Author: Beth Kennedy, Lake District National Park Volunteer Team Leader
You’d have to have your head buried some way in the ground for the past few months if you’ve managed to miss the fact that the Lake District National Park has recently become a World Heritage Site, joining the likes of the Taj Mahal and the Great Barrier Reef. In celebration and recognition of this triumph, our friends at British Cycling decided to dedicate 13 of their amazing, and free, guided bike rides to the 13 valleys of the Lake District which are celebrated through World Heritage status. We thought it would be a nice idea to send a member of Lake District National Park staff along on each of these rides to help explain what it’s all about. Last Saturday, that member of staff was me. I was wearing two hats (helmets?) on that day acting as an ambassador for the National Park but also as a tourist in my own back garden and I had a fantastic time. There is a whole programme of rides to choose from all over the Lake District and here are four reasons I think you should go on one.
You’d be forgiven for thinking that cycling in the Lake District, famed for its mountainous landscape, is a ludicrous idea. I certainly did when I moved up here from London, where the only hills we summit are the ones to get out of an underground station! However, local volunteers who know the lay of the land have carefully planned routes which vary in length and difficulty so that even the most casual of cyclists can enjoy a gentle ride thorough quiet lanes and on relatively flat ground. The route I went on from Brockhole, across Windermere via special bike boat and on to the village of Hawkshead before looping back round to the lake, was a lovely 12 miles at a nice pace over gently rolling ground. Our group was a mixture of experienced cyclists and those who hadn’t been on a bike in a long time, there was even an 8 year old who did just fine! Give it a go, you’d be surprised at just how do-able it is and you may just find yourself eager to get out again the very next day!
Honestly, these local, expert volunteers really know their stuff. This tour took us to Beatrix Potter’s cottage that typifies the local architecture and sits in a blooming garden that looks all too familiar to anyone who grew up with her stories. Did you know she spent her fortune buying up land to protect it and eventually leave to the National Trust? Bark barn where our boat landed is a building that was used to, you guessed it, store bark, which was part of the tanning process and the production of leather, just one example of the rich industrial history of the Lake District. There is such a wealth of information stretching back millennia to the retreat of the glaciers that formed the lakes themselves and it’s such a treat to cycle round with people who can tell you all about it.
The Lake District, defined by mountains and water, is not the easiest of places to get around without a car. But it is definitely possible and when you leave the car behind you get that much closer to the natural environment and can experience it on a completely different level. Why not make a car-free day of it and either cycle to the start point or aim to use public transport, most of which in Cumbria welcomes you to bring your bike aboard. This tour started at Brockhole, the Lake District Visitor Centre (brilliant if you don’t have a bike as you can hire them here) which is serviced by hourly buses so easily accessible from Coniston, Hawkshead, Keswick, Grasmere, Kendal and Lancaster and is also just a stone’s throw from Windermere town which has a train station. From there we went aboard a special bike boat which took us to the west side of the lake from where we started the ride proper. Getting around like this feels like so much more of an adventure. Take a look at the Go Lakes Travel website for more ideas on how to get around.
You’re all on bikes, you’ve all decided to go on a guided ride and surely you must all share a love for the Lake District so there’s every chance you’ll get along with the people you meet and maybe even make new friends.
I can’t recommend these rides highly enough. Running through October there are still plenty of rides to go, including those extra special World Heritage ones with a member of Lake District National Park member of staff on hand to share what it’s all about. You can book a free ride on the Let’s Ride website.