The Other Borrowdale
Stats: 15.3 miles and 2,100 feet of ascent
OS Map: Refreshments
This is proper wilderness riding, so it’s whatever you can forage from the deeper recesses of your ‘sac.
If you have a friend who reckons they know Lakeland, ask them if they know the esoteric valley of Borrowdale and watch the look of confusion clamber over their face like a first-time climber.
This Borrowdale, of course, is very different from its famous namesake, being tucked away in the shy wedge of cragless land between the A6 and M6. Ride it if you like escaping the hordes, ride it if you like that sense of exploring or ride it if you just like riding. But pick a dry day if you don’t want to carve the swoopy descent from the repeater station.
Start point: There’s a generous layby on the east side of the A6 at the bottom of the hill to Garth Row.
1. From the layby, head north on the A6 for a few turns of the crank then bear right on the lane to Whinfell. Fork almost immediately left onto the encouragingly-named Dry Lane which, puzzlingly, bears a “liable to flooding” notice.
2. Cross the road by a small caravan park, where the byway turns to grass.
3. Splash over a tiny ford then pass the minu-school establishment of Selside Primary
4. Fork right and right again at some poly-tunnels. Follow to the end of the byway then turn left, descending on tarmac to the pylons and bridleway signed to Guestford, ½ mile.
5. There’s a sporting ford (axle deep when I did it) over the River Mint which will get you nice and clean (Minty fresh?), then the plodgy farmyard at Guestford will clart you straight back up again.
6. Take tarmac lanes skirting to the right. Just before Tarnside, turn left onto a surprisingly paved bridleway that leads you all the way from 170 m to 410 m, with a fine sweep over your shoulder from the Howgills, the Southern Dales, the Lancashire moors and the South Lakes.
7. Ignore the road to the second mast – you’ve done enough climbing for now. Instead, strike off diagonally across the grassy fellside (squidgy in damp weather) on a track that quickly establishes itself. Drop through sparse woodland into the lonely valley with the famous name. At one point, there’s an incongruous glimpse of the traffic busying up and down the M6.
8. Turn left to follow the track up the valley, ignoring the unmarked bridleway climbing up and right from Low Borrowdale. There’s a faintly Scottish feel here, with coniferous forest up to your left and a wide, gravelled bed to the river. When you have the chance, cross the bridge at 569031 to gain the true right bank.
9. At the top of the valley, fork left before the stepping stones, climbing to the A6 at 294m.
10. Point the wheels downhill toward Kendal, but leave the road almost immediately to rattle down a superb trail alongside woodland, almost as far as Ashstead.
11. Turn right, doubling back over Ashstead Gill and turn left at the cattle-grid to regain the A6.
12. Cross with care (this road is a favourite haunt of mad motorcyclists) to pick up the bridleway to Bannisdale High Bridge.
13. Pick up another bridleway to Plough Farm, joining the A6 for a third time.
14. To avoid covering any distance on a single-digit A-road, take the short-cut through Watchgate. If you want to maximise your off-road distance, you could even wend through to Selside School and return on Dry Lane.