Saturday, 15 September 2012

Train, Bike, Hike & Hostel in the Lake District

If I drive to the Lake District at weekend, the round trip will cost me around sixty pounds at current unleaded petrol prices. I am taking these trips by myself a lot recently as my wife spends most of her weekends studying. With this in mind I have for a while now been researching the possibility of using public transport to visit the Lake District as a cheaper alternative when travelling by myself. I often catch the train to the Peak District as the stations are conveniently located at the start of many popular routes. The Lake District on the other hand has a surprising lack of train lines and stations. Geography is the main reason for this as the Lake District is like an inaccessible starfish shape of mountains, valleys and lakes. Getting from one side to the other as any motorist, cyclist or hill walker will tell you, involves a significant ascent. One bonus of this is that the lack of train lines helps to keep the beautiful Lake District landscape unspoilt. The only line that has often baffled me is the old disused line from Penrith to Keswick. I think some sections of it have now been converted to a trail. You can't help wonder what an economic boom the regeneration of that line would have brought to Keswick, but then on the other hand does Keswick really need that boost, it seems to do okay without it. After much research and map browsing I found that the only viable approaches by train stations to the Lake District were Seascale, Penrith or Windermere. I will probably give all three a go over the next year. This time I chose Windermere as it is by far the easiest journey and the area beyond Windermere to Ambleside and Grasmere is an area I am familiar with. The routes to Ambleside, Langdale, Grizedale and Grasmere from Windermere are also flat and ideal for cycling.

My bike by a misty early morning Rydal Water

The most popular walk that I have yet to do in the Lake District is the Fairfield Horseshoe. It is a long walk with 1290m of ascent and crosses the top of eight Wainwrights. So the plan I decided on was to stay overnight in Grasmere and then on Sunday walk the Fairfield Horseshoe before returning home. After working out the time it would take me to get to Grasmere on my bike from Windermere I realised I would have a few hours spare. One Wainwright I have walked but never reached the top of which was ideally located for this trip is Loughrigg Fell. I walked it with my mate Phil almost eight years ago, we managed to find the Rydal Cave but after not looking at the map and going off a simple guide book map we walked back to Elterwater the wrong way and never reached the summit. So I decided I would also walk up Loughrigg Fell on route to Grasmere on the Saturday afternoon. I did look into camping in Langdale as another option but decided against that due to extortionate price of camping at the NT camp site and the fact that I have already climbed every mountain in and around Langdale. I used The Train Line website to book tickets online then phoned the Trans Pennine Express cycle helpline to book the bike on. For my accommodation I booked in to the Thorney How independent hostel in Grasmere which I read good things about online. It was £22 for a bunk bed including continental breakfast. I could have paid just £19 and been in a larger bunk room but I preferred to pay a few pound more and be in a smaller room. Less chance of people waking me, snoring or breaking wind on the bunk above me! Camping in Langdale would have cost me £25 to book online as you get no discount for being an NT member, have to pay for a car ( which can be refunded on arrival ), have to book two nights and pay a £5 booking fee. I was absolutely shocked to discover all this. I have been told by some walkers that you can still just turn up and pay for one night and without the booking fee and car fee though. £22 for a proper bed and breakfast though at the Thorney How independent hostel was reasonable and the hostel as you will read later is fantastic.

Myself on the summit of Fairfield

I was excited all week after booking the travel and accommodation. I also got some good news at the end of the week as I received the marks from the 'ITIL v3 Foundation Certificate in IT Service Management' course I did a fortnight ago. I passed and with a score of 85% so I was ecstatic about that. I had a shiny new present arrive in time for this trip too. I had ordered a Deuter Speedlite 20 rucksack for cycling. After reading numerous reviews online of many different makes and models of cycling and small walking rucksacks I decided this was by far the most versatile. It even has the ability to hold a helmet against the bag with a clip on attachment, which unfortunately didn't arrive in time. As I was staying in a hostel I really wanted to minimise what I took on this trip and go as light as possible, especially as I would possibly have to carry all my gear when walking up the mountains. So after a tasty Chinese take away on Friday night I packed all of my gear into the surprisingly roomy twenty litre rucksack. This is a list of everything I packed…

Personal Items…

Money, Wallet, Keys, iPhone, Headphones, Camera, Tickets.


Prescription Glasses, Prescription Sunglasses, Sunglasses, Contact Lenses, Wet Wipes, Toothbrush, Toothpaste, Deodorant, Pocket Tissues, Ear plugs, Eye Mask, Pain Killers, Vaseline, Sun Cream.

Clothes Worn...

Walking Trainers, Base Layer, Ron Hills, Cycling Boxers, Socks.

