The Lakeland Four Passes (part two)

27th Nov 2017



In October this year the Peak Mountaineering team headed to the Lake District to mountain bike the famous Lakeland 4 Passes route.  It was partly a family adventure and partly a ride to honour the memory of local cycling legend and friend of Peak Mountaineering junior Ben.  This second part of Paul’s trip account follows part one which it is best to read here first.  We hope you enjoy it….


I slept so well at Black Sail Youth Hostel. We all did. It was that perfect deep sleep born from an exhilarating and physically challenging day on the bikes.  We climbed out of bed a little later than planned, packed our minimal rucksacks, breakfasted and headed outside and round to the dining room.  I smiled about how we had left our bikes propped up casually outside with no thought of security and I was grateful that Nick Craig had advised us to leave locks behind.  Somehow it didn't seem even worthy of consideration to lock bikes in this remote valley and sure enough they were right where we’d left them when we came out.




Day 2 crosses the valley base before a tough climb and hike a bike section leads up to the broad col named Black Sail Pass.  Crossing the valley from the hostel was one of the most poignant sections of the ride for us all because, en route, you cross the stream via a bridge we have come to know as Charlie’s Bridge.  In the Trippin film which inspired this adventure there is a section showing Charlie crossing here and, as we sat in these stunning surroundings contemplating love and loss, it was a very sad time for us all.  I could easily have sat meditatively in that gorgeous place all day.


Eventually the route ahead could be ignored no longer and we moved on.  The climb to the pass went slowly and steadily.  We could cycle some and then there was the usual hike a bike section.  I had been this way before and knew to expect a few false summits but, eventually, we could see our objective and got back to cycling terrain near the col.   The downhill section from here is simply stunning.  Technical rocky sections mingle with flowing paths and a few hair raising drops to allow a quick descent into the tranquil Wasdale valley.  It is the variety of terrain, as much as the interesting cycling, that make this circuit so special.  




In Wasdale we stopped for lunch at the Wasdale Head Inn.  I hadn't been here for quite a few years and with the fine mild weather it was lovely to sit enjoying baguettes and fries by the tumbling river outside.  We knew we had one last long ascent and so, with plenty of fuel on board, we climbed back on the bikes and headed up to the stretcher box near Styhead Tarn.  


We were now in a much busier valley and plenty of surprised walkers passed us as we hike a biked past.  Several had the perfect expression to show, without actually saying anything aloud, that they thought us completely crazy.  This path has some challenging rocky steps to negotiate but the surface is well laid and the overall angle is tired leg friendly.  At the stretcher box we stopped to chat to some walkers and were happy to share our last jelly babies with their children.  We weren’t bothered now about keeping the energy food in reserve as we knew it was all down hill from here.  




Passing Styhead Tarn is always significant for us as a family.  Many years ago we first brought our juniors Ben and Tom to wild camp here enroute to the summit of Scafell Pike as part of our 3 Peaks Challenge (this adventure is detailed in my recent ‘Encouraging Children in the Outdoors’ blog post here).  That adventure fashioned a style which has, in many ways, defined these sorts of trips for us ever since.


The route down from Styhead Tarn is fantastic.  In a few places it is too rocky to ride but, for the most part, it is packed with steep technical descents, challenging drop offs and sweeping narrow paths.  It also makes a very fitting end to the Four Passes adventure.  We soon lost height toward Seathwaite and, once on the valley floor, cruised along tracks to the farm that sits at the head of the valley.


We sat awhile near the farm to savour being near the end of our adventure.  It had been everything we had hoped in terms of the riding while staying at Black Sail Youth Hostel had fulfilled a lifetime ambition for me and had lived up to all our expectations.  But really this trip had been more than just a riding adventure.  Since we watched Trippin It had become almost a need and, in many ways, a sort of pilgrimage.  We wanted in some small way to pay our respects to an amazing young man and to celebrate a life, while taken far too early, that was clearly still lived to the full.  


It was far more emotional than any of us had expected it would be and was a journey we will never forget. 

It was our Ride For Charlie. 




Posted by Paul 

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