Salter Fell Road
A Crossing of the Iconic Salter Fell Road
As I’m still not 100% recovered from my heel injuries – but almost there – I’ve been taking a step back from rock and this has been allowing for a swifter recovery. So hopeful to be back on the Lakeland crags very soon. Instead, cycling has been my chosen form of exercise. Sadly, it has been mostly very wet in the Lakes, so road cycling is a non-starter for now.
Thankfully, last autumn we got ourselves some gravel bikes and the off-road stuff is all good on a damp day, so these have been our weapon of choice of late.
The Lake District offers some utterly wonderful gravel routes, some will be the focus of other blog posts, and for todays entry we head over to The Forest of Bowland and the iconic Salter Fell Road.
Whilst researching nearby gravel rides I stumbled across the Salter Fell Road and it immediately caught my interest. The main reason was for the wild terrain it crosses. Even as a ‘there and back’ the Salter Fell Road would be too far to attempt on foot, so on a bike would be the only way, then making a circuit to include more wonderful scenery could only make it better. So that’s what I did.
As a base for route planning I used MTB Dales and the info provided was enough to get me to and away from the starting blocks in the small village of Wray.
Starting from Wray a very small road signed for the school climbs steeply away from the village. The steep incline just keeps coming and feels very harsh. It’s not a good way to start and for this reason, if doing this route again, I’d probably choose to start from Wennington as this would provide a few km’s of warm-up prior to the steep climbs.
Descent to Slaidburn on the Salter Fell Road
The tarmac lane passes by a few farms as it becomes Hornby Road, but it isn’t long before the tarmac is left behind and we have the rougher surface of Salter Fell Road to deal with. This slows the pace and focuses the mind. Thankfully the steep incline has by now calmed somewhat, phew!
The surface is a hard-packed gravel and a delight to ride on. The view has already opened up and on a clear day is simply stunning. The 3 highest summits of Yorkshire are all in view, with Ingleborough dominating. Thankfully, it was a clear day for our crossing.
Numerous farm gates must be passed and these allow for moments off the bike to enjoy the views even more. There are no deviations to the track so no turnings to make, just stay on the wide track and you can’t get lost. It will feel like a long time before the terrain eases, but be patient. When the flat sections do arrive, this is off-road riding nirvana. This is up there with the very best routes I’ve ever done, anywhere.
Views from Salter Fell Road
Looking ahead, the track seems to go on forever and that’s a good thing as this isn’t a route you’ll want to end anytime soon. It carves a contouring route through the open moorland, touching the 400m contour at times, before it begins the long and glorious descent to Slaidburn.
The initial descent is on excellent surfaces but be prepared for some rough stuff too. On my gravel bike (no suspension) I was getting off for hikes from time to time. I think a highly skilled rider would manage to ride the whole route. Just bear in mind that a fall and injury up there could quickly become very serious, so take it easy and if in doubt, get off and walk.
Shortly before tarmac re-appeared I passed a couple of walkers. Apart from that, I’d only seen one other cyclist and about half a dozen folk on trails/moto-cross bikes. So basically the place is deserted.
A fast descent leads into the sleepy village of Slaidburn. I’d done my research and already knew the pub and café would be shut on a Monday, so headed straight for the PO & village store, this was open.
A group of cyclists gathered outside and it turned out 3 of them had been only a short way ahead of me on the Salter Fell Road. We chatted about onward route options before I let them get on their way.
Traffic is light on Salter Fell Road
Unfortunately, hot drinks were briefly off the menu at the village store due to a water main problem. But I can report that this little shop is excellent and friendly. The freshly made sandwich I had was delicious and very reasonably priced. Coca Cola provided the much needed sugar hit!
I was briefly tempted by a short-cut return route, but opted against this and stayed with my original plan of including a visit to Stocks Reservoir and Gisburn Forest. This proved to be well worthwhile.
The return journey was all on tarmac, but traffic levels were so low it was as delightful as gravel.
A steep start heads out of Slaidburn and after my lunch break this felt like a killer. Thankfully, the view soon became distracting and eased the pain in my legs. A left turn leads into Gisburn Forest, a place which felt deserted but there were plenty of cars parked up. More climbing to get out of the woods and a long climb up to Bowland Knotts at about 430m and I think the high point of the day. This narrow lane has much in common with Wrynose Pass in the Lake District, with the same wild feel despite being all tarmac. The gradient is similar at times too.
Upon reaching the top I was pretty wasted so took a long breather. I had mobile signal again so took a few minutes to reply to e-mails and take a few photos. But mostly I spent time just looking at and admiring the view. The road ahead was making me giddy with excitement. I knew the descent would likely be nice, but this promised to be far more then ‘nice’.
For what felt like many miles (actually about 6.5km’s), this narrow mountain road weaves through a wild tract of land as it descends to Keasden. I could say it was fantastic, glorious, wonderful, or perfect. It’s all of these and so much more besides. Knowing that you’ve put the effort in to reach Bowland Knotts makes this descent utterly fantastic and a ‘must do’. I’m now thinking of a return, but taking the road bike instead as this is the only way to improve what is a wonderful piece of riding. Do it!
A left turn at Keasden leads to undulating, narrow lanes leading all the way back to Wray. Whilst these are all tarmac too, a gravel bike didn’t feel out of place.
Worth a mention too that Wray has a village shop and pub.
Bowland Knotts - return journey on our Salter Fell Road ride
Salter Fell Road Route stats:
Max elevation 431m
Elevation gain 1145m
Average speed 16km/h
Basic gravel bike with Shimano GRX gearing; hydraulic disk brakes; and 40mm off-road tyres (Kenda)
Handlebar bag - from Restrap
2 x spare tubes
Snacks & water
Warm clothing & waterproof jacket
OS map of area and notes of route
Cold, clear, settled, light winds. Temperature was between 5 and 10’C