Classic Climbs – The Struggle

Route Information

Stats:  38 miles and 4000 feet of ascent

OS Map:


Joseph’s ice cream van can set you away,: Kirkstone Inn can congratulate you on clearing the big climb, Patterdale Post Office at the bottom, lots of cafés in Glenridding, Low Bridge End Farm cafe in St John’s in the Vale and plenty at Grasmere in case you’re running on empty near the end. Note that the toilets at Ambleside’s main car park now charge 20p entrance fee.


Precious few passes bear intrinsically romantic names. Sure, some are spoken of in whispers, like Wrynose and Hardknott, but most are ploddingly geographical, like Newlands and Whinlatter.

A unique aura, then, clings to the Struggle, the three miles of sweat-stained tarmac hauling out of Ambleside to the crest of Kirkstone. Such an aura that Leonard Cohen commemorated it in the finest opening lines known in song

I stumbled out of bed; I got ready for The Struggle.

You just knew Lennie was a cyclist, didn’t you?

It’s a steeper pull than the main Kirkstone road out of Troutbeck, but considerably quieter, too. If long stretches of 20% tax your legs you can at least give thanks that you’re not dragging a car…


1. Bear left at the mini-roundabout as you come into Ambleside. The sign helpfully points out that Kirkstone is a mere three miles away. So that’s all right, then.

2. After those three miles, swoop down to Brothers’ Water and on down to Patterdale and Glenridding.

3. Turn left onto the A5091 Park Brow, climbing past the coach-loads come to gaze at Aira Force, on through the pretty villages of Dockray, Matterdale End and Troutbeck (the other one).

4. At the A66, turn left. If you feel intimidated by the traffic, there are bits of cycle-lane and odd stretches of the old road. On this occasion, I just tucked in to the left of the white line and whizzed down the clickety-click with Blencathra casting a protective eye over me.

5. Turn left onto the B5322 to Thirlmere, ambling pleasantly through the pastures of St John’s Vale.

6. To avoid the traffic of the A591, dink right onto a tiny lane, signposted in blue to Grasmere. The tarmac has seen better days but my skinny tyres coped OK. Cross the main road onto the quiet road down the west side of Thirlmere, crossing the sinuous dam and winding down the larch-needled shore.

7. Rejoin the A591 at the southern end of the lake for the tiny pull over Dunmail Raise. Then there’s a screamingly fast descent to Grasmere.

8. To minimise the A-road roar, fork left at the Dove Cottage roundabout and snake through the trees (bear right at the fork) to the start.

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