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'Rides what I like' - Number 2 - 112 hilly miles (The Fred Whitton Challenge route).

Ascent: 3,800m approx.

This is the infamous 'Fred Whitton Challenge' ride, reputedly (I can vouch for that!) one of the toughest day rides in the country.  The official ride is held in early May each year and is a charity ride in memory of the local Lakes Road Club racing secretary of the same name who sadly died of cancer aged 50.  The official web site for the Fred Whitton Challenge can be found here.

It's inconceivable to me that the winners of this ride do times of 6 hours and a handful of minutes, but, don't think this ride is only for the racers.  It's a truly beautiful ride through some of the most spectacular scenery the Lake District has to offer - and it doesn't have to be done in a day!  It makes an ideal 2 day ride (especially if you're touring with panniers and the like).

As well as being a tough route, it is undoubtedly one of the most scenic to be had on predominantly quiet roads taking in all the Lake Districts major passes (Kirkstone, Honister, Newlands, Whinlatter, Hardknott and Wrynose), with a lot of very lumpy stuff in between that doesn't seem to get a mention.
The route described here follows the same route as the Fred Whitton Challenge, but (especially for those tourers amongst you) can easily be split into 2 days with an overnight stop at the foot of Whinlatter Pass.

The 'Ride in Pictures' records a ride taken in April 2006 by Allan Nelson & Konrad Orlowski (tandem), accompanied by Stuart Thomson and Glenn Rhodes.  Most of the pictures were taken by Glenn Rhodes (so he doesn't feature much), but that's the price you pay for weighing 9 stone wet through and getting to the top of the climbs first.  We did this ride partly as training for the actual Fred Whitton ride (May 7th 2006), and partly 'cos it's a cracking route and the weather was perfect!  The route map below shows the 2 feed stops at Buttermere and Gosforth.  You'll have to take your own of course!


Three of the riders featured here rode the 2006 event. You can read a report of the 2006 ride here.

Times were as follows...
Glenn Rhodes - 7hr 56min
Allan Nelson & Konrad Orlowski (tandem) - 9hr 03min

The route

The ride starts from the village of Coniston. Leave the village on the B5285 headed for the lake which you'll have momentarily on your right, before heading straight on for the first hill of the day, Hawkshead Hill.  At the top of the hill, turn left, signed Ambleside and carry on until you reach the Drunken Duck Inn (on your left) where you carry straight on.  After about half a mile there's a left turn signed Ambleside.  Follow this road down to Ambleside (A593), take a right signed Windermere (A591) and at Waterhead carry straight on.  After approx 1.5 miles (just past the Low Wood Hotel), keep an eye out for Holbeck Lane on your left (signed Troutbeck).  This road climbs up through Troutbeck village, past the Mortal Man Inn before you descend sharply onto the Kirkstone Pass road.  At the junction with this road, turn left and carry on to the summit of Kirkstone (453m).

From the top of Kirkstone, it's a fast descent into Patterdale.  Carry on along the shore of Ullswater then take a left on the A5091 to begin the steady climb to Dockray and on to Matterdale End (347m).  You will eventually reach the A66 where you turn left and proceed down the main road for a quick ride into Keswick.  Keep on the A66 until the first roundabout, where you take a left signed Keswick.  After about half a mile, turn left signed Borrowdale (B5289) followed very soon by a right (Borrowdale).

You will now be riding along the edge of DerwentWater.  Carry on along the lake (with the lake on your right) past the Bowder Stone on through Rossthwaite and finally to Seatoller, where you will begin the ascent of Honister Pass (356m).  This is a tough climb, particularly for the first third or so, but then eases off a bit before making the summit.  The cafe at the top in the Honister Slate Mine Centre (do it yourself, put your money in the box) is well worth a visit.  Leaving the summit of Honister feels like you're dropping off the edge of the world.  The first few hundred metres are very steep, so take care.  After that things get easier, and you'll soon be flying through Gatesgarth and travelling along the side of Buttermere.

