Ten of the best cycling climbs in the Lake District

Beautiful backdrops mask fiercely tough climbs in the Lakes

The Lake District. Even the name is evocative of stunning vistas – high mountain peaks, glacial lakes and deep lakes.

With some of the toughest roads out there, the Lake District is also one of the UK’s must-ride regions – if you want to test your legs, you’ve come to the right place.

It is little wonder the Tour of Britain makes a point of visiting the region regularly. With the climbs usually proving to be disruptive to the race, they’re developing a reputation all of their own within world cycling.

– RCUK’s Best of British: the Lake District – 

So if you’re planning on a visit to the Lake District and are able to take your bike along, check out these climbs that we think should be on your ‘must-ride’ list.

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Hardknott Pass

Hardknott Pass is a great place to start with a best climbs list for the Lake District, because you could choose either direction and encounter 30 per cent gradients. Gulp. This is undoubtedly one of the toughest climbs you’ll find anywhere in the country.

The westerly climb on the Eskdale side is the slightly tougher of the two, so that’s the one that gets our vote. It’s a winding climb up the side of the moor, permeated by hairpin bends and sharp curves as you grind your way to the top.

Hardknott Pass is typical of Britain’s short, steep ascents and boasts a stunning Lake District backdrop (pic: Barney Moss, via Flickr Creative Commons)

And grind you will, because the twisty bottom is characterised by 20 per cent grades before a straighter section that eases off to only a few per cent for a short period. Depending on your gearing, you might hope to use this as a section to spin out your legs, because the toughest section is to come.

Next up is the showpiece switchback section that peaks at a fearsome one in three gradient, with a final straight section that initially doesn’t relent, before finally giving a little in the final 300m. Although, it’s a stretch to describe a gradient that doesn’t dip into single figures as ‘forgiving’.

Vital statistics

Distance: 2.2km
Average gradient: 13 per cent
Steepest gradient: 33 per cent

Kirkstone Pass

Kirkstone Pass had to be part of the list simply because it’s the Lake District’s highest pass open to traffic, and here we’re focussing on the A592 road starting from Lake Windermere. The segment is 8.5km long, with a rolling first couple of kilometres to get you warmed up before the long rolling drag up.

At around 2.5km the road pitches up once more, just registering over ten per cent, but the difference this time is that there’s no roll down the other side. Instead, the road flattens off before climbing again, this time with a 14 per cent peak slope.

The Kirkstone Pass is the highest paved road in the Lake District (pic: Matthew Robey, via Flickr Creative Commons)

By now, your legs will be feeling the effort, but at the 5km mark it’s time to settle in for the remainder as the road rears its head once more up to six per cent. A kilometre later the road plateaus again before rising up to a maximum of 13 per cent for the final two kilometres.

It’s a great climb to ride if long efforts are your thing, while the road has little in the way of switchbacks, forcing you to focus on the long effort ahead of you.

Vital statistics

Distance: 8.5km
Average gradient: four per cent
Steepest gradient: 14 per cent

Blea Tarn

Blea Tarn sits on the B5343 road that rings Side Pike. You’ll never make it to the top of the mountain, but Blea Tarn is a short 1km climb that brings you up as high as the road will take you.

It’s got some character, too. The bottom winds gently towards the hillside before facing it almost dead-on. Then in order to ease out the steep rise, you’ll wiggle up the road in a right-left-right-left-right sequence. Throughout, you’ll be faced with 20 per cent grades that simply won’t relent.

The road then arcs round left at an average of around 15 per cent, before a 90 degree right hand turn into the final section. Don’t think these mean the slope gives you anything though, because it carries on hitting your legs at that 15 per cent pitch until the very last 100m, which flatten off and lead you through the virtual finish line.

Vital statistics

Distance: 1km
Average gradient: 12 per cent
Steepest gradient: 20 per cent

Honister Pass

Honister Pass was used by the Tour of Britain in 2013, and we’ve selected the direction in which the race rode it, which is the longer of the two ascents. At the bottom you might be wondering what the fuss is all about, unless you were blown away by the beauty of Buttermere Lake at the start.

From the lake, you proceed up the B5289 road on what is the falsest of false flats, barely tipping upwards at all. The road continues this way for two kilometres but it’s enough to feel slightly grippy as your average speed takes a hit.

Then it’s time to climb properly, with a gradient that steepens steadily first to five per cent, before approaching eight per cent over the next 700m. From there, the suffering really begins with pitches of up to 24 per cent and it barely relents all the way to the summit. It’s a mark of how vicious the final stage of the climb is when the entire segment measures at a seven per cent average.

Vital statistics

Distance: 3.7km
Average gradient: seven per cent
Steepest gradient: 24 per cent

The Struggle

Forming another path up to the top of Kirkstone Pass, The Struggle was made infamous by a soon-to-retire Sir Bradley Wiggins, who took the opportunity to dismount from his bike and run up the top section of the hillside when the 2016 Tour of Britain visited, in a tribute to the events that befell ex-teammate Chris Froome on the slopes of Mont Ventoux.

