Best of British road climbs

Road Cycling Collection by Katherine Moore

For a set of small islands, Great Britain boasts a remarkable diversity of landscapes, from steep-sided glacial hillsides to gentle river valleys, swathes of rich agricultural land to masses of dense forest. Linking these, great black ribbons of tarmac run the length and breadth of the land, from coast-hugging cliff-top roads to quiet country back lanes, mountain passes and urban streets.

For as long as cyclists have explored the British Isles, they’ve sought the toughest and most challenging climbs to pit themselves against. Sure, equipment has come a long way since those early days on two wheels, and thankfully our roads tend to be a lot more favourable too, but we still find this almost inexplicable urge to tackle these uphill gradients.

By no means an easy feat in itself to narrow it down to just ten, you’ll find some of our favourite, most feared and most loved climbs in the UK in this Collection. Spread from the rough moorland of Dartmoor in Devon to the utterly remote Scottish Highlands, here you’ll find some of the most spectacular roads that you could ever wish to ride up.

You’ll probably recognise a few of these, too; the well-known Honister Pass of the Lake District or much-visited Winnats Pass climb in the Dark Peak, but there are a few others included that you might not be familiar with. While Swain’s Lane in London is a mere blip in comparison to many of these inclines, it’s importance as an inner-city training ground for many urban cyclists earns it a place among more scenic climbs in this Collection.

Are you looking for your next big challenge, either on your doorstep or somewhere new to aim for? Do you crave the leg-burn of an uphill effort, the thrilling descent on the other side, or simply enjoy exploring new turf (or should that be tarmac)? This could just be the perfect inspiration for you.

On The Map

Tours & Highlights

    Difficult
    02:19
    22.7 mi
    9.8 mph
    3,025 ft
    3,025 ft
    Expert road ride. Very good fitness required. Mostly well-paved surfaces and easy to ride.

    Anyone who’s ever ridden on Exmoor will be familiar with the relentless climbs, steep hillside ascents and incredible scenes that it delivers. Dunkery Beacon marks the highest point in this National Park. With a challenging sliver of tarmac stretching up towards the summit from the coastline, it’s a real bucket-list climb for riders in the South West of England.This Tour leaves the pretty coastal village of Porlock almost straight up the climb, before a cafe stop in delightful Exford to rest the legs, and a rewarding descent down the quiet and incredibly beautiful Porlock Toll Road to finish. Start your ride from Porlock Central car park, just behind the high street. If you’ve come by car you can buy all-day parking here for a small fee. There’s a little warm up as you pass the lower slopes of Crawter Hill before tackling Dunkery Beacon proper. Pass Horner Tea Rooms as the gradient ramps up to a fearful 17% for a stretch, easing off a little before another 17% section later. The 2 mile (3.2 km) climb is not only long but also unrelentingly steep - good luck!When you reach the top, or even on the way up, don't forget to pause to take in the magnificent sea views over the coastline of Somerset and North Devon, across to South Wales. Keep an eye out for the gorgeous Exmoor ponies too! Enjoy a smooth and gentle descent almost to Wheddon Cross before taking Langdon’s Way to Exford. The Tea Rooms here come highly recommended, before you remount to take on the second half of the route. A more gentle climb takes you back up to the moorland hilltops, heading north now toward the coastline. After a short stretch on the Porlock Hill main road, take the Porlock Toll Road. Your £1 fee will be well worth it as you descend through Worthy Wood beside the sea, a narrow and beautifully smooth ribbon of asphalt zig-zagging down through to the village where you started. You’ll find many more places to get food and drink here at the end of the ride, or why not enjoy a walk along the beach to finish?

    Intermediate
    02:38
    26.9 mi
    10.3 mph
    2,825 ft
    2,825 ft
    Intermediate road ride. Good fitness required. Some portions of the Tour may be unpaved and difficult to ride.