Clothes Carried...

Windproof, Waterproof, Spare Base Layer, Spare Cycling Boxers, Spare Socks.

Walking Equipment...

Rucksack, Compass, Map, Map Case, Head Torch, Sun Hat.

Cycling Equipment...

Bike, Helmet, Gloves, Lock, Lights, Bottle, Pump, Innertubes, Alan Keys, Spanner, Puncture Kit.

I caught the early train from Altrincham to Manchester on Saturday morning. Unfortunately breakfast had to be a Tesco sandwich as there was nowhere else open. I walked pass Greggs in Altrincham but despite the seductive smell of freshly baked bread their doors will still locked. The weather was playing ball, it was chilly but wall to wall sunshine. There were two other cyclists on the train to Manchester. One of them had the most ridiculous trolley contraption attached to his bike. It was basically a piece of plywood with wheels on the bottom, not the kind of wheels you get on a small bike, or the kind you would get on a large pram, but the kind of casters you see on your grandma's sitting room chair! On top of the plywood was one of those big The North Face base camp duffel bags, held on by bungee ropes. I picked up my train tickets from the self service ticket machine at Piccadilly then headed to the remote platform fourteen. The train arrived and I was pointed in the right direct of the cycle store by the guard. Unfortunately the train had just come from the airport so instead of there being a cycle store there was over a dozen suitcases in its place. I wasn't too happy about this and tried to rearrange the cases so that I could get my bike in. Luckily after a few more stops most of the luggage had gone. At Bolton a large group of loud middle aged Boltonian women boarded the train on a hen party with eight bottles of champagne. They were harmless but very noisy and by the time they got to Windermere they had finished all eight bottles of champagne, at  8:30am! A few other bikers got on the train at Chorley and Preston, both heading to the Lakes, one was staying at a campsite near Stavely and the other just cycling for the day then returning on an evening train.

My bike at Waterhead Piers, Ambleside

Windermere was cool and overcast but dry. The plan now was to cycle along the main A591 road from Windermere to Ambleside which I had driven along hundreds of times. I left the station and joined the road. To my delight the first mile is all down hill. I was at Troutbeck Bridge in about five minutes! I continued along the road, which was safe enough or in places I cycled along the roadside path. I started to realise the benefits of being on a bike. I could stop whenever I wanted. The moment something caught my eye I could just stop and look at it or take photos. You can't do that in a car, unless you are in the remote parts of Scotland. I loved the freedom the bike was giving me, I stopped on several occasions to look over walls into fields and rivers to views I have driven past hundreds of times and never had the chance to see. Less than fifteen minutes later I was stood at the Waterhead Piers at Ambleside. I couldn't believe how easy the last twenty minutes were and I was asking myself why on earth I had not done this before. There must be dozens of walks I could do by getting the train to Windermere then a short bike ride. When I reached the town centre of Ambleside I locked the bike against the bike racks outside The Climbers Shop and headed to the gear shops for an hour fondling gear I know I can't afford and probably don't really need. There was a nice Marmot Mica jacket in Adventure Peaks for just seventy five pounds caught my eye. I was packing my favourite lightweight waterproof jacket, The North Face Triumph, on Friday night when I noticed the heat welded seems had come apart. Probably my own fault for putting it in the wash or something. One item of clothing I was looking for was Ice Breaker merino base layers at reduced prices. My recent weight loss is allowing me to wear more technical kit that would in the past have looked daft on me. I need something for short trips like this that wouldn't smell so I could take just the one garment instead of packing two. Unfortunately there was a slight oversight. I hadn't realised just how sweaty I would be by the time I'd cycled to Ambleside. There was no way I was going to try anything on whilst in such a sweaty state. I opted to keep my credit and debit cards safely in the wallet on this occasion despite seeing some good bargains, especially in The Mountain Factor. Another shop that I thought was excellent was the bike shop Biketreks behind the Bridge House. They had very useful waterproof A4 maps of bike rides in the surrounding area for a few quid.

