Postcards from the Lake District: The road from Penrith


The route I’d picked to get from Penrith railway station to Ullswater and Glenridding wasn’t Google’s first suggestion. I’m a little suspicious of the cycling option when using Google’s route-finding tools – I’m still not sure how much it takes into account the rider’s legs, arse and mood.

Having managed to get myself and my two-wheeled machine on a train from Milton Keynes to Penrith, my hands trembled slightly with the anticipation of the unknown that lay before me. I’d checked the map carefully, but no route can be truly ‘known’ until it is actually used.

The ride out of Penrith was as uninspiring and swift as any exit of a town can be when new delights await. I was very quickly off the main road though, and following quiet lanes between fields and farms. The earlier portion wasn’t too hilly, and I enjoyed the gentle undulations and remote feeling. I stopped occasionally to check my map, and on one of these stops, a stray raindrop reminded me of the forecast I’d seen, and I pulled on waterproof overtrousers and fastened my raincoat. It was fortuitous that I did so at that point, because a torrent of rain suddenly appeared and stuck with me for much of the rest of my ride. I was at that point rather pleased that I’d carefully wrapped the contents of my backpack and pannier bags in individual carrier bags.

Pushing on from my layby changing room, I stashed my map in a zipped coat pocket. My decision to go rogue from Google’s first suggestion meant I now had to briefly join a dual carriageway. The rain was falling quite hard now, and it took some gritted teeth to pull out across the two opposite lanes into the one I needed, and a shallow incline meant I just had to push on and on, occasionally being passed by vast juggernauts. I was very quickly about as wet as it would be possible for me to get, which helped as the vertical spray from speeding motorists added to the horizontal downpour.

It’s safe to say I was pretty thrilled when it came time to leave the carriageway, and the sight of a narrow lane winding down the valley to Sparket Mill, though damp, was a lovely one. It wasn’t until I was at the bottom that I allowed myself to contemplate the necessity of climbing back up the other side. I managed it, but soggy shoes and heavy pannier bags made it hard work.

The roads were quieter than I’d expected – the only vehicle I remember overtaking me on this stretch was, of all things, a UPS truck. The ride was therefore a solitary one, but not a lonely one.

Once over another small ridge, I was greeted to the view seen above. The rain was abating, and the lush green hills were cloaked in mysterious swirling cloud. Most of the roads were now reduced to gullies, but I also knew that my route from the above point to Ullswater was almost completely downhill.