If Yorkshire is ‘God’s own country’ as its inhabitants say, then he has blessed it with a landscape perfect for cycling. Since the Tour de France first showcased its rolling hills and dales to the world in 2014, cyclists have been flocking to the area (a wisely chosen adjective given that the landscape is heavily influenced by sheep farming.)
And over to the west of the Yorkshire Dales lies the Lake District, the home of modern English tourism, thanks to the praise and publicity of the many writers and artists who made their homes there in the late eighteenth century. Since cycling began, the Lake District has attracted riders to test their mettle on its steep passes. The famous Fred Whitton Challenge, the UK’s longest-running and arguably hardest event, featuring the toughest Lakeland passes has ensured that nearly every roadie has heard the names of Honister, Hardknott and Wrynose.
Joining together these two meccas of cycling into one spectacular week-long bonanza of climbing was the perfect job for Skedaddle guide and a certified mountain goat Isobel Riley who lives on the cusp of the two National Parks. Riley, who has ridden the Fred Whitton not once but five times, with an eye-watering fast finish of 7hrs 43minutes and completed L’Etape du Dales, a similarly tough ride in Yorkshire, knows the area intimately. She is, thankfully, just as keen on finding cafes and cakes as climbing hills.
Now, let us tell you in detail about everything that makes us so excited about our brand new Yorkshire Dales and Lake District road cycling holiday…
Not one, but two National Parks in a week
Whilst equal in their beauty and cycling challenge the two National Parks have very different landscapes thanks to their geology. Shaped by slow-moving ice, the smoothly rolling Yorkshire Dales are made up of classic u-shaped valleys with lively rivers, waterfalls and limestone features. Its softly curving landscape makes for great cycling as we can enjoy gradual gradients alongside the rivers before steeply climbing out of one dale and dropping into the next.
Over in the Lake District, the movement of ice is also apparent but the harder volcanic rocks withstand erosion, unlike the limestone of the Dales. For this reason, it is home to England’s deepest lake and highest mountain. Dramatic ridges and high mountain peaks dominate the scenery above and the deep glacial valleys have filled with water to create the distinctive fourteen lakes and tarns synonymous with the region.
If all this is ringing vague memory bells from school prepare yourself to learn the geography of these two landscapes in a more visceral way than from any textbook! As Hemingway said, ‘It is by riding a bicycle that you learn the contours of a country best since you have to sweat up the hills and can coast down them.’
A lesson in climbing
When asked to name classic cycling climbs most bike riders’ thoughts turn to the epic mountains of the Alps or Pyrenees, but anyone who thinks UK climbs are a ‘soft option’ compared to the mountains of Europe better think again.
English climbs are in a class of their own when it comes to fitness and skill, for evidence of the training effect of English climbs look no further than some of the UK’s best up and coming young riders. James Knox and Hugh Carthy cut their teeth on the climbs of the Lake District and Dales yet are performing at a World Class level on the mountains of France, Italy and Spain.
As Riley puts it ‘I’ve ridden all the classics like Mont Ventoux and Alpe d’Huez but for knee-trembling gradients, you cannot beat Hardknott pass’ and it’s not just the gradients on the way up that makes the cycling tough. Like the climbs, the descents are short, steep and twisting with the need for occasional bursts of power to get over the little lumps that break them up. ‘The descents are technically challenging, you can’t relax on the way down, you don’t get the same recovery as you do on a long alpine descent.’
When riding in the lakes and dales ‘you need to ride with your wits about you,’ says Riley. ‘The scenery is stunning and distracting at times but the riding needs full engagement, whether you are going up or down. It’s relentless, these hills really test your all-round capabilities as a rider,’ Riley expounds. However, she goes onto say ‘that’s why when designing this route, we’ve picked some great places for coffee stops and picnics so we can relax and absorb our amazing surroundings.’
When it comes to fuelling for our pedalling Cumbria offers some excellent choices; from the Cumberland sausage to Cartmel’s sticky toffee pudding there are plenty of ways to replenish the calories. Admittedly some are healthier than others, but you’ve earnt them! And of course, no one can forget Kendal mint-cake. Essentially just sugar and mint syrup it is loved by climbers, walkers and mountaineers everywhere, and as it has fuelled Everest expeditions its perfect for getting us up the climbs! Fusing tradition and science a local company has brought cutting edge sports nutrition to the 100-year-old recipe and created an energy bar and gels that even the most serious athlete can appreciate.
It’s not all climb, climb, climb.
Despite this trip reading like a roll call of infamous English climbs, it also hits some of the prettiest and most well-known of The Yorkshire Dales and The Lake District’s towns and villages. We pass through many picturesque villages, bustling market towns and stunning lakeside resorts and as per the Skedaddle way we have picked the best of them to stop in overnight.
We start and finish in the historic town of Kirkby Lonsdale, the gateway to the Yorkshire Dales from the west. Kirkby Lonsdale sits in Cumbria yet is barely a mile from the Lancashire border; it’s only been Cumbrian since 1974 and identity here runs deeper than administrative boundaries. Spark a conversation with an old-timer at the bar over which county he lives in and you are likely to be treated to a passionate history lesson.
While in Kirkby Lonsdale we’ll be making sure to pop into the Royal Barn for a celebratory pint where brewer and keen mountain biker Stuart Taylor has given the bar a distinctively cycling twist. It’s not just the décor that has a cycling theme, Singletrack IPA is a perennial bestseller and this year saw the launch of Unbeetable Stout – yes, you guessed it a stout made out of beetroots, cycling performance enhancement and beer in one handy glass!
A night in lively Windermere, probably the most well-known lakeside town gives us a chance to stroll the shoreline of England’s largest lake and visit one (or even two) of its busy bars and restaurants. A night in Keswick, surrounded by the peaks of Skiddaw and tree-lined slopes of Whinlatter forest allows us to visit Friar’s Crag overlooking Derwent Water, one of the most photographed views in the Lake District, and visit the iconic Moot Hall where fell runners start and finish the well-known Bob Graham challenge. You may even want to pop into the adjacent craft beer bar, ‘The Round’ and catch up on the latest fell-running gossip.
Are you ready for it?
We’re excited to be launching our new Yorkshire Dales and Lake District trip, it’s a challenging but rewarding route which combines the dramatic and beautiful landscapes of two great National Parks with some of our own favourite riding, giving you an insider’s perspective on this popular area. By the end of the week not only will you have ticked off many of the classic Lakes and Dales passes but discovered the lesser-known but equally special climbs that local riders enjoy. We can’t wait to share them with you!