With its wealth of Youth Hostels, the Lake District is perfect for a hostel-to-hostel cycling adventure – especially if it’s on an eBike, as Daniel Neilson discovers.
They are mountain passes that make cyclists puff out their cheeks. “Newland’s Pass? [Puuufff] That’s just a long, windy slog,” they’ll say. “Honister Pass? [Sucks in lips] And then it just gets steeper!” they’ll say. But proper cyclists tend to make these sort of comments with glints in their eyes. Although a keen cyclist, I’m afraid I’m made of less stern stuff, so when Craig Scott, co-owner of Cyclewise, suggested hiring an eBike for a couple of days, I pretended to waver but inside I was relieved. Why? Those big mountains you come to the Lake District for? It turns out it’s a breeze to climb up them on an eBike, for anyone. Craig’s 80-something dad had been over a few passes a couple of weeks earlier. For mere mortals, electronic bikes open up a whole new world.
I’d planned a two-day circular route of the Lake District along the quietest roads I could find. Leaving from the sparkly new YHA Keswick (with a sparkly new cycle shed), I would be skirting the west side of Derwent Water before heading through Borrowdale and over Honister Pass to spend the night at YHA Buttermere. It would be a bona fide hostel tour, in fact – I’d also be passing YHA Borrowdale and YHA Honister Hause. The second morning would be a leisurely (for me, on an eBike) pedal back to Keswick, leaving enough time to squeeze in a fun blast around the world-renowned mountain biking routes of Whinlatter.
After a hearty breakfast and yet another coffee in YHA Keswick (cycling is fuelled on coffee and cake), I met Craig, who was joining me. I’d never ridden an eBike before, but after a quick lesson I was zooming. Without wanting to state the obvious, it really does help, much more than I’d imagined. It’s like you’re constantly in the easiest gear, but you’re not moving any slower. This is cycling for everyone.
Following a quick skirt through Keswick, we were soon on the narrow track that brushes Derwent Water. Sunbeams broke through the clouds, highlighting the mountains on the far side before moving across the water and showering us in light. We brrrringed over cattle grids and climbed through woodland. It should be pointed out at this point that Craig was on a regular bike. I, meanwhile, shot smugly up the sharp rises with no effort at all. None.
Jaws of Borrowdale
Borrowdale is a remarkable little valley, full of history and intrigue. Passing through the pleasingly named Jaws of Borrowdale, the mountains that guard this narrow valley, we stopped first at The Bowder Stone, a huge nine-metre-high boulder that was part of a rockfall around 10,000 years ago. I recognised it from old Victorian photographs of ladies in dresses climbing the steps to the top. We did the same, clicking up in our cycling shoes.
Back on the bikes. We stopped for coffee and cake at YHA Borrowdale, an evocative hostel in the style of an Alpine lodge. The beer selection’s good, naturally, but for us it was coffee (again) and cake (again), as a means of fuelling ourselves for the big pass of the day: Honister.
Now Craig I’d describe as a lovely fella with thighs of steel. This is a man who lives and breathes cycling. I was impressed as he heaved up the long, steep pass (a climb used on the Tour of Britain, no less). I, however, zoomed around taking pictures and dropped behind to admire some raptors chasing prey. It was here I realised the freedom that an eBike could bring. I’d previously only ever walked in the Lake District, so to cover these distances in a day opened up areas I’d never seen.
Near the top of the pass was YHA Honister Hause. It’s set by a still-working quarry, close to a dramatic via ferrata that descends deeply into the mountain itself. The road then fell steeply below, with YHA Buttermere at the bottom. This former hotel is in a stunning position above Buttermere and Crummock Water. With plenty of the day left, I took time to slowly wander around the lakes.
Morning dawned and we were off again, taking on Newlands Pass, which climbs high above the hostel. It was a long pull, and on this windy, wet morning even the eBike took a bit of effort. From the head of the pass though, it was largely downhill, an exhilarating run back into Keswick, over postcard-worthy bridges and along dense, moss-covered woodland.
We took our time, enjoying the view, taking photos and, yes, stopping for a coffee, but it still meant we had time for one last ride around the carving trails of Whinlatter. And that was just fine: I still had plenty of energy.
Thanks to Cyclewise for the bike rental (cyclewise.co.uk).