    Home to the 2019 National Hill Climb Championships and featured on the Tour of Britain, Haytor is a very well known climb on the fringes of Dartmoor, gaining 1,100 feet (335 m) over it’s long 3.3 mile (5.4 km) course. If you love long and steady climbs, this is definitely one for you, and you’ll enjoy the wooded lane giving way to rough and wild moorland as you approach the granite tor at the top. Here we propose starting your ride from the little Dartmoor town of Mortonhampstead, where there’s a car park at the top of the village. If you’re riding up from Exeter, take the Longdown climb from Dunsford for another corking climb. The route is a clockwise loop from Moretonhampstead, first taking in some quiet back lanes as you head south toward Bovey Tracey, where you start the Haytor climb. Pass through patches of woodland at the start of the climb, pacing yourself for this long ascent. Over the cattle grid and onto the moorland road, take care of passing traffic on this Dartmoor access road. Pass through Haytor Vale and continue up, eventually seeing the granite rocks or ‘tor’ that makes this part of Britain totally unique. One last effort takes you up the straight final stretch to the summit next to the car park at the top. Whether you’ve been cruising to enjoy the views or pushing to test yourself, you’ll definitely feel it in the legs by now! The next stretch follows this main road, swooping and flowing across the moorland before the sharp descent into the village of Widecombe in the Moor. With a tearooms, pub and few other places to visit, it makes for a great cafe stop. Ride this route in reverse some other time to challenge yourself with this popular hill!Head north now, on gently undulating lanes past Cripdon Down Tor and Easdon Tor, past Meldon Hill and gently descend into Chagford. Refill your bottles from the tap in the town square and pick up any snacks in the shops, cafes or pubs here. For the final stretch you’ll ride between Chagford and Moretonhampstead on National Cycle Route 28 (Okehampton to Plymouth) on quiet back lanes.

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  • Easy
    00:45
    8.70 mi
    11.5 mph
    675 ft
    675 ft
    Easy road ride. Great for any fitness level. Mostly well-paved surfaces and easy to ride.

    Perhaps not the most scenic climb in our collection, nor one you might travel the length of the country to visit, bit Swain’s Lane is a real classic for inner city cyclists in the capital of London. This short and snappy route makes for an ideal pre- or post-work ride to get some good climbs in, based in the North London hills. Start your ride from Alexandra Palace, more commonly known as Ally Pally. It’s a great rendez-vous spot for meeting friends and appreciating the sight of the rising sun over the city below. Before riding the main climb of the day, you’ll warm up with ‘the fingers’, a series of parallel roads that you can ride up and down near Crouch End. Avoid busy times with traffic and this can be a really great place to get in some hill reps. Nicely warmed up, you’ll now head past the Spoke cafe (well worth a visit for breakfast, a snack or just a coffee) as you ride toward Hampstead Heath to the bottom of Swain’s Lane.Stretching for just 0.6 miles (950 m), and gaining 233 feet (71 m), it's tiny in comparison to some other climbs, but the nature of its accessibility makes it a really popular choice for London's inner city cyclists. There’s also an annual Urban Hill Climb here if you fancy your chances!From the top of Swain’s Lane, head back to Ally Pally via the Would Lane climb and finally up the road to the Palace. Could there be a better way to start your day?

    Difficult
    02:39
    29.7 mi
    11.2 mph
    3,200 ft
    3,200 ft
    Expert road ride. Very good fitness required. Mostly well-paved surfaces and easy to ride.

    This route in the heart of the Yorkshire Dales really is a buy one get one free; to get to the climb of Oxnop Scar you’ll have to conquer Buttertubs Pass first! A popular setting for the Tour of Britain and of course Tour de Yorkshire, it really is a cyclist’s playground with many long and sometimes steep climbs in the spectacular Yorkshire Dales. The route starts in the classic Dales market town of Hawes, from the bike shop and cafe on the edge of the car park. Enjoy a coffee here at the Firebox Cafe before heading straight up the huge Buttertubs Pass, named after the deep limestone potholes that the passing farmers would lower their butter into on the way to market to keep it from melting while they rested! After the 3.5 mile (5.7 km) ascent of Buttertubs, enjoy a thrilling and well-earned descent into Swaledale, the valley of the River Swale. After following Guning Lane through Muker, this is where your second mega climb starts. Join the Yorkshire Dales Cycleway as you start your climb up Oxnop Scar, a breathtaking stretch of singletrack road between the peaks of The Fleak to the east and Whitfield Fell to the west.The total climb is 2.4 miles (3.8 km) long and peaks at 1,607 feet (490 m), with the steepest part coming first; a gradient measuring 25% on the first right-hand hairpin bend! It's amazing how quickly you rise up the bank, offering incredible views back down over Swaledale as you glide along the smooth black asphalt up the more gentle moorland summit.Continue over the top and sail down the steeper and straighter southern side as you zoom into Askrigg, leaving the Yorkshire Dales Cycleway to follow a quiet road alongside the River Ure on the opposite bank to the main road. This leads you to Aysgarth, where a few places to eat and drink are on hand if you need it and fancy a break.The final stretch back to your original starting point stays south of the River Ure. You’ll ride through quaint Bainbridge on the way and with one final, much shorter climb past Horton Gill Force, on a quiet lane avoiding the busier main road into Hawes.

