The Western Passes
Stats: 20 miles and 4,500 feet of ascent
Thin on the ground. There’s a cafe at the top of Honister Pass and you can eat at Wasdale Head, but don’t expect anything at Gatesgarth or upper Ennerdale.
Under no circumstances discuss this route with an unbeliever at work on a Monday morning, or the conversation will go something like this:
You “I had a really tough ride in the Lakes yesterday.”
Infidel “Oh yeah, how many miles did you cover?”
Infidel “Isn’t that the distance Bradley Wiggins covers in half an hour?”
But this is a ludicrously tough course. Depending on your abilities with technical, steppy climbs and scarily steep descents, it’s as much a walk-with-a-bike as a ride. But, even with that caveat, it’s so magnificent a walk that you won’t begrudge the odd spot of push and carry.
1. Set off from Grange on the bridleway to Hollows Farm, turning left where the track strikes uo the slope away from the camp site. At the river bank, strike off up the testing climb round the back of Castle Crag.
2. Once over the slight col, there’s a superb bridleway terracing the valley on interesting singletrack. This holds a contour until you find yourself alongside the Honister Pass road.
3. Join tarmac for the last haul to the pass and turn left on the quarry road rising up to the left.
4. Take three successive left forks, the last one swooping down to Dubs Quarry.
5. Leave the security of quarry tracks for a singletrack test-piece skittering down the true right bank of Warnscale Beck. All but the best will have to dismount at several points. This is high-consequence riding territory dropping steeply away to the left and the cross erected to fallen fell walker Fanny Mercer acting as a salutary warning up to the right.
6. At the road, turn almost immediately left on the tightly-fenced bridleway through Gatesgarth Farm signposted to “Lakeside path”
7. At the far side of the lake, go up steeply to the right by a wood, zagging sharply left for the long haul to Scarth Gap Pass.
8. Strap in for the increasingly-steep descent to Black Sail hostel at the lonely top of Ennerdale. Bizarrely, this remote spot will be the first point you’ll get a mobile signal if you’re with T-Mobile.
9. Cross the bridge by the hostel and hike up the far slope to Black Sail Pass.
10. Another steep descent to Wasdale follows. Stock up on nosh here.
11. Set off on the last pass, up the shifting screes of Great Gable.
12. From Styhead, rattle down to Stockley Bridge and Seathwaite. By the time you reach tarmac, you’ll be ready to kiss it like a visiting pontiff, so take the lane down the valley through the Jaws of Borrowdale, to the start.
This is the sort of ride that will leave you thirsty for more. If that’s the case, then think about staying over. There are numerous options in the valley: Youth Hostels, pubs, bed and breakfast.
If you choose this option, there are some great little pubs to visit, and tomorrow you can head on to some more great tracks.
Alternatively, spend tomorrow enjoying the delights of Whinlatter Forest. Have a bacon and brie at the cafe, and chew the cud with the guys at Cyclewise.
All in all, you’ll love the ride and the Lakes. Bet you’ll be back!