Wednesday 17 August 2016

World's Top Cyclists' to Race in Lake District Next Month

The worlds top professional cyclists' get around a lot! Last month they were climbing the high mountain passes of the Alps and sprinting down the Champs Elyees in the Tour de France; this month they have been racing for gold along the Copacabana and velodrome track in Rio; but next month, many of the same world class riders will be arriving in the UK for the Aviva Tour of Britain. On 5th September, Stage 2 of this 8 day road race will be hosted entirely within the county of Cumbria, and will pass through the heart of the Lake District National Park, taking in much of the area's spectacular scenery.

In addition to providing free access to the event for the 50,000 spectators likely to watch from the roadside,1 live action and highlights are also due to be broadcast in the UK, Europe, and the rest of the world. This represents a much needed boost to Cumbria and the Lake District in the wake of the storm damage and flooding which devastated the area back in December 2015.  Many people will, for example, remember news images of the A591 road washed away at Dunmail Raise between Keswick and Grasmere2. This, and much of the other storm damage, has now been repaired, and local officials are pleased the coverage will show an international audience the area is very much "open for business".

So who will be riding in this years race?  The actual names of the riders haven't been announced as yet, but the team names have. These include ten of the worlds' top professional teams - for example Team Sky, Movistar Team, BCM Racing Team and Lotto Soudal will be competing.  However, based on the start list of last years Tour of Britain, we may see the home talent of Bradley Wiggins, Ed Clancy, Owain Doull, and Mark Cavendish racing through the streets of Grasmere and Ambleside. Other top international riders we may see include Edvald Boasson Hagen (NOR), Mark Renshaw (AUS), Andre Greipel (GER), Taylor Phinney (USA) and Woet Poels (NED).

And how does the race work?  This year's Tour of Britain has 8 stages with each rider's race time carrying over from day to day.  The rider with the quickest accumulated time at the end of a given stage gets to wear the esteemed Yellow Jersey the next day.  The rider with the yellow jersey at the end of the final stage is the overall race winner.  In addition to the Yellow jersey competition there are also points based competitions for climbers (SKODA King of the Mountains Jersey), sprinters (Yodal Sprints Jersey) and consistent stage finishers (Chain Reaction Cycles Points Jersey).  This is where the first 15 riders across a summit, intermediate sprint, or finish line (respectively) receive a certain number of points according to their race position at that part of the days stage.

Kendal sprint from the 2013 Tour of Britain.
(Photo courtesy of SweetSpot).
The Cumbria stage of this years Tour of Britain starts from Carlisle city centre at 11:00am.  It heads south, entering the Lake District National Park near Pooley Bridge at around 12:05.  It crosses the new temporary bridge (which replaces the original storm damaged structure) before following the road alongside the northern end of Ullswater. The race then winds its way through the Lake District, passing through Hesket Newmarket (12:58), Cockermouth (12:35), Keswick (14:04), Grasmere (14:32), Ambleside (14:41), and Bowness-on-Windermere (15:00).  There are three intermediate sprints at Hesket Newmarket, Cockermouth, and Grasmere for the Yodal Sprints Jersey, and three climbs at Whinlatter Pass, Castlerigg, and Ambleside for the SKODA King of the Mountains Jersey. The race finishes at 'Beast Banks', Kendal at around 15:20 (all times are approximate).

For me, the highlight of the race will be the climb out of Ambleside along an appropriately named road called "The Struggle".  This climb rises 394 meters at an average gradient of 8%, joining the Kirkstone Pass near it's summit below the peak of Red Screes.  Then there is a fast treacherous descent down the Kirkstone Pass into Bowness-on-Windermere, just 10 miles from the finish line at Kendal.  This promises to be the most exciting part of the race.

(Above) Dignitaries join professional cyclists' Jack Pullar and James Gullen at the top of "The Struggle"
above Ambleside.  (Photo courtesy of SweetSpot).
If you are thinking of going to the Lake District to watch, Ambleside offers a really good vantage point.  The town is located at the start of  "The Struggle",  and there is going to be a big screen at the Ambleside campus of the University of Cumbria open to the general public.  As well as seeing the race pass by on the roadside, you will also get watch the rest of the action from the day's stage as it unfolds.  Sounds like a great day out!

