With the weather forecast showing clear skies, sunshine and minimal wind in the South Lakes on Sunday, I definitely seemed to have lucked out with my day off, especially after several days of heavy rain and storms. What the forecast didn’t show was that while we’d been inundated with heavy rain in Liverpool, that precipitation had been falling as snow on the higher ground further north, and the peaks in the Lake District were now blanketed in white.
I already knew this because my Facebook and Instagram feeds from the previous day had been full of people enjoying the snow, and I was desperate to get a piece of the action. One of the rides I’d been keen to try was a 21km loop from Coniston taking in Walna Scar, and it seemed like a manageable distance for the time we were likely to have, accounting for the fact that part of the route was going to be snow covered.
Venturing out in the snow can be a tricky one. Some of the best rides I’ve done have been in the snow, but I’ve also had some pretty sketchy ones, where not even the grippiest and fattest of tyres would’ve been much use.
Although there was no sign of snow whatsoever in Coniston, we could see that there was plenty of it up where we were headed. Unsure of whether it was going to be good grippy snow or an icy nightmare, we were in two minds about embarking on a route we’d never tried before, but decided to give it a go, making sure we were prepared for all eventualities.
After skirting the banks of Coniston Water for a while, we followed the bridleway to Torver where we joined the road for a while. Before long we took a right turn and started to climb steeply for around a kilometer until we reached a fire road that led us into the forest. After a few hundred metres we turned off onto a very muddy section of singletrack that descended for a while before climbing back up again. In the parts where it was lined with rocks, the trail had become a torrent, which although a little disconcerting, was infinitely easier to ride up than the sections of muddy bog.
From the top we were rewarded with another singletrack descent, which, although muddy and slippy, was great fun. At the bottom we popped out onto another road that climbed steeply until we reached the stretch of bridleway that would lead us up and over the high ground to Walna Scar. From this point on, it got progressively snowier until eventually we began to lose sight of the track, which certainly put our map reading skills to the test! In addition to there being no discernible path, the terrain was also extremely difficult to negotiate, with the crust of snow giving way to icy puddles and deep mud in places. Eventually the path became more defined, which meant we were actually able to peddle for a sustained period again, at least for a short while.
In the distance we could see the outline of a track climbing sharply up to Walna Scar, and it was clear it was going to be an arduous push up to the top. As if pushing a bike up a steep hill isn’t hard enough, pushing one up through sticky snow is brutal. We still didn’t know how the descent was going to be, but by the time we neared the top, we didn’t care. It was a descent.
The views from the top were worth the slog alone. By now the sun was fairly low in the sky and had started to cast a pinky glow over the snow covered hills and out to sea. With limited sunlight, and feeling left in my toes, we didn’t want hang around, so after letting a bit of air out of our tyres, we tentatively started our descent. After a few pedal strokes we were delighted to discover that the snowy trail was surprisingly grippy and were able to pick up the pace. Even on the steeper rocky stuff and tight switchbacks there was minimal slippage, and we were able to ride it at a reasonable speed, even hitting the odd drop. After a while the snow gave way to the usual loose rock for a final fast blast down to the bottom.
By the time we arrived back in Coniston, my numb feet were in agony, but I still felt totally elated from such an unexpectedly awesome descent. Cold feet were the only downside to what was another fantastic snowy ride to add to the list. And as the blood started to return to my toes in the warm pub, even that faded from memory, allowing me to enjoy the perfect end to a perfect winter ride.