pedElle 2021 - day 1: Lake District
For the first time since starting nine years ago, pedElle has remained at home, rather than heading to sunnier climes abroad. Yesterday, 35 women arrived at Casterton Grange, Kirkby Lonsdale, in Cumbria: a country estate designed by iconic 19th century architect Ewan Christian, boasting a history steeped in English tradition. Beautiful bell tents provide the accommodation while a giant tipi is host to breakfast, dinners, briefings and more.
After welcome prosecco, a chance to unwind after the journey and unpack, dinner - provided by Lake District caterers Neaum - was an opportunity to hear about the first day's riding from Event Director Meg. There is - understandably - a lot of apprehension about the 171km route, with 2,818m of climbing, and the majority of the group turn in early.
Thursday dawns mistily and starts very early, with a 5:30am alarm call. By 7:15am, everyone has breakfasted, got all their bike paraphernalia together, had a group photo and are ready to roll out.
Stage 1 - 46km from Casterton to Newby Bridge - is a chance to get legs warmed up and nerves calmed as we head west. The views get more rugged and wild as we turn and head north, although a sharp climb just before the coffee stop comes as a brusque warning of what the day has in store for the group: plenty of climbing served with a generous side helping of incredible views.
For Stage 2, the mist clears and the sun's out. We ride a number of kms along the gently rolling eastern shore of Coniston, climbing through ancient oak woodland into bustling Ambleside at the northern end of Windermere and straight up today's main event: The Struggle. 4.5km in length and 17.5% at its steepest gradient, the riders are definitely deserving their fundraising money as they climb in the baking sun towards Kirkstone Pass: the Lake District's highest pass open to motor traffic. Bemused motorists and motorcyclists watch us pass by and then it's time for the winding descent through dry stone walls into lunch at Ullswater. Three lakes by lunch is not bad going.
Stage 3 rolls out of lunch, accompanied by a jet fighter fly by, following the western edge of Ullswater before rolling into more agricultural landscapes and bucolic countryside. The sharp climbs keep coming through, sapping tired legs but the mood in the peloton is positive. As we head towards Orton, we're much higher and more exposed and the group is split by a relentless headwind. The final coffee stop of the day - served with handmade Kennedys Fine Chocolates - is much more relaxed, with the bulk of the day's climbing and distance done, and only 34km to go.
The final stage of the day takes us through the middle of a gorgeous valley, washed gold and green by the setting sun as we head south towards our final destination. It's been a huge day and the final kms seem to take an age for some, but everyone arrives safely back at Casterton Grange at the end of an incredibly long, incredibly hilly day's cycling. A day to be proud of.