Cycling in the Lake District

Week-long tours and day rides

By Richard Barrett

Guidebook to a 5-day cycle tour of the Lake District, with 2 options each day up to a total of 186 miles and almost 5000m of ascent, and 15 tough day rides from Keswick, Ambleside, Penrith and bases to the southwest and southeast of the National Park. With outlines of other tours and the Fred Whitton Challenge ride (112 miles over 7 iconic passes).



The best time to go touring in the Lake District is between April and October, when the days are longer and the weather is at its best. But even then, you will undoubtedly get wet and experience blustery days. So be prepared for them. As a general rule always plan your route so that you are riding south to north with the prevailing south westerly winds.


Ambleside Grasmere Troutbeck Shap Penrith Stainton Keswick Cockermouth Eskdale Green Ravenglass Broughton in Furness Grizedale Cartmel Grange-over-Sands Bassenthwaite Buttermere


Each tour stage and day ride and is graded on two criteria: distance with rides categorised as short, medium or long, and total ascent with rides categorised as easy, moderate, hard or challenging. Easy - smooth pedalling with gentle inclines Moderate - undulating with an occasional steady climb, but nothing to get you out of the saddle Hard - involves some hard climbs with gradients up to 10 per cent Challenging - long steep ascents or multiple short sharp gradients that will most definitely hurt. Inevitably, the majority of rides fall into the latter categories.
Must See

Must See

Incredible scenery and rare wildlife - the Lake District is England's largest national park; local craft breweries; local foods; Kirkstone Pass; Hardknott Pass; the impressive panorama of Yewbarrow, Kirkfell, Great Gable and Scafell Pike from Wasdale Head
3 May 2016
17.2 x 11.6 x 1.3cm
  • Overview

    Guidebook to a 5-day cycle tour of the Lake District plus 15 challenging day rides from Keswick, Ambleside, Penrith and bases southwest and southeast of the National Park. Details 2 options each day for the cycle tour, plus a 7-day alternative itinerary. Also outlines other tours including the 112-mile Fred Whitton Challenge, which takes in 7 iconic passes.

    Step-by-step route descriptions are accompanied by either 1:100,000 or 1:200,000 mapping, together with details on gradient, major climbs and cafes/pubs en route. Also included is a comprehensive ‘what to take’ checklist plus other practical information such as preparing your bike, packing for a cycle tour, fuelling your ride and more. This comprehensive guidebook also details accommodation options and useful contacts plus information on the district’s geology, landscape, plants and wildlife.

    With its picturesque lakes, lush green dales and high passes, the Lake District offers some of the most scenic and challenging cycling in Britain. Whether touring or day tripping, England’s largest National Park will leave you (literally and metaphorically) breathless.

  • Contents

    Lake District National Park
    Geology and landscape
    Plants and wildlife
    History and culture
    Getting there
    Weather and when to ride
    Where to stay
    What type of bike?
    Preparing your bike
    Preparing yourself
    What to pack
    How to pack
    Riding comfortably
    Fuelling your ride
    Riding as a group
    Cycle touring
    The Fred Whitton Challenge
    Day rides
    Maps and itineraries
    Using this guide
    A tour of the Lake District
    The Eastern and Far Eastern Fells
    Stage 1A Ambleside to Troutbeck over Kirkstone Pass
    Stage 1B Ambleside to Troutbeck via Shap
    The Northern Fells
    Stage 2A Troutbeck to Keswick via Threlkeld
    Stage 2B Troutbeck to Keswick via Hesket Newmarket
    The North Western Fells
    Stage 3A Keswick to Cockermouth over the passes
    Stage 3B Keswick to Cockermouth via Lorton
    The Western Fells
    Stage 4A Cockermouth to Eskdale Green via Ennerdale Green
    Stage 4B Cockermouth to Eskdale Green via Egremont
    The Southern and Central Fells
    Stage 5A Eskdale Green to Ambleside over the passes
    Stage 5B Eskdale Green to Ambleside via Coniston and Hawkshead
    Day rides
    Ambleside and the Central Lakes
    Route 1 Over the Wrynose and Hardknott passes from Ambleside
    Route 2 Around the Central Fells
    Route 3 A circuit of the Eastern Fells from Ambleside
    Penrith and the North East
    Route 4 Haweswater and Ullswater from Shap
    Route 5 Lowther Park and Ullswater from Penrith
    Route 6 Around Inglewood Forest
    Keswick and the North West
    Route 7 Loop around the Back o’ Skiddaw
    Route 8 Whinlatter and Honister passes from Keswick
    Route 9 Across Allerdale
    The South West
    Route 10 Back o’ Sellafield and Wasdale Head
    Route 11 The Far South West from Ravenglass
    Route 12 Around the Furness Fells from Broughton
    The South East
    Route 13 Around Grizedale Forest
    Route 14 Across Windermere from Cartmel
    Route 15 A circuit around Whitbarrow

