Ten of the best cycling climbs in Somerset and Dorset - Road Cycling UK

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Ten of the best cycling climbs in Somerset and Dorset

Somerset and Dorset are home to some of the toughest, grippiest climbs in the UK

The south west of England is home to some of the toughest terrain the UK has to offer, with the Mendips, Quantocks and Blackdowns all featuring multiple climbs worthy of inclusion in a ‘top ten’ list. In fact, we could name at least 20 meriting a place in such a round-up.

Most of the climbs in our list are based in Somerset – and that’s in spite of the Somerset Levels (and area of coastal plains running south from the Mendips to the Blackdown Hills) taking a large proportion of the real estate in Somerset.

The counties of Somerset and Dorset are packed with tough climbs, with the steep gradients typical of the UK (pic: Tejvan Pettinger, via Flickr Creative Commons)

However, what makes Somerset’s toughest climbs so enticing is the multiple ways you can scale the surrounding hills, from the Mendips in the north east to the Quantocks in the south west, and even in the Cranborne Chase in Dorset.

Read on to discover which hills we think will appeal to the rider looking for the hardest and steepest around, covering the counties of Somerset and Dorset.

Crowcombe Combe

Crowcombe Combe is one of the grippiest climbs of the Quantock hills, made even tougher by its unrelenting gradient over the 1.2km length. Don’t get us wrong, we know 1.2km isn’t very long – but when you spend at least 75 per cent of the climb on a gradient of 15 per cent or over, 1.2km is absolutely plenty.

Starting at the village that gives the climb its name, you make a left turn and point your bike at the summit. There’s little to nothing in the way of bends to break up the climb, which means you need to put your game face on and simply focus on turning your legs – legs that are screaming in lactate burn before you know it.

As a result, Crowcombe Combe can become a real grinder, strewn with cyclists who want to get out of the saddle for the extra power, but simply can’t due to the factors of lactate overload and reduced grip at the rear wheel.

Unless you’re a seasoned climber, expect to be weaving left and right as you seek to artificially reduce the gradient you’re tackling.

Vital Statistics

Distance: 1.2km
Avg gradient: 15 per cent
Steepest gradient: 25 per cent

Cheddar Gorge 

Cheddar Gorge is one of the must-ride climbs of not only the south west, but of the entire UK thanks to how it’s seemingly carved into the surrounding rock.

It winds up the depression in an alp-like snake, first switching back at the bottom around a steep bend that reaches 24 per cent, before gently sweeping to the very top.

Cheddar Gorge is a must-ride UK climb (pic: Threshold Sports)

The climb encourages you to attack; as the gradient relaxes after the initial steepness, it largely levels off – which means the overall average gradient sits at four per cent. Don’t be fooled, however. For a fast time, you need to maintain your power output for the entire length of the 5km segment.

As a result, if ridden hard, this is a painful climb – suiting the masochists among you. What’s more, as the gradient almost completely levels out to three per cent near the top, you can genuinely sprint to the finish line at the junction.

Better yet, you can veer off to the left, taking the opportunity to cool down after your maximal effort on a quiet road that naturally leads you directly to the picturesque Chew Valley and Blagdon lakes.

Vital Statistics

Distance: 5km
Average gradient: four per cent
Steepest gradient: 24 per cent

Burrington Combe

Situated on the western side of the Mendip Hills, the Burrington Combe climb runs alongside Beacon Batch, one of the high points of the hills. Over the course of 4km, you’ll gain 213m of altitude, resulting in an average gradient of five per cent.

That doesn’t sound too bad, but the climb is constantly undulating – more than the Strava profile might suggest, we can assure you. Much like Cheddar Gorge, you begin the climb surrounded by limestone rock, sweeping up the road from the crossroads on Bath Road.

