Exploring Grizedale’s unmarked and natural trails
On discovering, after riding The North Face Trail, that there’s much more to Grizedale than this underwhelming meander round the forest, I was desperate to head back there to see what else the area has to offer. And with the next round of the PMBA Enduro Series being held there in a matter of days, we were keen to get a feel for the type of trails that we’re likely to be racing on. So, after doing a bit of reading online and asking for recommendations from people who know the area well, we headed back, ready to explore Grizedale’s unmarked and natural trails.
Having missed out on the Black descent last time, it was first on the to-do list, especially as it’s easily accessible from the main car park. To reach it, you can either follow the initial climb of The North Face Trail until it meets the fire road, from where it’s clearly signposted. Or, if you’d rather just cut to the chase, you can follow the fireroad from the bottom and then climb straight up from there.
Although only 1 kilometer in length, the run is packed with steps, jumps, berms, rock gardens, drops and tabletops. On first impressions, it didn’t seem overly difficult as everything is rollable, and there are different line choices with varying degrees of difficulty. However, it was apparent that trying to ride it at speed would be a different matter, with some awkwardly spaced features ready to catch you out. Unfortunately, I didn’t get the chance to on this occasion as I was nursing a sprained hand/wrist and bruised ribs by the time we did it again later, but I’ll get back to that…
The black is easily sessionable thanks to a steep track that takes you directly back up to the fireroad that it starts from. However, keen to do some more exploring, we headed over to the west of the forest to find some unmarked trails that a guy in the bike shop had told us about. With the help of some rough squiggles drawn on our map, these were pretty easy to find from the fireroad, and, judging by the number of tracks in the soft mud, they were obviously fairly well ridden. The first one we did was greasy, rooty and steep in places, with a tricky stream crossing half way down. It was a far cry from The North Face Trail, and instantly altered my perception of Grizedale. The trail came out right by the picturesque shores of Coniston Water, where we washed a bit of mud off the bikes before beginning the fire road climb back up for some more of the same. This time we rode a different trail down that was rockier, but still pretty muddy and wet. Once again, we got to the bottom absolutely buzzing, our faith in Grizedale as a mountain biking destination completely restored.
Resisting the temptation to session these trails a bit longer, we decided to check out some other trails that had been recommended to us. Although the sun was shining bright and it only felt like mid afternoon, it was actually after 6pm, so we decided it was probably safe to head up to Carron Crag to check out the infamous ‘Puncture Alley’. As it’s a footpath rather than bridleway or mtb trail, we wanted to leave it until as late as possible to reduce the risk of encountering any walkers. Fortunately, the only other person we met was another mountain biker who had the same idea, so we followed him up. The views from the top were absolutely stunning, although my enjoyment of them was slightly tainted by the prospect of the potential tyre shredding trail that lay ahead.
With lots of sharp rocks and big rutted slabs to negotiate, Puncture Alley certainly lived up to its name. Miraculously, my tyres made it down intact, but unfortunately the same couldn’t be said for me. I hadn’t even got very far down when I hopped onto a seemingly innocuous short section of boardwalk, only to be met with a drop onto a slippery off camber slab of rock. Stupidly I made the fatal (ok, not quite) mistake of pulling the brakes, which sent me over the bars, landing awkwardly on my arm, and trapped by my bike, which had somehow become entwined with my leg. It wasn’t pretty and I felt like a bit of a tit as Dan untangled me from the mess.
Initially I thought I’d broken myself and saw all my summer mountain biking plans flash before my eyes. However, after I’d peeled myself off the slab, I was relieved to discover that I could still move everything and it was probably nothing more serious than a sprained hand and wrist, bruised ribs and a few more bruises to add to the collection. It was one of those crashes that leaves you feeling a bit sick and shell shocked, but fortunately, after taking a few minutes to compose myself, I was able to get back on the bike (which, you’ll be pleased to hear, was ok!) and ride the rest of the way down, albeit pretty tentatively.
By the time we got to the bottom I was definitely feeling the need for a pain-relieving pint, so we decided to stop off at The Eagle’s Head pub in Satterthwaite. Of all the great recommendations we’d been given, this was definitely one of the best (thanks, Emma!), and after some local beer and amazing food, I felt much better!
Feeling like we’d only scratched the surface of Grizedale’s hidden gems, we headed back a few days later for another recce. As well as riding some of the same trails as before, we also found some more, including a couple known locally as Quick Brown and Bluebells. Some of the trails were extremely muddy and some sections were full on bogs. We also checked out another route down from the top of Carron Crag, which was pretty gnarly. I was still feeling pretty sore, so wasn’t really riding my best, but it was good to sus the area out a bit more all the same.
It’s fair to say that there’s much more to Grizedale than I’d originally given it credit for, and I can’t wait to explore even more of its unmarked trails and bridleways over the coming months. After riding the North Face Trail on my first visit I would never have imagined that there was anything of much difficulty there, but after some of the sections of trail we’ve ridden over the past couple of days, I’ve got to say, I’m feeling a little apprehensive about racing in this weekend’s enduro, particularly with a sprained wrist!