My first tonne, a couple of red runs at Winlatter and some 'E'-numbers at shepherds - all in a weekends work!
I think I’ve mentioned before that Jules and I had been plotting a cycling trip down to the lakes for a while. Her parents have and awesome house in the middle of the countryside not far from Carlisle and Jules has previously cycled back from there a couple of times before. The route is just over 100 miles in distance and I was flattered when she suggested I’d be a capable partner to do it with again! Since her parents were away enjoying their retirement - inter-railing on the continent and grateful for house-sitters, we penciled in a couple of weekends where Tom and Lucy could come up and join us from Manchester. The idea was to take the Friday off work to cycle leaving a weekend free still for adventures with Tom and Lucy and Ross, be it climbing, mountain biking or beer drinking to keep out of the rain. The weather wasn’t looking too good for the Friday though (or the rest of the weekend for that matter) leaving us unsure if we should postpone the cycling until the next lakes weekend. With our minds ready for a 4-day week we were reluctant to change the plans and decided to go for it anyway, hoping that the heavy rain forecast was as intermittent as suggested and that we’d at least dry off in between down-pours. Besides, if the rest of the weekend was to be a wash-out we wanted to get some adventure in where we could and although its grim, you can definitely ride in the rain, you can’t climb in the rain!
Once we had made the decision I started to get really psyched about a day of adventure rather than work, although small pangs of anxiety still rumbled deep about if I’d be able to do the 100 without snapping my injured knees or holding Julesy up too terribly on her fast new bike.
Once we woke up the Friday, donning our Lycra and filling our bellies full of coffee and porridge (breakfast of champions!) those rumblings were suppressed by excitement thanks to Julesy’s typically kind reassurance and good light-hearted banter putting me at ease. ￼
(all ready to set off from Julesy’s flat in Edinburgh)
It took a while to get out of the bilge of Edinburgh morning traffic and onto the quieter roads, but once we did it was well worth it. The ride out to Innerleithen passed by quickly, seeing us already a third of the way there. The road from there all the way to Langholm was a road riders dream! Hardly any vehicles and stunning views, it was hard to believe this wee road existed down the middle of the country! We were able to ride side by side for a lot of the way enabling us to yap away for a good part of it and this helped some of the more taxing inclines pass by without much stress.
Predictably, at about 45 miles my energy levels started to crash despite filling my face with Jelly Babies since leaving Julesy’s flat. This happens to me every single bike ride and I never learn to realise what it is.
Frustratingly cycling very slowly into a headwind up a very slight incline with energies lacking sent me into a downward spiral of disbelief and utter exhaustion. I was glad to hear Jules was suffering similarly and we therefore stopped for a toilet break and a sandwich. Despite feeling just minutes before that I wouldn’t be able to continue any longer, I miraculously felt 100% better soon after eating and we pushed on to reach ‘halfway bridge’ at about 50 miles.
(At halfway bridge)
Things went much better for the next 20 miles despite getting rained on and still facing blustery head winds at times but we reached Langholm feeling relatively fresh still. I knew at this point I’d definitely be able to complete the ride. However, being the first settlement we’d come across for 50 miles we made the most of the wee cafe in the town-centre and stocked up on caffeine. From here in we spent a bit of time on the A7 and the roads, although still reasonably scenic, definitely got busier in relation to what we had been previously spoiled with. My knees were really beginning to break at this point and I will happily admit to shamefully drafting Julesy in order to not get left behind down a blustery A7.
As we approached the last 10 miles or so I was near breaking point with the pain in my knees but pleased as punch that we’d nearly done it. The last four miles, traipsing around Cumbria in a desperate mission to find a pub to celebrate in, (unsuccessfully!) were the hardest cycling I’ve ever done and I was so happy to see the house come into view!
(sweaty and tired but we made it to Jules’ parents)
Since Julesys folks were away they hadn’t left the fridge well stocked and we celebrated finishing by sharing the one beer that was there and poaching some duck eggs to have without any bread. Since we had no clothes ‘til Ross arrived our post shower outfits consisted of one of Julesy’s dad’s jumpers and her mum’s leggings. Even in our matching flattering outfits we decided it was worth popping to the coop to get some celebratory booze in whilst we waited for Ross. When he arrived we ate steak, drank good quality whiskey and went to bed awaiting stiff legs in the morning.
Thankfully my muscles weren’t too stiff which was beneficial since we were off to Keswick to meet Tom and Luce and head out mountain biking at Winlatter trail park! Unfortunately whilst trying to tackle uphill terrain which I should usually be more than capable of I realised that whilst my legs were relatively fresh, my core and shoulders were not, meaning my balance was shocking and pushing over opposition as feeble as a tree route was near impossible. I still had a great time chucking myself around the berms and managed to fall off a couple of times too. Once on a very straightforward section of incline where I totally lost balance and went sliding down a banking of nettles, fishing my bike out by the rear tyre! And the second time I amused everyone by tipping off sideways to fall into a mudbath. A wee upward pointing slate paver that I didn’t keep enough momentum up on to just roll over bounced me off. Not that I’m blaming Lucy AT ALL (it was definitely her fault!) but my lack of speed on this section might have had something to do with having to slam on the brakes so as not to pile into the back of her!
