Exactly who invented the bicycle is a matter of some dispute. Whoever it was, humankind owes them an enormous debt. There are now thought to be more than one billion bicycles in the world, and they have been much loved by everyone from Iris Murdoch to Albert Einstein (who came up with the theory of relativity while he was cycling).
Two wheels good
That should sell it to you, if you weren’t already a convert. The important decision is where you’re going to take to two wheels. There are 14,000 miles of National Cycle Network stretching across the country that connect to every major city and pass within a mile of 55 percent of UK homes. The Forestry Commission have 1,000km of trails and forest roads across their sites and the National Trust also welcomes those on two wheels on to some of their properties.
Cycling is undisputedly one of the best ways to see and feel a landscape. You cover more ground than you can on foot, the fresh air and exercise are incredibly good for you, there’s no distracting engine whine, and you can do it solo or with the family.
I decided (along with Countryfile’s producer) to get back on my own velocipede in the Lake District. Wild landscape, wild walking and wildlife: the Lakes have everything in abundance. Grizedale is just one haven of tranquillity between Windermere and Coniston Water. It has a reputation for its contribution to the arts and literature – Beatrix Potter, John Ruskin and William Wordsworth all found inspiration here.
Grizedale still inspires today and the dramatic surroundings are a magnet for bikers because of its excellent cycling routes that cater to all abilities.
There are easier routes for beginners and families, red routes for advanced riders and, most recently, a challenging black route that is best left to the professionals.
I went for the easy option so I didn’t have to put on any special gear – but the trails that require the full-on lycra experience guarantee you will go home with a proper mud stripe down the centre of your back.
As the sun winked at us through the trees, I did my best to look ‘normal’ while the crew filmed me from the back of the car.
Whizzing through the woodland is an exhilarating experience even with a TV team in tow and when I got the chance I soaked in the ride on my own.
Hidden among the trees
I’ve kept the best bit of the ride to last. I’m a sucker for trees (walking or cycling through them) but fling a bit of outdoor sculpture into the mix and I’m in paradise. Grizedale Forest is home to 50 permanent artworks created by artists from all over the world and you can cycle right up to them.
It was the first collection of its kind in the country and houses the largest compilation of site-specific art in the UK among its leafy environs.
It adds such a new dimension to your bike ride as you whoosh through the trees. Extraordinary shapes and figures merge into the moving vista and if something really catches your eye you can turn around and stop for a closer look.
Forests are always mysterious locations; oozing secret stories and unexplained sounds. I cycled up to one of several massive turning keys fixed into the tree trunks – called The Clockwork Forest. As you wind them an eerie music-box tune begins to emanate from the leaves, creating an addition layer of sound within the natural environment.
I was truly blown away by these sculptures; to ride through such monumental art forces you take in the scenery in a whole new way.
HOW TO GET THERE
Public transport to the area is sparse so it’s best to travel by car. Exit the M6 at J36 onto the A590 and continue onto the A5092. At Penny Bridge turn right following signs to Colton and Satterthwaite. Grizdale is the next village on.
FIND OUT MORE
Grizedale Visitor Centre, Forestry Commission
Open 10-4 all year round.
The Eagles Head
Satterthwaite, LA12 8LN
Full of character and charm, this pub offers real ales and fine foods. Serving morning coffees, afternoon teas as well as a full lunch and dinner menu.
Hawkshead, LA22 0QL
Just 400 metres from the visitor centre, this former hunting lodge offers rooms as well as home-cooked meals.
Beatrix Potter Gallery
Hawkshead, LA22 0NS
A beautiful 17th-century house displaying a selection of Beatrix Potter’s original drawings and watercolours.