March 31, 2020 8 min read 2 Comments

The UK may not have countless twenty or thirty kilometer-long climbs like our French, Italian or Spanish neighbours. But it does have many short, super tough climbs with gradients far steeper than anything you'll find in the Alps, Pyrenees or across most parts of Europe. 

Here in the UK, gradients over 25% are easy to come by if you know where to look. Venture into Scotland or the North of England, and you'll also find some climbs to rival many an Alpine climb too, with England's Mont Ventoux - Great Dun Fell being a particular highlight. Below, we detail 10 of the toughest climbs in the UK, and provide links to the Strava segments to help you plan your routes.

Fford Penllech – Snowdonia, Wales

The steepest climb in the land bar none and indeed the steepest street in the world according to the Guinness Book of Records. Unless you’ve got mountain bike gearing on you’ll not sit down much for this one! Taking this climb head on it makes you wonder if a staircase would have been more appropriate rather than a stretch of steep tarmac.

The road is actually a one-way street coming down, to ride it the climb goes the opposite way up but due to the gradient only the brave/foolish dare drive down it so traffic is minimal - the telltale gouge marks in the tarmac from the underside of vehicles on the 40% bend is evidence of that. The climb is now host to a hill climb race every August - last year won by Calum Brown who won with a course record of 50 seconds and average power of 1077w!

Location- Harlech, Snowdonia National Park, North Wales.

Length- 322m Max Gradient- 37%

Elevation gain - 50m

Average Gradient - 17%

Strava segment : VIEW HERE

 

 

Bealach-na-Ba – Scottish Highlands

Located right up in the North West of the Scottish Highlands this remote road links the small town of Applecross with the rest of the peninsular. For most this will be a journey to get to - a pilgrimage; and rightfully so - Bealach-Na-Ba is the finest climb on the British Isles. Stunningly beautiful and remote the climb must be treated with respect - do not attempt to ride it if the conditions are bad. Weather can get pretty wild in the Highlands and will always be worse at the summit.

Rising up 626m from sea level this climb offers a real challenge and at over 9km this is long for a UK climb - it also saves the toughest section for the the end when a 20% slope greets you after the final bend.

Location- Applecross, Scottish Highlands.

Length- 9.1km

Max Gradient- 20%

Elevation gain - 623m

Average Gradient - 7%

Strava segment : VIEW HERE

 

Rosedale Chimney – Yorkshire, England

A brute of a climb located in the North York Moors. Rosedale Chimney is insanely steep and unrelenting. The one in three gradient should tell you everything you need to know. Halfway up the two hairpins offer the steepest parts leaving you wondering if you’ll be able to stay on the bike without flipping over.

Once you get over that the gradient eases slightly but it doesn't offer too much in terms of recovery - the road goes straight up. Pack an easy gear for this one if you want to make it to the top without stopping. When riding from North to South hope you don’t have a headwind as making it over the brow of the hill will be the final sucker punch.

Location- Rosedale Abbey, North York Moors

Length- 1.34km

Max Gradient- 30%

Elevation gain - 183m

Average Gradient - 14%

Strava segment : VIEW HERE

 

Trooper lane – West Yorkshire, England

Not the best known climb on the list nor the longest or the steepest - what sets Trooper Lane apart is its cobblestoned surface all the way up. A little slice of Flandrian style suffering tucked away in Halifax. 19% average gradient all the way up means that if it's been raining save it for another day - this chain snapper is best attempted on a dry day.

The climb is relentlessly steep with the 2nd half being steeper than the first - make sure you keep something back in reserve.

Location- Halifax, West Yorkshire

Length - 700m

Max Gradient- 25%

Elevation gain - 125m

Average Gradient - 18%

Strava segment : VIEW HERE

 

 

Great Dun Fell - Cumbria, England

As far as UK climbs go, they are generally short and steep compared to the long Alpine style climbs you’ll find in Europe. Great Dun Fell located in the North Pennines or the ‘Roof Of England’ is like Bealach-Na-Ba, both long AND steep. It offers a real challenge even to the hardiest of grimpeurs.

Climbing up from the Valley the ‘Golf Ball’ satellite station at the summit is where you are headed - and it seems a long way away even if you start at the small village of Knock. Easy to see why 100 Greatest Climbs describes it as the English Mont Ventoux. 

For us, Great Dun Fell is perhaps the toughest climb in the UK. It might not be the steepest, but the harsh gradients, 9km length, and often awful weather conditions combine to make this the toughest UK climb. 

The road surface is good all the way up and is closed to cars from the halfway point, which is just as well as you may need to use all of the tarmac available to tame the gradient on the steeper sections. After a steady start the climb ramps up to 10-15% for long sections before a false flat so the average gradient does not tell the whole story on GDF.

After passing through the farmers gate the climb begins proper with some sections hitting over 20% - these will really sting if you’ve gone too deep too early. The summit is out of view during the middle section and with no kilometer markers to track your progress, it's difficult to gauge how far it is to the top. That is until you pass the last gate when the Golf Ball appears again into view.

One final steep pitch up and you can get your breath back and take in the stunning view all the way across the Yorkshire Dales to the South and the Lake District to the West - if the weather is being kind.