(team mtb tackle the reds at Winlatter)
Somehow we managed to avoid the rain until we were back in the cars and it started to chuck it down. Impeccable luck once again!
Despite missing the rain I was pretty soggy from my mud bath and the hot shower, roaring open fire and roast lamb back at Julesy’s parents was something to look forward to. After a good feed and a few lush ales suffice to say it didnt take long before I was nodding off in front of the fire and had to turn in!
Sunday morning. Round 3. Poached duck eggs, porridge and coffee. The breakfasts were getting bigger! Not sure how I was still standing but we were headed to shepherds in surprising sunshine to meet Ross’ pal Lindsay from Edinburgh to do some trad. I am often wrongly discerning about shepherds, assuming that people would only climb there if they had no imagination to explore the other awesome crags on offer in the area and I always think it will be mobbed with all kinds of punters queuing up to do little chamomix who’s mere prescence will annoy me beyond all sensible realms to bring out my angry alter ego. This is not at all an accurate picture of how shepherds really is. Besides most of that picture being entirely wrong or at least highly exaggerated it is also completely ignoring the fantastic quality of accessible single pitch climbing of all grades on offer there. In fact, the last couple of visits I’ve had have been pleasantly surprising. It was certainly a good choice for a day like that Sunday, where we started relatively late, we were meeting another person (shepherds cafe is awesome) and there was a possibility the weather might crap out so we didn’t want to invest too much in the walk in.
Julesy and I teamed up to start on ‘Adam’ a VS 5a that we split into two pitches, Jules taking the first pitch and me the second. The first pitch, though short, looked much easier than it was and with an unfocused seconds head on, the polished holds gave me a bit of a rude awakening to the days climbing. Props to Jules for the lead! Thankfully I’d got my shit together enough for the next pitch which I can honestly say was 25m of pure enjoyment! Properly awesome sustained climbing over steep terrain but with huge hidden jugsand brilliant situations!
With a bit of inspiration after completing that route I persuaded Jules to join me in doing ‘P.S.’ a 2 pitch E1 just to the right of Adam and Eve. I talked Jules into leading the 5a pitch to begin with, which was exciting as she had only just lead 4c for the first time the week before. I knew she was up to it so long as she kept her head and made some sensible gear choices. Her arm was twisted when I suggested I could spot a bomber #2 Camelot placement at what looked to be the crux and I was sure she’d be able to lower off this if things got too much and I needed to take over. Luckily I was right about the gear size and thankfully I was also right that Jules was more than up to the job. She placed bomber gear calmly and lead through the crux smoothly like a total pro! Nice one Jules!
My pitch comprised of climbing a short section of a steep crack, placing some bomber gear at the top of it and traversing right and making some committing, delicate moves before reaching good holes on the arete. I loved tackling the crack quickly and although the gear was bomber leaving it to move right was a little unnerving especially since the move required a static cross-through which felt like I was going to barn-door at any point. Thankfully the move was fine and really fun but unfortunately in terms of a crux it was a bit of a one-move-wonder. It was a very enjoyable route non-the-less and a great combination to do along with 'Adam’ on that buttress!
Next up should have been Julesy’s lead but she kindly have it up so I could have a battle with an old friend- MGC! I had seconded this route a few years ago and always fancied coming back for the lead. I knew I’d enjoy the thuggy style of climbing and although I couldn’t really remember any of the beta - moves or gear - I did have the repeat ascent advantage of knowing I could do the moves clean. I was sure I was stronger than when I had seconded the route previously but there was certainly some pressure building not to fluff the moves and to find the gear, especially since Tom and Luce had now joined us at that section of the crag and had joined in the spectating (thanks to them for also shooting some cool pics whilst watching the excitement unfold).
(After pulling through the top-crux at the bulge)
A small black Alien cam and #1 Wall-nut protected the first crux for me, which I made hard for myself for stupidly forgetting to deploy a heel hook. I yarded my way up non-the-less, composed myself on the large flake, getting some bomber gear in and dispatched the next set of moves through the bulge.
(chilling after dispatching the main crux and filling the crack with gear before tackling the second crux when well rested)
Sat on top of the belay whilst Jules came up and then Tom and Luce both had a go on a rope, I smiled in disbelief. Not sure I can think of an alternative way to accurately finish this blog, so in the danger of sound like a stuck record…ANOTHER truly fantastic weekend. Jesus its going to be emotional leaving in two weeks!
What next…I’ll be seeing Sarah for some 30th hip-hop celebrations next weekend and with this string of good luck surely Ross and I will get to go and do the needle…all I can say is watch this space!! There’s adventures to be squeezed in yet!