If you’re after the very best riding in England, there are perhaps a few places which could potentially pop their heads above the parapet, but all of them will have a tough time knocking the Lake District off its pedestal. Every point over 3000 feet (900 meters) in England is here, steep sided valleys, deep lakes, and of course, staggering views. From a mountain biking perspective there are plenty of nooks and crannies to explore via every type of trail, from twisty forest singletrack, easy lakeside runs, massively rocky doubletrack hurtles, hike-a-bike climbs and everything in between. There really is something for everyone here. No wonder it’s one of the most popular places to mountain bike in the UK.
The Tours in this Collection range all over the Lakes and include ‘must ride’ Lakeland classics, little known secrets, highly technical rides - both up and down - and gentle leg-loosening spins. There’s really no excuse not to pack your bags and head over!
The Borrowdale Bash is perhaps the most famous of the Lake District’s many classics. It’s been a classic for decades, and with good reason. Starting from Keswick, the Tour heads clockwise around Derwent Water, taking in fords, singletrack, potential cake stops, hilariously nadgery descents and passing possibly the weirdest-named fell in Cumbria (Cat Bells).
The Kentmere Park and Pike starts off innocuously enough, with a green and pleasant ride to Kentmere Park - before changing nature completely, and culminating in a brutal carry up Nan Bield. However, the rewards are fantastic; epic descents, and as much amazing scenery as you can cram into your eyes.
The next Tour of this Collection takes us along the very spine of the Lake District - High Street. It’s an old Roman Road, and it’s (relatively gently) undulating - but actually getting to it will leave you gasping - both at the views and the climbing you’ll have to do!
Next up is a true epic, the Helvellyn Monster. Debate rages as to which of the many ways to ride Helvellyn is better as a climb, and which as a descent; this Tour takes the clockwise approach with Grisedale Tarn as a climb, and spices it up with a drop down to Thirlmere before returning over Sticks Pass; this one is a real leg-burner.
Slightly less energetic, but still blessed with over 3200 feet (1000 meters) of climbing and an overabundance of views and fun riding is the Windermere Halo, taking in as it does the Garburn Pass and Grizedale forest. There’s even a ferry ride to finish!
The Walna Scar Road Tour is yet another classic which does a sterling job of disabusing mountain bikers from the notion that all the best riding is on singletrack. There are two long, rocky, technical and utterly fantastic doubletrack descents on this Tour, and purely coincidentally, a couple of excellent pubs.
And last but not least, Witherslack. Little known, perhaps - it’s not long, and it’s not high - but it’s a great shorter loop for when the weather is terrible, or you need something which doesn’t have ‘epic’ writ large all the way through it. It’s a quiet, varied, pretty Tour
Nay-sayers may decry the distances involved in getting to the Lake District. They may shy away from the tourist-trap reputation. But once you spin away from the honey pot tourist centres, things get a lot more quiet very quickly. And sure, if you live anywhere but the north of the country, it’s a drag to get to - you’re faced with long hours on the motorway, after all - but rest assured, it’s well, well worth it.
High Street is, on first glance, a strange name to call a range of fells. But the name comes from the ancient Roman Road that used to run along them, from Windermere to Penrith. Apparently the bottom of the valleys was once marshy and densely forested, and so ripe for ambushes - something the Romans were keen to avoid. So they built the road straight up and over the hills, as steep and exposed as that was.
This is a very challenging ride indeed. As so many are in the Lakes, there are some extremely challenging descents, and at least one substantial carry. There are a few spots on the ride for refreshments, but only on the first third, so it's a good idea to stock up.
The route climbs to the stone circle of the Cockpit before running on a terrific trail down to Martindale. After a brief sojourn on the road to Sandwick, it picks up a fantastic slice of low level trail which runs all the way to Patterdale.
Patterdale is the last chance to stock up with food and water before the climbing begins in earnest, with a mighty climb to Hayeswater. From here though, it's most likely a carry all the way to the top of The Knott where the route picks up the High Street.
High Street itself is a fairly straightforward trail; it's gently undulating (in typical Lakes' style) but from here the trail runs mostly downhill back to your starting point, with the expected staggering views before the route heads back to the Cockpit and the run back to Pooley Bridge.
As good a place as any to start is Pooley Bridge, with reasonable parking and a pub; public transport options are limited around here, so it's likely you'll be arriving by car.
The other option for parking would be Patterdale, although if you take this option and miss out the out-and-back to Pooley Bridge there are precious few options for stocking up on supplies before you get back to Patterdale.
Yet another fantastic Lake District route, this is a well-known ride taking in a couple of stiff passes (one of them will be a carry) and some equally fantastic descents.
The ride starts gently enough, with a gentle climb and descent to Kentmere, a small lakeland village at the foot of the Garburn Pass.
