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5 great cycle routes in and around the Lake District

PUBLISHED: 12:04 13 July 2018 | UPDATED: 10:42 31 July 2018

Lone rider at the summit of the Hardknott Pass

Lone rider at the summit of the Hardknott Pass

Richard Barrett

Author and photographer Richard Barrett, who wrote ‘Cycling in the Lake District’ for the Kendal-based guidebook publisher, Cicerone, chooses his top 5 rides.

Riding The Fred Whitton Challenge, a gruelling 112 mile sportive involving 3950m of ascent starting at Grasmere and taking in climbs of Kirkstone, Honister, Newlands, Whinlatter, Hardknott & Wrynose passes, is to cyclists what the London Marathon is to runners.

Securing an entry is just as difficult too, showing what a magnet the Lake District is for cyclists. You need to be fit and have a good range of gears to enjoy the Lakeland passes.

However there are plenty of easier rides on quieter roads on the periphery of the region.

Heading towards the Wrynose PassHeading towards the Wrynose Pass


Route: Ambleside - Little Langdale - Wrynose Pass - Hardknott Pass - Eskdale Green - Ulpha - Hall Duddon - Broughton Mills - Torver - Coniston - Hawkshead Hill - Ambleside

Description: Two infamous climbs and two lesser climbs on the way home make this a must for those wanting to test their climbing ability. The first few miles are easy but after Little Langdale the gradients increase first up Wrynose Pass and then the notorious Hardknott Pass. It is not long but includes a 500-yard stretch with gradients reaching 30 per cent that many consider the hardest ascent in the Lake District. After an exhilarating descent, there are plenty of places to top up energy levels along the Eskdale Valley, before more gentle climbs first over Birker Fell into the Duddon Valley; then over the Dunnerdale Fells to Coniston. After that, it’s easier riding back to Ambleside.

Details: Distance 42 miles; Ascent 1580m; Allow 6-7 hours

Highlight: Hard riding through wonderful scenery brings on a thirst. Thankfully there are plenty of pubs along the route including the unspoilt Blacksmiths Arms in Broughton Mills which is a particular favourite.

The stunning Lowther Castle near PenrithThe stunning Lowther Castle near Penrith


Route: Penrith - Great Strickland following National Cycle Route (NCR) 71 - Lowther - Askham - Pooley Bridge - Howtown - Pooley Bridge by boat - Wreay - Hutton - Penrith again following NCR 71

Description: A ride that has the option of using the historic Ullswater Steamers for the 25-minute crossing from Howtown to Pooley Bridge. After pleasant riding following the NCR71 through pretty villages, you can enjoy an early break at the courtyard café at the historic Lowther Castle. Then cross the river and ride through Askham to Pooley Bridge before taking the quiet road along the eastern shore of Ullswater. If you have to wait for a boat at Howtown, you could ride the snaking climb up The Hause that gives tremendous views back along Ullswater. Otherwise enjoy your cruise. From Pooley Bridge, briefly follow the A592 southwards before turning right at the Brackenrigg Inn following signs for Greystoke. Just before crossing Dacre Beck, the route joins NCR71 which it follows through Hutton John, across the A66 and back into Penrith.

Details: Distance 36 miles; Ascent, 575m; Allow 4–5 hours

Highlight: Cruising along Ullswater makes for a memorable day.

Around the Back O'SkiddawAround the Back O'Skiddaw


Route: Keswick - Threlkeld following NCR 71 - Mungrisdale - Mosedale - Hesketh Newmarket - Branthwaite - Orthwaite - Bassenthwaite - Keswick

Description: A magical ride on the minor roads that skirt along the fells to the north of Skiddaw with fine views across the Solway and beyond. Join NCR71 alongside the River Greta in Keswick and follow it through Threlkeld and Scales beneath the southern ridges of Blenthcathra. This section will be busy at weekends as it forms part of the Sea-to-Sea Cycle Route. But once past Mungrisdale you should be on your own to enjoy the silence of the wide open spaces. Join NCR 10 in Hesketh Newmarket and follow it through Branthwaite and around to Over Water. Then follow the NCR38 through Orthwaite, Bassenthwaite and back into Keswick.

Details: Distance 34 miles; Ascent 815m; Allow 4–5 hours

Highlights: The wide open spaces and distant views – but perhaps not on windy days.

A ride alongside Coniston WaterA ride alongside Coniston Water


Route: Grizedale Visitor Centre - Hawkshead - High Nibthwaite - Oxen Park - Satterthwaite - Grizedale

Description: Other than a short, sharp climb near Oxen Park, this is a relaxing ride with great scenery and plenty of attractions. Head north through Hawkshead then follow signs for Coniston. Once over Hawkshead Hill, bear left towards Newby Bridge and follow the quiet road along the eastern shore of Coniston Water past John Ruskin’s home at Brantwood. Just after High Nibthwaite, turn left towards Oxen Park up Bessy Bank Lane. After the easy rolling alongside Coniston Water, climbing up this prettily named lane comes as a shock to the system, but once clear of the trees, you are rewarded with good views of Dow Crag and The Old Man of Coniston across the lake. Ride through Oxen Park following signs first for Satterthwaite then Grizedale and you will soon be back to the start and its welcoming café.

Details: Distance 20 miles; Ascent 654m; Allow 2–3 hours

Highlights: A ride for spring, when the bluebells are out – or autumn when the leaves turn.

Grange Over SandsGrange Over Sands


Route: Grange-over-sands - Meathop - Gilpin Bridge - Brigsteer - Underbarrow - Witherslack - High Newton - Cartmel - Grange-over-sands

Description: A ride similar to the damsons that grow in the area – sweet but with a sting in the tail. Initially you get the easy-rolling expanses of the Lyth Valley but here is a short, sharp climb up Newton Fell before returning via Cartmel. Head east along Meathop Road following the Cumbria Coastal Way to Gilpin Bridge then turn northwards and ride up the Lyth Valley passing through Brigsteer and Underbarrow. Just before Crosthwaite, turn left and then immediately right down an unmarked lane to meet the A5074. Cross the junction and climb steadily through the wooded western flanks of Whitbarrow to Witherslack. Turn right to Newton, crossing the River Winster before a short climb up Newton Fell. Turn left in High Newton and ride to the historic Cartmel now famous as the gastronomic capital of the South Lakes where all manner of temptations await. When you have had your fill, ride the final few miles back to Grange-over-Sands.

Details: Distance 29 miles; Ascent 504m; Allow 3–4 hours

Highlights: Best in spring when the damson trees are in blossom.

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