Redstone Barn, Dufton, Eden Valley, Cumbria
This was getting ready day and seemed to take ages. As we were travelling by car it was a case of chuck everything in and as I had planned to do both walking and cycling it ended up quite a lot of kit. However we were ready for a prompt start next day
We were away by 9am and with one stop were having lunch at Larch Cottage Nursery, Melkinthorpe by 3pm. This is a lovely place with lots of interest: good food, loads of plants and fascinating statuary. If you want a garden gnome or even a 1 meter high bronze lion or a Greek god then this is the place to come. They deliver all over the UK if you are worried about getting your lion home. Then over to our ‘digs’ at Dufton. First impressions were good, nicely decorated, well equipped and in a pleasant situation in the middle of the village. The place was cold as it had been unoccupied for a week or so and the owner’s were away however we lit the wood burner and soon got warmed up and settled in. Its our fault, but we had forgotten to check if our accommodation had WIFI, it doesn’t, which means its regular visits to cafés with internet and coffee for the rest of the week.
I was keen to get cycling as the weather forecast for the week was a bit iffy so I was away after breakfast to cycle up Great Dun Fell whilst Kathryn relaxed, settled in and visited Appleby. This road is one of the highest tarmac roads in the UK going to the NATS radar station at the summit at 825m. I had been there twice before, once on a bike with the well known cycling writer/author John Wilcockson who stayed with me when the Tour of Britain visited Penrith in 1970. We gave up half way on that evening due to lack of time, I wrote in my diary,”will have to try again later”. I had no idea it would be 45 years later before I reached the top. The next day John fixed me a seat in a press car following the Tour of Britain and I had a brilliant day watching the race whilst hanging out the window taking photos. The other time was by car when I drove to the top in the middle of winter in order to ski, at that time there was a small ski lift over the back. I remember the road being risky and looking at it with older and more experienced eyes 45 years later I am amazed at the risks I must have taken. It was a pleasant, mostly sunny morning and my route took me through the small village of Knock, nothing but a few houses, and then onto the hill road. To my surprise the road had been up upgraded, still the same route but a good surface with crash barriers but it was still the same unrelenting hill with long sections of 15-20%. I was feeling strong after a summer of tough cycling and found the climb OK, just hard work. I learnt I could cycle up to a 15% gradient seated using my lowest gear (34×32), after that I had one more gear called ‘out the saddle’ and at 20% pulling on my handlebars caused the front wheel to easily lift if my weight was too far back. I’m glad it didn’t go to 25%. A driver coming down the hill stopped and asked me if I was doing the “Pennine Walk”. Resisting the temptation for a bit of irony, I pointed out I was a lycra clad cyclist on a lightweight bike so it was unlikely I was doing a long distance walk. We had a good chat and I established he was looking for a friend doing the Pennine Way which wasn’t too far from my route. So I wasn’t much help to him. The summit was reached next to the radar domes, there was no one there and you could walk all around it. I reflected that in many other countries I would have had a guard pointing a sub-machine gun at me even if I had even been allowed on the road, we should be grateful for our freedoms. I didn’t stop long as it was cold and windy and the wide views were partially obscured by cloud. Some descents are fast, exciting and enjoyable. This wasn’t one, challenging would be a better word. The road is narrow, twisty and very steep with sheep and sheep shit all over the place. I’m not ready to die yet and care was needed. I stopped a couple of times to let aching brake fingers recover and wheel rims cool off. Lower down there was a couple of chances to let rip but I wouldn’t put this descent in my top 10. The narrow lanes back through Knock were enjoyable after the climb and I was back in time for lunch feeling well satisfied with my ride. A tick off the list, no need to ever go back there. We tried the local tea room, The Post Box Pantry and although the people were very pleasant the menu was singularly unimaginative, our impression is that they weren’t trying very hard which may explain why it was were almost empty on a Sunday lunchtime (whot….no soup)
After lunch we drove to Penrith to get supplies, have a walk and find some decent coffee. We were successful on all counts although oddly there is a dearth of local coffee shops on a Sunday afternoon in Penrith, everything seems to shut. However we found a Costa open so that was that sorted. I lived and worked in Penrith in 1970 and it was pleasing to see it looked much the same. Yes there have been some changes but these are more to the outskirts than to the centre. That evening we ate at the local pub, The Stag at Dufton. They served excellent beer and food at reasonable prices.
