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Motorcycle tours and routes in the Lake District, UK

This blog is an extract from an article we have been asked to write for "Bike" Magazine.

The blog concentrates on motorcycle touring in the Lake District and Cumbia.  Route 5 is the route we do on day 2 of our P(ride) of the North Motorcycle Tour.  On Day 1 of this tour we explore the Yorkshire Dales and day 3 we explore Northumberland, Teesdale and the North York Moors.

5 Great rides in Lake District and Cumbria

Challenging roads, superb scenery, a designated UNESCO World Heritage area - all on our doorstep in the Lake District, UK. 

Windermere and Helvellyn Circuit including Kirkstone Pass

Starting from the beautiful village of Ambleside, this is a gentle tour around Windermere before tackling the Kirkstone Pass and finishing off in Patterdale. This route starts off nice and easy with plenty of stops for coffee, photographs and sightseeing. Hill Top (Beatrix Potters home) in the village of Near Sawrey and Hawkshead village are well worth a visit.  The roads are well surfaced but can be busy especially at the weekend and during holiday periods.

The Kirkstone Pass is the highest motorable road in Cumbria and the Lake District.  Starting just north of Windermere, this well surfaced flowing road is a great introduction to riding the many twisty roads that Cumbria has to offer.  There are actually two routes to the top of the pass, the first is described above whilst the second route, known as “The Struggle” is a narrower, steep single track road.  “The Struggle” is very popular with cyclists who seem to appreciate its 1:4 gradient.  The pass offers some of the best views of the Lake District and it is well worth stopping for a coffee at the Kirkstone Pass Inn, the third highest public house in the UK.

From Patterdale, rather than re-tracing your route, it is well worth taking the road around the western shore of Ullswater towards Troutbeck before turning south on the A591 towards Grasmere.  This route gives great views of the imposing Helvellyn where if the views are clear it is possible to see both Striding and Swirral Edges.

Kirkstone Pass looking over The Struggle towards Ambleside

Figure of 8 Circuit Including Honister Pass, Newlands Pass and Whinlatter Pass

This is a picturesque and relatively quiet route starting from the busy tourist town of Keswick.  There are some real treats on this route.

Starting from Keswick the route heads south along the shores of beautiful Derwent Water with great views over the lake and Cat Bells.  Honister pass starts at Seatoller in the valley of Borrowdale.  Near the start of the pass is the Honister Slate Mine and visitor centre which is well worth a stop.  After the slate mine the road becomes quite challenging, it is steep and narrow with few passing places for vehicles.  The scenery is stunning but it can often be windy and wet so have your waterproofs ready!!

At Buttermere, it is worth taking the Newlands Pass towards Braithwaite.  This pass is also a steep, single track road with several hairpin bends with stunning views of the Newlands valley.  The highest point is known as Newlands Hause where there is a public car park and a short walk to Moss Beck waterfalls.  The Swinside Inn near the village of Stair is a good stop for refreshments.

At Braithwaite turn westwards through Thornthwaite Forest and over Whinlatter Pass.  The pass offers great views of Bassenthwaite Lake and there is a visitor’s centre at the top of the pass.  At the end of the pass, it is time to turn southwards back towards Buttermere and Crummock Water.  Here the views of the lake and mighty Grassmoor are unparalleled.

View of Buttermere

Calder Bridge to Ambleside including Hardknott and Wrynose Passes

This is a challenging route but is considered a must do by many motorcyclists.  The Hardknott Pass in particular, is one of the UK’s most challenging roads.  It is the steepest road in England with a gradient of 1 in 3.  It is very narrow with numerous sharp, steep hairpin bends and its surface can be unpredictable.  The Hardknott and Wrynose are often closed in winter and we would advise that this road is only attempted when the weather is good.  It is not much fun in the rain or in the dark.

A refreshment stop is advised before attempting the Hardknott.  The Woolpack Inn which is located at the foot of the pass near Eskdale Green is highly recommended.  Near the top of the pass is The Hardknott Roman Fort which is located on a spectacular site overlooking the pass.  It is a great place to take photos.

If the weather is bad or you just don’t fancy doing the Hardknott Pass, it is possible to avoid the pass by taking the slightly longer southern route from Eskdale Green through Seathwaite to Cockley Beck.

Following on from the Hardknott Pass is the slightly easier Wrynose Pass.  The Wrynose meaning “pass of the stallion” is part of an old Roman Road used to serve the troops stationed at Hardknott Fort.  It too is very steep but the hairpin bends are less sharp and less numerous – it still remains a very challenging single track road.  At the top of the pass is the Three Shire Stone, marking the historic meeting point of Cumberland, Lancashire and Westmorland.

The A686 - Penrith to Alston to Haydon Bridge

Recently voted as one of the greatest driving roads in the UK, this road does take you into the neighbouring county of Northumberland but it is such a good road it has to be included in this article.

The route starts from the old Cumbrian capital of Penrith, the route winds through the beautiful unspoilt villages of Lathwathby and Melmerby.  From Melmerby, the road climbs steeply towards Hartside Pass.  The road surface is good, perfect for bikes.  At the top of the Hartside Pass you are rewarded with magnificent views of the Lake District.  On a clear day it is possible to see across the Solway Firth to Scotland.  Unfortunately, two years ago the excellent café/restaurant at the top of the pass burnt down.  As such, refreshments will have to wait until you reach the town of Alston, the highest market town in England.  There is modern service station in the town and several public houses including the very pretty Turks Head.

Heading out of Alston, the road is fast and flowing with great views over the North Pennines Moors.  Truly spectacular.

The final leg is through the equally beautiful wooded gorge of the River Allen before finishing at Haydon Bridge.

View from Hartside

Lake District Full Circular Route

A 150 mile all day riding route takes in the best of all the Lake District passes. This route is the ultimate, full, intense and challenging Lakeland riding experience.  It takes in Hardknott, Wrynose, Honister, Whinlatter and Kirkstone Passes.

This route has a bit of everything to suit all types of bikes and riders.  From challenging technical roads like the Hardknott and Wrynose to fast flowing roads like the Kirkstone.  On the right day with the right weather this route is unbeatable – a true motorcycle adventure.

The beautiful Lake District

Best Times to Visit

Cumbria and the Lake District are best visited by motorcyclists from spring to autumn.  Some of the higher passes are closed in the winter due to snowfall and/or ice.

The lakes are popular particularly at the weekends and during school holidays.  The area is best visited during the week and not during peak holiday times. Late spring and early autumn are the best times to visit – during these times accommodation is available and the roads are relatively quiet.

It is also recommended that prior to organising your trip you take a look to see if any events are occurring in the area.  It is not uncommon for some roads to be closed for sporting events (mainly cycling and running events).

Accommodation

Cumbria and the Lakes do get busy, however, there is plenty of available accommodation to suit all budgets.

The most popular overnight stops in the Lake District are Keswick, Penrith, Grasmere, Bowness-on-Windermere, Kendal.

Cheaper, good quality accommodation can also be found just outside the Lake District but within easy riding distance in Grange-Over-Sands and Carlisle.

In addition, good quality camping including “Pods” is available throughout the Lakes.  There are particularly good touring campsites at Hawkshead, Penrith and Pooley Bridge.


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