Mountain biking in the Lake District: the Kentmere ‘3 rivers’ trail


Many people visiting Cumbria and the English Lake District do so for the walking, and it is little wonder in a landscape that has inspired many famous artists, authors and poets over the generations. Peaks such as Scafell Pike, Helvellyn, Skiddaw and Coniston Old Man are all popular, as are many of the lower level hills such Orrest Head, a personal favourite of William Wordworth’s. But the Lakes is also an outdoor playground for many other activities – climbing, fell running and a host of watersports to name just a few.

And of course mountain biking. There are many trails in the Lake District that are not suited to road bikes but allow you to get off the beaten path, explore the scenery and cover quite a bit of ground in a shorter time that you might otherwise by walking. Over the coming months, we hope to share some of these trails with you, and the first of these is the ‘Three Rivers’ mountain bike trail in Kentmere in the southern Lake District.

Starting from the road that hugs the River Kent to the north of Staveley, a short drive from Kendal, the route is so called because you make three river crossing during the course of the ride. And to take on this ride, we used the Ridgeback MX4 mountain bike which I’ve mentioned in an earlier blog post. Built with a lightweight alloy frame and, Shimano gearing, Suntour suspension forks and Tektro Novela disc brakes, these bikes were more than well-equipped enough for the terrain that lay ahead.

I should stress, though, that we are far from being mountain biking aficionados so we will not be covering any routes that are super-technical; instead, they should be relatively achievable even by people with a low level of competence (like me!!).

The first portion of this ride is a gradual ascent through open countryside which saw us climb just over 500 feet in a little over 3.5 miles – other than a short ascent after just leaving the road, it never really felt that you were climbing that much and so this would be manageable even with quite young children in tow (but probably not toddlers!). The gears on the bike are intuitive and easy to operate, so finding the right gear is never really too much of a problem.

The terrain along this route consists mostly of gravelly trails, with lovely, open views either side and the occasional large puddle to add to the interest!

You still have to watch the terrain, though – once or twice I found myself in quite deep ruts that could easily unseat you if you didn’t have your wits about you. We actually did this ride in late October – at the tail-end of the school half term – yet we encountered very few other people during the time we were out. The occasional walker or fell runner, as well as a mountain biker who was sorting out a puncture. (We stopped to see if we could help but he seemed to know what he was doing!) People often complain that the Lake District is too busy but, pick the right location and time of year, even if it is school holidays, and you can still largely have the place to yourself.

One of the most fun parts of this ride is crossing the tributaries – in places, these are deep enough to get you wet to the ankles, so bear that in mind – especially if you’re planning on cycling a longer loop, as you might want to take a spare pair of socks with you!

After the third and final river crossing, you are at about the highest point of the route and there’s a lovely, long downhill stretch of grassy hillside with beautiful views out into the distance that are a highlight of the ride.

This then turns back to gravel as you continue your descent back towards Staveley…

…before taking you along a small stretch of woodland…

…and back out on to the open road where you can enjoy views across the Kentmere Valley. For those who would like to see the route we followed in more detail, or download it on their phones so that you can easily follow it yourselves, you will find it on my Strava here.

A regular haunt for anyone enjoying activities in the area is the Staveley Mill Yard, the site of a former bobbin mill which, in addition to being home for a whole variety of small businesses, is also home to the long-established Wilf’s Café where you can enjoy a light lunch or just a coffee and a cake – whatever you feel you’ve earned!

Disclosure: The bikes were kindly supplied to us by Ridgeback who introduced mountain biking to the UK in the early 1980s.


Comments (7)

  1. Bob Brown says:

    I’ve covered many miles biking and hiking in the Lake District. I have plenty of respect for any mountain bike that can master this rugged terrain.

    • Paul Johnson says:

      Thanks, Bob… we hope to share many more outings on the bikes in the coming weeks and months so hopefully some of them may be familiar to you. :-)

  2. Nick Dougill says:

    I had forgotten that Mountain bikes are a recently new innovation and that essentially some tough technology has created a whole new sport, allowing mountain bikers to enjoy terrain that previously would have been explored by foot.

    • Paul Johnson says:

      The first ever mountain bike apparently dates back to 1978 which is not all that long ago as you say, particularly when you consider it came 75 years AFTER the first successful aeroplane!! And Ridgeback were very much pioneers in bringing the sport of mountain biking to the UK.

  3. James says:

    If only I could be up there Mountain Biking around the Lakes Country. Weather looks glorious. Sadly I’m going to be stuck in my office until at least 7.30 pm this evening.

    • Paul Johnson says:

      I don’t know where you’re based, James, but the Lake District is far more accessible than many people realise. Oxenholme the Lake District railway station can be reached in just over 2 and a half hours by train from London Euston. And Staveley (the nearest place to where we did this cycle) is just a 14 minute train ride from there (or less than 10 miles away by road).

  4. Caz says:

    My brother is a big fan of cycling, he’s done those London to Paris rides before but then likes to slow it down for some mountain biking during the summer on different country routes. I’m pretty sure he’s never been to the Lake District so I’ll forward him this article. It looks like a lovely adventure, and as someone who’s also of low (very, very low) level competence, it sounds appealing. Good note on the puddles, which is good to keep in mind if it’s been typical British weather with buckets of rain before you head out there. I’m a bit claustrophobic in a big down at the moment with cement and cars everywhere so I wouldn’t mind a trip here in the near future, it’s a great chance to breathe in clean air and take in the gorgeous open views. I think the coffee & cake afterwards is the perfect reward. It could also be a good place for those who want to tag along but who aren’t up to cycling to stay while the bikers head out.

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