It concludes at the same point as the Kirkstone Pass segment above, but starts on the outskirts of the town of Ambleside. From there, the climb is 4km in length, but features far steeper gradients in order to make the 329m of elevation gain by the top. It’s a smaller road than the main Kirkstone Pass climb, so it’s not without character, and is our pick if you need to choose one route to the summit.

The Struggle is the toughest of three routes up the Kirkstone Pass (pic: Mark Kent, via Flickr Creative Commons)

At the beginning of the climb riders are greeted with slopes of 16 per cent for the first kilometre – tough in its own right – before there’s a slight easing and a second kick that peaks at 18 per cent.

A welcome false flat follows for a kilometre and a half before the final tough section kicks in, holding over 20 per cent consistently right to the summit junction with the A592 main road.

Vital statistics

Distance: 4km
Average gradient: eight per cent
Steepest gradient: 22 per cent

Wrynose Pass

We opened this top ten feature with Hardknott Pass, so it’d be rude to not include its (slightly) easier brother. It sits on the same road as Hardknott, and if you choose to ride that from Eksdale as we recommend you’ll be rewarded with beautiful views on the descent of Wrynose towards Ambleside.

The Lake District balances tough gradients with beautiful backdrops

In order to get the best out of the pass, you’ll need to ride it back up the way you’ve come though, where gradients rarely dip below double figures. The bottom touches ten per cent quickly before a slight easing, before the bulk of the rise kicks in and fluctuates around 20 per cent, with a peak of 23.

At the 2km mark there’s a second easing, but if a quick time up the segment is what you’re after, then you’ll need to get your skates on. The climb continues on a false flat for a further 500m, at which point your legs will be screaming for respite. All you have to do is hold on until that virtual finish line.

Vital statistics

Distance: 2.5km
Average gradient: 11 per cent
Steepest gradient: 23 per cent

Burn Edge

You’ll find Burn Edge on the western edges of the Lake District, and it takes the form of a steadily ramping rise that won’t quite let you settle into a rhythm throughout its 3.5km length.

The first 500m takes the form of what could be described as a false flat, before the road pitches upward to the tune of ten per cent for the next 500m. After this, you’ll encounter a small respite as the road slowly levels out and drops down for a short period. You’ll want to make the most of it to gather momentum, because at the 2km mark the road rises up once again.

Once more, you’ll encounter gradients of at least ten per cent, sometimes touching 13 per cent, before the road gives slightly for the final kilometre at five per cent. Don’t let up once the road levels off, though – the last 300m are essentially a flat sprint to the line.

Vital statistics

Distance: 3.5km
Average gradient: five per cent
Steepest gradient: 13 per cent

Newlands Hause

If Honister Pass is a bit old hat to you, or you’ve approached Buttermere from Borrowdale, then you should check out Newlands Hause, which starts from the locale of Buttermere. Simply turn off the B5289 at the village and head straight on up onto the moor.

The ascent itself is 1.7km long and kicks out a thigh-numbing average of 12 per cent. It’s a gradient that you’ll feel right from the off too, with the first 500m hitting 15 per cent. The road then eases slightly as you traverse Newlands Pass with a very short flat section at the kilometre mark, but it’s not the end.

In order to make it to the top, you’ll need to get over the finishing section that reaches a particularly sticky 22 per cent, so it’s worth saving something for it so you can attack the summit just before the right-left switch in the road.

Vital statistics

Distance: 1.7km
Average gradient: 12 per cent
Steepest gradient: 22 per cent

Whinlatter Pass

Whinlatter Pass is another climb, along with Hardknott and Wrynose passes, that features in the Fred Whitton Challenge – one of the very toughest sportives in the UK. Unlike many of the climbs listed here, it’s a relatively steady climb, but therein lies its charm.

Starting from Braithwaite, you take the B5292 westwards, and the road starts steadily before beginning the climb in earnest and turning right so the road can traverse the steep hillside. From there it hits an average of seven per cent, with the odd fluctuation that punches the road up to 16 per cent in one section at the 1.4km mark.

Whinlatter Pass offers stunning Lake District vistas (pic – Alistair Young, via Flickr Creative Commons)

From there it’s a steady grind all the way to the top, incorporating a slight increase to 14 per cent before levelling off into a near-false flat for the final 500m section.

Vital statistics

Distance: 3 km
Average gradient: seven per cent
Steepest gradient: 16 per cent

Bank House Moor

Bank House Moor technically sits just south of the Lake District, but you’ll need to ride through the national park in order to hit this climb. It’s a cracking ascent too, so it’d be shame to miss it off this list, and we’ve selected the slightly longer, northern route to the top.

The bottom of the climb is characterised by a left-right-left zigzag that peaks at ten per cent, before the really tough part of the climb kicks in. The gradient then reaches 20 per cent as you approach the 1km point, before easing off slightly.

It’s unlikely you’ll have a chance to take a rest though, because as soon as the flat stretch starts, it’s seemingly over again. From there, you’ll need to grit your teeth and take the remaining 12 per cent rise head on. There’s really no easing off until you cross the line, so it’s full gas from here on in.

Vital statistics

Distance: 1.9km
Average gradient: 11 per cent
Steepest gradient: 20 per cent

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