Ten of the best cycling climbs in the North Pennines - Road Cycling UK

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Ten of the best cycling climbs in the North Pennines

We run the climbing rule on one of the undiscovered gems of the British Isles

At RoadCyclingUK, we like to champion the lesser-recognised areas of the country for road cycling. We believe that Britain has some of the best roads for riding in the whole of Europe, and that includes its climbs as well.

Last year we featured the North Pennines in our Best of British series, and it was the quiet roads and stunning scenery that really stole our hearts.

Within the striking moorland, though, are a range of tough climbs that made it onto our 88-mile loop, all of which you’ll find below.

The North Pennines is home to some of the UK’s hidden climbing gems

There are also some new additions that we think should be on your must-ride list too, so now it’s that time again when we give you a rundown of the ten best climbs in the area.

– RCUK’s Best of British: the North Pennines –

Next time you’re in the area and fancy giving your legs a true test (which, let’s face it, you probably do if you’ve ventured to the region to ride your bike), be sure to check these out. Here are ten of the best cycling climbs in the North Pennines.

Great Dun Fell

Let’s start with the best – and toughest – climb of the lot. Great Dun Fell climb is a relative beast, and it’s easy to picture yourself on the Mont Ventoux as you climb it thanks to the barren landscape that features a radar station at the top.

This one is effectively a summit finish, on an out-and-back private access road open to cyclists, so it’s traffic-free and you can really get down to the business of focusing what your legs are doing.

Great Dun Fell is England’s Mont Ventoux (Pic: Tejvan Pettinger, via Flickr Creative Commons)

And you’ll need your legs to be going well but this is a hard climb by any standard. At the bottom you’re greeted with gentle 5-6 per cent slopes before the road rises and eases before settling into a sticky average of 14 per cent. All in all, you can expect an average of eight per cent over the 7.4km length of the climb.

After the twisty midsection as the tarmac scales the mountainside, there’s a little respite as the road flattens slightly for a few hundred metres, before the steepest part of the climb kicks in with 20 per cent pitches. You’re heading up the pinched crevice now, before arcing left towards the radar station.

Vital statistics

Distance: 7.4km
Average gradient: eight per cent
Steepest gradient: 20 per cent

Harthope Moss/Chapel Fell

Harthope Moss can be climbed from the west or the east – if you start the ascent from the west, then you’re taking on the climb we featured in the Best of British, whereas if you start from the east, in St. John’s Chapel, then you’re getting stuck into an ascent often referred to as Chapel Fell.

Harthope Moss has a sting in the tail and is cracking climb, regardless of what side you climb

From St. John’s Chapel, the road arcs right and then left before proceeding directly up the hill. The bottom half of the 3.9km climb is characterised by fluctuating gradients that range between two and ten per cent, before a slight drop as the road crosses over a river tributary cut-out in the hill.

– The 13 highest climbs to ride in the UK –

After, the road steepens to 15 per cent and remains relatively constant until the summit two kilometres later. Watch out for the final 800m push, though – here you’ll find the steepest prolonged gradient that touches 16 per cent.

Vital statistics

Distance: 3.9km
Average gradient: eight per cent
Steepest gradient: 16 per cent

Killhope Cross

Killhope Cross runs along the A689 road from Altson, heading towards Wearhead and St. John’s Chapel. As a result you can climb the pass from this side before heading down to tackle Harthope Moss above.

This climb is a rolling affair that gains a total of 274m in the space of 5.2km for a five per cent average gradient. However, that really doesn’t do it justice. The first 1.5km takes the form of a grippy false flat, before rolling up a seven per cent rise.

You then drop down the other side before gradually facing skywards again in an ever-steepening arc. The fulcrum is at around 3km, so there’s a good 2.2km to run with a gradient that reaches up to 12 per cent.

The top is characterised by some kickers that tip 20 per cent briefly, so make sure you’ve left some explosive power in the legs to crest the summit.

Vital statistics

Distance: 5.2km
Average gradient: five per cent
Steepest gradient: 20 per cent

Unthank Bank

We like a whimsically-named climb, and while we can’t confirm whether or not the name refers to how unthankful you’ll feel at the top as a bike rider, we can confirm that it’s a real tester.

The bottom of the 3.1km ascent is where you’ll find the steepest gradients that switchback up the lower slopes, hitting 15 per cent.

The North Pennines is home to some of the best riding in the country

From there, the road straightens up and heads more directly up the hill. The middle section features an easier section (with even a hint of a favourable false flat), before heading up again at 1.5km.

Thereafter, the road steadily sweeps up the hillside, with a generally steady gradient of around seven per cent. As you arrive at the summit, the road falls away into a flat section, but be sure to power on through the virtual finish line if you’re after a fast time.

Vital statistics

Distance: 3.1 km
Average gradient: six per cent
Steepest gradient: 15 per cent

Yad Moss

Yad Moss is a monster of a climb at 22.8km in length, starting at Middleton in Teesdale along the B6277 towards Alston.