Burrington Combe is a picturesque ascent, and a constantly undulating route up (pic: Stewart Black, via Flickr Creative Commons)

You’ll pass the lodge near the bottom next to the cattle grid – a great spot to grab a quick coffee and piece of cake if you’re trying to put off the inevitable – and from there sweep upwards. The climb is then characterized by a hump at halfway, where the gradient pitches up to one in four, then dips slightly.

It’s not long enough to rest, though – you’ll be on your way back upwards once more, returning to the same varying 5-7 per cent grade all the way to the top.

Vital Statistics

Distance: 4km
Avg gradient: five per cent
Steepest gradient: 25 per cent

Bathford Hill

Bathford Hill isn’t the most infamous climb around the city of Bath, but it’s one with plenty of character thanks to its four distinct stages. Just as you leave Bathampton, you ride under the railway bridge then take the first left, engaging the first section.

It’s the steepest stretch, heading up to 22 per cent for some 400m, and butters you up for the rest. Veer left at the village hall, and continue up on a recently resurfaced stretch at six per cent. If you’ve been going hard, you’ll be feeling the effort at this point, but there’s a gift in store.

The road tips gently downward as it traverses Ashley Wood, allowing you recover your strength, or power on. The choice is yours, but regardless, you’ll be faced with the challenging fourth section as the road tips up again.

Barring the bottom, this is the steepest prolonged section at an average of eight per cent, continuing all the way up to the summit at the junction. Either continue onwards or turn right, it doesn’t matter, just be sure to ride on for a couple of hundred metres to avoid being caught on the junction.

Vital Statistics

Distance: 2.7km
Avg gradient: five per cent
Steepest gradient: 22 per cent

Dunkery Beacon

Dunkery Beacon starts close to the coastal towns of Minehead and Porlock, which means you’re likely to have stopped recently for a coffee before you attempt this punishing climb.

At 5.7km in length, this is one of the longer climbs on our list, and it also features maximum gradients of 17 per cent as you skirt the village of Horner.

Dunkery Beacon offers stunning views, ample reward for a tough, long climb (pic – Kerry Garratt, via Flickr Creative Commons)

From there, you do get a small respite from the climb – however, this lowers the overall average gradient to seven per cent (remember, this is an average grade that includes the practically flat first kilometre, so don’t be fooled into thinking the worst is over).

You rise again, through a short, sharp s-bend, before pointing your bike at the sky on gradients that don’t dip below double figures for the next 1.5km. It’s only right near the top the gradient eases as you make it on top of Exmoor. Still, the reward is a photo opportunity at the top that takes in views of the Severn Estuary – one for a clear day.

Vital Statistics

Distance: 5.7km
Avg gradient: seven per cent
Steepest gradient: 17 per cent

Cothelstone

Cothelstone is one of the most targeted climbs of the Quantocks – quite a claim for a range of hills that could very well fill this feature on its own.

It’s also one of the features of day two of the Deloitte Ride Across Britain, often overlooked by the riders as they focus on Cheddar Gorge later in the day. It’s an oversight they make at their peril.

That’s because Cothelstone features extremely tough pitches of up to 26 per cent. Unless you’re running a 34/32t gear ratio, you’ll need to get out of the saddle on more than one occasion.

However, initially it lulls you into a false sense of security. At the base of the segment, on the junction of Kingston St. Mary Road, you’ll be greeted with a flat road, barely touching one per cent – but with it, nerves build as you look up at the ridge you’re about to scale.

Then, you turn left and the road sweeps up to the heavens, passing round the Old Plantation peak, hitting that tough 26 per cent incline over the course of a kilometre. The final stretch levels off slightly, if you can call eight per cent ‘levelling off’ – which in this case you can; testament to the toughness of the climb.

Vital Statistics

Distance: 3km
Avg gradient: six per cent
Steepest gradient: 26 per cent

Porlock Hill

The headline of this climb is in its steepest gradient, which hits incredibly close to one in three. For most, this might seem like too much – but it’s worth the attempt.

