Mountain Journeys

Fred Whitton challenge – Cycling in the Lake District


Kate out of the saddle on her way up Kirkstone Pass

Fred Whitton Challenge

Todays blog is semi-related to Mountain Journeys as it involves helping us keep fit. So I feel justified in writing a few words about what I got up to. It was also a pretty big achievement for me, and one that has never been on the radar, well not until a couple of weeks ago, and even then only vaguely on it!

Lockdown has presented us all with different issues and problems, we hope you are all doing okay and keeping safe and well.

Like for so many, our 'problem' has been a huge increase in free time, but no paid work. Thankfully we live in a stunningly beautiful place, we think it's one most beautiful on Earth and many seem to agree. Since the lockdown there has been a run of good weather, which is most unusual, so lots of our new found free time has been spent outdoors on the local hills. Loughrigg and Wansfell are both easy walks from Ambleside.

We have been walking, running, and biking these pretty regularly. We have also been getting out on road bikes, something I never expected to do here in the Lakes as traffic has always been a worry. Traffic is not a problem just now, so a unique opportunity has arisen. Quite roads, sunshine, and free!
Now obviously if rock climbing / mountaineering was still acceptable that is what we would be doing, let there be no doubt. But sadly that's a no go at present 🙁

So out on 2 wheels it is then. And over the past few weeks I've cycled over all the major Lakeland passes apart from Whinlatter. All of them feel pretty tough to me, even if just attempting one on its own. But gradually I started doing more, linking a few during the course of a ride. A noticed that a couple of friends had recently completed the Fred Whitton challenge route and thought, maybe, just maybe I could do that too.

Back in November I think it was, another friend had asked if I was interested in doing the Fred Whitton Challenge. I just laughed this off as a bit crazy.

What is the Fred Whitton challenge?
It is a cycling sportive event taking in all the major passes of the Lake District and a few minor ones for good measure. The official route from Grasmere is about 112 miles and there's over 3000m or 10,500ft of ascent mixed in. I think I'm right in saying it used to be called 'The Lakeland Passes' but the name was changed in honour of Fred. More reading about the Fred Whitton Challenge here

I started & finished from home in Ambleside, so that's about 7 miles less than the official distance. It really didn't feel necessary to drive to Grasmere to start though, especially so given the current general travel advice.

It is a tough day out and not to be taken lightly, I had back up / escape plans. Below is my lightly edited Strava write up which was done shortly after finishing, so may not all make complete sense...I was a little tired!

8.25am - depart Ambleside - may the Fred Whitton Challenge commence:

Really wasn't sure if this was going to be a bit much for me. With that in mind I had a number of escape plans. This helped keep the pressure off.

However, The Struggle, Honister, Newlands, and Whinlatter all seemed to fly by and I was feeling strong. 
Had a short stop and a banana near The Lodore Hotel in Borrowdale and a slightly longer pit stop at Lorton before heading to Cold Fell which was an unknown for me (I have driven over it but that was a few years ago). Thankfully it wasn't too steep and today the road was quite sheltered from the breeze.

More pit stops came at Gosforth and Eskdale Green, I was definitely feeling the pain by Gosforth and needed more fuel.

Food fixed me and on I went, now feeling a little more energetic but Hardknott was the next climb and that ensured my spirits were low! Hardknott Pass is the beast of the Fred Whitton Challenge and cruelly advices towards the end of the route. There was a moderate headwind all the way along the Eskdale valley, further sapping energy and moral. I had an energy gel at the bottom of Hardknott and this turned out to be a good move. 

The thought of the climb ahead was really not appealing with exhausted legs, but it was now the only way home! I set off, telling myself that before I fall off from going too slow I'll get off and push, knowing that if I get off I'll probably have to push all the way to the top. 
Amazingly there was no getting off and walking, although it was close. But managed to stay on all the way, which I'm super happy about. 

