Lakeland Gravel Routes

1. Sawrey and Windermere

Distance: 29.4km, Ascent: 311m

This is the smoothest of the routes and an easy day out. There are many refreshment opportunities on route, including in Hawkshead, the fisheries at Esthwaite Water and the National Trust cafes at Claife Heights and Wray Castle. The only significant climbs are up to Skelwith Fold and a short section alongside Windermere.

Route points on map: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 18, 13, 21, 12, 8, 2, 1

Map for Route 1

The route goes out from Ambleside through the Park to pick up NCN 6 at Millers Bridge. It follows this to the bridge over the River Rothay were it turns right onto NCN 637 climbing up to Skelwith Fold. Quiet lanes then head on past the Drunken Duck pub to Hawkshead and on past Esthwaite Water to climb to Sawrey. A steep descent to Windermere then rejoins NCN 6 along its shoreline past Wray Castle and back to Ambleside.

Windermere track

The gpx file can be found on Viewranger, and a video of the route can be found below.

2. Great Langdale, Dungeon Ghyll and Grasmere

Distance: 26.6km, Ascent: 363m

This is my favourite route, as it heads deep into the mountains with spectacular views and beautiful woods. It also passes three of the most picturesque lakes – Elterwater, Grasmere and Rydal Water. Again there are cafes at Skelwith Bridge and Elterwater, plus the National Trust at Sticklebarn. There are also a number of pubs. There are several steep climbs – up to Skelwith Bridge, out of Elterwater through the quarries and the climb over Red Bank to Grasmere.

Route points on map: 1, 2, 3, 15, 9, 22, 9, 1

Map for Routes 2 to 4.

The route again goes out from Ambleside through the Park to pick up NCN 6 at Millers Bridge. It follows this to the bridge over the River Rothay were it turns right onto NCN 637 climbing up to Skelwith Fold but continuing down to Skelwith Bridge and then along the river past Skelwith Force to Elterwater. A short detour off NCN 637 provides for an easier tarmac climb (but still steep) before rejoining it through Baysbrown woods to Dungeon Ghyll.

The return retraces this route before picking up the road to Chapel Stile before heading over Red Bank to Grasmere. The 25% descent tests the brakes before NCN 6 is joined to drop down to Grasmere lakeshore and on through White Moss woods to Rydal Water. From here the Under Loughrigg road heads back to Ambleside.

Track to Dungeon Ghyll

The gpx file can be found on Viewranger, a video of the route can be found below.

3. Blea Tarn and the Langdales

Distance: 29.7km, Ascent: 522m

A harder option than Route 2 to get to Dungeon Ghyll via Little Langdale, this includes a steep gravel track from the River Rothay at Colwith and then the road climb over Blea Tarn Col. The reward from the top is a spectacular view over the Langdale Pikes before a steep twisting descent into the valley. Refreshments at Dungeon Ghyll.

The map is shown above under Route 2. Route points on map: 1, 2, 3, 4, 10, 14, 22, 9, 1

The Route follows the same directions until Skelwith Fold, where it turns left and then follows minor lanes to head down to join the main Ambleside to Coniston road. Care needs to be taken turning off this onto the road to Little Langdale, but soon NCN 637 is joined, heading steeply uphill on gravel past Colwith Force and then downhill on tarmac to the ford and footbridge across Greenburn Beck.

Once across, minor roads lead on to the long and steady climb albeit with one steep section to Blea Tarn Col. The view over the Langdales and Bowfell is spectacular and worth resting awhile before the steep bends of the descent into Langdale, from where it is a short distance to Dungeon Ghyll. Either half of Route 2 that then be taken to get back to Ambleside.

Little Langdale

The gpx file can be found on Viewranger and a video of the route can be found below.

4. Tarn Hows and Coniston

Distance: 32.2km, Ascent: 496m

One of the most technical rides of this selection given the steep descent from Tarn Hows to Coniston Water, although this can be missed out by following the exit route from the National Trust car park. Apart from that, it includes a significant proportion of lovely gravel tracks through the old mine workings of the Tilberthwaite valley and a pleasant finish back from Elterwater reversing Route 2. There are cafes in Coniston and Elterwater and steeper climbs to Tarn Hows and to Skelwith Fold.

The map is shown above under Route 2. Route points on map: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 11, 10, 14, 15, 3, 2, 1

The Route follows the same directions until Skelwith Fold, where it turns left and then follows minor lanes uphill to Tarn Hows. Turning left just before the car park, it passes signs warning cyclists of the descent and then heads down steeply into the valley. The woods are worth the braking effort, full of birds and waterfalls.

At the bottom, the route continues on NCN 637 around the shores of Coniston Water before heading into the town and then steeply up on the other side. The next section is a beautiful route newly cut through the woods with bridges over the streams and many undulations. Some sections of track are beginning to erode so some care needs to be taken.

