Stats: 65 miles and 7400 feet of ascent
There’s a superb cafe strategically placed around halfway. There are further opportunities to revive flagging legs at Keswick and Grasmere (a fistful of gingerbread may get you back over Red Bank).
A thrilling tour de force round the western half of Lakeland, with spectacular scenery, surprising variety and a peek into some of Cumbria’s less-frequented corners.
1. Start in Elterwater because there’s plenty of parking to be had.Kiss goodbye the chocolate-box delights of the village green and cross the bridge, heading towards Colwith.Turn right here and the first challenge smacks you between the eyes like a two-by-two – Wrynose Pass.
2. Wend your way up Little Langdale, enjoying the last few stretches of level tarmac. Then engage your granniest gear and knuckle down to the pass. Plummet down to Cockley Beck and briefly draw breath before the zigzags up Hardknott. This is brutal, but mercifully shorter than Wrynose when heading west.
3. Take it steady on the descent into Eskdale. The turns are tight and the road can be severely pot-holed if the previous winter has been cold. Whizz past the Roman fort with brakes smoking and rattle over the cattle grid with a brief sense of satisfaction – you’ve cracked the Big Two.
4. Follow the valley down to Eskdale Green for the short, stabby climb over to Santon Bridge. Follow easy lanes to Gosforth and pick up the A595 briefly north as far as Calder Bridge. Look over your shoulder from time to time to enjoy unfamiliar views of Gable, Pillar and the Scafells.
5. Hand a right by the church and start following signs to Lamplugh. This is a substantial climb, reaching 300m, but is nowhere steep. If you don’t know this side of Lakeland, you’re in for a treat. The moorland scenery hides archaeological treasures and the seaward views are spectacular, dominated by the lofty fortress of the Isle of Man.
6. Whizz down to Ennerdale Bridge, where you’ll turn right then left to Kirkland and Lamplugh, heading north, with just the briefest skirmish with the A5086.
Leave Lamplugh on a northeasterly bearing to the magnificently-named pass of Fangs Brow.
7. Turn right and head once more toward the centre of Lakeland. Descent at speed past Loweswater and Kirkstile, with a brief climb up Scale Hill before passing the Buttermere turn on your right. Unless you’ve eaten elsewhere, head towards Newhouse Farm for a proper feed before the next climb.
8. Double back to the tiny lane signposted to Hopebeck. This is one of the most beautiful roads anywhere on Earth. If you’ve refuelled enough, you’ll enjoy the gently rising traverse across the flank of Whiteside. If it’s clear, the Galloway Hills will levitate over the Solway Firth and the gentle pastures of the Vale of Lorton. Join the main Whinlatter Road and climb to the forest centre for the fast descent into Braithwaite.
9. Dodge the A66 with narrow lanes through Portinscale into Keswick. Climb out of Keswick on the narrow, suburban Ambleside Road. Turn right on the A591 (don’t worry, you won’t be on the busy road for long) and follow it over the flank to descend into St John’s Vale.
10. Turn right onto the narrow road along the western side of Thirlmere. Follow this through forests and rejoin the A-road at the southern end. The climb to Dunmail Raise is mercifully short. Whizz down to Grasmere and turn through the village.
11. Leave on the Red Bank Road and, with the last few calories left in your soul, crank up the 1 in 4 gradient to the Youth Hostel. Take the right fork for the short drop back to Elterwater and the car.