Book Review by Steve Matthews of Bookends:
Chris Froome has nothing to fear from Mike Carden.
Mike may be a cyclist. He may have cycled the length of Scotland and the length of England and rode up some small hills in the Cairngorms and the Pennines, but he’s never tackled one of the steep hills in a book his son Richard owns called “100 Greatest Cycling Climbs”.
Now he’s set to climb six of them – he may get off and walk – and all in nine days touring the Lakes, riding three hundred miles or more. He’ll begin at Brockhole and saddle-sore, proud and weary, he’ll finish triumphantly three miles down the road in Bowness.
Like Chris Froome, he needs sustenance en-route. He begins with scones and a cappuccino at Brockhole, but then it’s pouring with rain when he gets out of the car.
“Half an hour later, fortified, we returned to the car under drying skies.” They put their toes into their toe clips and they were off.
No packed pelaton for Mike and Richard. They ride alone beneath the dripping trees as the cars and motorbikes rush past. They have time to stop, to look at the lake. “At the bottom of a grassy field, a smattering of wind-blown trees lined the water’s edge. The sun was prickling through the clouds and sparkling off the wavelets dancing on to the grassy shore.”
It’s not the Tour de France, but cycling the Lakes with Mike Carden has its own particular pleasures. There’s the repartee of father and son, the physical pains and pleasures of cycling and a well-informed commentary en-route. Chris, or Chris’s book, is the ideal companion if you’re doing the route, and the route itself is a good route to follow if you want to see the best the Lake District has to offer.
The plan is to visit every lake from Windermere to Wastwater and climb all those six highest passes from Kirkstone to Wrynose.
The first day – Day Yan - a mere thirty miles to Coniston, the second fifty to Cartmel and Kendal. The third even further over Shap and down to the mythical home of Tarzan at Greystoke. Next it’s along Ullswater to Grasmere, then a monstrous fifty six miles circumnavigating Skiddaw to sleep in his own bed in Cockermouth.
He won that stage by pretending to be exhausted and then “putting the hammer down”. But when you’re fifty-three, it’s good to beat your twenty year old son at something even if it takes all the deviousness that comes with age.
Day Six is over Honister and back to base. Day Seven takes them out to the rugged west and a night in Wasdale Youth Hostel. Day Eight along the coast to Millom and back into the Lakes to Eskdale.
And Day Nine – a mere twenty-three miles – is for the King of the Mountains. Hardknott, - “ouch, this must be 30%” - then Wrynose - “steeper and steeper . . . it helped to swear rhythmically” – and then “we were coming down with the road now sliding across the fellside, over a stone bridge, and on down and down”.
And so to Bowness. “We found a bench free and as the water lapped up around the rowing boats on the beach”, Chris noted his triumph. They could have cycled 3.5 miles along the flat. Instead they had pedalled a gruelling 392 miles and climbed a total of 39,144 feet.
There were no cheering crowds as they road down the Champs Elysees and no profligate champagne fountains, but they’d made it.
Who knows what Chris Froome will do when he’s fifty-three.
A Lake District Grand Tour is available from Bookends, 56 Castle Street, Carlisle, and 66 Main Street, Keswick and from www.bookscumbria.com.