Three Big Northerners
Updated: Dec 20, 2019
Over this long hot summer we've been drawn further North into the beautiful empty Eden Valley, the Northern Lakes and the North Pennines. These lovely lands are punctuated with a variety of hills with which riders can test themselves - some long and gentle, others short and sharp and one, in particular, very long and very sharp indeed. But more on that later.
With one co-founder off to do the Ride Across Britain in September, we went back to ride Shap Fell recently and it reminded us that these little known monsters of the (further) North might be worth a little trip for those that don't know them.
As always, we'd be happy to help guide you or plan some routes to tick off this little bucket list of spectacular mountains. And be under no-Alpine-rose-tinted illusions, these are mountains.
14.5km @3% ^380m
Most would tell you that Shap Fell proper doesn't start until you reach Garth Row or Selside, but in reality it's near uninterupted climbing from the busy town of Kendal all the way to the exposed and remote Fell top on the way toward Shap Village. And that's where we measure it from!
You ride north out of Kendal on the A6 always aware that it's a busy commercial road even as it starts to very gently wind up into tree lined and quieter sections. It's as you pass through Selside that you look left at the valley framing the ironically named River Sprint - giving your first taste of how remote this climb will become by the top. It's always gradual and forgiving. A typically grippy norther road surface does you no favours and as you round the corner on a slight descent at Muddy Brow you are faced with what looks like the climb. Only when you reach the summit you can see some 2km later do you realise that there's still some 3km to the top!
After a sharp descent over the false summit you're onto the short steepest section and then a relentless "side of the valley" road all the way to the exposed top. There you're met by a solitary bunk house, a view of the North Pennines range, the Eden Valley and a very blustery but ludicrously fun descent down into the village of Shap.
It's never unbearable on Shap, but it's unquestionably a gritty hill. Probably more so when it's the middle of your 5th day of nine cycling from Land's End to John O'Groats!
8km @5% ^415m
As Shap is to LEJOG, Hartside is to many a C2C. This iconic big climb in the North Pennines is a beauty from either side (and actually worth descending on both sides if you have time!), but most attempt it from the quaint village of Melmerby heading North and East either as part of a Coast to Coast attempt or just to climb and descend. (And The Old Village Bakery in Melmerby is almost worth the descent back from the top alone!) https://www.facebook.com/TheOldVillageBakeryMelmerby/ This route is also a well ridden Hill Climb and Hilly TT track and featured in the Tour of Britain recently as a summit finish.
And when you look at the profile it's easy to see why! Billed as one of the longest continuous climbs in the UK it almost never gets about 6% yet allows you to climb a third of an Alp in just shy of 8km. Once you get beyond the lower switch backs and the trees you're met with a very real account of the day's weather and winds. Tell-tale snow line poles by the road show that this is a proper road. Loved by many for the cafe at Hartside Top, which sadly burned down this year, this road is an incredible experience.
Although, like our recent visit, you might be met with atrocious visibility and a tricky descent in the wind and rain!
Once you've made it to the top and taken photos with the inevitable summit sign, you can descend seemingly forever to Alston in the North (a lovely village with extensive steep cobbles to practice on if Hartside is too shallow for your tastes!), head back down the A686 from where you've come or take a delightful detour back toward Penrith through the silent and sinuous lanes of the North Eden Valley - cutting short the southern descent after 2km and heading down via Renwick.
Great Dun Fell
7.3km @8.5% ^620m
But. If you find yourself North of Tebay with a bike, do whatever you can to ride Great Dun Fell.
Ahhh, Great Dun Fell. If you've ridden it or researched it then you'll know. If you haven't, make it one of your top priorities for riding a bike in the UK. Simon Warren famously described it as England's Mont Ventoux. It's an 11/10 climb in his book and it gets a similarly effusive review from us.
The 7.5 kilometre journey up its sticky tarmac to the ‘top of the world’ is without doubt one of the greatest experiences you can have on two wheels in England. The final 2 miles up to the "Giant Golf Ball" (weather station) at the top are not only a dead end but also a closed road.
So perfect, uninterrupted, tarmac disguises the pain of the multiple sections over 20%. And those several segments over 25%. Even with its little sting in the tail in the last 500m, this is a sublime section of road. Sheep sh*t is really you're only worry on a clear day.
Be warned, the descent is very fast and twisty and on a breezy day (which it often is on England's highest paved road) care should be applied even by the most competent of downhillers. By the time you've returned to the village of Dufton it'll be time for a slice of cake from the excellent Postbox Pantry.
Three very different climbs, as a quick trip to Veloviewer will tell you!
So there you have it. The North of the Cold Dark North. Well worthy of your time exploring and enduring it. It's bound to leave a smile on your face.