Updated: Sep 28
WORDS & PHOTOS | Nick Archer
With the weather starting to get colder, Nick wanted to get back up the Lake District one last time, and who better to show him the sights than the locals. A day of meteorological serendipity, beautiful landscapes and good conversation with Nathan ensued.
I really love the Lake District.
I remember first seeing the mountains in 2016, rising across the distant horizon, beyond Morecambe Bay, cloaked in pale, rainy mist. Since then, their almost primordial grandeur has captivated me. I managed only a handful of walks, then this year (2021), I was finally been able to ride amongst these topographical giants, the lakes at their feet and the tarns hidden away near their summits.
With the days getting shorter and the weather becoming predictably more unpredictable, I wanted to return to the region one last time this year.
Fortunately, I had made an acquaintance in Nathan Curry at the Low Key Lakes weekender in September, organised by Will Jones of Zetland Cycles. We had gotten on well and arranged to meet at Wray Castle one weekend towards the end of November.
It was a stunning morning, crisp and bright, drenched with cool winter sunshine. I'm told this was quite a departure from the previous fortnight of near constant rain. Nathan and I found each other and treated ourselves to hot coffee from Joey's Cafe.
Breaking out the paper map he had brought (a nod to the analogue fun of Low Key Lakes) and began plotting our course. It was here that Wiley and Rachel arrived to see what we were cooking up.
The three of them form the core group of Ambleside Social Bike Club, the details of who, what, where and why are practically contained within it's name.
The group has been organising social rides for nearly a year, led so far by Nathan, although they are working on bringing on more ride leaders as their numbers increase. That said, it's conception was not born out of anything more than wanting to getting outside after months of lockdown.
'I guess that I founded Ambleside but I don't really think of it like that, there's a somewhat more to it than that.' - Nathan
'A group of us were involved in a kind of DIY intro to rugby 7s group which came to its conclusion at the end of May. It was a period of very intense socialising after a year of being deprived of just that. We were looking for another kind of socialising through exercise, so a few of us agreed to do a few bike rides out to swim spots and pubs, so I plotted a few routes.'
The informal group continued successfully in this manner for a few weeks until they thought it might be nice to open it up a little, and publicise it through social media. This of course required creating some formality, and so the Ambleside Social Bike Club was whispered into existence.
Our own route plotted, we headed out west from Wray Castle, towards Skelwith Bridge. It was all relatively flat here, a gentle introduction for the deadlier inclines promised later in the day, and yet after only a few miles we found ourselves with a mechanical failure.
Fortunately, it was Nathan's bike. I don't say this because I don't actually like the guy, but because he's a trained mechanic. Before we departed the castle, he helped me fix my front derailleur and the issue with his chain was sorted within minutes.
From there we meandered through the lower hills, gradually climbing into the more intense climbs towards Lower Langdale, happening across of some the groups popular stops. Hodge Close is part of the old local quarries, a deep gash in the hills, a hundred foot sheer drops into teal waters, upon which climber's skitter up and down like spiders in a bathtub. It's an ideal place for instagram-worthy bike-photo's, and I didn't pass up the opportunity.
As it's name suggests, the club primary focus is socialising. Currently they have paused their rides until January, but from then on they will be arranging more days out, in a variety of terrains, distances and bike styles.
'This should allow folks to meet new people or just hang out together, usually we try to break up the rides with a swim stop or picnic to shift the emphasis from cycling to socialising, though that's an awful lot easier to do in summertime!'
With the group's popularity growing, Nathan is hoping to encourage others into leading rides. This should serve to both spread organisational and logistical responsibilities, and create a greater degree of diversity in the club. Wylie, who is riding with us, will likely be one of these new leaders.
The four of us glide down from the rugged hills on some incredible gravel trails, leaving behind a series of gorgeous views; the green-browns patchwork of Grizedale Forest in one direction, and along the valley towards Wasdale, northern england's answer to the Paramount Studio logo, Scafel Pike. We lunch in Conniston, a picturesque town snuggled against the edge of it's namesake lake. Here we refuel on hot soup and cake, before snaking our way around the B-roads and back into the hills, heading back eastwards.
The light has been simply stunning all day, as though our photography has been purposefully and expertly lit by some divine gaffer. We arrive at Tarn Hows just in time for golden hour and the landscape explodes in a glorious euphoria of colour, shape and texture. The Lake District is an inspiring place to visit at all, let alone ride a bike, and it is no wonder than those who live here celebrate their environment by simply experiencing it.
With the sun having been devoured by the horizon, and the mildness of the day suddenly, and brutally, replaced with icy cold, we find a nice pub in the town of Ambleside. Over 2 pints of guinness, a half of some local ale and coke, we reminisce over the what may be the last proper ride of 2021 for all of us, and Nathan tells me his plans for 2022.
'I'm hoping our rides can help to form a bit of a community of cyclists around here who can find other folks to go riding with as and when they desire. It's difficult to know if we'll succeed in this, it'll take more organisation and volunteers but the aim is there to work towards. In the new year we'll be back with organised rides every month or so, and a bit more frequently over summer.'
If you'd like to get involved and ride with this awesome, open and endlessly friendly group, find them either on instagram @ambleside_social_bike_club, or roaming the epic peaks and valleys of deepest Cumbria.