning it all was and how lucky we are to live in Cumbria.
We had been gradually and almost imperceptibly climbing, and eventually had a glorious run down into Dentdale before turning eastwards into Dent itself. There were quite a lot of people about – it’s a lovely little village and it looked as if it had some good cafes (they were beginning to close as it was about 4pm on a Sunday afternoon) – and we stopped to use the very good public toilets before bumping over the cobbles and then going downhill some more.
After this our route took us along Dentdale before, at Cowgill, a hamlet at the end of the valley, climbing steeply uphill towards Dent station – about 4 and a half miles away from the actual village of Dent and the highest operational railway station in England. The hill from the valley bottom up to the station had us both beaten – at one point I got back on and started cycling again, but not for long. The station, like Garsdale Head, lies on the Carlisle-Settle line, an amazing – and rather crazy – feat of engineering which was incredibly expensive to build as it has so many tunnels and viaducts. Not surprisingly it suffered when the main west coast line was built; nowadays when you travel on this line you can buy a short history of the railway (although as I haven’t travelled on it for a while I don’t know if Covid has put a stop to that).
After Dent station Penny managed to get back on her bike, but I walked a bit further, until the road levelled out a bit and rolled across some glorious open fell with amazing views all around. Finally there was a steep, fast descent down to Garsdale Head and the car. I had, over a period of time, finally cycled round the whole of Cumbria (we’ve missed a couple of miles in a couple of places to be honest). However we have one more ‘stage’ we both want to do: to cycle from Melmerby up to Alston and then down to Brampton.
The weather finally changed from being overcast and muggy to being sunny, and my legs recovered from their two days of hills. I posted a group message to see if anybody wanted to swim and got several positive replies and some enthusiasm for Devoke Water, which must be one of the furthest west of the Lake District tarns: it took over two hours to drive there. However, it was completely worthwhile.
We turned off the main road at Greenodd towards Broughton in Furness, and then up the Duddon Valley. Some of the open water swimming books recommend the river here, but it looked quite low and also there were a lot of people. We turned to go up towards Birker Fell, crossing some cattle grids and coming out above trees into open fells which looked almost Alpine today. There’s no proper car park but there was enough verge to park on and the tarn is then a short walk along a track. It was absolutely stunning, and we found a beach with a stony entry to the water. It was shallow for quite a way out, before steeply sloping away underwater. Jo and Anne started to swim up to the far end – probably about 1km away – and I zigzagged a bit before thinking about swimming to the island. I didn’t make it as I got a bit bored with not being able to see much below me, and also the island kept looking as if it was not getting any closer.
After a picnic a few of us got back in for a short while – partly to admire the perch I’d initially spotted and got very excited about. Even the most cautious of us swam without wetsuits and it was almost warmer in the water than out in the breeze. There was a lot of merriment and plans for all sorts of other events – we’ve decided that we need to do a breakfast swim in Bassenthwaite with bacon sandwiches, and we talked about having ‘Crab Fest’ at Devoke Water next July as so many in the group are cancerians.