The climb only features an average gradient of two per cent, but it’s a real tester if you want to get a long effort logged on your ride, with a series of punchy kickers which sap the legs.

Yad Moss is grippy and rolling – typical of the region (Pic: lizsmith, via Flickr Creative Commons)

The rise itself starts with a grippy false flat for the first four kilometres, before hitting two per cent for the next four. After this, an initial pitch that hits eight per cent signals the style for the rest of the segment, with repeated rollers that sap the energy from the legs.

It’s a real test of your on-the-bike recovery ability as you grind your way to the top. The KOM time currently stands at 48:09 minutes, so you’ll be in it for the long haul.

Vital statistics

Distance: 22.8km
Average gradient: two per cent
Steepest gradient: eight per cent

Hartside Fell

None other than Giro d’Italia specialist Steven Kruijswijk owns the KOM for this climb. Set back when the Tour of Britain visited in 2015 for a summit finish, have a crack at Kruijswijk’s effort to see how compare – and just how good the pros are.

Hartside is actually a pass on the A686 main road, and it starts on the western edge of the North Pennine hills and proceeds up the road towards Alston.

The Tour of Britain climbed Hartside Fell in 2015 (Pic: The Tour)

The climb traverses the edge of the ridge, but it’s a very steady five per cent gradient for the entirety of the 7.6km that you’ll be greeted with.

That means you can settle into a rhythm, reminiscent of long Alpine or Pyrenean climbs, with the road broken up as it weaves up the gradient with sharp turns, curves and even a switchback at the 5km mark.

It’s a real beast, and is a perfect training climb if you’ve got a continental mountain adventure coming up. Of course, you can also climb from the other side, as we did when we were in the area, and then throw yourself into the rollercoaster descent – it’s a cracker.

Vital statistics

Distance: 7.6km
Average gradient: five per cent
Steepest gradient: seven per cent

Peat Hill

Starting near St. John’s Chapel, Peat Hill heads up in the opposite direction to Harthope Moss. Once you leave the A689, the road starts flat then heads upwards in a sharp arc, hitting a proverbial wall at 20 per cent before easing off.

It’s a tasty first kilometre, but once you’ve cleared the initial shock the road becomes much steadier in its gradient, averaging around seven per cent with gentle fluctuations that only trouble double figures as you near the top, just past the 3km mark.

The climb finishes at the junction, with a left turn functioning as a handy loop back to the A689 where you can head back to the start for a few repetitions, head off up the other side towards Harthope Moss, or turn right for an almost direct route to our next entry…

Vital statistics

Distance: 3.5km
Average gradient: seven per cent
Steepest gradient: 20 per cent

Cuthbert’s Hill

That next entry is Cuthbert’s Hill. The bottom is an almost straight road that measures a seven per cent average gradient, before a 90 degree right hander that leads into the next stretch that breaks into double figures.

Long climbs and stunning vistas are hallmarks of the North Pennines

After this, a sharp left turn helps the road cut up the hillside with another straight section 300m in length. Then it’s another right-angled bend right to round the moor. Thankfully at this point you’ll be experiencing easier gradients of around four per cent.

However, the steeper 16 per cent bottom slopes will have taken the sting out of your legs, so those easier gradients are going to feel tough. At the top, a right-left wiggle in the road marks the start of the final 250m sprint to the line.

Vital statistics

Distance: 2.7km
Average gradient: six per cent
Steepest gradient: 16 per cent

Dowgang Hush

This climb is right in the heart of the North Pennines, starting at Nenthead, and is reminiscent of the various smaller climbs that pepper the interior of the area of natural beauty.

It’s a consistent climb over a 1.4km stretch, but what makes it challenging is the ten per cent average gradient from bottom to top. As we say, it’s a consistent gradient, although the Strava segment finishes just over the summit, so we think in reality it’s closer to 12 per cent.

If you’re planning a cycling holiday in the UK, the North Pennines should be near the top of your shortlist

The road is effectively a point-and-squirt ride, and because the start of the segment is on a small junction it’s difficult to take any speed into it.

That means you have no choice but to go hard and, in a way, we like that.

Vital statistics

Distance: 1.4km
Average gradient: ten per cent
Steepest gradient: 13 per cent

Well Bank

Finally, we have Well Bank, another climb that starts near St. John’s Chapel and scales New House Hill alongside Peat Hill. It’s a 2.1km leg burner with an average gradient of ten per cent.

At the start, the road tips up with a gradient of 20 per cent, and instead of suddenly easing off only gradually gives way to the slightly easier second half. Handily, you know the road is about to ease when the left-right switchbacks have been scaled.

Then it’s a case of pointing your bike towards the summit as the road straightens out and eases slightly to a gently varying ten per cent.

Much like Cuthbert’s Hill, with the 20 per cent stretch in your legs you’ll need to dig deep to drive over the line, which is still 1.5km away. It won’t be easy.

Vital statistics

Distance: 2.1km
Average gradient: ten per cent
Steepest gradient: 20 per cent


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