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Hardknott Pass
Heading down the Hardknott Pass

Doing it the Hard(knott) way

By Amanda Gower
It's one of the steepest passes in the Lake District and the weather forcast was for torrential rain. So why did cycling the Hardknott Pass seem like such a good idea?

In hindsight it wasn’t one of my more enlightened moments. 30% incline – that’s about ‘this much’ (I said putting my arm at a reasonably steep-ish incline). I was optimistic.

The Hardknott Pass cyclists
The Hardknott Pass cyclists

So laden with panniers, wet weather gear and enough liquorice and dried fruit to make my bike lop-sided, myself and 4 other determined amateur cyclists made our way from Gosforth, the small village outside Wast Water, along the B roads and to the western side of the pass. It looked a little steeper than my earlier arm estimation.

Hardknott Pass, one of the two steepest passes in the Lake District, is the name of an old Roman road build circa 110 AD. It rises only 300 metres via a winding 1.5 kilometre path. The pass is flanked by old ruins of Roman walls and what is left of the Fort build by Emperor Hadrian to defend against the Scots.

The Hardknott Pass approach
The Hardknott Pass approach

I would love to tell you that I made it up without a foot on the ground, with the encouragement of drivers yelling ‘come on love’ as I made strange grunting noises in my effort. But as the bike started tipping back with the weight of the panniers I knew the time had come to push. And so I pushed.

And I pushed. And I pushed some more.

View from Hardknott Pass
The spectacular view from Hardknott Pass

When we reached what felt like the top of the world we were offered glorious sweeping views of the River Esk snaking its way through the south and west valleys (which I was fully able to appreciate once my breath had returned and my legs stopped shaking). It was suddenly all very much worth it.

And then the ride down. Equally as steep and winding with the added hazards of oncoming traffic and curious sheep, both hands were clenched tightly over the breaks as we made our (rather rapid) decent. Giggling and euphoric, I didn’t believe there was anything on earth that could make me feel quite so alive.

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Topographical map of Hardknott Pass

Cycling Hardknott Pass is a difficult challenge and best done without luggage. Unfortunately it does not offer much in the way of walking paths however for those who don’t mind sharing the road with a few cars and multi-coloured sheep, the climb is very much worth it.

Limited parking is available on both sides of the pass in both Stanton Bridge (west) and Cockley Beck (east) with some parking at the top lookout.

last updated: 04/10/06
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