From there there's a gentle track getting steeper, steeper and ever steeper up the Gatescarth Pass until it emerges at the top. The view down the other side as Haweswater comes into view is particularly lovely, unless it's raining - in which case it's non-existent.
And then the proper climbing starts. It's likely you'll be off and pushing at points up to Small Water, but from there to the top of the Nan Bield Pass you'll likely be carrying your bike.
The reward - the descent back to Kentmere - is completely fantastic though.
From there it's just a spin back along the road to Staveley - although if you're feeling spectacularly energetic (unlikely, at this point) you can extend the ride up to Staveley Head Fell and back down again.
At the time of writing there are no places to buy refreshments on the way around, so (as this is such a big day) it's essential to bring everything you'll need on the way, or get it in Staveley. Food, more food, lots water, and probably some jelly-babies. Everything you'd think of for a big day on the mountain, principally; first aid kit, emergency blanket etc. There is precious little phone signal across great swathes of the route, so don't rely on your phone to get you out of trouble.
The best place to start is Staveley - there's a train station, parking and a big bike shop there (Wheelbase), among other amenities. The legendary cafe, Wilfs, is also here. But if you're driving you could equally well start at Ings, with the real ale pub the Watermill Inn as the principal inducement.
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A Lakeland Classic, and one which has been testing mountain bikers for decades. Granted, the advent of modern bikes with suspension and disc brakes has rendered it perhaps less of a challenge than it would have been twenty years ago, but this ride is still not to be underestimated, containing as it does some belting descents and some extremely stiff climbs.
Running clockwise around Derwent Water, the route starts gently enough from Keswick on the undulating road around the lake, before climbing up the small road at the landing stage by Barrow Bay. At the top, Watendlath is a very pretty place with a gorgeous bridge. It's possible to take a few moments to admire the scenery before the route heads on up to the fantastically named Puddingstone Bank.
Here, the challenges properly begin. The run down to Rosthwaite is a fabulously rocky, technical blast which will leave you exhilarated at the bottom, with possibly a little arm-pump. That enthusiasm is a good thing too - there's one heck of a climb in the immediate future.
Once Seatoller has been languidly despatched, riders are faced with the most brutal parts of the Honister Pass. Yes, it's a road climb, but it's not for the faint hearted - or lunged. More than one weary rider has ended up trudging some of the steeper parts.
But once the bridlepath angles off to the right and back, the top of the pass is within sight - now is a good time to enjoy the view - and the fantastic series of descents that will take you into Grange via semi-technical and properly technical trails. Do watch out for walkers though - this bit is very popular with those on foot!
At Grange, there's occasionally a tea-room open - but it's frequently not, so it's best not to rely on it. From here there's more climbing up to the foot of Cat Bells and the long descent to the road back to Keswick.
There are precious few places to stock up on food and water on the way round, especially if the cafe at Grange is closed - so it's best to stock up before you head out, especially with water.
Keswick is by far the best place to start this ride - it's relatively easily accessible; there is parking, food and plenty of amenities - although there are one or two parking spots on the Borrowdale Road if you prefer, including one by the landing stage at Barrow Bay.
Ah, Helvellyn! Spoken of in hushed tones wherever mountain bikers congregate. Yet another classic UK mountain bike ride, Helvellyn is the centrepiece of a selection of classic trails which are all as much fun to ride down as they are unpleasant to climb.
The Tour starts by climbing leisurely alongside Grizedale Beck, until it reaches Grizedale Tarn. It's a good idea to stop and enjoy the view here, as now the property climbing begins in the ascent of Dollywagon. This will undoubtedly end up as a carry up some steep switchbacks until the trail reaches the Post.
At this point things level off somewhat (but only somewhat) as the trail creeps ever upward to the summit of Helvellyn itself.
Here, it's possible to admire the astonishing views in every direction (and the wind which seems to come from them all) before the route retraces its steps a little to begin the descent down Birkside. This is another steep and swift affair, which finishes in the woods below Helvellyn Screes.
Once the route emerges onto the road, there's a brief pedal to Stanah, before the trail lifts very steeply (becoming thankfully shallower later) up to Sticks Pass. This is yet another of the classic descents for which the Lake District is famous. Open and carve-y to start with, it narrows later into singletrack and finishes up with some hectic switchback corners as it drops into Glenridding Beck and the village.
There is nowhere en route to pick up supplies, so you'll need to bring everything with you, or source it in Patterdale. If there's even a slight chance of inclement weather it's worth reconsidering whether one of the lower routes might be more suitable - Helvellyn in the driving rain is a force to be reckoned with.
