What does Gravel Riding mean to you? For me it’s more than tire clearance and believing that another bike purchase is essential. It’s a chance to ride away from traffic and built up areas, a chance to look around, be social and explore new places. It’s adventure, it’s freedom.
If there was such a thing as a Cycling Dictionary, the definition of Gravel Riding would define it as wide double track lanes, fire roads and access paths. Every country takes this definition and adds its own charm. Here in the UK we use the same bike, have the same fun, and affectionately christened this exploration as – bridleway bashing. For those of you who live in other parts of the world, a bridleway is a permissive path for society’s wanderers (which could be for walkers, riders, cyclists, or any combination) whose use is permitted by the landowner. Basically, a chance to roam as you please. As a cyclist by trade but mountain biker at heart I have been lucky to have ridden a vast number of trails around the UK and Europe, but they’re all starting to get a little similar and dare I say it, boring.
Gravel Riding has given me a new set of tracks, routes and adventures. It’s akin to being a child and loading up a new set of levels on a computer game. Bridleway bashing has relighted the touch paper for riding and exploring. The UK does have ‘Gravel’, we have many wide tracks winding through forests and over hills. But combine these with some good old bridleways and the route planning network is endless. In the Lake District I reacquaint with good friend and Gran Fondo regular John Baker. Touted around the area as the ‘Godfather of Gravel’, I was excited to see what John had planned. The first words he delivers are: “it’s gonna be a tough one mon”, meaning I’m going to suffer, a lot. I choose not to see the route and instead opt for a couple of beers and a good night’s sleep.
9am comes and we are set to take on the day ahead. Rolling away from the hotel towards Crosthwaite, we immediately duck onto a bridleway that consists of a few undulating fields with some large cattle, leading us into a rocky slippery climb. Heart-rates up, the adventure has started. Descending down into Bowness we pay our £1 ferry tax each, which allows us to take a small car/passenger ferry over Lake Windermere to Ferry House. With the ferry waiting for us, we help an elderly couple bump-start their broken-down car. Narrowly making the ferry we leap onboard. With a good deed under our belt we set sail across the beautiful lake.
Straight off the ferry, we find gravel that beckons us up high, overlooking Lake Windermere. Route planning can be just as much fun as the riding. John had agonised over the route for days before, using Google Maps, OS Maps as well as Street View. Although no GPS-based information prepares us for the technical first descent – a 160mm mountain bike would have been better! We laugh and joke as we crawl down on our 42c tyres avoiding punctures and rim damage. Arrival into Grizedale Forest, a hilly 25 km2 woodland with a rocky base is gravel paradise, 10km of blissful gravel to be fair, and we cruise around the maze of fire roads that intertwine through the area Then drop down into Hawkshead for a well-earned café stop.
Replenished, the route takes us back into Grizedale, popping us out into Newby Bridge where we catch a glimpse of a steam train setting off. A big climb pushes us up through fields, at the top we join Sow How Lane. Easily one of the Lake District National Park’s finest gravel tracks, it meanders gently down the hillside allowing us to ride side by side, letting the bikes run free back towards the hotel.
Total distance was 56km, with 1460m climbed. American Gravel it isn’t, UK bridleway bashing it is. My suggestion is: find a map of your local area, dig out your cross or gravel bike (or any bike for that matter) and go explore! For those of you who are already on my wave length then venture up to the Lake District, there is so much to go at.
Want more gravel adventure? Find out about this Swedish beauty – The Dalsland Runt
Words: Sandy Plenty Photos: Sandy Plenty