    Intermediate
    02:25
    26.1 mi
    10.8 mph
    2,375 ft
    2,375 ft
    Intermediate road ride. Good fitness required. Mostly well-paved surfaces and easy to ride.

    Ever wondered what ‘bwlch’ means? It’s Welsh for mountain pass, and the climb on the menu for this route is Bwlch Penbarras in the little-explored Clwydian Range, a chain of hill peaks in North-East Wales. This route heads out from Ruthin, the county town of Denbighshire heading straight up into the hills, crossing over via Bwlch Penbarras, before crossing back via the Moel Arthur climb and enjoying a more gentle second half to the east, passing by the ruins of Denbigh castle before completing the loop. The flat floodplain to the west of Ruthin give you a little time to warm up your legs, the ominous Clwyds looming over you as you can see exactly where you’re headed. It starts in the catchily-named village of Llanbedr Dyffryn Clwyd, starting up the steep and narrow lane through the trees. You then cross a cattle grid as the gradient ramps up to an even more savage number, topping out at 25% on a cruel left-hand hairpin up through the grassland and bracken. As you near the top of the pass, you can see the road carved into the side of the valley stretching out before you and the popular car park bustling with walkers and off-road riders clambering to the summits. Take some time when you reach it to look back over the west of Wales, even across to Snowdonia on a clear day. From the pass, enjoy a more steady descent on the road heading east to join Afon Alun, then north to Cilcain as you skirt the eastern edge of the Clwydian Range now. Your next challenge is the eastern ascent of Moel Arthur, the more steady and easier of the two sides! Climb for 2.3 miles (3.7 km) to the road summit, not all that far from the hill summit that’s very popular with hikers. Look back on the magnificent view over the Wirral before you descend back down to the west side, a thrilling and fast descent. Rather than head straight back to Ruthin, enjoy some flatter miles heading west to the town of Denbigh and past the castle ruins before taking a series of quiet back lanes south to where you started via Rhewl. Enjoy a refreshing drink or something to eat in one of the many establishment’s a the heart of Ruthin’s Old Town.

    Difficult
    04:03
    42.6 mi
    10.5 mph
    3,725 ft
    3,725 ft
    Expert road ride. Very good fitness required. Mostly well-paved surfaces and easy to ride.

    Expansive and empty, the Abergwesyn Valley is one of the most stunning places to ride in Wales, and one of its best kept secrets. The moorland river valley leads to the testing Devil’s Staircase climb, a couple of really steep hairpin bends that’ll challenge even the strongest mountain goat climbers! Start this route in the town of Llandovery, which is easily accessible by train. There are a few great pubs, cafes and shops here so you can enjoy a coffee or stock-up on snacks before you head off. Avoid the main road to start by taking the lane toward Cilycwm, then join the busier road at Cynghordy. This undulating road takes you toward Llanwrtyd Wells, home of the World Alternative Games, including bog snorkelling and wife carrying, peeling off onto quieter lanes just before. Follow the lane up through the beautiful Irfon Valley to the village of Abergwesyn. From here, you’re treated to the Common, which will make you feel far, far from civilisation, the wooded bank of the Devil’s Staircase looming ahead. With a few short and sharp hairpin bends that ramp up to 25%, it's certainly not an easy climb! In total the climb measures only 0.8 miles (1.3 km) but what it lacks in length it certainly makes up for in intensity.From the top, the descent towards Llyn Brianne reservoir is one of those that leaves you whooping for joy; steep, flowing and with incredible vistas of Mid-Wales’ forestry and moorland. Follow the River Towy to the reservoir, the slick of black tarmac contouring around the eastern shores of the water almost devoid of other traffic. This is one of the very best hidden gems in Wales. From Llyn Brianne Dam, head back south to Llandovery via lanes through Rhandirmwyn, then retracing the same roads that you left the town on earlier.