1. Based on spectator numbers at last years Cumbria stage, which also brought in over £1.5 million to the local economy.
2. The race will pass along this stretch of road, in addition to the newly repaired roads at Cockermouth.

Monday 1 August 2016

Who was Alfred Wainwright?

Many people reading this blog will already know the answer to this - after all, he has been a well known figure in relation to the Lake District and fell walking since his famous Pictorial Guidebooks were first published from the mid 1950's. Many people will remember his TV series in the mid 1980's with the broadcaster Eric Robson; and a new generation of TV viewers were introduced to his work in 2007, when in celebration of the centenary of his birth in 1907, Julia Bradbury presented two series of programs called Wainwright Walks.

Other people may have heard of AW, as he is often referred,  but know little about him other than he was vaguely associated with Lakeland fell walking.  Now the centenary of his birth has passed, it seems to be more difficult once again to find his work in book shops outside of the Lake District.  At the height of the resurgence of interest, the larger book shops such as Waterstones in Manchester would have selves stocked full of his pictorial guides and other publications, but this now seems to have dwindled to an isolated volume of two if you are lucky. Thankfully the situation is not quite as bleak online.  The Wainwright Society has an active forum for people who appreciate his work, and social media such as Facebook is full of references to his guides. As such, part of the reason for writing this post on Alfred Wainwright, is to do my own small part in keeping his work alive and well within this medium. 

Sketch of Scafell Pike from Great Moss, Upper Eskdale in his volume on the Southern Fells
 (Copyright (c) The Estate of A. Wainwright. Reproduced by permission of Frances Lincoln Ltd).
As to the man himself, Alfred Wainwright originally came from Blackburn in Lancashire.  His "love affair with the Lake District", as he called it, began in 1930 when he visited the area on a walking holiday. Eleven years later he moved to Kendal, on the outskirts of the National Park, where he began work in the Borough Treasurers office. Over the next decade he spent his spare time becoming intimately familiar with the Lakeland Fells, and then in 1952 he started to compile his Pictorial Guides, a task which dominated the next 14 years of his life.

If you are not already familiar with Wainwrights Pictorial Guides, there are two key things which define them, and help account for their popularity.

The first thing I want to mention is their unique nature.  The text is handwritten, and interspersed with his own pencil sketches and hand drawn maps.  He also included hand drawn 3d diagrams of fells showing his various recommended route options to the summits. His style of writing is another factor which adds to the unique appeal of his work. It is full of warmth, often humorous, and indicative of his intimate knowledge and love of the Lakeland fells.  Here is a sample from his chapter on Allen Crags: -
"This quiet, attractive top is a pleasant refuge from the busy thoroughfare converging on Esk Hause, only five minutes away. Unexpectedly there are three good cairns on the twenty yards of level summit, that in the middle, set on a rock, being slightly the highest. Patches of stones and low outcrops add an interest to the top of the fell but the distant views will appeal more." (Wainwright 1960 - The Southern Fells, Allen Crags 5)
The second thing is their comprehensive categorisation of the Lakeland Fells.  His 14 year work is divided into seven volumes, documenting 214 fells.  These have come to be known within the fell walking community as the "Wainwright's", and have become the focus of "peak baggers" who aim to visit each of the summits. In fact, the Long Distance Walkers Association, and the Wainwright Society have both created registers of people who have completed these 214 fells.  With regard to his division of the Lakeland Fells into seven areas, he aimed to do this in a way that made sense to the fell walker.  In so doing he made " ...
the fullest use of natural boundaries (lakes, valleys and low passes) so that each district is, as far as possible, self contained and independent of the rest" (Wainwright 1955, A Pictorial Guide to the Lakeland Fells, Introduction).

If you are interested in finding out more about Alfred Wainwright and his pictorial guides, I recommend you visit the Wainwright Society website, or the Lakeland Fells section of my own English Lake District website where there are also Amazon links to purchase his books online.  And if you are thinking of walking the 214 Lakeland fells, or are in the process of doing so, I wish you the best of luck.  Enjoy them all!