Great Dun Fell

Another 100 climbs states that Great Dun Fell is the greatest climb in England’ “Our Mont Ventoux’ it  has no peers, there is no comparison.” The only surprising thing is that I hadn’t heard of the climb until quite recently. But, since finding out there was a Pyrannean style climb in England, it was definitely on my list of things to do. Since I was up in Kendal for Shap Fell hill climb, I thought it would be good to combine the two.

road-top-view

I’ve spent many years scouring OS maps, looking for the most difficult climbs, but you could quickly scan over Great Dun Fell (on OS 91), assuming it is nothing more than a farmyard track or glorified footpath. Ironically it has a pretty good road surface all the way to the top. The top half is closed to cars, but open to bicycles. It is definitely worth a visit and is a real epic climb.

The statistics of Great Dun Fell only tell half the story:

  • Length – 4.5 miles
  • Vertical ascent – 632 m
  • Average gradient – 9%
  • Max gradient – 20%
  • Height at top – 2,900 ft / 835 metres
  • Category of climb – 2
  • KOM time: 25:03 – 10.2mph
  • 100 climbs 11/10 (number 187)

Great Dun Fell from Long Marton

bend-2-view

If you want to add an extra 100 metres on to the climb, you can start on the valley floor from Bolton and head towards Long Marton before going north to the village of Knock. This makes a 7 mile climb of 757 metres, which gives a category 1 rating. The rise from the valley is pretty steady, a nice leg loosener before the climb starts proper. The good thing about approaching from Bolton and Long Marton is that you can see the radar station looming on the horizon for quite a distance. At least you know where you are heading. The radar station dominates the skyline throughout this valley.

Knock

cyclist-start

It would be easy to cycle past the turn up to Great Dun Fell. There are no 20% signs. Just a sign saying dead end, a sign for Knock Christian Centre, and a sign telling you to beware of red squirrels.

The song that came unconsciously into my mind as I was cycling through Knock was the old Guns and Roses classic ‘Knock, Knock, Knocking on heaven’s door‘. The village of Knock obviously. But, ‘heaven’s door?’ –  well the Christian centre, and perhaps the fact you are about to head up to the heavens. (or through hell)

bend

In comparison to Alpine climbs, Great Dun Fell is shorter, and at a maximum heigh of 835 metres, it is well below some of the Alpine giants which stretch to over 2,000m. But, what Great Dun Fell my lack in absolute height, it makes up for in unrelenting steepness. When you are already tired, you will have to get out of the saddle as you battle up slopes of 20%. There’s no way just to sit in the saddle and pedal a nice high cadence on Great Dun Fell.

After a promising opening mile of fairly steady climbing, the gradient goes up to 10-15% and the start of the really long slog begins. There are few places to recover, though the gradient is always changing. The scenery starts to get more spectacular and the road has a fantastic vista which makes you feel you are doing the real thing.

road-straight

Gate

Half way up there is a gate. I seemed to spend quite a long time trying to work out how to open it. Perhaps I didn’t have the strength to open the catch. In the end, I got over cyclo cross style, putting my bike over and then jumping the gate. In a way, it’s a shame there is a gate to break your rhythm of climbing. But, then Great Dun Fell is that climb which has a bit of everything – including cyclo-cross style obstacles. In one sense it kind of gives you a break from climbing. But, once over the gate, there is immediately a steep section, which takes you up on to the higher slopes, with the road winding away in the distance. After 3 miles of climbing, there is a brief descent. Try to build a bit of speed because the next section is the hardest of the climb.

donwhill

The last mile and a half are the hardest and steepest of the climb. It briefly touches 20%, and is the better part of 15% for a considerable time. Whatever gear you have, you will probably find yourself getting out of the saddle to grovel up the steep gradient.

As you wind your way to the top, it becomes more exposed and the wind will blow you around. I thought I had a tailwind, but up there it seemed to be blowing all over the place. Near the top, there is another gate, you can kind of go cross country around the gate, though you will need to dismount again.

Even after the last gate, there is still more to go and the gradient hardly relents as you work your way to the big golf balls, which are now looming into close view.

golf-ball

bend3

Descent

The descent would make excellent practise for anyone wishing to improve their Alpine descending skills. It is fast and twisty. Good road surface and you are very unlikely to meet a car. But, you will need to use plenty of brakes, because you soon pick up momentum around the corners.

