Since taking my Level 2 Mountain Bike Leadership course, I’ve been looking for new routes on which to practice my navigation skills, so, with it being a fairly well trodden route, ‘the Borrowdale Bash’ seemed like a good one to start with. The 29km loop starts and ends in Keswick, circumnavigating Derwent Water and taking in some steep climbs, stunning views and awesome technical descents. I’d been meaning to ride it for ages, but for some reason had never got round to it, so was desperate to give it a whirl.
The ride starts by following the road to Borrowdale along the side of the lake until you reach a turn-off signposted to Watendlath. From here the road climbs steeply until eventually you reach “Surprise View” where you’re rewarded with a stunning, although not necessarily surprising, vista of Derwent Water, before continuing on to Watendlath.
From Watendlath, the bridleway climbs sharply upwards, and we didn’t get far before admitting defeat and pushing to the top. From here, there’s a couple of kilometres of refreshingly easy-going terrain, before hitting the first, and arguably best, of the route’s two main descents, which takes the form of a fairly long, steep and rocky blast down to Rosthwaite, that’s worth every second of climbing that’s gone before. Some of it is pretty technical, particularly a big craggy section that’s worth scoping out before riding for the first time, and beware the savage raised drainage ditches that need to be hopped cleanly if you want your back wheels to remain intact. I have to confess to coming away with a couple of dings.
After arriving at Rosthwaite, you have to follow the road for a couple of kilometres, through Seatoller, before the grueling climb up Honnister Pass. Whether you choose to continue up the road, which has a 25% gradient in places, or push/hike-a-bike up the rocky staircase of a footpath that cuts out the road, there’s no easy way up, and it’s quite a relief to arrive at the next stretch of bridleway, which offers some light relief as it traverses steadily up to Castle Crag. Before long the imposing rocky structure comes into view, becoming more and more impressive, the closer you get. There are a couple of technical sections along the way that may require a bit of scrambling, but for the most part, it’s an easygoing ascent.
If the climb doesn’t take your breath away, the views from the top certainly will. With the sheer cliff face of Castle Crag towering above, and views of Derwent Water and the peaks surrounding Keswick in the distance, you’ll definitely want to pause to take it all in, particularly as you won’t have much chance to do so once you set off. Although not as steep as the descent to Rosthwaite, it consists almost entirely of large loose rocks, so you’ll want to keep your eyes fixed firmly on the trail if you want to stay on. It’s a bumpy and exhilarating ride that’ll have you absolutely buzzing, unless, of course, you get a puncture on the way down, in which case you’ll be pretty deflated.
The bridleway eventually comes out at Grange where you follow the road for a while before arriving at another stretch of bridleway that climbs sharply, before levelling off and skirting around the lower slopes of Cat Bells, allowing you to enjoy yet more stunning views of the lake and surrounding hills.
The descent from here is fairly underwhelming, and if it weren’t for some intermittent bumps that facilitate a bit of air time, you might feel a little cheated. By the time the bridleway rejoins the road, you’re nearly done, and it’s just a gentle roll back to Keswick, where there are plenty of good pubs for a post ride pint.
I’ve ridden ‘The Bash’ a few times now and it’s quickly become one of my favourite rides. For experienced riders it’s the perfect length to be manageable in a few hours but still feel like a big day out, and there’s plenty of technical terrain to keep things interesting, without being overly intimidating. And while there are some tough climbs, they’re amply rewarded by a couple of superb descents, not to mention, spectacular views. Probably the only downside is the few kilometres of road at the start, but it’s not a bad stretch of road, as far as stretches of road go, and there are alternative routes if you don’t mind taking a bit of a detour. If you haven’t already tried it, you should definitely give it a bash, and if you want someone to show you round, just give me a shout!
Fancy riding it yourself? Head over to Singletrack Minds to book a day out riding some of the Lake District’s finest mountain bike trails with an experienced local guide.