From the top of Newlands Pass, the Lake District feels like it’s laid out around you, like a crumpled duvet. A snapshot of mountain peaks, with glimpses of lakes, and squiggles of ribbon-like tarmac that will imprint itself in your mind–once you’ve got your ragged breath in check. Tell yourself that those sore legs will be fleeting, and the ultimate lasting memories from your trip to the Lakes will be views like these, and the way the light dances across the lakes.
The postcard-perfect images that people take on their trips to the Lakes are all real. They’re enough to make any outdoor lover’s heart beat a little faster, which is why this destination features so highly on most people’s travel itineraries. But, as is so often is the case with soaring popularity, crowds and queues are an unwelcome side-effect. Fortunately for cyclists, there are vast swathes of prime road riding terrain that isn’t overrun by leisurely bank holiday drivers. A far cry from the bustling tourist centres of Keswick and Ambleside, just wait until you reach the Duddon Valley, Eskdale or Ennerdale.
A designated National Park since 1951, the Lake District spans 36 miles (58 km) going west to east, and 40 miles (64 km) on its north to south axis. By bike, you could be forgiven for presuming it would be easy to cross and return in a day–were it not for those pesky, steep mountainsides. You’ll see what we mean when you get there. It’s home to many, many lakes – includings England’s longest lake, Lake Windermere at 10 miles (16 km). It unfortunately can’t be ridden around as it isn’t fully tarmacked, but it does have a historic chain ferry that crosses in the middle to the partially tarmacked side. A nifty mid-ride pause, the boat injects an added frisson of excitement to one particular ride.
There are routes from Kendal or Keswick, Cockermouth or Caldbeck, amongst others. Some that are short and snappy, ideal for those with limited time, and some that are veritable all-dayers, where you’ll certainly need a windproof or rain jacket in your pocket as well as snacks. Although speaking of snacks, we’ve got you covered on that aspect too – with myriad options including artisan bakeries, local breakfast bars, welcoming pubs, and quirky cafes with wood burners. To keep your fire stoked for Lake District riding, take note that these routes can be ridden in both directions, opening up yet more scope for discovery and views.
If you’re looking for the full Lakes experience, the ‘All in One’ route essentially circumnavigates the whole of the Lakes’ dramatic unspoiled landscape and coasts along the sea for a stretch. The Lakes unfortunately doesn’t have a glut of backroads, but there are certain strips of tarmac with such eyebrow-raising gradients and narrow widths that you can safely presume that most cars will keep a safe distance.
Quite often the best places to locate yourself by bike are those with the most amenities: Keswick and Ambleside. But away from these hotspots, you’ll find tiny villages tucked into glorious, less-visited landscapes along roads that thread a drunken ramble. But do watch out for cattle grids and livestock – these are not the locals with whom you want to be getting too friendly.
Arguably to its benefit, the Lake District isn’t endowed with the greatest travel links and there are very few train connections other than Penrith, Kendal, Staveley and Windermere. This means that many approach the region in their cars, although there are C2C long-distance bike routes leading you straight to the heart of the Lakes. Just remember to save some energy for when you arrive…
Some say that the Lake District is all very much the same with steep sided valleys and big lakes, but this particular route raises the bar, injecting extra excitement that …
A classic Lakes loop, this one packs a punch with 1,200 metres of climbing in just 70 km, that's almost 4,000 feet in a little over 40 miles. Who said …
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Set in the Northern Lakes, far from the tourist traps, this route takes you on a beautiful circular ride around the mass of mountains where you'll find Skiddaw.
Caldbeck is …
Your classic exploratory and exhausting Lake District route, this huge ride includes the four main passes (Kirkstone Pass, Honister Pass, Hardknott Pass and Wrynose Pass), manages to skirt you down …
A rideable amble is truly the best way to describe this family-friendly loop from Ambleside. On quiet roads, this short ride takes you through a landscape that's rich in history and literature.
Set to a backdrop of mountains, you'll ride along the top section of Lake Windermere, before heading inland and going past the stunning Wray Castle (Beatrix Potter's summer house) and William Wordsmith's former school.
Just before the end of the ride you'll pass the Drunken Duck Inn, a critically acclaimed gastro-pub that's a little off-the-beaten path. Fill up on some delicious food before rolling back towards Ambleside.
Nothing too taxing on this ride, but everything that's worth seeing, this route is win-win for families with kids or anyone that's reluctant to ride too far.
A brilliantly, achievable ride that conquers two of the preeminent passes in the Lake District, this is not a route to be missed.
From Keswick, you'll head south along the …
This route sets off from Penrith, a fairly eclectic town with a mixture of 18th-century cottages and Georgian town houses that's tucked on a rare bit of flat land between …