    Intermediate
    02:07
    22.8 mi
    10.7 mph
    2,275 ft
    2,300 ft
    Intermediate road ride. Good fitness required. Mostly well-paved surfaces and easy to ride.

    Often named as the hardest climb in the Lake District, Honister Pass is nothing less than a brutal stretch of road. Often featured in the Tour of Britain, and annually in the Fred Whitton Challenge, the climb is 1.4 miles (2.2 km) long with an average gradient of 10%, maxing out at 25% for a brief moment, yikes! This route includes a ‘warm up’ climb of Newlands Pass before tackling Honister, and is a loop from the vibrant Lakes town of Keswick. After the climbing is done, enjoy a coffee stop at Grange Cafe before making your way back along the beautiful edge of Derwent Water to finish in Keswick. Leave Keswick to the west, skirting around the northern shores of Derwent Water as you enjoy a gentle warm up to start. Then it’s straight into the eastern ascent of Newlands Pass, or Newlands Hause, a gradual and really spectacular climb that only ramps up at the very end. Pass by the summits of Rowling End and Knott Rigg, the last section touching gradients of 13% briefly. That’s one climb in the legs, and definitely an easier one to start! Enjoy the corking descent down to little Buttermere, much steeper on this side. You’ll ride alongside Buttermere Lake as you head south-east, now the wiggling rise of Honister ahead of you. Good luck!At the top you’ll find the Honister Slate Mine entrance and breathe a sigh of relief. From here it’s plain sailing back to Keswick, and there’s a coffee stop next as you head down the other side of the pass, enjoying the reward of the elevation gained as you ride to Seatoller. A flat valley-bottom stretch takes you through Borrowdale back north to Grange, where you’ll find a great little cafe. The last leg is a quiet road along the western shore of Derwent Water, which offers incredible views over the lake with a few little rises and falls as you make your way back into Keswick.

    Difficult
    03:42
    37.6 mi
    10.2 mph
    3,875 ft
    3,875 ft
    Expert road ride. Very good fitness required. Some portions of the Tour may be unpaved and difficult to ride.

    The North York Moors is an incredible place to ride a bike; vast, remote landscapes, banks of hills, quaint little villages and often quiet back lanes. Rosedale Chimney is perhaps the toughest climb of all in the area, rated as 10/10 difficulty in Simon Warren’s ‘100 Greatest Cycling Climbs’! This route starts from the pretty market town of Kirkbymoorside, and heads north to the Yorkshire Cycle Hub for a pit stop before tackling the eye-watering 1-in-3 gradients of Rosedale Chimney Bank on the way back. Start your ride by taking the lanes through the unimaginably pretty Hutton-le-Hole village, taking care for any sheep that might be wandering the streets! The lanes are constantly up and down, before you take on the first big climb of the day up onto the moorland, a 1.5 mile (2.4 km) slog up some pretty steep gradients up Blakey Bank. Head north along Blakey Ridge, rumbling along the tops with some incredible views before dropping down into the valley to visit the Yorkshire Cycle Hub, a great place where you’ll find a cafe, bike shop and hire centre. After a good rest and leg-stretch, you’re heading back south towards Rosedale Abbey. There’s a steep climb out of the valley to Glaisdale Rigg first, before you head south and drop into the village of Rosedale Abbey. As you leave the village, the warning signs are pretty ominous — you’ll need some low gearing for this one! At its steepest the gradient taps on 33%, with an average of 14% for the entire stretch of climb. You’ll find that the gradient really ramps up most on the inside of the corners, so pick your line carefully.After a breather at the top (which you’ll really need), enjoy a long and much steadier descent off the bank back down to Hutton-le-Hole, before tracking some new lanes back into the town where you started.

