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Cycling Hardknott Pass and Wrynose Pass

Liam Hallam is a sports science graduate. He is also a keen cyclist and a lover of the Derbyshire Dales and Peak District.

Read up on this guide about cycling through Hardknott Pass and Wrynose Pass.

Read up on this guide about cycling through Hardknott Pass and Wrynose Pass.

England's Hardest Cycling Climb: Cycling up Hardknott Pass

The climb of Hardknott Pass climbs out of peaceful and serene Eskdale from the west over a road which is believed to have been built by the Romans around 2AD. Their influence remains with Hardknott Fort situated at the top of this beast which is revered as the hardest cycling climb in England.

Hardnott and Wrynose Pass are just two of the mountain passes that can be cycled in the Lake District area of northern England.

The view up Hardknott Pass from Eskdale. The hardest cycling climb in England

The view up Hardknott Pass from Eskdale. The hardest cycling climb in England

Climbing Out of Eskdale in The Lake District

The climb itself begins at the far eastern end of Eskdale after you cycle over the cattle grid at Jubilee Bridge (Ordnance Survey Map Grid Ref NY 213 012). The climb starts about two kilometres past the Woolpack Inn at Eskdale where lunch is definitely not recommended prior to your arduous ascent. They have an excellent on site brewery which should also be missed if you’re serious about getting to the top of England’s hardest road cycling climb.

The Hardest Cycling Climb in England

From the cattle grid at Jubilee Bridge the first of the hairpin bends begin with an average gradient around 25%. If you’re on a road bike for this climb you’ll likely be down to a 39x25 gearing or lower if you have any cogs further to go down. Compact chainsets must have been made with climbs like this in mind and there’s no shame in riding one (or even a triple chainset but that’s tantamount to treason amongst many road cyclists).

A glance upwards shows a meandering road twisting and turning into switchback after switchback up into the distant horizon

After the first hairpins you’re hoping the gradient will ease off and your wish is briefly granted for a few hundred metres as you hit the halfway point of the climb starting to question why on earth someone would build a road so torturous and starting to question your ability to rise to the challenge of Hardknott Pass. You’re hoping for more of a respite but that never comes as the the road instead reaches further for the sky with even steeper switchbacks averaging 30% for a further 500 metres of pain.

The road finally eases off for the final few hundred metres of the climb which takes you up to an altitude of 393m (Ordnance Survey Map Grid Ref NY 231 014) after a 2250m climb and showcases some of the amazing Lakeland Fells in the distance as you stop at the top to gulp in more air. You’ve done it- You’re at the top of the hardest road cycling climb in England.

You're Now at the Summit: Where to Next?

Congratulations. You've conquered arguably England's hardest Mountain Pass

You have three potential options from here.

  1. the challenging descent down to Cockley Beck and another mammoth climb over Wrynose.(Keep reading for more information)
  2. Turn off at Cockley Beck and follow the idyllic Dunnerdale to Seathwaite
  3. Or turn back in the direction you came up the climb for a well earned pint of real ale at the Woolpack Inn back in Eskdale to toast your achievement.

England's Second Hardest Climb: Wrynose Pass

Wrynose Pass is much lesser known than the majestic and imposing Hardknott Pass but offers an amazing climb for cyclists visiting the Lake District to test their legs. Any Mountain Pass that cuts between the Coniston Fells to the South and Scafell Massif to the North (Including Scafell Pike, Englands Highest Peak at 978m) has to be treated with deep respect.

The valley floor from Cockley Beck which rises to the East to form Wrynose Pass.

The valley floor from Cockley Beck which rises to the East to form Wrynose Pass.

Tackling Wrynose Pass from Cockley Beck offers a cycling climb that starts off similar in gradient to many continental Mountain roads but the British tradition of building over a hill, as opposed to around it is showcased with a steep final ascent which gives way to amazing views of the Langdales on the descent.

Wrynose Bottom and a 20% Push to the Summit

Wrynose pass has to be one of the most beautifully set roads in the Lake District. When tackled by bike from Cockley Beck the road starts to rise gently as you follow the course of the beck (which more resembles a river) along a valley dwarfed by great fells over each shoulder.

A kilometre of gentle valley road brings the impending climb closer and closer until you pass over a cattle grid. From here the road starts its first steep snakes upward through Wrynose Bottom with steep imposing fells on either side.

3 kilometres from Cockley Beck the road starts to rear up and get steeper. With an initial surge up over 10% followed by a period of around 200 meters at over 20% before the plateau that forms the summit and affords beautiful views out towards Langdale and the Eastern Lake District.

Once again you're going to need a gearing in excess of a 39x25 to tackle Wrynose Pass by bike.


Beth Pipe from Cumbria, UK on April 28, 2013:

Both such amazing routes and scary enough in a car! Hats off to you for tackling them on a bike - you must have thighs of steel!

Liam Hallam (author) from Nottingham UK on February 12, 2013:

Thanks tony

You're both missing out by not visiting the Lake District. In my opinion nowhere in englandcompares to its beauty. There's some fantastic lakes to cycle around, great walking and some amazing pubs too.

My option would be stay in Windermere where your other half can explore by boat while you go riding and meet at lunch to discuss your adventures


Tony Capon from Upminster, Essex, United Kingdom on February 11, 2013:

Hello Liam, I've love to tackle these two Yorkshire climbs. Problem is: every time I've suggest Yorkshire as a holiday destination to my Wife, she reacts to the effect that a holiday must be taken at a latitude lower than the one where we live (Essex)! This usually means Devon, Cornwall or the West Country. All great places and enjoy them all, but the area is a little limiting! Any thought on counter arguments I should use on a Woman who is not into cycling, but will ride purely for weight maintainenance and health reasons of about half an hour at a time? Tony

Shea on February 10, 2013:

I would love to cycle the roads of England. I've always marveled at the miles of what seems like desolate blacktop through beautiful countryside. I might think twice about a climb like this though!