JFDI - Summer Solstice Stone Circles Ride
I don’t think I’m alone in suffering from post-lockdown lethargy. I needed to force myself to get out and do a ‘proper ride’ as I’ve been largely idle since last year. From experience, I know that if I go public with an idea, then I’ll make it happen. I’d had the notion of riding all day on the longest day for a good few years now, so decided to do finally something about it, albeit a little late in the day. Mid-June I realised we were a week away from Summer Solstice so, I booked the day off work and told people I was going for an all-day ride. JFDI. But JFD What?
I messed around with Cycle.Travel coming up with random routes that looked about a day’s ride, but they lacked focus or ‘purpose’. I then found myself reading an article about Cumbria’s stone circles and, with a train of thought along the lines of stone circle -> Stone Henge -> Summer Soltice I realised that a route joining up selection of Cumbria’s stone circles was perfect. A few clicks later and I had a 270km route good to go, with 10 or so circles to visit. My intention wasn’t to race this, but rather to make it last from 4:38am to 9:51pm, sunrise to sunset on the longest day. The distance seemed about right for the purpose.
I’d set up my bike the evening before so I could just dress and go at sunrise. Leaving quietly is tricky with a Hope Pro 4 hub, so I carried my bike to the road then started pedalling right away to avoid the tell tale CLICK CLICK CLICK: too early to wake the neighbours with that. 4:38am and I was off.
I knew I was heading towards Ulverston but hadn’t really paid much attention to the route that had been created. It was ‘the usual’ Oxenholme, Natland, Sedgewick route so I could ride on autopilot enjoying the peaceful start to the day. It had been light from the off but I stopped and looked back towards Levens where the sun was breaking through the clouds.
Passing through Ulverston and heading south I climbed up onto Birkrigg Common and then descended back towards the coast at Bardsea. My GPS beeped as I picked up speed, warning me that I’d shot passed the grassy track that led down to the stones. I climbed back up then rode down to the stones. There were a couple sat there talking about the power of crystals. I don’t think you could have come up with a more new age hippy-like scenario. Perfect for the day. I took a snap then descended on a gravel track back to the road and headed north west.
My route intentionally avoided main roads where possible, and the small fell side roads meant that I barely saw a soul all morning.
Another gravel track took me to Swinside (or Sunkenkirk) Stone Circle. This is a proper big stone circle with over 50 stones. I stopped for a while to enjoy the moment, before heading further up the track and through a farm yard.
The track climbed upwards until reaching open moorland. This was barely rideable and I had a couple of kilometres of hike-a-bike till I reached the road again and headed towards the coast.
I descended from the fells towards Newbiggin where the route crossed a river and headed along the England Coastal Path north. Or rather than was the route’s intention. In my haste to create a route, I hadn’t noticed that what looked like a bridge was in fact a tidal ford running alongside a railway bridge. A bird watcher told me it would be passable in 5 hours or so. I turned back and rode off route inland for a while, stopping to have a coffee and bargain reduced price punnet of strawberries from a Spar, before crossing the River Esk and rejoining the route proper at Ravenglass.
North of Seascale I’d taken a bridleway that I’d hoped would give me a view of a stone circle just south of Sellafield. I rode looking over the hedgerow but it wasn’t to be seen. I rejoined the road, and asked a dog walker if she knew where it was. She explained that it was tricky to get near to, and with signs warning of armed police I thought I’d let this one go.
Two more ‘fails’ followed. Crossing Cold Fell I knew there was a circle somewhere along the way, but plain didn’t see it. I’m not sure if it was obscured by bracken or I just wasn’t looking the right way at the right moment, but Blakeley Raise remains unseen …
… as does Elva Plain. I’d noticed that this one was off to the side of my route with no obvious public access, but had hoped it was visible from the road. I stopped where it would have been visible had the lay of the land been favourable, but it was out of sight, I believe just over the brow of a hill.
I looped up around Bassenthwaite Lake and now needed to head into civilisation: Keswick. I dropped off the Threlkeld cycle path to grab some food for now and for later on, and replenish my water bottles. And then rode onwards and up to Castlerigg. I knew this was the most touristy of the circles, and it was heaving. The roads around the place were packed with cars, and the stones themselves busy with picnickers and a fair few pissed-up revellers, perhaps there since sunrise? I kept socially-distanced and then some. Took a snap and moved on. I can see why these stones are popular, but by being popular they also become less appealing.
From Keswick I headed east on the dedicated cycle path past Thelkeld before dropping down to Ullswater. The wind had been blowing quite strongly all day from the north east and with the pretty constant headwind since Ulverston and 180km or so in my legs I was starting to struggle. I dropped down the gears and just kept rolling along trying to keep cadence up and legs loose. Again, this wasn’t a race so it didn’t matter how slowly I rode.
Through Pooley Bridge and up off-road to Moor Divock. The sun had finally fully broken through the clouds and it was turning into a glorious evening. I stopped at two circles up here. The Cockpit and a smaller one. I believe there are a handful of other circles up here and were it not for needing to push on I’ve have sought them out.
Having enjoyed the descent from Askham Fell I made steady if not rapid progress over towards Shap. Hills were becoming increasingly hard to climb as fatigue took hold.
I passed over the main road through Shap and climbed up over railway, the M6 and beyond. I’d added a little loop to what would have been an out and back to the next circle, but couldn’t recall where on that loop the circle was. Just as was about to retrace my route I spotted it, perhaps the least impressive of the day, and in a field without access. Still, it was downhill back into Shap now and my route was heading south, which meant the homeward bound stretch.
The next stone circle was one I knew about and had passed many times without ever stopping. It’s actually only half a circle as the west coast mainline train tracks obliterated it way back when. I ducked into the field to take some snaps then pushed on towards Orton.
The final circle of my route was the only one I’d visited previously, just a few weeks ago when popping out to catch Damian Hall on his successful Wainright’s Coast to Coast FKT run.
Rolling towards Gamelands stone circle, I finally paid attention to the time. It was approaching 8:30pm which boded well for being home for sunset. The sun was dropping and the buttercups filling the meadow the circle sits in glowed in the evening light. I leant up against the largest stone, which was warmed by the day’s sunshine and tucked into a celebratory feast of …
… pork pie and chocolate milk that I’d carried since Keswick. I don’t think I’m alone in this being a staple post and indeed mid-ride treat, and it tasted great.
Checking the time again I had about an hour to get home. Pretty well timed I thought, albeit through luck rather than design. I jumped back on my bike, bumped along the route’s final offroad stretch of track and then took the road round to Tebay before dropping down to Borrowdale. I’d forgotten just how hilly it was between Tebay and home. I was pushing as hard as I could, but every climb became slower and slower. As I climbed up towards the village next to mine, I ran out of time. 9:52pm and the sun had officially set. Less dawdling, fewer photos, less snacking, and I may have made my self-imposed cut-off deadline, but it wasn’t to be. Oh well. 10 minutes later and I was home, exhausted but pleased with the day’s efforts: 8 stone circles visited, ~270km covered, ~5000m climbed. What a way to spend the solstice.