Looking to Wrynose from the top I knew this was in the bag and started to feel much better. Wrynose didn't come easily, in fact I think it felt almost as tough as Hardknott today.

I screamed upon reaching the top, yes things had reached this stage 😉 A rapid descent and a left turn up to the final climb to Blea tarn, this felt easy, maybe partly because I was almost home, but also because it is pretty gentle from the Little Langdale side. All that was left was a glorious ride through a sun drenched Langdale, happy days.

5.25pm - arrive home 🙂

Escape plans were:
1) Head south along St.Johns in the Vale to get home quick.
2) After Newlands head back to Keswick and home along Thirlmere.
3) From the top of Whinlatter turn around and head down to Braithwaite and home along Thirlmere.

Once on the west side of Whinlatter I was more committed to completing the entire route. To help me make the right decision about continuing I took a rest at the top of Whinlatter to think this over.

Prior planning and preparation:
There wasn't loads to be honest. But I had previously and recently cycled over most of the passes, including the steepest. The Struggle has almost become a regular and I felt this was a good part of the preparation, mentally and physically.

I used an online tool to plot out the route and made relevant notes based on this (see photo below). I had pre-planned rest stops too, this was important.
The only section of the route I was unfamiliar with was the western section, from Lorton - Calder Bridge, although I have driven all those roads at some point in recent years.

On Fred Whitton Challenge Sportive day there are food stations. I didn't have that and wanted to be as self sufficient as possible, so took quite a lot of food and 2 large water bottles. This consisted of:
4 energy bars
1 banana
2 hard boiled eggs
2 energy gels
2 small packs of Haribo sweets

I topped this up with a Snickers bar, can of juice, and sausage roll from the shop in Lorton. And another Snickers bar and Flapjack from the shop in Eskdale Green.

It would have been easy to eat considerably more, but it didn't feel necessary. I did have a very large plate of pasta upon returning home though.
If doing the route again when shops are back to normal operating, I would almost certainly take less food and buy more in the small shops along the way. They were all really nice and friendly.

As well as food and drink, I carried a spare inner tube, puncture repair patches, a multi-tool, tyre levers, a lightweight waterproof jacket, gloves, and a buff. The weather was settled with no rain on the horizon for at least a couple of days, so I had no concerns about getting wet / cold.

Would I recommend it / do it again?
Yes most definitely. The feeling of elation upon reaching the top of Hardknott, Wrynose, and Blea Tarn is simply wonderful and well worth the massive effort involved.

From a climbers perspective:
Some of the crags the route affords views of include - Dove crag; Falcon crag; Shepherds crag; Goat crag; Black crag; Raven crag; the Honister crags; High crag; Eagle crag; Grey crags; Pillar and the Ennerdale crags; Scafell; Wasdale screes; Brantrake crag; Bell stand; Hare crag; Hardknott crag; Demming crag; Cold Pike crags; Long scar; Black crag; Pavey Ark; Side Pike; Gimmer crag; Raven crag; White Ghyll; Scout crags; Copt Howe; and Raven crag Walthwaite.

So there is plenty to distract a climber on this route 🙂


For more about our Lake District Cycling activities

Thanks for reading. It's likely the next blog post will be a review of a recently updated climbing book.

All the best



The wonderful Honister Pass


Looking back down the Newlands towards Buttermere


Fred Whitton Challenge - top of Hardknott Pass


Traffic hasn't been a problem of late, but it is important to keep a look out for cows and sheep. This is at Cockley Beck (bottom of Hardknott)


Take heed of the warning sign, these are steep and brutal climbs. All part of the Fred Whitton Challenge


Evening light pouring into Mickledon. This is the top of the Blea tarn road and nearing the finish line of my Fred Whitton Challenge 🙂


I don't have a bike computer, so make do with a few notes if it's a route I'm not completely familiar with. Works a treat.


Strava stats from the ride - Fred Whitton Challenge


Essential post ride food - Fred Whitton Challenge fuel 🙂



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