No. 2 from The Howgill Fells
Today I let Columbanus loose on the fells. Hopefully my trusty steed would earn his spurs. I need him to pull his weight, as well as mine! As was pointed out to me recently by a former friend, 'You remind me of any number of super-athletes, only fatter and slower.'
The bike and I have been up plenty of hills before but there’s always been somebody within shouting distance if either of us suffered a mishap. Even up on top of The Pennines back home, where it’s remote in places, there would be somebody along ‘in due course’ to administer first aid, mechanical or physical. Or, God forbid, last aid.
Except of course if it’s chucking it down when neither we nor anyone else would be there.
It gets a bit fierce on the tops!
Today we’re going to be pretty isolated.
Leaving the house, we cross a cattle grid then a stone bridge over a chattering beck. There’s about a quarter of a mile of uphill gravelly track before finally we’re on to a bitumen road. We turn left, away from the village, towards high fells and a few isolated farms. Immediately it’s steeply uphill before it levels out somewhat to be just mildly uphill. Even in lowest gear the steepest bits are a struggle. The general topography is basically rolling hills, mainly uphill while heading south, which we are.
There’s also a biting south-easterly headwind blowing. Wind is the enemy of the cyclist, particularly a fat one going uphill. To reach the point I did on foot, there are basically three sharp rises, each a couple of hundred yards long. The third is the steepest. At one point, on a bend, there are skid marks on the road where vehicles have struggled for traction. Every fifty yards or so is a yellow grit bin, supplied by the council.
Tache: "Looks like one of your failed projects Dad."
On this final ascent, about fifty yards up this stretch, I come to a grinding halt adjacent the first such bin, and use it as a seat. My thighs are like jelly. I’m in some physical disarray when, through my tears, I see four people coming down the hill towards me. Leading the party an elderly lady, muffled up so just her eyes are visible. She’s wearing a thick coat, gloves, scarf and hat. And she’s riding a mobility scooter! No ordinary ‘let’s nip down the shops’ type scooter either. This is the moorland model, a small, electric version of a quad bike with chunky tyres, designed for adventurous pensioners. It’s not a quad bike, let’s get that clear, it is a mobility scooter, just jazzed up for an outdoor existence.
Turns out the scooter lady is a guest of two of the other walkers, who in turn are my family’s neighbours. On my GPS tracker, we’re a mile and a half from their home. So, they’ve trekked on foot into a biting headwind. And, despite all of them being at least ten years older than me, they have already traversed the hill on which I’ve come to a spluttering halt.
This hill is steep and very twisty and going up is a battle, not least because of the loose grit and pebbles washed onto the road, making traction awkward. Going down is somehow worse. Should the brakes fail on the lady’s scooter she’d fire off into a canyon! Like my mate Eddie ‘The Eagle’ leaping off a ski jump.
Should the worst happen and she sails over a precipice, we could call her Elderly Edwards! Or Elderly the Eagle.
To be honest she has more gumption than me, proving once again, that I have a cowardly streak. All four of them stop for a chat and I’m forced to pretend that I’m taking in the scenery rather than an enforced break. Then we realize that ‘Elderly’ has vanished. We can see her making stately progress at the bottom of the hill, so my new friends bid me farewell, wish me luck (alarmingly) and leave me to my recovery.
A frosty sunrise
My bike has a natty feature. It’s very heavy so to help me push it up steep bits there is a ‘walk’ button. If I press and hold the headlight button, the bike goes under its own power at walking pace. This, ignominiously, is how I arrive at the crest of the hill. Good job nobody from ‘Elite Cyclist Magazine’ is watching, I’d have to bribe them not to publish the photos.
I confirm that this is my new favourite spot in the world, despite a bitter wind howling across the fells. The birds demonstrate what proficient flyers they are, dipping and soaring, adjusting their wing area. The sheep give not a jot. They just continue to work their way serenely across the hills protected by their natural coats.
Actually, there is a peculiarity that I’m at a bit of a loss to explain. When we drive towards sheep on the road in the car, they seem unalarmed. A brief, uninterested look and they skip the ditch and shuffle onto the grass at the side of the road to carry on their forage. But when I approach on my bike, they scatter to the four corners as if there’s a lethal predator among them. Surely I’m not noisier than a car. Not even when I’m wheezing and muttering.
I had studied our host’s ordinance survey map the previous evening to determine suitable routes for my cycling. I obviously didn’t pay enough attention to the contour lines because I had no idea the hills would be so severe. Must do better. Richard is a highly qualified mountain leader so, if I tell him about my navigational shortcomings, he’ll probably scoff and enrol me on a course for idiotic beginners. I’ll tell you more about Richard and his walking expertise in due course. For now, I’ll merely reflect that I’ve scratched the surface of a wonderful world.
Awaiting planning permission!