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Cyclist Best of British: No. 2 Lake District

6 Aug 2020

Words: James Spender Photography: Juan Trujillo Andrades

If you’re looking for where beauty meets beast, you’ll find the Lake District. A case in point is the area’s most famous sportive son, The Fred Whitton. At some 183km long with over 3,700m of climbing, it makes most Grand Tour stages look like a charity fun run. Because when it comes to steep, the Lake District wrote the rule book.

It’s mostly down to the Romans, who took a real shine to the Lakes from both a military and municipal point of view, building elaborate settlements – many of whose ruins can be visited today – as well as roads.

And what roads. If you were Roman the quickest way forward was straight, and over time cart tracks turned to roads and climbs such as Honister, Newlands and Hardknott’s fearsome reputations were forged.

Take Honister, for example: 2,4km long at an average 9.9%, with a maximum of 25%. Or Hardknott, 2.3km at 13.3% – far steeper than most Alpine cols, and that’s before adding in stretches of tarmac that hit 33%, and before considering you have to get down the other side too.

Yet because of this, parts of the Lakes can prove overwhelmingly popular with tourists, whether they’re labouring up a one-in-ten in the small ring or their small-compact rental car.

Local advice is to hit the popular spots of Ambleside, Windermere and Coniston early, but for quieter rides later in the day, head west.

In between, there’s always time for coffee, and cycling local and komoot pioneer Toby Cummins recommends a trip to Chesters by the River in Skelwith Bridge.

‘Handy for Ambleside, Coniston and Grasmere, it’s a brilliant stopping point on the way to most parts of the Lakes and serves excellent vegetarian and vegan options. Lovely outside seating too.

Once you’re done, those roads on the way out round the coast, via Brouhgton, are somewhat easier, with your reward for this journey west the great, empty landscapes of Corney Fell and Birker Fell.

There are few more breathlessly beautiful roads in Britain, appearing as if untouched since Roman times. Don’t be fooled though, this is the Lakes so seldom is any road flat.

Yet as much as some of the riding here is brutal, even on a bleak day the Lake District has a gorgeously moody allure, its vast swathes of untouched moorland pocked with copses and sunk with bodies of silvery water.

Make no mistake, where there are lakes there has to be rain – and rain it does, roughly one in three days.

But that’s all part of Lake District’s charm, a place that’s as comfortable serving up proper locally sourced food and brewed ales while your cleats dry by the fire, as it is the odd scorching day in the height of summer, that might even see you unzipping your jersey as you tackle another 25% monster

Top tip

‘The Lakes has a disproportionately high number of top end eateries, including at the southern end in Cartmel the Michelin celebrated L’Enclume,’ Cummins says.

‘But if you’re looking for a good rustic bike stop for a beer and some fine nibbles, you should swing by The Drunken Duck just North of Hawkshead. Good outside seating. great food and a wide selection of beverages. The Inn also offers accommodation if you overdo it.’

If you are new to komoot, it is offering a free regional bundle (worth £8.99). Simply follow this link to komoot and create your free account today. Alternatively, head to komoot and enter the voucher code BESTOFBRITISH. Valid until 31.12.2020

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