Buy the OS Route Map and instructions for this route

Continuing with last month’s theme of short and very sharp Hard Routes, this little cracker will challenge even the most technical downhillers in places. And in typical Lake District fashion, it does so among some of Britain’s finest scenery. It looks an odd one at first glance; just 27km long, with a lot of the early stages on tarmac too — how hard can it be? But trust us here, and enjoy the tarmac climbs; you’ll not get much rest on the descents. The potter from Keswick, beside the lapping waters of Derwent Water, is a fine way to start a ride — even if it doesn’t challenge that much. But from the junction with the Watendlath Road, things start to happen. And now you find yourself pushing steeply uphill for the next 4km, eventually reaching the secluded hamlet and the start of the real action.
It’s tough from the off, with a rocky climb followed by an equally challenging descent. Keep left on the really rough section, and if your bottle holds you’ll probably be all right. If that’s not enough then the drainage gullies are perfectly sized for a 26in wheel. The tarmac that follows offers a welcome respite, but it goes by woefully quickly and then it’s up steeply again — this time on the lower section of the Honister Pass. Then it gets good: first on a broad grassy trail and then on some scintillating singletrack. Care is required on the drop behind Castle Crag, but things become a bit more straightforward after that and, before you know it, you’ll be in Grange, where there’s a chance of a quick cuppa.
A short road section follows — time to digest the cake — and then it’s steep up onto the flanks of Cat Bells, and a wonderful contouring bridleway that runs you back towards Keswick.