Our Christmas Special "Cold Dark Rides" features a true don in the world of climbing up hills on a bicycle.
Mr Simon Warren is a friend of the Cold Dark North who cemented his place in our hearts when he (finally) released the (final) edition of his series of guides to climbing hills in the regions of the UK. Simon wrote (in words we could have scripted for him): "If this volume were a movie, it'd be a blockbuster. People would be lining up to see it from reading the poster alone". We couldn't agree more and we're delighted to have Simon contribute to our series.
The brief for some of our favourite local riders, brands and photographers was basic: give us 5 photos and descriptions of the places you love to ride and a bit of blurb on yourself. Over the coming months we'll be sharing their secret climbs, epic rides and favourite spots here in the Road Gauge and on Instagram.
Simon Warren has been obsessed with cycling since the summer of 1989 after watching Greg Lemond battle Laurent Fignon in the Tour de France. Simon realised at a young age that his forte was racing up hills, and so began his fascination with steep roads. His quest to discover Britain's greatest climbs resulted in the bestselling 100 Greatest Cycling Climbs, followed by Another 100 Greatest Cycling Climbs and he recently completed his guides to the best climbs in each of the regions of the UK. Simon now lives in the flat lands of the South, but he's regularly out researching around our lands. You can find all his books here just in time for Christmas.
Simon is used to being allowed a few more than 5 in a list, but he's kindly given us his top 5 in the Cold Dark North for this series:
Newlands Pass || 1.9km, average 10.1%
When I’m asked for my favourite climb or place to ride, nine times out of ten I say Newlands Pass.
From the very first time my eyes caught sight of it I knew I’d found my vision of heaven, a single savage line of tarmac, dividing an ocean of nature, it’s as stunning as it is arduous. The narrow road rises almost immediately to 20% from Buttermere, bending left and right across an uneven surface. Past a clump of trees, the gradient eases and the landscape opens up. There’s then a slight dip for a brief moment’s rest before the hardest section. The road ahead bisects the epic grassy slope, climbing straight, long, and very hard. With the steep bank to the right and the abyss-like valley to the left, you will be dwarfed by the incredible scenery as the road rises up to a right-hand bend.
Round this and it’s steeper again, the surface clean but still bumpy and the road narrowing further, eventually levelling for the briefest of moments. You have just enough time here to size up the final 25% vicious right-hard turn that leads to the car park at the summit.
Biker Fell || 4.7km, average 5%
When I reached the top of this climb, on a wonderfully bright, yet very cold morning, I instantly declared it my new favourite spot in England. Having climbed over four tough kilometres through pristine scenery, utterly alone and surrounded by a horizon of snow-capped peaks, it was simply sensational. I started the ascent just out of Eskdale Green (ignoring the temptation of Hardknott Pass) and headed right to find the base next to a lone house. A short rise is followed by a steady undulation, and then the first serious part of the climb appears. Rising up ahead is a savage ramp that bends right to allow you a good breather before the next stretch of solid climbing.
There are a couple of demanding kilometres until you reach the summit, and such is the grandeur of your environment, you just won’t want them to end. These have to be some of the best views England has to offer.
Bullpot Farm Hill || 3km, average 7.5%
The North-West is all about finding solitude, remote roads that lead into the emptiness of the hills and none encapsulate this as well as the climb to Bullpot Farm.
On a cold day in February with the wind so strong it was all I could do to stay upright there was a point when I thought I’d have to turn round. But that fearsome wind did not, and could not, take away from the pleasure of this road; it takes you well off the beaten track and deep into the empty fells.
For the full experience, start from the A683, rise through Casterton, pass over the two junctions, and head past the farm, where the slope begins to bite. Heading straight for the ridge ahead you weave a little, then after a tight right-hand turn the gradient really starts to hurt. From here all the way to the next bend it’s very hard, over 15% all the way between the scruffy grass banks and crumbling stone walls. Once you reach the turn everything changes, the slope recedes, the landscape opens up and you see the road disappear into the distance. Cross one false summit and then it’s on to the finish, looking out over Barbon High Fell.
Tow Top Road || 1.1km, average 12.5%
Tipped off by none other than Tobes of the Cold Dark North himself (*blushes*- Ed) I found myself at the base of this climb and instantly wished I’d found it sooner.
With so many famous ascents in Cumbria, I was naturally drawn to the big names first – the Hardknotts and Honisters, hidden roads like this unfortunately never crossed my radar which in this case was a tragedy, but better late than never. The sign at the bottom says it all: steep gradients, sharp bends, and unsuitable for HGVs. Basically, it’s hill climbing nirvana. Rising immediately away from the junction, this wonderful road twists and weaves stupendously up the wooded bank of Newton Fell, through corner after corner after corner.
Although the sign at the base warns of 20% gradients, it only reaches this severity of incline at the apex of a couple of bends, so don’t let it put you off. Once you round the final twist you see a brow ahead that marks the end of the steep gradient and the start of the much steadier finale to this wonder pass – a real gem of the Cold Dark North.
Great Dun Fell || 7.4km, average 8.4%
If you’ve heard of any of these roads, it’s likely to be this one, the imperious Great Dunn Fell, Britain’s answer to Mont Ventoux. The 7.5 kilometer journey up its sinuous tarmac to the ‘top of the world’ is without doubt one of the greatest experiences you can have on two wheels in England.
Be warned though, like all giant climbs, conditions at the top are very rarely the same as they are at the base and clear skies are a rarity at this altitude in the Pennines, so always pack a jacket. As you leave the tiny village of Knock glance up and on the horizon you’ll see, if the weather is kind, the glowing white sphere of the radar station, this is your goal, your target. As you pick your way along the rough sliver of a road that divides the rugged farm land annoyingly there are two gates to cross, (although they are sometimes open), so be warned.
There are a number of plateaus along the way and although they offer some respite they also accentuate the severity of the climbing that follows them. With multiple sections over 20% by the time you reach the finale your legs will be screaming, and what a finale it is. At the point where public vehicles are no longer allowed the surface changes to silky smooth as it hits a 25% slope nestled between high grassy banks. Push up through these to reach an exposed plateau leading to the giant ‘golf ball’ in the sky surrounded by simply epic views of the Pennine Fells.
You can often find Mr Warren on Instagram wishing he was up a hill rather than in a flat field, but failing that there's just enough time before Christmas to get a 100 Climbs gift for the climber in your life.
Oh, and definitely pick up a copy of this, Thoroughly endorsed by the Cold Dark North: