Hardknott is probably the only iconic climb in the Lake District that I haven’t climbed, so today I remedied that. I rarely cycle in the Lake District because I find the hills too steep, the descents too dangerous, it always seems to rain and the roads are just too busy. I find The Trough of Bowland or the Dales quieter and more pleasant.
My first thoughts when seeing this was, who the hell builds a road up a cliff (The Romans).
I do like to complete challenges though, and Rapha have a Strava challenge running until the beginning of June which involves six tough climbs around the country, including Box Hill and Cheddar Gorge. Nearer to home it also includes Buttertubs, which I completed a few weeks ago, and Hardknott. Unfortunately there isn’t a great route out to Eskdale which is why I jumped on a train to Drigg. The line is also operated by Northern Rail who don’t allow the booking of bikes, so you have to take you chance that you’ll be allowed on.
I was allowed on with my bike to begin the two hour journey. The train stopped at every single station and seemed to be travelling not much more than walking speed at times. I’m not complaining too much as the views were spectacular as the train wound it’s way along the coast. Slightly annoying is the Kent viaduct at Arnside which should have a cycle/foot path on the bridge running next to the railway. This would provide an excellent short cut to Grange-Over-Sands and Ulverston, an area that I have not properly explored.
Once I was off the train in Drigg I waited a few moments for my Garmin to find the satellites, and then I was off. It was about 10 miles to the bottom of the climb, which can be seen from a few miles away. I stopped to take a photo and could just make out a few cars winding their way up the unbelievably steep road.
The official start of the climb is next to the phone box and 30% sign, and it’s steep from the beginning. Plenty of people have described the climb already, but let’s just say it’s unique. Who in their right mind decided to build a road over it. (As I said earlier, it was first built by the Romans.)
Once I had struggled over the initial section I could see a couple of cyclists in the distance, walking with their bikes. In fairness they were on mountain bikes with panniers and in their position I would have been walking too. They became a target as I wanted to pass them before they reached the top. They gave me encouragement to keep going as I passed them, although my heart rate was too high to reply. I can’t imagine how tough the climb is during the Fred Whitton, when it comes after 100 miles. I was blowing out my arse and I’d only done 10.
I didn’t stop at the top but I didn’t go much faster as the road surface is terrible and there are numerous sharp bends. There was also a slow moving car in front of me and three motorbikes with sidecars about to start up. The rest of the ride home was fairly uneventful with a couple more hills and a heavy shower. There was also a nice tailwind for the last 20 miles, which was nice.
Obviously the first thing that I did when I got home was to upload the ride to Strava. With a week to go my rank on the Rapha challenge is 42nd out of almost 500, which I don’t think is too bad, although many of those below me will have done the segment during the Fred. My average heart rate for the segment was 158 bpm reaching a maximum of 181, yikes. I have wanted to climb Hardknott for a while, but I would have put it off without the incentive from both Strava and Rapha. Another reason why I love Strava.