If you’re into mountain biking but, like me, aren’t Danny Macaskill and able to throw yourself down 50ft drops, then the Grizedale forest is the place for you. The second best thing about Grizedale is that you don’t need to drive there from Coniston, you can get on your bike right at your door and be there within half an hour.
Now I have to be honest I haven’t been Mountain biking in a while. 2018 was all about my Europe world record attempt and I couldn’t afford to get injured doing silly jumps or faceplanting a tree. With the record now behind me and winter ahead when the roads are getting icy I thought it about time I get back on the trails.
Annoyingly my mountain bike is right at the back of my pile of bikes, 8 in total, and it takes half an hour to move them around the garage before I can get her out. The second annoyance is that the last time I rode her I broke a chain and spent an hour walking home. The chain was still broken so I spend another half hour looking for a new one and replacing it.
Eventually, I’m suited and booted and ready to go. Besides the few roads in town, I’m soon on the dirt cycle path running along the road heading up to Hawkshead. It’s a nice gentle start before my legs are tested early on. As soon as I hit Hill Fell Plantation the gradient rises and so does my heart rate. I huff, puff, share some expletives, apologise to an elderly dog walker about my expletives, and keep on heading skywards, determined not to get off and do the uphill walk of shame.
There are quite a few trails up in the woods and most are footpaths but I have my OS Map App at the ready to keep me heading in the right direction. I eventually come out at High Cross and back onto the single track, unsuccessfully dodging a plethora of deer droppings. I’m able to get my breath back, only momentarily, when it’s taken away again this time by the view. From up here, you can see all the way down to Coniston Water and on a good day the top of The Old Man towering above. Take it in while you can because you’ll soon be deep in the forest of pain taking on the trails.
Today’s trail of choice is the fairly difficult red route called the North Face trail. Normally it starts at the Grizedale information centre but I join it halfway around the course and continue clockwise down the forest track. It’s muddy today, muddier than normal after storm something or other battered us last week. I cycle past the patch where last year I collected blackberries to make my infamous blackberry wine which everyone hated except me. I still have a headache to prove it.
The first technical section looms. It’s not by any means tough but tough enough for me, made tougher by my two broken thumbs from a skiing accident 10 years ago making it difficult to hold the handlebars properly.
The adrenalin rush is immediate as I throw the bike left and right while cursing again, this time at my lack of core strength, as I contort my body into all sorts of unnatural positions with equally unnatural facial expressions. I can feel the mud splashing up on my shins and then speckling my face. It’s glorious. About 20 minutes later I reach the Grizedale Café and stop for a quick coffee before heading back up the hill again ready to attack the return leg.
The bike and I certainly aren’t in sync, not like I am with my road bike. I fumble over slippery rocks, moss-covered roots and manage to not unclipping in time on every corner and fall into bramble bush after bramble bush. I’m slow, woefully slow, and have to let some ‘real mountain bikers’ zoom past me as their facial expressions suggest ‘who let the novice onto the red route.’ But I don’t care. I had forgotten just how amazing it is to ride a bike and not have to worry about traffic. There is something wonderfully raw and refreshing about getting covered in mud. The Chinese walk backwards to reverse time and make themselves younger. I am certain getting covered in mud does the same thing.
Half an hour later I’m back on the plateau with The Old Man to my left and then it’s the very much needed downhill while my jelly nettle covered legs recover all the way back into Coniston. Even though my house is 100 from the Black Bull Pub I stop there anyway and collapse next to the fire with a Bluebird Bitter while an inquisitive Labrador licks my deer poo covered shoes. Life is good.