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Tour of Coniston By Ben Freeman Picture comments by Paul Warnock  

"The Hell of the North" A classic Winter ride in the Lake District without your insanely-dedicated Editor? What was going on?

Total distance 33 miles (27 miles with shortcut): Ride starts in Coniston here

This route is from our sister site Offroad Adventures-Online look under Offroad Adventures, Single day epics for the route description and maps.

Part 1 Coniston to Seathwaite
For an MTBBritain ride, this one was more eventful than most. First off Gareth crashed his car the night before so three of the five riders were looking like pulling out. In the end Paul drove up on his own and we both met up with our guide for the day, 17 year old Tom, in Coniston. First impressions ' he looked woefully ill prepared ' it was subzero in the car park, mid winter, and we were about to climb up really high and he only had shorts, thin socks and trainers on! What Paul & I didn't realise was that Tom was super fit and would keep warm by selecting the highest gear his bike had and storming up all the hills at mach 6.

He probably did shiver waiting for us to catch up but we never witnessed that as we never did catch him up! Anyway, off we set at a fair pace on the road towards Grizedale Forest. I was smugly thinking 'He's young and showing off with a ridiculous starting pace for such a long route, he'll burn out soon.' ' six hours later he was still flying along, occasionally asking if we needed to stop to recover (or have a heart & lung transplant). The climb up along the East shore of Lake Coniston gave us a beautiful view of the central Lakeland mountains, all topped with icing sugar snow and gave ample photo opportunities.

The climb was followed by a superb, fast, rocky, loose, stepped descent to High Nibthwaite which gave Paul & I our first opportunity to open up a lead on young Tom (full suspension beats hard tail on a really rocky descent). After congratulating ourselves for making the effort to get out on such a beautiful winters day for such high quality down hill single track, we set off on the next stage; a scenic trip along Woodland Fell from Blawith to Broughton Mills. It was mainly single track up & down over fells, but with the added complication that the ground was frozen solid, so the smallest rut could throw you off the bike with consummate ease. When we stopped for a break, we met up with a fell runner who was complaining about the treacherous frozen conditions ' for once being on a bike was an advantage for grip ' we could fly over ground when fell runners were stalling! From Broughton Mills, we should have had a section of off road, but as we were running out of daylight and Paul & I were showing our age, we took a road shortcut over Dunnerdale Fells ' which was not uneventful: a short hard slog up the road, followed by a 1 in 4 road descent with huge patches of sheer ice all over the road.

Paul & I stopped at the first great patch to inspect it (highly irritating stopping mid down hill, but it looked very dodgy). Seconds later, Tom flew past sliding along the ground on his side at about 30 mph. Yep ' that bit was too icy to ride. Good call Paul.

Part 2 Walna Scar Road
Walna Scar Road is very much a route of two halves, on the West side is a massive climb from Seathwaite (100m) up to the top of Walna Scar Road (620m). This was a slog, but we were basked in the glow of the setting sun, which made up for the fact the air temperature was about '6 'C near the top. What we didn't realise, till we got to the top, was that if one side was basked in sun all day, the other would be in shade and shade + winter + sub zero temps = ice. Sheet ice to be exact.

From the very top of the climb to 1/3 of the way down the descent. At this point, something amazing happened, Tom decided to put on extra clothes ' admittedly it was full on DH shin & knee pads rather that a jumper, or maybe some trousers ' but it was a sign he was possibly a normal mortal and that made us feel better. Luckily the ice on the downhill was punctuated by rocks so it was ride-able with care ' but its always a bad sign if you're cycling past walkers wearing crampons.... you know its only a matter of time till you come flying off! And what a descent ' it goes on and on and on. Definitely one for big travel full suspension, fast, very rocky, loose and with some big (10'+ ) drop offs. Paul & I went belting down and I only came off on the ice once.

From the bottom of the DH its only a ten minute downhill road ride back to Coniston, normally a breeze, but as it was now dark & very cold, the road had swathes of sheet ice on it, which I only discovered at 20 mph+. (Rule #1 winter riding - never be the first to go downhill when its sub zero, let someone else go first and find the ice for you).
How to sum up the ride? It's long (26 miles with the short cut), its hard ' you're looking at six hours on a full susser with 2.3' tyres, but with one of the longest downhill sections which is fully ride-able at speed (even with ice on it). On a clear winters day there's no more beautiful place in the UK than the Lake District, and no more a rewarding route than this one! 

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