Helm Crag above Grasmere from Loughrigg Terrace

I was hungry so decided to look for somewhere to eat. One place that has always intrigued me in Ambleside is the famous Apple Pie Cafe. The prices were a little higher than I wanted to pay but the food was excellent and the surroundings very comfy. I had a brie and Mediterranean toastie with freshly made beetroot and apple juice. Sadly I was too full after it to sample the famous apple pie. I unlocked my bike and continued my route along the A591 in the direction of Grasmere. Again this stretch of road was such a delight to be done on the bike as I could stop whenever I wanted and peer into the rivers, woodlands, lakes and mountains on the other side of the stone walls that would normally block the view from my car window. I cycled as far as the car parks at White Moss Wood then tried to find a safe place to lock the bike in one of the car parks. I was frustrated to find a lack of facilities for locking up bikes in any car park I visited over the weekend. I had to lock the bike to a tree in the end off the beaten track. My helmet has a big enough hole for my lock to fit through so I locked that to the bike too. In hindsight I should also have left my dry bag with bike tools and hidden it in a tree close by. Now on foot I crossed the wooden bridge over the River Rothay, then ascended a path through the delightful White Moss Woods to reach the bridleway beneath Loughrigg Fell. I turned right at the bridleway and ascended it to Loughrigg Terrace. By now the weather had improved again and the overcast conditions gave way to sunshine and blue skies. The views from Loughrigg Terrace over the colourful White Moss Woods to Helm Crag above Grasmere were awesome. When I reached the far end of Loughrigg Fell I turned left and ascended the rocky path to the summit. I have been along Loughrigg Terrace before but I've never walked up to Loughrigg Fell's summit. The views from the top were fabulous. The clouds were just starting to lift above some of the higher summits. The Langdale Pikes in particular looked incredibly atmospheric with cloud lifting from them. A nice chap offered to take my photo on the summit after seeing me struggle to hold the camera at my own face at arms length. I climbed on top of the stone trig pillar and threw my arms open as if I were on top of the world, when in reality I was at only 335m above sea level.

Rydal Cave on Loughrigg Fell

I descended back down the summit path and then Loughrigg Terrace until a point where a path goes off to the right and joins up with the bridleway to Rydal Cave. I have visited this cave before. I remember the first time I saw it, I couldn't believe my eyes. It is a huge old quarry chamber with a permanent lake inside. The lake is teeming with tiny fish and has some slippery stepping stones you can cross. I heard a father telling his child to look at the bats flying in and out of the cave, I looked up hoping to see them but soon realised he was mistaking swallows for bats. I descended the bridleway back to White Moss Wood and made my way back to the my bike which was still hidden in the trees. I got myself ready for the short bike ride to Grasmere and set off again along the A591. I was starting to get a sore pain between my legs and realised I was starting to suffer from chafing. It was then that I started to think my plan of only carrying cycling boxers may have been a mistake. The substantial sponge padding in my cycling shorts is great for sitting on a narrow bike seat but no so good when rubbing against my crotch when walking up and down a hill. It wasn't too serious yet but I could certainly feel it. After less than quarter of an hour I found myself cycling into Grasmere which was bustling with tourists and walkers. It is a lovely village. I very rarely stop there as the parking charges in Grasmere are absolutely extortionate, as it often is in these Lakeland honey pots. I found cycle racks by the Grasmere Common which was unfortunately right next to the ice cream shop that I couldn't resist. I sat in the common and ate my ice cream in the sun. I had a walk around Grasmere and had a look at a few menu boards to decide where to eat later. I had texted my mate Steve earlier in the day who told me that his brother and sister-in-law were in Grasmere for the day as they were staying up the road in Keswick. Whilst I was looking at one of the menu boards I spotted them across the road so went over for a good chat. I had a look around the Cotswold Outdoor Rock Bottom shop then made my way to the church where I visited the grave of former Grasmere resident and of the world's most famous poets William Wordsworth. He loved Grasmere and wrote of it "The loveliest spot that man hath ever found". His passion for the natural world is evident in his work. As I stood gazing at his grave I felt surprisingly humbled. Then just as I was about to leave a Robin landed on top of the grave stone. It was perfect. "Art thou the bird whom Man loves best, The pious bird with the scarlet breast, Our little English Robin" William Wordsworth.

The grave of William Wordsworth

I really needed a shower, so I headed to the Thorney How independent hostel where I had booked a bunk bed with breakfast. The views from the road outside the hostel were absolutely stunning. I stood there for ages taking in the incredible scenery towards Seat Sandal, Great Tongue, Helvellyn and Great Rigg. I met one of the friendly owners at reception who showed me the secure shed where I could store my bike. I got my key and headed to my room. The view out of the window was the top third of the view I had been taking in from the track. There was no one else in my bunk room yet so I took full advantage and had an hour long power nap after having a shower. The shower situation was a little confusing. The gents room was the size of the cupboard underneath our stairs with a toilet and small sink. The ladies was almost the size of our entire downstairs at home and with four cubicles three sinks and a shower. I counted only three women to twenty men so far in the hostel so this was quite confusing. I wasn't going to go without a shower in such daft circumstances so I ignored the signs and enjoyed my shower. I have since read that the hostel are trying to get planning permission to increase the bathroom capacity. I heard a noise at the door and realised my quiet room may no longer be my own. Luckily I had finished rubbing vaseline on my chaffed crotch by the time they entered! Five young Thai lads entered the room and all five said hello. I could not have wished for nicer hostel guests. They were incredibly polite, clean and most importantly quiet. I left the hostel and cycled down to Grasmere for some food. I found the menu board of the Ash Cottage Hotel Restaurant to be fairly reasonable. I sat outside with my bike and feared my meal would be ruined by a drunken idiot from a wedding across the road who sat at his table breaking wind and being loud mouthed with opinions of how he hated the Scots and Welsh because they 'got everything for free'. Luckily this idiot left before my food arrived. I cycled back to the hostel via the small co-op supermarket to get drinks for tomorrow's walk. I had a sound nights sleep as I had my ear plugs, eye mask and quiet guests.