Just after Buttermere Youth Hostel (on your right and an option for an overnight stay), take a right signed Keswick and you immediately start the ascent of Newlands Pass (333m).  This is a long steady climb with a short steep bit at the start and finish.  There's now a long fast descent of Newlands Pass.  If you're doing this over 2 days, look for a turn off to the right signed Stair, near the bottom of the pass (approx 6 miles).  Over the other side of the valley you can see the Swinside Inn - a great place to stay for the evening, with magnificent views.  Alternatively, you could carry on a few miles further to Braithwaite and look for accommodation there.

At Braithwaite turn left for Whinlatter Pass (370m).  Whinlatter is another long steady climb through a shady forested road.  Home of the famous nesting Ospreys and great views of Bassenthwaite.  On the descent of Whinlatter, watch out for a left turn signed Lorton.  At Lorton turn left signed Loweswater.  After Loweswater, watch for a left turn signed Ennerdale (at Fangs Brow Farm) followed a couple of miles later by a left signed Ennerdale and Croasdale.  At Croasdale turn right signed Ennerdale Bridge.

At Ennerdale Bridge carry on and look out for a left for Calder Bridge.  This takes you up the climb of Swarth Fell to Cold Fell summit (290m).  You can now see the Irish sea on your right (and Sellafield Nuclear reprocessing plant!).  A long fast descent takes you down to the main road where you turn left for Gosforth.  On leaving Gosforth, turn right for Santon Bridge.  A fast ride down to Santon Bridge followed by a slog out up to Irton Pike summit, and on to Eskdale Green (home of the Ravenglass and Eskdale railway).  At Eskdale Green, turn left at the King George IV pub and carry on past Boot village and on to the foot of Hardknott Pass.

Without doubt, Hardknott Pass is a brute of a climb.  If you've done this ride in one day, you've done approximately 100 miles by now and for us mere mortals, it will show.  There's a red phone box at the foot of the pass (so you can phone for help? ;-) and just past that, a cattle grid where the road goes up at a crazy 30% gradient.  Nothing for it really, but to grind away up the first series of hairpins.  After these, the road 'levels out' a bit, but don't be fooled, you're still climbing, and possibly the worst is yet to come.  The road kicks up again followed by possibly the steepest section between two hairpin bends that run across the hillside.  Once up that, it kicks again.  Willpower and not a little strength is needed here to make it to the summit at 393m.  Alternatively, you can of course walk!  Take great care on the descent of Hardknott.  It is very steep and has some sharp bends. The last 50 metre section at the bottom is like dropping off a wall!

Carry on along the now gentle descent to Cockley Beck where you take a left and begin the slow slog up the valley to the foot of Wrynose Pass (393m).  This is another steep climb, but thankfully shorter from this side and not quite as steep as Hardknott, though it will probably feel like it by this time.  At the top look for the famous 'Three Shires Stone' where the counties of Lancashire, Cumberland and Westmorland meet.  Again, take care on the long descent of Wrynose Pass.  The first section is steep, followed by a couple of hairpins and a long straight descent where you should not allow yourself to get carried away.  If you meet traffic coming up the hill, you need to be in control to pass safely.  Carry on down the pass to Fell Foot Farm (sharp right/left) and on down the valley (with the occasional up) past the Three Shires Inn and on down to Little Langdale.  At the T-junction, turn right, carry on up the hill to join the Skelwith Bridge road, turn right for Coniston, to the top of the hill, then a fast descent down past Yew Tree Tarn and on down back in to Coniston.

Here's a list of the passes showing roughly where they come in the ride, gradient etc (don't be fooled by the seemingly low average gradient for some).
Click on the pass name to take you to the 'European Climbs' web site showing the profile of each.  Note that only the major passes are shown here.  There are plenty of other hills on this route (Dockray, Fangs, Cold Fell).

Pass (click for profile)

Summit reached at

Length (km)

Height gain (m)

Average gradient

Kirkstone Pass (from Windermere)




7.9% (max of 25%)

Honister Pass (from Seatoller)




7.9% (max of 25%)

Newlands Pass from Buttermere)




11.6% (max of 25%)

Whinlatter Pass (from Braithwaite)




5.7% (max of 25%)

Hardknott Pass (from Brotherilkeld)




15% (max of 33%)

Wrynose Pass (from Cockley Beck)




5.7% (max of 25%)

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