In the Gospel According to Wainwright, any coast-to-coast journey must begin with the ceremonial dipping of a toe in the Irish Sea. In our case, make that a non-ferrous front wheel. This is a hard day with rocky tracks and areas that require good navigation. If you have a GPS device, use it and trust it. If you don’t have a gps device to use, take care and in poor visibility detour along the road to Walna Scar. Good navigation skills are essential on these high fells where tracks are not always visible.
Be aware that this is a mountain bike route and riders often finish the day wet and muddy. Eskdale will give you a chance to warm up before the climbing begins. Walna Scar track is in just about every classic mtb route guide. It is however very rocky and technical. The pain is worth the gain, as you’ll experience what this route is all about – a challenging real mtb trip.
1. Leave Ravenglass on Main Street. Carry straight on at Holly House Hotel with the Mite estuary on your left. Pass the railway station and duck under the national railway line. Soon after, pass under the much smaller La’al Ratty line.
2. Pass the campsite on your right and go under the big pylons. Turn right onto the A595 on a swooping bend. Look out for traffic here but there’s barely half a mile of A-road to do. Where the 595 swerves ninety degrees right, go onto a bridleway called Fell Lane going straight on.
3. Climb steadily to a junction just below Muncaster Tarn, and drop to High Eskholme.
From here, skirt the foot of Muncaster Fell on good bridleway past the farm of Muncaster Head to the road at Forge House.
4. Go left on the road for a few yards to the bridge and take the bridleway on the south side of the river. This leads through pleasant woodland for three and a half miles along the bottom of the valley to Whahouse Bridge.
5. Rejoin the road, albeit briefly, going up to the vertiginous foot of Hardknott Pass. At Jubilee Bridge, cut back on yourself on the right over the river. Climb steeply on a raking path that perversely brings you back west.
6. Gain the col between Harter Fell and Ulpha Fell on rough ground. You will need confident skills at both riding and route-finding here.
7. Look especially carefully for the bridleway fork at SD214988. You want to go right here, down to the farm at Grassguards. At the time of writing (autumn 2014) the terrain has been substantially reshaped by clear felling. It’s not all bad news as the long-term plan is to replace much of the coniferous monotony with proper, broad-leafed woodland. In the meantime, we have to be patient with the rather messy Work In Progress.
8. Drop down the northern side of the stream to the rickety wire supporting the stepping stones across the Duddon at SD228976. Ride up to the road then turn right to drop down joyous swoop of tarmac across Tarn Beck to the gauntlet-dropping sign “Coniston: Unfit for Cars.”
9. Climb. Climb like you’ve never climbed before. The way is steep. The way is rough. But the way is good. After considerable collar-work, gain the satisfyingly decisive brow of Walna Scar.
10. All that remains is braking, poise and concentration to avoid walkers, wandering sheep and gravelly hairpins on this rocky trail. At least there’s no more pedalling for a while. Follow the obvious line to Coniston and a pint.