Heron Island in misty Rydal Water

One thing I had thought about doing on this trip was wild camping. The night before I checked the MWIS forecast that was pinned up in the hostel and saw what looked to be ideal conditions for cloud inversions and valley mist in the morning. When I woke up on Sunday I looked out of the window and sure enough it was misty yet you could just tell the sun was trying to burn through. If anyone was camping up on a mountain that morning they would have had an incredible sight. Continental breakfast is included in the price at the hostel so in the morning I packed up and made my way to the dining area. The breakfast included warm croissants, a pot of tea, fruit, cereal and juice. At the reception there was a pile of huge flapjacks for sale for a pound each. If there is one thing I can't resist its flapjack! I went outside to grab my bike from the shed and headed towards the gate to the track. At the gate was a lovely grey cat that lives at the hostel. I played with the cat then started off along the track down to Grasmere. The track was great at the beginning, down hill and fast but also rough enough to make you have to think about it. When I reached the meadow by the side of the track to Helm Crag I realised the strange white things in the grass were actually beautiful dew covered spiders webs. Grasmere village was like a ghost town early on Sunday morning, not a soul in sight and nowhere open. It was still misty as I passed Grasmere and headed along the A591 on the start of my return leg. I passed the car park at White Moss Wood where I started my walk the day before. As I reached Rydal Water the sun was just starting to break through the mist. I sat on the stone wall by the side of the road for about half an hour and watched Rydal Water turn from dark, cold and misty to bright, warm and atmospheric. It was an incredible half hour. Doing what I do and going where I go I do get to see some amazing things. Some of these things can have an incredibly humbling effect on any human being. I have seen fellow walkers brought to tears by awesome sights and have a few moments like this myself each year. As I stood taking photos of an incredible Heron Island a dozen geese fly towards me across the lake, they turn a few metres above me then landed on the water right in front of me. The joy of being where I was and what I was experiencing was really overwhelming. The photos I took are really good but none of them could ever do it justice.

Misty Rydal Water with Loughrigg Fell above

By the time I made it to Rydal, where I planned to lock up the bike, the chafing from the day before was really starting to bother me. I couldn't find anywhere to lock the bike so once again I had to lock it to a narrow tree. I managed to find a patch of woodland behind the telephone box on the main road where I could lock it up out of sight. I applied more vaseline and headed on foot up the road towards Rydal Hall. By the time I had made it to the path to Nab Scar the chafing was annoying me so much that I had to do something about it. Walking in cycling shorts is something I'll never do again. I decided to go commando in my Ron Hills. I have to admit I was worried about how drafty this solution would be on the tops but I had nothing to worry about and the experience was surprisingly invigorating! A short steep climb and I was soon on top of Nab Scar with a now completely mist free clear view to Loughrigg Fell across Rydal Water below me. This is the first of eight Wainwright tops on the Fairfield Horseshoe. I continued ascending the ridge until I eventually found myself on top of Heron Pike. From the summit of Heron Pike you can see the entire Fairfield Horseshoe route and all eight of the Wainwright tops. I continued along the ridge, admiring the incredible views down to Rydal Beck on my right. There was a steep ascent on to Great Rigg before a final slog up on to Fairfield's wide summit plateau. The last time I was on this plateau I was in full winter gear on slippery ice on top of a three foot deep covering of snow. The last time I climbed Fairfield I approached from Hartsop and the Hartsop Above How ridge on the eastern side of the mountain. Today the summit was cold, windy and hazy. There wasn't much of a view from the lofty summit so I headed back over to the south facing edge of the plateau to enjoy the panoramic view of my route whilst eating the tasty flapjack from the hostel.

