Kirkstone Pass and The Struggle

Being from Cumbria and the Lake District you may expect that I have cycled many, if not all, of the Lake District passes.

Given that I started cycling a year or so before I moved away means that, unfortunately, I have not. I am keen to do all of them, if I can; as I have a base up there thanks to my Parents living up there. So I will be ticking them (slowly) off.

This June, when I was visiting the Parents, I took the bike up and decided to do a loop from Penrith over to Windermere and Ambleside. This meant I would be taking in Kirkstone Pass (which I have done before), down the A592 to Troutbeck Bridge, round to Ambleside, up The Struggle to Kirkstone again and then back down around the lake.

The Struggle
The Struggle

The route started out in Penrith and twisted along banks of Lake Ullswater through Pooley Bridge to Glenridding. The views along the lake road are stunning and it is relatively flat. It is better to head out earlier due to the tourist traffic but the views reward it.

Once you are through Glenridding you hit Patterdale and then Hartsop. Hartsop is where the climb begins properly with Brotherswater on your right. As you follow the road snaking along the valley Kirkstone Pass suddenly comes into view; in all of it’s glory.

When you look up Kirkstone, two things strike you:

  1. This looks steep and long.
  2. If we were on the continent this would have multiple hair pins instead of being a road that literally goes straight up.
Kirkstone Pass
The road that doesn’t have hairpins.

The road signs as you begin the climb of Kirkstone show 20% to be the gradient when ascending but I think that is a touch optimistic as the Garmin didn’t go above 16%. Either way though…that’s still steep; as you can see from the pic above. The pic was taken mid-descent after being held up by a car. Definitely worth it for the picture though!

I like the climb from Hartsop to the top of Kirkstone for a couple of reasons:

The first being that it is the best side of the climb to take in the magnificent views. The climb is quite open and there are excellent views of Brotherswater at the bottom, the beck that feeds Brotherswater to the right of the climb and the scree filled fells either side.

The second reason would be that the end game is always visible. There are no nasty little surprises around corners waiting. I find that this really helps with pacing the effort.

Having said that the hardest part of the climb is towards the end, particularly the section from Red Screes car park to the summit, so make sure that you keep something in reserve.

As you crest the top of the climb there are views available out towards Lake Windermere and the Kirkstone Pass Inn on the left.

Lake Windermere in the distance...behind the bike
Lake Windermere in the distance…behind the bike

I then decided to descend via the Windermere road rather than The Struggle, as I would be attempting that later in the day. The descent via the A592 is a nice bit of respite after Kirkstone but the road isn’t in the greatest condition so there is a lot of road buzz. The descent is pretty safe and not technical so it is possible to work up a good speed when descending it. Using it as the ascent to Kirkstone Pass rather than the The Struggle is the easier option too as the gradients are relatively shallow. I also prefer the views from this ascent when comparing it to the The Struggle.

Arriving at the bottom of the descent, it is then a case of following the lake road round to Ambleside. Ambleside is a very bustling little tourist town, nestled on the edge of Lake Windermere. There are plenty of nice cafes to drop; but most importantly: Ambleside is where the ascent of The Struggle up to Kirkstone begins.

Waterhead, Ambleside
Waterhead, Ambleside

The Struggle begins properly at the round about on Smithy Brow, which then merges with Kirkstone Road. I must admit, I wasn’t 100% certain what to expect with the climb. Being born and bred in Penrith I knew what The Struggle was and how steep it is from when I have driven it; but nothing ever prepares you for when you actually tackle a climb on a bike.

Leaving Ambleside and it is immediately steep. At this point, I was thinking “what am I doing?”. However, once I settled in it became easier.

The climb itself is full of peaks and troughs (the widget for the segment is below):

The Struggle

As you can see there are three(ish) troughs and 4 peaks so the key to the climb is take the first part steady and then plug away. When I reached the top of the third peak I thought I was pretty much there but then I saw the final peak, which led to the main road and pub.

The final stretch of the climb is possibly the steepest, it certainly felt that way anyway! It is a real slog to get up to to the summit; and to top it all off there is a double switch back at around 14% or 15% just to remind you who’s boss.

Once at the top there is just the descent from Kirkstone to Ullswater to go. This affords great views of Lake Ullswater and Brotherswater again. I’ve never managed to get a clear run on this descent, there’s always been a car/caravan or LGV tootling down. As it happens I stopped due to the traffic to take in the scenery and grab a picture.

Down Kirkstone Towards Ullswater
Down Kirkstone Towards Ullswater

I was lucky with the weather as it was nice and warm with very little wind. Almost ideal conditions. I’m looking forward to getting back up in 2019 to take advantage and do the ride again; along with a few other passes.

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