The minor road up the Tilberthwaite valley is then taken, before it becomes a track weaving through the slate spoil heaps, testament to the area’s industrial heritage. Finally it drops drop to the River Rothay, crosses the footbridge and heads along minor roads down Little Langdale to Elterwater and Route 2 home.

Tarn Hows

The gpx file is on Viewranger and the video is below.

5. Grizedale Forest West and Hawkshead

Distance: 35.2km, Ascent: 549m

Grizedale Forest is a major centre for mountain biking and there are a number of purpose built single-track trails to test out devotees. However there are also a wide range of waymarked forest tracks suitable for gravel bikes. This route uses the main loop in the western half of the forest, before heading back to Hawkshead and Ambleside. There are refreshments in the forest centre as well as in Hawkshead.

The route reaches the highest point of those described here, hence the climbs are sustained, albeit steady and the views across to the Coniston Fells make them worthwhile. The steeper climbs are actually on the lower slopes above the forest centre – with a corresponding steep descent down to it, and also crossing the ridge from Hawkshead to Wray, with a particularly steep descent down to Blelham Tarn.

Route points on map: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 11, 16, 20, 17, 7, 6, 8, 2, 1

Map for Routes 5 to 7

The Route follows the same directions as the others to Skelwith Fold, where it turns left and then follows minor lanes uphill to Hawkshead Hill. Heading across the road at High Cross, the route joins the green waymarked Hawkshead Moor Trail, following it first across the top of the ridge with glorious views over to the Old Man of Coniston and Coniston Water, before descending down towards the visitor centre.

Here an optional diversion can be taken to its facilities, before rejoining the green waymarks to climb back up the car park at Moor Top. From here there is a rapid descent down to Hawkshead, where a spur from NCN 6 heads across fields and tracks to Outgate and then steeply downhill to Blelham Tarn. Finally the main NCN 6 route is rejoined as in Route 1 to head back to Ambleside.

Coniston Fells

The gpx files can be found on Viewranger and the video of the route is below.

6. Claife Heights and Windermere

Distance: 27.2km, Ascent: 334m

The top of Claife Heights provides varied cycling – a mixture of woods, grassy tracks, and sometimes short rocky sections which non-technical riders may have to push across, however this compensated for by glorious views over its tarns to the Langdale Pikes. Aside of this section, it includes a significant proportion of lovely gravel tracks along NCN 6 to Wray and then climbing up through the woods below Latterbarrow. There is also a pleasant finish back along the shores of Windermere. There is a National Trust cafe at the Claife Viewing Station and steeper climbs up onto Claife Heights.

The map is shown under Route 5. Route points on map: 1, 2, 8, 12, 19, 13, 21, 12, 8, 2, 1.

The Route picks up NCN6 heading south and follows this to the Wray Castle entrance before continuing to High Wray and heading up onto Claife Heights. A steady gravel climb with great views to the Eastern and Far Eastern Fells is followed by a varied section across the top which includes some rocky sections across which care must be taken.

The views are now to the west of the Langdales and Coniston with the foreground of pretty little tarns before descending to reach the road at Sawrey which is then followed to the Claife Viewing Station on the shores of Windermere. Here NCN6 is rejoined, returning northwards along the lakeside track through woods back to Wray Castle and then where the outbound route is retraced back to Ambleside.

Windermere lakeshore

The gpx file can be found on Viewranger and the video of the route is below.

7. Grizedale Forest East and Sawrey

Distance: 42.8km, Ascent: 800m

Grizedale Forest is a major centre for mountain biking and there are both purpose built single-track trails and a wide range of waymarked forest tracks suitable for gravel bikes. This route uses the main loop in the eastern half of the forest, with great views looking north to the fells above Ambleside and also south to the coast. It is both the longest of these routes and also has the most ascent as the forest trails undulate through the forest. There is a cafe at the Esthwaite Water fisheries and several short steeper climbs in Grizedale Forest as well as climbing back up Dale Park.

The map is shown under Route 5. Route points on map: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 11, 16, 17, 18, 13, 19, 12, 8, 2, 1.

The Route follows the same directions as the others to Skelwith Fold, where it turns left and then follows minor lanes uphill to Hawkshead Hill. Heading across the road at High Cross, the route joins the green waymarked Hawkshead Moor Trail, but following it east (clockwise) to traverse the hillside above Hawkshead with great views to the fells above Ambleside. It soon reaches the car park at Moor Top and then crosses the road into the eastern side of the forest, now following the orange waymarked Silurian Way. This undulates both horizontally and vertically as it heads broadly south to the very tip of the forest. On the way, look out for sculptures in the woods and admire the view to the coast over Dale Park.

The fells above Ambleside

Having finally dropped down to the road, the route climbs back up Dale Park to the col with a nice tarmac descent to Esthwaite Water and its cafe. Heading onwards, it climbs to Sawrey where the National Trust maintain Beatrix Potter’s home, before descending back to the lake and then climbing again to High Wray, with good views again north to Ambleside and its fells. Finally it joins NCN6 which it follows back to Ambleside.

The gpx file for the route can be found on Viewranger and the video is below.

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