Cycling 13.8miles, 9.3mph average, 784m ascent
After a good nights sleep and a relaxed start we planned a walk locally. We decided on the Dufton Geotrail which circulates Dufton Pike. This turned out to be a good choice and the walking was interesting and it stayed dry if misty. The useful leaflet pointed out Geology and landscape including the extensive mining history of the area. Its very different from Scotland that’s for sure. We were struck by the lack of animal and bird life (compared with our home in Scotland). Rabbits, hare, pheasant, grouse all seemed absent and the woods were almost silent. We did see some buzzards so there must be something for them to eat but it felt like the ‘silent autumn’. On the way back we came across a young shepherd moving some sheep and we fell into conversation. It was interesting talking to him and he told us some of his hopes and plans for the future (to own his own farm). He came across as a hard working, contended man, happy with his work but also please to have a chat. He must have a lonely job at times. The walk was only four miles but I thoroughly enjoyed it and we were back early afternoon. Then it was to Appleby for another nostalgic walk and find a café. The Corrie Tea Room by the bridge over the River Eden provided excellent cake, average coffee and very fast internet (20Mb/sec) so we were able to catch up on all our internetty things. Tonight we ate in and relaxed after another good day.
Walking 4.1miles, 42mins/mile, 287m ascent
A dreich morning gave me no incentive to get ‘up an out’ so I had a relaxed start. We planned to go our separate ways today for it was a cycling day for me. Eventually got away on the bike at 11am and worked my way across the fell foot villages of Long Marton, Millburn, Skirwith and Melmerby where I joined the A686 Hartside and Alston road. This was the ‘mountain finish’ of the Tour of Britain last week so in the forlorn hope of giving the professionals some competition I rode the climb vigorously and without stopping. I was pleased to note how well the finish area had been cleaned up, all litter remove, a couple of banners and flattened grass were all that was left. The descent to Alston was long, bumpy and very quick. For the sake of nostalgia and completeness I rode up the famous Alston Cobbles and then sat in the sun and ate my ‘piece’ whilst watching assorted car and lorries struggling up the very steep cobbled hill. Then it was back to work returning to the top of Hartside, which took 35mins. The descent off Hartside is something special and closer to an Alpine descent than a British hill. Fortunately the road was dry so I gave it full gas on the many tight bends. The five miles to Melmerby were very fast and I rewarded myself with a stop at Melmerby Bakery, Farm and Coffee Shop. The chocolate brownie was awesome, the coffee a bit insipid. It always disappoints when I go into a café and see an expensive coffee machine but they don’t seem able to do a decent cappuccino. Since we recently got our own machine I feel desperate to show them how to do it properly. It’s all to do with correct milk frothing and temperature, which should be a maximum of 70 Celsius and nearly always ends up too high. Maybe I’m just getting too fussy in my old age! Still feeling good I pressed on to Penrith along the main road which was still mostly downhill and then cycled back to Appleby via the ‘back road’ through Cliburn, Bolton and Colby, all attractive villages. The day had warmed up by now so it was shorts and short sleeves for the last hour. Last section back to Dufton included one 15% hill but feeling strong this was no problem. Another very enjoyable trip including an iconic climb and descent. The road along the valley between the villages makes for interesting cycling with many up, downs and bends with numerous route choices. The Eden Valley is heavily farmed so the roads can be quite dirty with mud from tractors moving between fields and cows being moved for milking. September is also muck spreading time so this means more mess on the roads and an occasional bad smell, it must be worse in the wet and later in winter. A strong argument for a winter bike with mudguards for anyone living round here. Generally the roads carry light traffic but my feeling was that many locals expect to drive fast and not be impeded and I had a couple of impatient, close overtakes and despite doing my best to be a good cyclist and pull over to let vehicles pass if the road was narrow. Naturally all the steep ups also mean steep downs and it’s amazing how often there is a bend at the bottom and possible a large farm vehicle coming the other way. It all adds to the fun of cycling in this area. We ate at The Stag Inn and it was ‘fishnchip’ night, this was the only thing on the menu and was very good.
