Blog Post by Emma: Our Favourite UK ride of 2015
Several years ago Grant took me on a spectacularly scenic, but tremendously hard ride in the North Lake District. Although not that long in distance, just over 40 miles, the route takes you over four of the area’s steepest passes (Newlands from both sides, Honister and Whinlatter). I’d only been cycling for about a year when we first cycled this route, and on my first couple of attempts back in 2003, I had to get off and push on Newlands and Honister. Thankfully my capacity for riding uphill is much improved these days!
We’ve always tried to ride this fabulous route a couple of times prior to our summer road cycling trips to the mountains of Europe, as it’s great training, as well as being one of our favourite places. As our desire to ride longer distances increased, we decided to extend the route when we did our first trip up there in 2015.
So four passes became six, taking the distance to approximately 65 miles, from our starting point in Braithwaite. The ride basically entails riding each pass (Newlands, Honister and Whinlatter) from both sides.
On leaving the village the height gain begins almost immediately, but the rise is gradual and gives the opportunity to warm up the legs. As the road climbs along the edge of the valley, a series of short ramps give a flavour of what is to come. Grant tends to gauge how his ride is going to go by how his legs feel on these first rises in the road. As the height increases, so do the views. Farms are scattered across Newlands Valley, and in the warmer months streams glisten, and the mountains are green with grass and fern.
The first really steep section of the ride lies at the end of this valley…..the first ascent of Newlands Pass. Friends have expressed that this feels like the most challenging point in the ride, due to its timing, but I don’t think it is actually the steepest part. You are rewarded with a beautiful view, particularly if you look back down the valley towards Braithwaite. It’s worth stopping to admire the scenery for a short time…..this can be your excuse if you’re gasping (like me) when you reach the top!
The ride quickly shifts to a descent, dropping sharply into the next valley…..look out for sheep! Now deep in the Lake District, high peaks edge the spectacular, sometimes mirror-like Lake Buttermere.
The road runs alongside the lake, towards the infamous Honister Pass. The ascent begins gradually, which gives you opportunity to admire the sides of the valley, which appear to rise almost vertically and loom high above you……you feel like a tiny dot on the road! The climb becomes incredibly steep in its later stages (up to 25%) but the slate mine gives you a target and a visual indication that the top is near. A few more arduous pedal strokes take you past the mine to where the road eventually flattens. This is a great place for a breather and to share each other’s experiences of the climb. We tend to grab a quick bite to eat at this point. A tasty bar is a nice reward after that hill!
The descent off Honister comes next. This is a tricky descent, the road is uneven in parts and the gradients are really steep. I am always relieved to reach the bottom of this descent, even though I’ve ridden down it so many times, I am always glad when the road flattens out into the valley.
The next part of our ride heads along a winding road through the valley, a glass clear river soon appears on the left. We always admire this through gaps in the trees, and we say that one day we should take a walk along this river……but we’ve still not got round to that! A left turn takes us across the river and links to a very gradual climb that rises above Derwent Water. Cat Bells is always a busy spot for walkers. The increase in elevation offers views across the water and the surrounding mountains, with Skiddaw and Blencathra being in easy view on clear days.
As the road heads away from the lake, we ride around the outskirts of Keswick to reach the third third major climb of the day, Whinlatter Pass. It starts with the sound of a stream and a rather steep ramp! Further into the climb, the gradient slackens allowing you to put rhythm into your pedal stroke and even catch a little bit of recovery, in readiness for when the gradient kicks again. About half way up the ascent, the trees break and views over Braithwaite Lake open up on your right. Gradient changes occur throughout this climb but a short flatter section indicates the top is close, with just a single rise remaining before the Whinlatter trail centre comes into view.
An enjoyable descent off Whinlatter takes us down to the next valley and this is a great time to take in food or drink in readiness for the fourth main climb. The road now swings back into the heart of the Lakes to take us to our second ascent of Newlands. The approach is so picturesque, as the road skirts along the edge of Crummock Water. The colours and views across the valley change in the sunlight and we frequently stop to take photos. This part of the valley is flanked by large peaks that shadow the two valley lakes which sit below. The flat section of road is to be savoured, as more climbing soon ensues.
So onto Newlands again, but this time from the Buttermere side. This always feels very challenging due to the steep gradient and the climbs already in the legs. The view at the top makes every pedal stroke worth the effort, and I’m always pleased to reach the final bend, which symbolises the top of the climb.
We now descend the road upon which our ride began. However, we don’t go back to Braithwaite just yet, we bear right towards Newlands Chapel and onto Ullock, to take us to our second ascent of Honister Pass. My legs were certainly feeling the previous four climbs, not to mention all the other ups and downs along the way! It’s around the 50 mile mark by the time you are approaching Honister from this side.
Grant and I have pondered which Honister ascent is the hardest. We’re still undecided, but agreed that from either approach, both are super-tough! It starts with a sharp gradient, and we both recall thinking “Ok well that wasn’t as bad as expected” but as the climb continues, the steepness increases, and our initial thoughts were quashed!! You have to get out of your saddle and I ground my way through the toughest part of the climb, but thankfully stayed upright! The rest of the ascent is still challenging, but it was a relief to have gotten through the hardest middle section.
I must admit I was relieved to have made it over “Honister Part 2”, with just Whinlatter remaining. The descent down to the Buttermere Valley is tricky, it’s steep, twisty and its surface is pitted and bumpy. Again, I am always pleased to get to the bottom! We spin alongside the magnificent lakes of Buttermere and Crummock Water for a second time, onto the village of Lorton, where our last big climb awaits us.
The second ascent of Whinlatter is the “easiest” climb on this amazing route. The sun was starting to dip as it was late afternoon by the time we reached this point, but this gave us stunning views of the surrounding woodland on this beautiful piece of road.
A fast, sweeping descent back to Braithwaite is the last part of the super six pass ride and is one to be enjoyed. I was so happy to have finished the ride strongly, pleased that I’d got my ride nutrition spot-on, and even more pleased to be tucking into the picnic that awaited us back at the car!