There are in fact two Porlock Hills to ride up, but the toll road is by far the most inspiring. The climb itself is a smash of steep grades and short plateaus, halting any kind of rhythm you might hope to achieve.

Porlock Hill in Somerset is not only steep but long, too (Pic: Tejvan Pettinger, via Flickr Creative Commons)

However, it’s not a straight-up climb, instead wiggling its way up the hillside, switching back and bending sharply all the way to the summit. In fact, it has everything you could possibly want from the longest climb on our list.

As it progresses, the rolling nature eases slightly, but not the average gradient – you’ll still be tipping six per cent for the remainder of the climb as you rejoin the A39 at the top.

Vital Statistics

Distance: 6.7km
Avg gradient: five per cent
Steepest gradient: 30 per cent

Corfe Hill

Corfe Hill is arguably the toughest rise up onto the crest of the Blackdown Hills, and that’s taking into account the challenging West Buckland climb (tough enough to be the chosen course for the local Wellington Wheeler’s Hill Climb), Ford Street, Monument Hill, Blagdon and Wrangway, all of which scale the same ridge.

Corfe Hill gets the first of two inclusions from the Blackdowns on our list, though, thanks to its grippy, constant six per cent gradient, despite curving up the hill side on the B3170 over a 3.8km length.

While it pitches to 11 per cent in a couple of spots, it quickly returns to single figures, allowing you to really attack.

As you rise, you’re largely covered by trees, which makes sensing the top difficult if you’ve never ridden up it before.

It’s a particular favourite for cyclists from the area, and if you’re really geared up for a tilt at the KOM, you’ll need to hit over 25km/h average speed for the whole segment – not easy. Still, it’s ripe for a first sub-9-minute time. Fancy the challenge?

Vital Statistics

Distance: 3.8km
Avg gradient: six per cent
Steepest gradient: 11 per cent

Zig Zag Hill

Zig Zag Hill is our second entry from Dorset, and we could hardly ignore it – it’s four distinct switchbacks (five, if you squint) near the bottom of the climb create a real sense of occasion and makes you almost believe you could be on the Lacets de Montvernier.

You have to accelerate out of each bend, creating tough challenge as you repeatedly peak your lactate levels.

Zig Zag Hill switches back and forth exactly as the name suggests

We say almost, though, because while it mirrors its French big brother by arcing back and forth up the ridge, once its scaled you carry on up the B3081 in a largely straight line. Although you’ll need to deal with rolling gradients from halfway, pitching downwards on two occasions, before hitting the summit at 3.3km after 108m of gained elevation, maintaining your hard-earned speed until the conclusion of the segment is the hard task in front of you here.

We also feel obliged to highlight Gold Hill, a cobbled climb in the town of Shaftesbury. Made famous by the Hovis television adverts, it’s the cobbles that make this one particularly tough, hitting 23 per cent in the course of its 150m length. Great, if you’re training for De Ronde.

Vital Statistics

Distance: 3.3km
Avg gradient: three per cent
Steepest gradient: ten per cent

Whiteways Climb

Starting from East Lulworth, Whiteways Climb scales up the hill known as Purbeck Ridge. It’s a 2.2km rise that has an average of five per cent, and peaks at 12 per cent.

It’s the way the climb snakes up the ridge that makes it so enticing, sweeping right and then left, taking advantage of the topography of the ridge. From the bottom, the gradient starts steadily, then rises gradually until the midway point, hitting that peak incline of 12 per cent. You’ll want to watch out for pesky winds trying to slow you down, too.

Then, the gradient eases very slightly as you continue on the way to the summit, but you’ll have grit your teeth as you reach the top, rolling over and slightly downhill for 200m to reach the end of the official segment. If a fast time isn’t your goal, though, take the time to look around at the scenery the ridge offers as a reserve of the Dorset Wildlife Trust.

Vital Statistics

Distance: 2.2km
Avg gradient: five per cent
Steepest gradient: 12 per cent

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