Prendas People: Phil Houghton, a cyclist, fell walker & poet

March 27, 2018 4 min read

Prendas People: Phil Houghton, a cyclist, fell walker & poet

Riding rim of Ullswater: Howtown shore towards Hallin Fell, with Gowbarrow Bay beyond. Photo: Phil Houghton


Following on from Robert Reis' blog about his favourite team - our latest Prendas People blog article features Phil Houghton - a customer whose twitter photographs often take us from being sat here in the office to wishing we were out on two wheels.


Words by Timothy John 

Looping the Northern Fells:  Back o'Skiddaw, Caldbeck to Orthwaite road. Photo: Phil HoughtonPhil Houghton, a cyclist, fell walker and poet, is a man able to draw inspiration from a landscape widely regarded as the most beautiful in England.

His 1982 Raleigh Clubman, a touring bike made from Reynolds 531 tubing, and received as a gift for his sixteenth birthday, is a regular companion on the heavy roads that carry him through the picturesque landscapes of the Lake District.

With such a strong connection to the Nottingham marque, it's natural that Phil's first purchase from Prendas Ciclismo was Santini's historically accurate replica of the TI-Raleigh jersey, worn by the likes of Kuiper, Raas, and Zoetemelk in the late seventies and early eighties.

He has since acquired another of Prendas' tributes to Raleigh: the Raleigh / Banana jersey worn by Dave Rayner in 1988 and 1989. Prendas donates £10 from every sale of the jersey to the fund set up in the late rider's name.

"The TI-Raleigh kit almost dates my bike to the year," Phil says. "I bought the short-sleeved jersey and arm warmers, and it was the kit that spurred me on to enter the Keswick Mountain Festival Back o' Skiddaw sportive. I'd never ridden a sportive before, and I challenged myself to do it on a steel bike.

"The 70km route takes you out from Keswick on back roads towards the mountains: Blencathra and the Skiddaw Massif. Fell walking and climbing are focal points here, but the sportive is becoming popular. It was well attended and brought a lot of people to Keswick."  He's since completed the sportive again, in these northern mountains, on a lighter, contemporary road bike, but the gradients remained.

Indeed, Phil has a foot in the fell walking and the cycling camps, taking in the small details that make up the larger landscape while on foot (tiny rock lichens, different ferns and coloured bracken), and relishing the bicycle's ability to carry him deeper into such a rewarding landscape.

The bike is no barrier to full immersion in the environment, Phil maintains, a fact proven by close encounters with an array of wildlife, including foxes, badgers and tawny owls. He describes the mist on the lake at Ullswater, and of the sensation, during different parts of the ride, of cycling above and beneath it.

The Cumbrian landscape is an integral part of Phil's life and work. As well as providing his home for nearly 20 years, it has also inspired his poetry - writings about the Lake District and beyond. One of his poems, Blencathra, featured in Terry Abraham's recent film for BBC4: "Life of a Mountain: A Year on Blencathra".

Phil also wrote and read the poem Piton last year at the opening of the Mountain Heritage Trust's new home, at the Blencathra Field Studies Centre, to an audience including many accomplished climbers.

"A piton is a term for the rock pins, fixed points used by climbers," Phil explains. "Himalayan climbing was a key component of that opening day in Blencathra, and there were several Everest-ers in the audience, and the poem received a deep, emotional response. I was very much writing about their world, so the poem had to be technically accurate and emotionally accurate. It was quite a unique experience."

Launch of ride to western shore: Duke of Portland Boathouse - view across Ullswater to Arthur's Pike
Launch of ride to western shore: Duke of Portland Boathouse - view across Ullswater to Arthur's Pike. Photo: Phil Houghton

While the Himalayas offer altitude and wilderness that few landscapes can match, the Lake District has a unique appeal: a breath-taking beauty that must make cycling there a pleasure. During our short conversation, Phil lists a host of locations, from Kirkstone Pass to the shores of Ullswater, that must provide a limitless source of inspiration. He is certainly not the first poet whose imagination has been fired by the Cumbrian landscape.

"Every poet up here is thinking at some point about Wordsworth's shadow," Phil says. "That's not a self-conscious thing, it's more about thinking: 'Can something new be said?' There is certainly something special about moving through the landscape, whether walking or cycling. I compose things in my head, rather than directly onto paper, and cycling fits well with that. It’s about moving through the landscape and trying to capture something. You think about the words and carry them with you in your head.”

Many UK cyclists are forced to curtail their riding in the depths of winter, and when we speak to Phil on the last days of January, he readily admits that most of his riding is done between March and October. The arrival of Spring heralds a return to the saddle, and informal ride outs with friends from the village, when the hidden pockets of frost and ice that can make winter riding in the Lakes treacherous, have largely disappeared.  However, the cycling season in these great riding landscapes is often extended, depending on the severity of the winter.

When he rides out again, he will be clothed for the task. He received a Prendas long-sleeve Great Britain retro jersey for Christmas, to go alongside a growing list of garments despatched from Dorset. A Felice Gimondi fiftieth anniversary jersey (fittingly, bought as a present for his fiftieth birthday), is another that hangs in his wardrobe alongside the aforementioned Raleigh pieces.

We all have our favourite training loops, and many of are blessed with easy access to a rural environment. Being able to ride out into the scenic delights of the Lake District, however, must seem a privilege.

Cycling of the seasons: Autumn & Winter compete for the peaks - Ullswater Steamer seen from near Gowbarrow Park
Cycling of the seasons: Autumn & Winter compete for the peaks - Ullswater Steamer seen from near Gowbarrow Park. Photo: Phil Houghton

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