It's possible to start either at Patterdale or Glenridding; amenities and parking are available at both. There's no train, though. But the effort to get here is well rewarded by some of the very best riding the Lakes have to offer.
There's nothing quite like a huge day out in the Lake District, and this route delivers in spades. It doesn't claim to have the longest climbs, the steepest descents or the most jaw-dropping views, but it's certainly enough to test the most seasoned rider, with well over 1000m of climbing, some wonderful descents and even a trip on a ferry to finish. What's not to love?
Starting from Windermere, a brief road trip takes the Tour up and over the trails to Kentmere, where the ride (or, more likely, push) over to the top of Garburn Pass awaits. The long descent that follows is a highlight, as is the testing and hugely fun climb and descent along Robin Lane from Troutbeck to Ambleside.
After the obligatory ice cream, the route travels over Clappersgate and the newly-minted bridlepaths to Low Wray (there's a shop on the campsite here if needed), heading into Grizedale Forest Park and Furness Fells before taking in Beatrix Potter's home of Near Sawrey, the ridiculously picturesque Claife Heights and the ferry back to Bowness.
It's a Tour which (Garburn Pass excepted) remains relatively low level, despite its impressive climbing credentials - and as such it's a fair one to do when when the weather is sub optimal. There are also quite a few places to grab snacks on the way round - including Ambleside, Low Wray, Beatrix Potter's village of Near Sawrey and the visitor's centre at Grizadale Forest, for example - before heading back via some hugely fun descents and the ferry across to Windermere.
Although this is a ride which never strays that far from civilisation, it still pays to be cautious - Garburn Pass isn't to be undertaken lightly - but there are plenty of bail-out options at every turn.
***At the time of writing (August 2018) the ferry is out of action, but it's hoped to be back online by October 2018. An alternative service is running until then from Low Wray. Check out the ferry highlight on the route for more details.***
The route starts at Windermere - although it would be perfectly easy to alternatively start at Ambleside (unless you're coming by train, as only Windermere has a station).
This Tour is slightly unusual in the Lakes as it has - as well as the expected huge climbs, phenomenal descents and jaw-dropping views - a section of hugely entertaining woodsy singletrack.
Starting in Torver, the route quickly gains substantial height on a steep (but thankfully pretty brief) road climb up towards the woods at Appletree Worth Beck. Here, the bridlepath splits from the main track, crosses a stream (this bit can get extremely boggy if the weather is poor) and includes several extremely fun up-and-down sections of singletrack before spilling out onto the road below Stephenson Ground.
From here, the trail strikes out along the unpromisingly-named Long Mire and down the exquisite trail towards Seathwaite. This gives lie to the notion that only singletrack can be technical - it gets very nadgery the faster you go - but it's easily rideable if you take it more slowly.
After refuelling at the Newfield Inn, the long, long (long) climb up the Walna Scar Road begins. It's perfectly rideable if you've got the legs for it. And once you get to the top, there's a wonderfully fun descent back down the other side .
Once the trail opens up and gets much faster, a right turn down another trail heads back towards Scar Head (the waterfall in the disused quarries is well worth keeping an eye out for) and back to Torver.
This is a popular route - the Walna Scar Road in particular is very popular with walkers so watch out for them when descending - although in general more westerly fells are a little quieter than the Ambleside and Windermere ones.
This Tour starts in Torver, although there's no reason why it couldn't start in Seathwaite - except for the fact that it's rather more inconvenient to get to. There's a good pub in Torver - the Wilson Arms, and a Deli which sells enormous sausage rolls - which is something to bear in mind upon completing the Tour!
Accommodation-wise the Wilson Arms has rooms in Torver, as does the Newfield Inn in Seathwaite. There are also campsites available in both locations, and there are of course plenty more options in nearby Coniston.
If the weather's dreadful, so any and all of the high passes are out of bounds, but you simply *must* get out on a bike, then this little route will fit the bill nicely. No, it's not long, and there's not much climbing in it, and it remains pretty low level for its entire duration, but that's all to the good. It's also worth considering if you need to take the kids out but can't face chivvying them up Nan Bield.
From the hamlet of Mill Side, the Tour strikes northwards until it finds Witherslack Hall (as was; it's now called Oversands School). The route then loops back on itself to head past the Yewbarrow, down a fun little rooty descent.
A short climb then follows to the south of the Yewbarrow before another fun little descent to Chirch Road, and an easy run back to the hamlet.
You'll likely not need much food on your way round, but there's a self-service Honesty Cafe in Beck Head called the Hiker's Rest which is well worth a visit.
There are plenty of options for parking; the distributed hamlets that make up Witherslack offer a number of parking places, or you could park at Raven's Lodge to the east. Witherslack is easy to get to by road; it's just off the A590 a few minutes from Kendal.