    Appendix A Useful contacts
    Appendix B Accommodation
    Appendix C What to take
    Appendix D Further reading

  • Updates
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    Dec 2018

    page 147 route 7 Keswick & the North West

    The old railway bridge over the River Greta was washed away in the severe floods of 2015 and has yet to be rebuilt so riders should follow the alternative route from Keswick via Castlerigg Stone Circle mentioned on page 69.

  • Reviews

    The Lake District is a walker’s paradise and can easily be over-looked as a cycling destination. However, this Cicerone Book will dispel this misconception. The Lake District is also a must for cyclists who seek a challenge as some of the passes involve over 300 metres of ascent.
    Richard Barrett’s book gives a wealth of practical information in preparation of a cycle tour, including the practicalities of the type of bike to ride, what to pack, and accommodation and refreshment options.

    Backpack magazine, Autumn 2016

    "in his introduction to the book and to the lake district itself, he features a seven-day touring schedule, but also advises that the intrepid rider might like to follow the route of the annual fred whitton challenge sportive ride. though as he records "Winners usually complete the course in less than six hours...", there's not a lot of sightseeing or coffee stops included in such alacrity. thus he has thoughtfully divide the fred whitton into manageable chunks encompassing two, three or five-day challenges depending on your ability or predilection for a relaxed daily mileage.

    other than this, however, there are a wide variety of rides that can easily be accomplished between breakfast and dinner, each accompanied by a well-illustrated map, points of interest and pedal-by-pedal-stroke directions. nor would it be a cicerone guide were it not to contain information pertaining to weather, getting there, topographical information and impressive photography. each day ride is headed by the necessary map references, distance, grading as to perceived difficulty, average time for completion and, most importantly, cafes and pubs along the way. 

    the ideal volume to pack in one of those rear pockets (yes, it does fit)"

    The Washingmachinepost, May 2016 (deliberately all lower case).

    If not everyone agrees that the Lake District has the finest scenery in England, it is certainly the top contender in the eyes of an awful lot of people. Water, mountain and rugged pastures and woods combine to produce a landscape that few can match. The cycling is hilly - that is the whole point - but there are a surprising number of road routes that offer a wide variety of ways to get the best out of the area. It is the range of routes and the alternatives that Richard Barrett suggests that make this a useful addition to the library of touring cyclists.

    The centre piece of the guide is a well-designed and imaginatively presented tour of the Lake District. Starting at Ambleside and taking in Threlkeld, Keswick, Buttermere, Cockermouth, the western edge of the National Park, Wast Water, Eskdale, making a return to Ambleside with a strenuous passage over Hardknott and Wrynose Passes or a more southerly excursion via Coniston Water and Hawkshead, you’ll get to see the best of the whole. Each of the stages of the grand tour has two routes to chose from. For example, form Ambleside to Troutbeck (the one near Threlkeld) could go over the Kirkstone Pass or take a longer route via Shap. Interestingly the former is fifteen miles shorter and has around 250 metres less ascent - the high passes may sometimes be the “easiest” way in statistical terms.

