Going: This is a tough ride! Allow four hours, and check the
weather forecast on the fells weather line - 0870 055 0575, as the highest point is at
1150ft. There is an initial 1 in 4 ascent on tarmac, with a long exposed moor to cross.
The descent to Eskdale is steep and twisting, with a deep ravine at one side.
The Eskdale bridleway is straightforward and pleasant.
The ascent to Harter Fell is a long, hard push, steep in places. The flat section following is intermittently boggy. There then follows a section of cleared forestry, littered with tree stumps and boggy pools. You may lose the will to live here, as you drag/carry your bike along.
It eventually ends with a broad logging trail, a long descent on a steep-sided hillside, rideable all the way, but with loose surfaces.
The final section from Birks is on tarmac.
You must use an OS Map for this ride, and check over the route beforehand.
Total distance: 21.5 miles
Cycling can encompass a broad spectrum of exertions, from a gentle trundle down a country lane, to an all-out assault on the high fells. Now Im not the boldest mountain biker, but I did enjoy the challenge of this epic circuit, from Dunnerdale to Eskdale, with a return over the flanks of Harter Fell.
Breath-taking scenery is combined with some strenuous climbing, starting with the 1 in 4 ascent from Ulpha, in the Duddon Valley, on to Birker Fell. This soon eases to reveal a wide mountain panorama; a short detour left at the crossroads at the summit leads to one of the larger upland tarns, tranquil Devoke Water, with its lonely boathouse.
A long descent to Eskdale follows, one that requires due care and attention. Although the road can be followed through Eskdale, a lovely riverside bridleway can be navigated for most of the upper valley, beginning just to the right of the first river bridge. This is cycleable for most of the way, and signed Upper Eskdale. At Dalegarth Hall, cross straight over, and after the first ford, and narrow wooden bridge, bear right by the wall. If you reach the stepping stones, re-trace your steps - dont follow the riverside track.
At the fork in the tracks at Low Birker bear left past the house, and then follow the sign to Penny Hill Farm. The track finally drops through the woods to meet the road at Whahouse Bridge. Continue across the cattle grid at the foot of Hardknott, then turn right immediately to join the bridleway ascending Harter Fell. Cycleable at first, this soon degenerates into a steep half hour push, reaching a height of 1150ft. The views over the Scafells are tremendous. Stay with the line of the fence throughout, ignoring a left fork onto the rocky higher slopes.
The track finally flattens, but things actually get worse through a cleared forestry section, littered with stumps and dank bog. You will be dragging and carrying your bike here do try not to sit down in the black gloop, I can assure you its really uncomfortable! Just as despair sets in, a wide logging trail appears, with two miles of fast downhill, taking care on the loose surfaces. Keep left at the only junction, finally reaching tarmac again at the Birks Bridge picnic area.
Turn right for another enjoyable, largely downhill, return to Ulpha, pausing for refreshment if needed at the Newfield Inn! This is a hard ride, the section over the side of Harter Fell being especially trying. Due account should be taken of the weather conditions, and OS Map OL6 is an absolute essential.
Devoke Water, and its boathouse. This is reached by a quarter-mile long track leading left from the crossroads, near the high point of Birker Fell.
Whahouse Bridge, in Eskdale, where the tarmac road is re-joined.
Upper Eskdale, from the bridleway ascending Harter Fell. The view provides a good excuse for frequent stops!
The Eskdale community site, with local information.
Details from an 18th century book on Eskdale, including mention of Dalegarth Hall.
Any comments on the cycling pages would be gratefully received!
Copyright J Chambers 2005. Unauthorised reproduction not allowed. May be printed for personal use only.
Open Country Prints, Main Street, Baycliff, Ulverston, Cumbria
LA12 9RN, England