Going: Mainly tarmac on quiet lanes, but with about 3.5 miles of
A-road to follow, not too busy. Quite a lot of short, sharp hills! There's an 'off-road'
section which is just a long farm track, easily rideable, with just a few potholes to
Total distance: 17.5 miles, or 11.5 miles from The Green.
For most of us, the Whicham Valley means the fast, winding A-road to West Cumbria, skirting the very edge of Black Combe. Yet this route, followed by car, reveals little of this short (three miles long) and narrow (one mile wide) valley, which once held a lake.
Another road however meanders along its southern slopes, and forms part of this circular ride, which contains more than a few hills, for those allergic to the rising tarmac!
I set out from Duddon Bridge (although a shorter circuit could be made from The Green), and quickly dived off the main road down a narrow lane towards Lady Hall. The final course of the Duddon can be followed here, before it merges into its estuary. Meanwhile, the settlement of Hallthwaites is passed, where a woollen mill dating back to the 16th thrived, some of its carpets and blankets said to survive today. The three hamlets in this area are known collectively as Thwaites, a Norse term for a clearing, but the area was occupied long before the Viking invaders.
High on the hillside beyond the main road lies the 5000 year-old Neolithic stone circle at Swinside, an impressive sweep of fifty-one stones, standing below desolate fells. The place is also known as Sunkenkirk, or sunken church, where legend has it that a church was built during the day, but dragged into the ground at night by the Devil!
At The Green, cross Black Beck, and continue straight over the A-road to follow another pleasant lane which rises to reveal the long southern flank of Black Combe, whose name is a corruption of Bleak Camber, a rounded hump where nothing much will grow. Its thin, acidic soil supports only grasses and heathers, good pasture for sheep.
At a wooded corner, be sure to keep ahead, not left, (really easy to go wrong here!) to climb up to the highest point, where the complex series of crags, becks and gorges opposite can be fully appreciated. The valley floor can be clearly seen below, scraped flat by the glacier, and then later flooded to a depth of 200ft. A long, fast descent follows down this narrowest of tree-lined lanes, ending with a tight bend at the interestingly-named Po House, and soon after reaching the main road again near Whicham Hall.
This must unavoidably be followed now into Millom, where a dead flat farm track on the right, just after the school, provides a long traffic-free respite. This shadows the railway line, crossing it twice, until returning to tarmac at Green Road.
The outward route is picked up again at The Green to return to Duddon Bridge.
Plenty in Millom.
Looking down into the Whicham Valley from the highest point of the ride.
One of Black Combe's outlying shoulders.
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