    Few cyclists will select routes primarily on how easy they are. It is to the credit of this guide that, even someone who knows the Lake District well felt a twinge of envy that he’d not thought of taking some of these ways before. Notes on history, natural and human, and the grand tour alternatives make it easy to build one’s own tour based on interest and desire for legwork. Having said that, there are few routes that will not get your heart pumping and your legs nicely warmed-up. If you want easier stuff, hire is increasingly widely available.

    A series of day rides are also described, aiming to cover many of the finest stretches of road. And this is fundamentally a road touring guide. There are many places in the Lakes where narrow tyres will not go and others where even a rugged old tourer will need more pushing than pedalling; this guide is all cyclable on a road bike. There are other guides for those seeking downhill thrills or rugged rough-stuff touring. The day rides range from 15 to 42 miles, with some suitable for combining into a longer day. As with the grand tour, there are excellent maps and directions, as well as downloadable .gpx files.

    The author also covers, though in less detail, the route of the Fred Whitton Challenge. For those not Whitton-aware, he describes this as a “must-do sportive.” There is also do it yourself option. It is, in fact, a brutal ride in which cyclists battle against gravity only to form a short alliance with their former enemy, lasting until they fall out again at the base of the next pass. All a big challenge and jolly satisfying for those cycling it all or sitting at the top of Hardknott watching them climb. Full guidance is given on how to get to the different starting points for all the various rides, what to take, preparation of bike and self, and where to stay. There is particularly pertinent advice about braking on steep descents and gearing for ascents - aimed mainly at those cycling in the hills for the first time. I particularly admired the attitude shown to personal preparation; “To enjoy your ride and prevent each day becoming a personal challenge ….” Richard Barrett’s guide will take you through spectacular scenery, be fit enough to enjoy it and give yourself time to take in some local goodies at the cafes en route.

    Seven Day Cyclist

    Living close to the Lake District and having ridden there countless times, including completing the Fred Whitton Challenge, I was curious as to how much I would benefit from Richard Barrett’s cycling guide to this region. I was more than pleasantly surprised. In a detailed introduction, as well as providing a brief guide to local history and geology, Cycling in the Lake District devotes as much attention to setting off on the bike as it does to riding it.

    Barrett covers essential topics such as weather conditions and the difficulties arising from them. He also discusses cycling nutrition, packing protocol and the all-important cycling etiquette for road users who might not be used to narrow lanes and slow climbs.

    The guide itself opens with a five-stage tour of the Lake District, each stage offering two route options for varying abilities. A further fifteen day rides follow, exploring areas not covered by the full tour. Both sections are characterised by clear maps, gradient information, ride profiles and a difficulty rating system, ensuring that the rider is well prepared for what lies ahead. Barrett also gives an honest indication of the climbing involved and the steepness – a must in an area that offers challenges for even the most seasoned of cyclists.

    Throughout the book, directions are easy to follow and interspersed with some excellent photographs. But most interesting of all are the scattered gems of insight into the history of the area and information about the places passed along the way. Such facts as the world’s first pencil factory being established in Keswick in 1832 give context to the rides – as well as explaining the presence of the Pencil Museum in the town, something that has baffled me for years. With these extra snippets of background, Cycling in the Lake District will provide entertainment whilst off the bike and relaxing those aching legs.

    In a clear and well-informed fashion, Cycling in the Lake District by Richard Barrett addresses the potential issues facing any cyclist taking on the challenge of the Lake District on two wheels. Designed to slip easily into a back pocket, it is a brilliant companion for anyone considering riding in the region.

    Mark Stickland for Freewheeling France

    Mark Stickland lives in the Yorkshire Dales and is a keen cyclist. Having toured across western Europe and west Africa, he has developed an appreciation for the sharp climbs of northern England, if not for the accompanying weather. He's on Twitter at @sticklandmark

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Richard Barrett

Richard Barrett spent his working life as a professional marketer, but still found time for climbing, winter mountaineering and sea kayaking. He first visited the Harris hills as a teenager and became a regular visitor. He lived in North Harris for a number of years, where he and his wife ran a guest house and, although now a city-dweller, he still makes frequent forays to the Hebrides, reconnecting with the wilderness and catching up with old friends.

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