Distance: 25 km excluding the bit the steamer does.
Time: As long as you want, there is no rush. Set off about 1030 h to catch the 1500 h steamer back.
Difficulty: Mostly easy, but with some difficult rocky single track sections. Some steep hills so good fitness required.
Bikes: Well maintained mountain bikes only.
In good weather this is a delightful off-road route with a pleasant return trip on one of the Ullswater steamers (the 'steamers' are all diesel powered these days). This saves cycling back on the overcrowded and dangerous A592 road on the north side. The going is generally easy, but the section from Sandwick to Patterdale is technical riding, very much Ďblack runí territory. Donít be put off from doing the run because of that though, just get off and push your bike when things get too rocky. You will need OS Landranger sheet 90. The bridle paths and routes available are obvious.
We started from Waterside House campsite (NY462230), one of a number of campsites in the Pooley Bridge area. Beware, campsites in this area can be large and busy and are best avoided in peak season if like me you prefer smaller sites more usually frequented by back backers and cyclists. Cycle up the road to Pooley Bridge and then head up the hill past Roehead and on up the steep track until the road is dissected by High Street (NY482227), the route of an old Roman Road that tracks across the top of the fells. On meeting High Street turn right and continue on an excellent made up path until you arrive at the Cockpit about 500 metres further on.
Take time to stop and admire the magnificent views over Ullswater. Donít continue along High Street but bear right at the Cockpit and continue climbing for about another kilometre until you are above Barton Wood. At 330 metres this is the highest point of the route. Its nice to get a lot of the climbing out of the way at the beginning, but donít be fooled, there are some short sharp ascents to come!
The next 4 km from Barton Wood to Howtown is all downhill on interesting but relatively easy single track. As we twisted and turned downhill on the very scenic trail it was now I appreciated the benefits of full suspension and the fantastic handling of a Whyte bike. Gill, my long suffering biking companion was not far behind though, making short work of the track on her Edinburgh Bike hardtail, loaded with a heavy pannier no less (what do women put in these things?).
Itís well worth stopping to take in the scenery; we were rewarded with amazing aerial acrobatics from a pair of Peregrines and their raucous chick high up in the crags above. The track ends at the tiny village of Howtown, one of the ports for the steamers. Our lunch was sandwiches on the hill whilst watching the Peregrines, but locals told us that the hotel at Howtown has a walkers bar and does very nice food. The smell of Sunday roast emanating from the place as we passed was almost irresistible. There was no time to stop though, at Howtown a choice has to be made, to continue on the bridle path over Martindale (NY444194) or stick to the tarmac with its steep climb up tortuous hairpin bends. Whichever you choose, and having done both I would advise the bridle path, you will be in bottom gear and working hard. When you reach the top at Hause Farm, your reward is a downhill run almost all the way to Sandwick. Donít go so fast that you canít look at the scenery, with Boredale Beck meandering along the roadside it is exquisite.
Just before dropping down into Sandwick turn left onto the bridle path (NY423195) that follows the shore round to Patterdale. From here on the route is technical single track. The surface is generally firm but rocky, a little care will be required, but the views are well worth the effort. Also be aware that this section of the route is very popular with walkers as they get the ferry from Glenridding to Howtown and walk back. Having done this route once on a bank holiday I would advise trying to do it at off-peak times. As always there is room for everyone and a little courtesy from all goes a long way.
The section from Sandwick out to Long Crag is rideable and very enjoyable. From there on the track gets more technical with some challenging rocky descents and some ascents that are just impossible, be prepared to have to push your bike from time to time. This is not such a hardship as the views over the Lake and the boating activity on the water will keep you enthralled. The technical section ends with a steep uphill push starting below Silver Crag. Once you have done this the path widens to a welcome track as it drops down past a campsite towards Patterdale. The farm that owns the campsite (NY396168) has a tea shop (NY397163) and if like us, you will find a stop irresistible. Ice cream for Madame, and a sumptuous slice of carrot cake for me. The campsite here is remote from the road with great views, it is also quite hilly so Iíve found it best out of season as flat pitches are hard to come by. Patterdale or Glenridding are only 10 minutes bike ride away for food and beer, with the return journey taking rather longer!
Our steamer left Glenridding at 1500 h bound for Howtown, (a later boat goes all the way to Pooley bridge) so we cut things fine leaving the tea shop with about 12 minutes to cover the 2km and buy tickets. We just made the boat and bikes were loaded carefully (bikes £1.50 extra). Steamer timetables can be found at www.ullswater-steamers.co.uk The boat trip provides time to relax after the hard work out on the single track, and if the Captain takes the boat close to the shore as ours did, it is nice to see the route you have covered from a different perspective. All too soon we were docking in Howtown and from here it is an easy 4.5 km back along the shore road to the campsite.