Hardknott Pass

Hardknott Pass, a steep drive in Cumbria

Hardknott Pass is known as one of Britain's most challenging roads. This single track road right through the middle of the Lake District National Park, in the region of Cumbria, England, it’s a heart-stopping series of sharp and narrow hairpin bends. It’s said to be the steepest road in England with a gradient of 1 in 3 (about 33%).

Is Hardknott Pass dangerous?

At an elevation of 393m above the sea level, the road becomes especially dangerous for the brakes on a couple of particularly steep turns and it’s one of the most challenging sections of road in England. The pass itself has a series of hairpin bends that can be unnerving for drivers of cars and minibuses (heavier vehicles are advised not to use the pass), especially as the tarmac has become quite smooth in places. Drivers are expected to give way to oncoming traffic that is ascending the pass. It’s one of the hardest and most epic climbs you can ride on two wheels.

How steep is Hardknott Pass?

It’s said to be the steepest road in England with a gradient of 1 in 3 (about 33%). The surface of the road is paved. There are 2 possible routes to reach the pass. Starting from Brotherilkled, the ascent is 2 km long. Over this distance, the elevation gain is 299 meters. The average percentage is 15 %. And starting from Cockley Beck, the ascent is 2 km long. Over this distance, the elevation gain is 175 meters. The average percentage is 8.8 %. This very steep road is usually open all year, but can be closed for long periods in the winter months as ice makes the bends treacherous. In winter, heavy snowfalls can sometimes block some sections of the road and can be extremely dangerous due to frequent patches of ice.
It has a well-deserved reputation for being dangerous because of unpredictable snowstorms and blizzards, and driving under these conditions, can be extremely challenging. The road was totally destroyed during the Second World War because the tank training completely destroying the existing road surface. After the war the wartime damage was repaired and tarmaced. It’s the most brutal of the grueling Lake District passes.

There are some narrow sections -scarcely wide enough for two cars- where if two vehicles have to pass each other, one might have to reverse for some kilometres of winding narrow road to get to a place wide enough to pass. The descents are pretty tricky too – check your brake blocks before riding. Also, it is so steep, cars and larger vehicles can really struggle. Before climbing, it is worth looking around to see if there is traffic jam in front or behind you. It is best if you can climb unimpeded by traffic. At the top, it’s worth stopping to have a look behind you – it’s hard to believe what you have just climbed.
It shouldn’t be attempted by those who don't know how to reverse. The road is difficult and it’s a nightmare in the wet or dark (or both). A cattle grid at the start sucks any speed you may have had, before the road kicks up with an extremely steep opening ramp. There’s some respite for a few hundred metres and then it’s into the switchbacks which measure over 30 percent on the apex. If you survive that it’s a grind to the top with most of the last 800m between 20-25 percent. The road is fairly exposed so expect some wind and rain to liven things up too.


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