The first time I dropped into the Duddon Valley, I was overcome by just how beautiful the scenery is. Not that I was able to admire it for long, as before me lay a wild rocky descent that would require the utmost concentration if I were to live to enjoy the experience again.
Just as arm pump started to take hold, the gradient levelled out and we arrived at Seathwaite, a tranquil little village that consists of a handful of houses, some farm buildings and, most importantly, a pub.
From here, it’s a long way back to any larger settlements, which is something that hit home whilst fixing a puncture at the bottom of the descent on a solo ride last winter. It certainly feels remote, and as tourists start to descend on the rest of the Lake District during the summer months, it becomes a particularly appealing destination.
Normally I would plan to start and finish in Seathwaite, ending the ride with a killer descent and a pint in the Newfield Inn. However, with the valley basking in temperatures of up to 29 degrees the last time I was there, we parked up by Birks Bridge so we could plunge into the beautiful, and usually deep, pools to cool off after the ride.
From here we followed the bridleway up past the farm and along a stretch of dirt road, before arriving at what is normally a ford, but was currently little more than a trickle of water over the road. It may have been due to the sweltering heat, but the arid scrubland was reminiscent of the south of Spain, and had it not been for the unmistakable sight of the Walna Scar road climbing relentlessly up towards Coniston Old Man on the other side of the valley, it would have been easy to forget that we were actually still in the Lake District.
Knowing that we were spinning leisurely up a much less arduous ascent than the infamous trail adjacent, made it all the more enjoyable, especially as we were able to enjoy the stunning scenery, as opposed to staring up at a seemingly endless rocky track.
And as awesome as the descent from the top of Walna Scar is, we also had some great fun ahead in the form of the Wallowbarrow descent. Winding down next to popular climbing spot Wallowbarrow Crag, the rugged track provides an exhilarating, and at times wild, ride down to Hall Dunnerdale. The only downside was that it was over too soon, but it was a great warm up for the much bigger descent that was up next.
Whether you take the scenic route by following the bridleway, or opt for the soulless slog straight up the road, there’s no avoiding the fact that you have to earn the biggie. Based on the questionable theory that we couldn’t possibly sweat any more than we already were, we decided to take the direct route up the road. And to give an indication of gradient, let’s just say that it’s one of those roads that’s marked with double arrows on an OS map.
After a punishing grind we arrived at the top, sweating more than I knew was possible. From there we peeled off the road onto another stretch of bridleway that could either take us up and over to the top of the Seathwaite descent, or extend the ride with a nice cruisey singletrack descent towards Stephenson Ground. Safe in the knowledge that the worst of the climbing was out of the way, we opted for the latter, eventually joining the bridleway that we’d normally take when heading to Seathwaite from Torver.
What is usually a boggy slog up over barren open hillside, was now a hard packed, rutted trail through dense bracken, which appeared to have absorbed the resident population of Herdwick sheep, whose heads could be seen intermittently, poking out through the foliage. Before we knew it, we’d reached the top, and there was nothing but an awesome long rocky descent separating us and the promise of a nice cold pint.
As a big fan of wild rocky descents, the techy blast down to Seathwaite is one of my favourites, even if it hasn’t been kind to my tyres. While bouncing down jagged slabs and loose rocks, the hardest thing is not getting distracted by the stunning scenery, which was looking particularly resplendent bathed in sunshine and topped with a clear blue sky. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever done the descent without stopping to admire the views or take a photo at some point, although that can probably be said for most descents in the Lake District.
At what would normally be the end of the ride, we stopped for a well earned beer at the pub and found a nice shaded spot in the beer garden to cool off. As tempting as it was to stay for another, we still had to climb back up the road to Birks Bridge for our post ride plunge. There’s only one way to beat a post ride beer on a baking hot day, and that’s with a swim in an idyllic natural pool, with a beer.
The beer might have been a little on the warm side, but the clear blue water was perfectly refreshing, and the setting nothing short of stunning. And, as is the norm in the Duddon Valley, we had it all to ourselves.