I've just returned from a few days in the Lake District National Park. It has an abundance of hiking and cycling opportunities, both off and on road, none of them particularly flat, it being in a region of mountains and lakes. A popular destination is Kentmere, known to many cyclists but perhaps not familiar to non-UK readers.
Kentmere is primarily home to a community of sheep and dairy farmers but also a site of ancient and modern industry. For most visitors to the valley, it is a huge playground for walking and cycling. It is steep sided but relatively flat for the majority of its length. The valley winds its way northwards for 4 miles along the single track road from Staveley to the church near where the road ends. The rise from the village of Staveley is a mere 200 feet although the lane's ups and downs add up to more.
This is as far as motorists go but mountain bikers and walkers can follow along the River Kent for almost the same distance again, past Kentmere reservoir, to the head of the valley at Nam Bield Pass some 1700 feet higher.
The Lake District National Park is an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB). Kentmere sits on its easterly fringe and, like many places in the Park, in addition to the natural beauty, was and still is a place of work. Rural life may appear to be dominated by working farms but industry also plays its part even today.
The River Kent provided power and water for a variety of mills and the valley was also the site of a number of mines and quarries including a silica mine that created Kentmere Tarn that we see today. The mining has long gone and now heron and other bird life frequent the water.
For a many, a day in Kentmere begins and ends at Mill Yard in Staveley. This centre of small artisan businesses, is home to the two principle magnets for riders, the cycle store, Wheelbase, and the eatery, Wilf's, famous for outdoor catering at orienteering and fell running events. Other businesses attract visitors to the bakery, brewery or specialist craftsmen such as jewellers and woodworkers. Cyclists particularly like it because of its proximity to great mountain biking, bike wash, supplies at Wheelbase and re-fuelling at Wilf's and Hawkshead brewery.
Kentmere presents a myriad of outdoor opportunities with the many paths and bridleways that link up across the valley. What you might know as trails are what we call public footpaths in the UK. These footpaths are rights-of-way, many going back to ancient times. They criss-cross between settlements, over hills and passes across the whole of the country, not just in National Parks. They are governed by rules ensuring public access and have to be maintained with functional gates and no obstructions such as fallen trees. Whilst not unique to the UK (other European countries such as Switzerland and Austria have their wanderwegs), these paths form a major characteristic of our countryside and allow public access to lowland and highland areas irrespective of ownership.
Local government authorities are responsible for ensuring access by liaising with landowners who's land the paths cross. Public footpaths often cross farmland, which can require navigating around cows and sheep. Going for a walk might involve linking a number of these paths (as would hiking, rambling or fell walking, the difference being the distance and height gained). This availability of these rights-of-way enables people access to the countryside to appreciate the outdoors and understand the make-up of our rural areas. The importance of this was realised in the outbreak of foot and mouth disease in 2001 that decimated the rural economy and resulted in no-one being allowed to use paths and bridleways.
There are other rights-of-way, the most important of which, for the cyclist, is the bridleway. These take the form of paths and tracks. They extend access to horse riders and cyclists as well as walkers. These routes are often nothing more than an overgrown single track path but can also be double track unpaved roads. Motorised traffic is not allowed and, like footpaths, are often ancient trade routes between villages or markets.
A great asset we have for helping access paths and bridleways is the excellent mapping available from the Ordnance Survey.
They provide detailed mapping at various scales for the whole country. The 1:25,000 scale is ideal for walking and off-road mountain biking as paths are shown with a green dotted line and bridleways are shown with a green dashed line. Field boundaries are thin black lines and help navigation through farmland.
Other unpaved rights-of-way exist. These include Byways Open to All Traffic (BOATs) and Roads used as a Path. As these also pass through remote areas of outstanding beauty, their use can be controversial, as they are available to motorised traffic. The presence of noisy 4x4 vehicles or trails bikes, often grates with other non-motorised users. In an attempt to harmonise the sharing of these resources, various groups such as Land Access and Recreation Association (LARA) produced a code of practice to minimise the impact of their activities. Despite this, the right to some tracks have been demoted to 'Restricted Byways' and motorised use outlawed in the Natural Environment and Rural Communities (NERC) Act 2006.
Kentmere has a fair representation of all these rights-of-way. The valley floor has the metalled road and some paths and bridleways spreading out to the higher ground. The flat part of the valley is great for a blast on road, which combined with the Crook Road, near where we stay, makes for a nice round trip of about 14 miles, useful for a quick hour's exercise. For longer outings, the many paths, bridleways and byways can be linked to make testing days out for more of a challenge. These access neighbouring valleys allowing more options, west via the Garburn Pass to High Street (2500 feet), north to Haweswater or east to Gatesgarth Pass and Longsleddale.
The combinations are many and provide enough choices for many a return trip.