Location- Knock, Cumbria.

Length - 7.1km

Max Gradient - 20%

Elevation gain - 632m

Average Gradient - 9%

Strava segment : VIEW HERE

 

The Lecht - Caingorns, Scotland

Located in the beautiful Cairngorms the Lecht is a stunning climb leading up to a ski centre at the summit. The road is very open and exposed so be wary if the weather is bad especially in winter - it's often closed during the dark months.

Tough from the start, you’ll already be searching for an extra gear on the first 20% slope and hit the first couple of mini hairpins.

The road is rough in places matching the rugged landscape. A slight descent offers a chance for recovery before the slope pitches up again forcing you out the saddle before the ski station comes into view and you reach the summit.

Location - Strathdon, Aberdeenshire

Length - 3.01km

Max Gradient - 20%

Elevation gain - 245m

Average Gradient - 6%

Strava segment : VIEW HERE

Buttertubs Pass - Yorkshire, England

 Probably the best-known climb in Yorkshire, Buttertubs featured when the Tour De France started in the region, Jens Voigt was famously first over the summit during his long range solo effort on stage 1.

 Buttertubs is a beautiful climb from either direction but the south side of the climb from Hawes is tougher - the Strava leaderboard is dominated by World Tour riders with many of the best times still holding from 2014. Many others have been posted during training rides before the Worlds in Harrogate last year.

 Sadly the heavy rain meant that the climb never featured in the race as flooding affected the area and the climb was cut from the race for safety reasons. It's always good to ride a climb and see how you stack up against the best in the world, or not as is often the case! You might not have the epic roadside crowds from 2014, the best you can hope for is a few disinterested sheep but it's still worth the effort.

Location - Hawes, Yorkshire Dales

Length - 3.8km

Max Gradient - 18%

Elevation gain - 250m

Average Gradient - 7%

Strava segment : VIEW HERE

 

The Struggle - Lake District, England

Of the 3 different ways to ascend Kirkstone Pass, The Struggle is the toughest, climbing just over 400m in less than 5km. Aptly named, the climb is split into 2 sections with a slight downhill in the middle and bookended by 2 very tough steep sections.

Right from the start you’re battling a decent section nudging up to 20% before a false flat section for about a kilometer, until a final uppercut of a ramp which is up to 20% again all the way to the top, where a beer awaits at the pub.

Location - Ambleside, Lake District

Length - 4.8km

Max Gradient - 24%

Elevation gain - 403m

Average Gradient - 8.2km

Strava segment : VIEW HERE

 

Hardknott Pass – Lake District, England

One of the most well-known climbs in the UK and rightfully so - it's tough from the start and hardly relents from the first pedal stroke as you cross the cattle grid at the bottom. Both sides are equally challenging but the most popular route is going from West to East - the classic way that is tackled near the end of the Fred Whitton Challenge; one of the toughest sportives in the country.

The valley in which the sliver of tarmac snakes over is stunningly beautiful, nestled in the Western part of the Lake District. Try and take it in as much as you can while you search in vain for an easier line through the 30% switchbacks - completing it without dismounting or dabbing a foot is a real achievement.

Location- Eskdale, Lake District.

Length- 2.5km

Max Gradient- 30%

Elevation gain - 298m

Average Gradient - 13%

Strava segment : VIEW HERE

Dunkery Beacon - England

like many of the stingingly steep climbs dotted around Exmoor will have you drowning in lactate long before you reach the summit. It really is a tough climb with over 300 vertical meters climbed in 3km - ouch.

This slither of fairly smooth tarmac carves a line up the thick moorland with stunning views to the sea from the top - your reward for overcoming the steep 17% ramps from the very start and steeper still towards the end. The last section is unrelenting - if you have a gear left (unlikely) now is the time to use it as you grimace to the top.

Location- Luccomb, nr Minehead, Exmoor

Length - 3.2km

Max Gradient - 21.9km

Elevation gain - 330m

Average Gradient - 10%

Strava segment - VIEW HERE

Photography from Chris Auld, Band of Climbers and Credited Photographers via Instagram.


2 Responses

David Luscombe
David Luscombe

April 01, 2020

I’ve done Hardknott, Bealach na Ba, the Struggle, Rosedale, Buttertubs and attempted Trooper Lane…. Let me tell you all the tarmac ones pale in comparison to Trooper Lane in my eyes. The ridiculous gradient on rough cobbles make it so much more difficult than anything I’ve ridden before. I went for a Calderdale cobbles ride a few years ago where I planned a route up 3 steep cobbled climbs…only made it up 1 out of the 3. Still haunts me and haven’t been brave enough to return yet!

David Parsons
David Parsons

March 31, 2020

I’ve tried all of two of these, failed one and had a mechanical that stopped me trying the other! Hardknott, as part of the Fred, made it to the first hairpin, but 95 miles into a HOT Fred, my legs pulled the plug on me. Rosedale Chimney was attempted; rode over from relatives near Helmsley with my crank clicking. Got as far as the Lion pub up on the top when I looked down, and my crank was separating! 😳 Deciding the climb would likely break it, I rolled home…one day!

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