Fairfield Horseshoe from Heron Pike

From Fairfield I made my way along the windy Link Hause to Hart Crag. The last time I was on Hart Crag after ascending Hartsop Above How in winter conditions, I had one of those moments I spoke about earlier. I hadn't seen anything other than cloud and white snow all the way along the ridge. When I reached this summit cairn I looked towards Windermere and watched in amazement as the clouds opened up to reveal a cloud inversion over Ambleside and Windermere. Today it was just windy and hazy. I made my way across to Dove Crag then followed the big stone wall down the long gentle ridge to High Pike. The right of way seems to follow the western side of the wall yet the path seems to be more defined on the eastern side until a boggy area just before High Pike. It was hard to know which side of the tall wall to stay on. This descent route felt really long. I don't know if it was just tiredness but it felt like it went on forever. I finally reached Low Pike and had a quick look at the map to search for ways to get back over to Rydal without going all the way down to Ambleside. It turned out there was no route over to Rydal so I had to follow the track over Low Sweden Bridge and then the road down to Ambleside. I thought about jumping on a bus to Rydal but decided against it and instead walked along the road back to Rydal and my bike. The bike was till there hidden away in the woods behind the telephone box. There were a few people stood waiting for a bus on the opposite side of the road who frowned as I appeared carrying my bike out of the wood and over the stone wall. I stayed commando and started my final leg back to Windermere via Ambleside. I stopped at the excellent fudge shop in Ambleside to get a present for my wife. One thing I was fearing about my final leg was that it was mostly up hill. It wasn't as hard as I thought it would be. I stopped off at the Spar in Troutbeck Bridge to quench my first with cold apple juice. The hardest part of the final leg was always going to be the final ascent up to the station in Windermere. It was hard going but I managed to do it. I had an hour to spare in Windermere so I found somewhere to eat. I found the Thai Brasserie on Main Road. They had a lunch time menu with tasty Thai meals at only £5.95. It was the best value I'd seen all weekend and tasted delicious. I bought the latest copy of TGO magazine from WH Smiths for my journey home then made my way to the station. I read my magazine on the way home and kept thinking about things I had seen and done over the weekend. It was a brilliant weekend and I will definitely be taking advantage of the trains from Manchester to Windermere more often at weekends.

I have uploaded the photos from the Saturday here and Sunday here.

Route Map...


  1. Welcome to my world! :) Though I have to admit Jamie I don't do much of the cycling anymore. Mainly because of overcrowded trains at the weekend. Nightmare! But it's not so bad in the week.

    Think of the possibilities now though - you could get off the train at Kendal and explore the far eastern fells. Cycle to Mosedale Cottage :) Head up the track more, lock the bike behind some boulders and head off on foot for a camp on the fells another night.

    Incidentally, the bus network in the Lakes aint too bad. It's not as frequent or as extensive as in the Peak District - or cheap for that matter! Snowdonias is OK and about the cheapest of the lot.

    I say all this, because I don't drive.... ;) And folk wonder how on earth I get about. It is easier when you have the time admittedly, and weekend trips are easier with the car. But it can be done.

    Didn't do Wainwright any harm eh?

  2. Hi Terry, or should that be 'personality of the year'? Bet you've been getting some grief for that! Ha Ha, in all serious though well done matey! The possibilities are so exciting now I realise I can get to the Lakes for a weekend in this way. That does surprise me that you don't drive as you don't half get about! Aye very true AW certainly made his way around without one.

  3. Really enjoyed your report and pics Jamie. I'm another who uses public transport to get to a lot of my walks although in my case I was forced into it by teenagers passing their tests and nicking the car! I'm a real convert now though as I find the journey home really relaxing and stress free with non of the worry of falling asleep at the wheel.

  4. Hostel looks great and a good option as I think the old YHA Thorney How hostel has closed now.....?

  5. A thoroughly enjoyable read was this! Amazing photography too, excellent post.
    I finally managed to get a Lake District walk in last weekend, and it was all done by public transport - as I don't drive. A task to be fair, but was well worth it! I went from Carlisle, I might try Penrith next time :)
    Cheers Steve.

  6. Glad you all liked the report, was a great trip. I think the independent Thorney How is the same building as the original YHA one. Added you to my blogroll btw Howellsey. :-)

  7. Was looking to take a trip in the next couple weeks up there. Used to be in Dundee and just drive over but now I'm in London and car less -- appreciate the travel ideas because it may be frustrating with the kit. Like you said though, would we want a train going through the hills? There is a lot of deals on Groupon to stay near some great routes I've been checking out.
    Thanks for the extensive report and maybe I'll see you out there on the next munro!

  8. Great stuff Jamie... Now properly car free again, I too am assessing the bike and hike options from home, and there are plenty! As Terry says, there's some great riding to be had out East and, particularly, 'oop north behind Skidda' All power to the velo!