Postcards from the Lake District: Ullswater


After a trying ride from Penrith, the way the road wound down to the shores of Ullswater was a real treat. The curves in the serpentine road as it threaded its way downhill kept giving glimpses of the body of water that lay below, leading me right to its edge.

Once at the valley bottom and alongside Ullswater, the rain had stopped and the road, though busier, was smooth – and flat. Pushing on from this point felt easy, almost dreamlike, as the views across the lake revealed mist-shrouded fells, lone trees, and vast woods. The usual view was across Ullswater’s narrow middle, but as the road followed its curves, I could occasionally see up most of its length to far, sunlit reaches in the distance.

Although my proximity to the lake’s edge meant I could easily see the clarity of the water, the low, gloomy clouds and dull, muted colours of the surrounding fells gave Ullswater a black, oily appearance.

Following the road to Glenridding from this point was easy. The road mostly hugged the water’s edge, making for a flat ride that only occasionally rose to tackle a rocky outcrop before leading down to the level of the water once again. The mid-afternoon traffic heading towards Glenridding, Patterdale and onwards was steady, but not busy.

There’s something wonderful about a route that follows water. Roads and paths that hug rivers, canals and lakes feel very natural and organic – like the route wasn’t decided by a man with a measuring stick. Instead these routes feel obvious, direct and ancient. We are drawn to water’s edges and, where bodies of water are long and narrow, rather than wide and round, it makes sense to follow those edges from one point to another. And where a long narrow lake is hemmed in on both sides by steep hills, crags and mountains, this narrow strip of land becomes a habitable sanctuary – a thin ribbon granting passage to those who seek it.

But it’s easy to let your mind wander as you push on and on, your bike feeling heavier and heavier at each rise. One of the best ways to snap out of such meditations is the appearance of the sign welcoming you to your destination. Glenridding greeted me with the sight of a handful of hotels, a small shop or two, and the requisite tourist information centre.

The rain had long since stopped, and my swift progress meant I was well on the way to drying off – which was a bonus, because although I’d reached the village, my final destination lay a few kilometres further on, up Glenridding Beck.