Day 11: Ambleside to Carlisle

Distance: 41.39 miles
Time: 3 hours 20 minutes
Average speed: 12.2 m.p.h.
Distance from Lands End: 558.92 miles
Distance to John o’Groats: 461.08 miles
Number of gates we had to open: 8
Number of Scottish bank notes received: 1

Once we knew the tandem was back in one piece and operational again last night we managed to relax, and we enjoyed dinner at Sheila’s Cottage, and a very good bottle of Zinfandel, so the Captain’s birthday hadn’t gone entirely uncelebrated!

We knew we didn’t have a long day today, so we hadn’t planned an early start, but we woke before the alarm this morning, and summoned by delicious bacon smells, found ourselves in the breakfast room before 8:30. After breakfast and the usual paranoid check for anything we might have left behind, we bid goodbye to Marcel, the big black and white house cat at Thorneyfield, who looks you straight in the eye with a spooky air of extra-terrestrial intelligence. We had been very comfortable at this guest house, with the fluffiest towels we’d encountered since Land’s End, and a genuinely warm welcome from the owners.

We left Ambleside on the Rydal road, with the early morning sun hidden now by slightly ominous clouds. As we passed Rydal Water it began to rain, but we were so glad just to be on the move again that it didn’t seem to matter a bit, and we donned our rain jackets and carried on. Rydal Water soon gave way to Grasmere, and the brief shower stopped. We could see Helms Crag now, better known as the Lion and the Lamb, on the other side of the valley.

Also looming up ahead was our first serious climb for days, Dunmail Raise – a long steady grind up to 800 feet. We’d been up Dunmail Raise in January, but it was cold, wet and misty then, so it was not surprising that it seemed much easier today. We must be fitter than we were in January, and when all your energy can go into getting you up the hill, rather than also having to keep you warm, it makes a difference. We stopped at the top to take pictures, a great view back down towards Grasmere.

After the climb, it was a good coast down to the southern end of Thirlmere, and we really enjoyed a lovely quiet section around the western side of the lake. There’s forestry and logging around Thirlmere, but no boats and very few people. Noisy jets there are, though, and we saw several hurtle past in the airspace above the lake, between the high fells on either side. It’s always been a feature of the Lakes that the idyllic peace of the countryside can be shattered by the ear-splitting scream of a jet passing at high speed overhead. It happens in the Dales too, and if you see the jet first you can sometimes get your fingers in your ears in time, as the sound follows behind the aircraft.

As we rode up to the top of the lake, a huge skein of geese (is that right?) flew overhead in V formation, honking away to each other. We turned right across the top of the dam, and took the marked cycleway through to the Threlkeld road. At Threlkeld our route coincided for a while with the official Coast to Coast cycle route, and there was a marked CTC cycle path, which we followed, avoiding the busy A66. The route took us through lots of gates, each of which we had to stop and open, but it was worth it for the wonderful traffic free cycling, as we contoured around the foot of Blencathra. A second hooting formation of geese flew over, or perhaps it was the first lot again, having problems with their GPS.

After the last gate we stopped for a water break, and were caught up by three Coast-to-Coasters who were raising money for a domestic violence refuge in their home town of Bolton. They stopped and we chatted and exchanged road stories for a while, before they headed off, having much further to go today than we did.

At Mungrisdale we rejoined the road, but it was just a tiny ribbon of tarmac threading around the foothills of Blencathra, and the views were spectacular. On each side of the road the gorse was in full bloom, and in the sunshine now the yellow flowers were almost sunflower coloured. We’d planned to stop at the pub in Hesket Newmarket for lunch, as Calvin at Ghyllside Cycles had recommended it heartily for its beers, but when we arrived we found that it doesn’t open at lunchtime during the week, unfortunately. We fortified ourselves with oat shortbread biscuits from Thorneyfield (strange combination, but very tasty), and pushed on to Sour Nook. The Inn there was open, and we had lunch, and a chat with a man rebuilding a motorhome in the grounds. He told us that a lady walking the End-to-End had come through a week before. Now that’s serious! She was doing around 10 miles a day, and taking three months over the trip. Like us, she’d be well over half way now.

After lunch in the sun in the beer garden we set off for our last ten miles into Carlisle. Strange to think that Ambleside and Carlisle are so close, when one is in the heart of the Lakes, and the other sounds like it’s nearly in Scotland. It was pretty much downhill all the way, with the Pennines just becoming visible on the horizon to the east. We located a B&B easily, mildly eccentric but perfectly good, and were quickly settled in for our evening routine.

This will be our last night in England – tomorrow we cross the border, and start the tartan leg of the trip. Hoots, etc!

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