    Difficult
    03:33
    38.7 mi
    10.9 mph
    3,650 ft
    3,025 ft
    Expert road ride. Very good fitness required. Some portions of the Tour may be unpaved and difficult to ride.

    Towering rock faces, leg-busting gradients and views for miles; this is the Peak District. A little different to the other routes in this collection, this is an A-to-B ride from Matlock to Buxton, two major Peak District towns. Both boast train stations so you can either link the two by train to extend your ride to complete a loop back to your starting point. The main climb on the menu today is the well-known Winnats Pass, a popular feature on Peak District based sportives and challenge rides. The rest of the route is far from flat though, with a bonus climb halfway up Stanage Edge to warm up before Winnats. Start by leaving from Matlock train station and heading up the Derwent valley on the quieter western side of the river. After a sharp climb to Stanton Lees you’ll descend through Rowsley and on northwards still by the river. The road through the Chatsworth Estate is a real treat — make sure you keep an eye out for deer.You’ll reach the gorgeous Dark Peak village of Hathersage where you’ll start climbing The Dale, at an average of 8% gradient it’s a good warm up for what’s to come. It’s surprising how quickly you rise above the villages in the valley bottom below, the road running parallel to Stanage Edge on your right offering incredible views of the Hope Valley. Before the main ascent, stop by at the Angler’s Inn, a community-run pub and cafe in the pretty little village of Bamford. From here a couple of quiet lanes lead you to the main road to Castleton, after which the Winnats Pass Clin starts proper. With an average gradient of 11.4% and a max of 18.3%, it’s a really tough 1.1 mile (1.8 km) climb. Push to keep your cadence going as you grind up the steep channel through the rock, taking care of passing traffic and the cattle grids. You’ll certainly need a breather at the top, where you can take in the amazing views from this ridgeline. The rest of the ride is a gentle, stepped descent, first down toward Chapel-en-le-Frith to the west before taking a turn south for Buxton. If you haven’t visited this old Derbyshire Spa Town before, it’s well worth spending some time looking around at the old architecture including the largest freestanding dome on a building in Europe.

    Difficult
    03:32
    42.7 mi
    12.1 mph
    4,000 ft
    4,000 ft
    Expert road ride. Very good fitness required. Mostly well-paved surfaces and easy to ride.

    Not for the faint-hearted, this mighty mountain climb in the remote Scottish Highlands is one that many riders from all over the world make a pilgrimage to, in order to tackle its steep and unrelenting slopes among exquisite scenery. Bealach-na-ba is a mountain pass that links the coastal village of Applecross to Tornapress. The total climb is some 5.6 miles (9 km) long and features gradients up to 20%, marked as an 11/10 on hill climber Simon Warren’s difficulty scale. You get the idea. This circular route starts and ends in the village of Applecross, so you’re likely to have driven the pass from the east side to get to the start unless you’ve come from the north. Start by heading along the coast on the loop clockwise from Applecross, past the beautiful Sands Bay. If the weather isn’t favourable, it’s best not to attempt this route, as it’s particularly remote and dangerous if you get into any trouble on the slopes of the mountain. As you reach the north-western tip of the Applecross Peninsula, continue to take the coastal road to the south-east toward Shieldaig. This is a simply spectacular stretch of tarmac that makes it clear why so many people escape to the Highlands for their holidays every year. Join the more major road heading south past Loch Dùghail, Loch Coultrie and Loch an Loin. Here, you’ll be able to see the rising and ominous peaks of Sgùrr a' Chaorachain that you’ll be winding your way up next. From Tornapress take the road that crosses the River Kishorn, rising up the Bealach-na-ba pass with a steady gradient to start that becomes increasingly tough. A set of four zig-zags indicate that you’re nearing the top, where the previous 20% gradient starts to ease and you’ll be praying for clear views as a reward.Your last leg is a descent back to Applecross, a similar gradient on this side of the pass as you’ve just tackled. Enjoy it, you’ve certainly earned it!

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Collection Stats

  • Tours
    10
  • Distance
    299 mi
  • Duration
    27:42 h
  • Elevation
    29,625 ft