Cycling 59miles, 12.8mph average, 1642m ascent
Woke up to a lovely sunny day, in complete contrast to the earlier forecast of heavy rain all day. This is our 4th consecutive dry day which is completely unexpected. Today was a walking day and there could be no better day for it, warm but not hot in the sun, cool in the shade and no wind. We decided on a recommended Dufton circular: Dufton-Bow Hall-Keisley-Flakebridge Wood-Esplandhill-Dufton. The advised distance was 5 miles, the GPS measured 7.25 miles so we were tired by the time we got back. He first half was fellfoot with superb views across the Eden Valley, en-route we came the Eden Wineries which was unfortunately closed. The second half was what I call ‘English Rambling’ through fields, woods, stiles and gates with frequent stops for navigation and numerous grazing cows just to add a bit of excitement. There were some lovely wooded corners and some awkward walking alongside fields. There were many pheasants, presumably waiting to be shot and we heard magpies and buzzards calling. Great walk on a lovely day. We then rushed into Appleby so Kathryn could visit a garden only open on Open Gardens Day whilst I sat on a bench in the town and contentedly read my book in the sun. The result of my sitting & reading was three conversations happened including helping a lady who fell flat on her face in the middle of the road, fortunately with no injury, just a bit shaken. Coffee & cake at the Taste of Eden Café followed before returning to our home tired and happy after a very successful and enjoyable day.
Walking 7.25miles, 31mins/mile, 200m ascent
On a cool, misty morning we drove to Keswick and had a nice coffee and scone at the excellent Little Chamonix Café, possibly the best coffee of the holiday. Then it was on the bike, riding south towards Ambleside. It was a bit of a brutal start, the hill out of Keswick is a big one. Took the minor road on the west side of Thirlmere which was a good choice being level, well surfaced and scenic. A bit of further judicious route choice allowed me to avoid much of the main road. The main route through the Lake District is just too busy to make pleasurable cycling and its poorly surfaced as well and I couldn’t get it over quick enough. Next was a sharp left turn at Ambleside and the ride up The Struggle which ranks as one of the steepest hills this week, peaking at 25%. It certainly was a struggle but I made it from bottom to top without stopping and felt pleased with myself. The descent off Kirkstone was equally challenging, a narrow winding road descending steeply between high walls. Additionally there was a broken down car half blocking the road just below the top and an accident involving another cyclist lower down, police were in attendance and my offer to help declined. The cycling along the side of Ullswater was most enjoyable, some of the road surfaces even improved a bit. After stopping to eat something and admire the view at Pooley Bridge, I took the B road to Penrith and enjoyed a very large coffee at the Penrith Costa, deciding it was the better the devil you know than the devil you don’t and their cups are big. Refreshed I headed to Langwathby and found a pleasant route through the lanes and villages back to Dufton. Another dry day that was mostly warm enough for shorts and short sleeves, not what I was expecting on September 17th. I felt fit and strong all day and seem to have built up a really high level of fitness over the summer. In the evening we decided we would eat at the locally, at The Stag and didn’t phone as it didn’t seem busy. We went over at 8pm and were amazed to be told the they had “stopped serving meals”, disappointed we headed home and, fortunately, we had enough food with us to have a meal. No meals after 8pm (we were there at 8.02pm) is a bit early particularly as earlier this week we were offered a meal at 8.15pm. All in all another excellent day.
Cycling 59.6miles, 13.2mph average, 1445m ascent
We were in Preston by 10.15, firstly to visit the family grave in Preston Cemetery, mainly to check the stone is still standing, which it was. The grave has been in the family a long time, since 1882 when my great-grandmother Mary Luckraft was buried there, since then every generation has either been buried there or commemorated on the headstone. Then it was on to Garstang to meet my brother Bob who we hadn’t seen for quite a few years, he was much the same and after a coffee he showed us his new flat in Garstang. We then headed to Arnside for a very different type of walk around the coast looking out over Morecambe Bay. First we had lunch at the Old Bakehouse which was very good. I had done this walk a few years ago when feeling very stressed because my mum was very ill and found it to be an enjoyable and de-stressing walk. The combination of beach, water all in warm, bright sunlight made it a very special again. That evening we ate more excellent food at The Stag before doing some packing in preparation for the following mornings departure. So, on an iffy weather forecast we ended up with six consecutive fine, dry days, the weather couldn’t have been better. Three bike rides and three walks felt like quite an active week, our accommodation at Red Barn Dufton was very comfortable but we missed our WIFI a lot.
Walking 5.4 miles, 36 mins/mile, 205m ascent
Edinburgh Saturday / Sunday
Travelling, visiting family, walking about,drinking coffee and yet more travelling took us home after a really outstanding holiday.