It might sound like stating the obvious, but it is much colder at the top. The weather was relatively benign on the day I visited, but I imagine you could easily get caught up in a fierce cloud or storm. Bear in mind, it is often deserted up there. I wish I had had some leg warmers for the cold, windy descent.

Getting to Great Dun Fell

The nearest big town to Great Dun Fell is Appleby in Westmorland.

Great Dun Fell would make a good cycle ride from Kendal. If you go up Shap Fell (A6), it is about another 15 miles to Knock. Making a good, but manageable round trip.

One good way to visit Great Dun Fell would be to take your bike on the Leeds-Settle Carlisle line. You could get off at Appleby just a couple of miles from the climb or you could get off earlier at Dent, Garsdale or Kirby Stephen and enjoy a good run in.

Overall

Great Dun Fell is definitely a great climb. It’s really testing and hard, but the sense of climbing a real classic makes up for the difficulty. Visually, the climb is stunning. It is a quiet part of the country – on the north west fringes outside the Lake District – definitely off the beaten track. But, this gives an added advantage, it’s very quiet and you can really enjoy the experience. The first ascent took around 26 minutes. The second ascent about 30 minutes. Earlier in the day, I had done Shap Fell hill climb – so it was 2,000 metres of climbing for the day. They soon add up when going up Great Dun Fell!

Veloviewer

Strava

Related

Related hills

  • Hartside Fell – 10 miles north this is another long climb worth visiting.
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22 Responses to Great Dun Fell

  1. jack May 7, 2014 at 9:28 am #

    It’s not the Lake District, it’s in the Pennines.

  2. Chris May 7, 2014 at 11:19 am #

    So you rode the Shap Fell hill climb in the morning beating your nearest rival by over a minute, well done for that one Tejvan and then tootled over to the Great Dun Fell, arguably the hardest climb in the land and rode it not once but twice.

    Is that, what is known as a hill interval training session?

  3. Steve May 8, 2014 at 10:06 am #

    My parents live in Appleby and I never even knew it was there!! Added to my list, thanks! Maybe I’ll just do it the once though 😉

  4. Chris May 8, 2014 at 7:58 pm #

    We did a club ride up GDF from Alston so did two ascents of Hartside Pass either side of the ride up GDF. We had a rare North Easterly wind to contend with so had to pedal hard down the little bit of descent half way up so it truly was unrelenting all the way to the top. The views are epic from up there though.

    • tejvan May 8, 2014 at 8:41 pm #

      I’m sure very different climb with NE wind.

  5. Adrian North May 9, 2014 at 12:28 pm #

    about 250 cyclists, myself included, climbed this the day before on the inaugral Great Dun Fell sportive. a lumpy 60-mile warmup in mildly damp conditions. Never once saw the golf ball. By the time we got to the gate, we were in the cloud and the wind was whipping around. I was completely frozen at the top. With visibility down to 10-20 yards, it makes it really difficult to judge what effort to put in. I ended up walking a few bits because I’m unfit & overweight. 😉 It says something when you’re pedalling and it feels like the gradient has dropped of, you look at the GPS readout and its sitting at 8%.
    Absolutely astonishing to get up there in that time.

  6. Dan Kendall June 14, 2014 at 12:04 pm #

    Just been up this morning, my second attempt at it! It truly is a brute, unrelenting and teasing with false flats. I’ve had fog both times between the gate and where it opens up near the summit. A real test coming down second guessing where the sheep are going to go with visability at about 75metre and 35+mph!

    Another bit of torture is the snow poles, there are numbered and count down from about 380!!!!

  7. Dan Kendall June 14, 2014 at 3:15 pm #

    Btw, I did it in 35 mins, your time is stunning!!

  8. Jason July 10, 2014 at 10:53 am #

    ‘Knockin on Heavens Door’ is a classic Bob Dylan song, it was written and recorded by him in 1973 for the movie Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid. Bob’s version is the classic!

    • tejvan July 11, 2014 at 8:31 am #

      Thanks, I’m sure I would prefer the Bob Dylan version too!

  9. Simon Bromfield October 12, 2014 at 7:29 pm #

    29/09/2014
    I drove 350 miles in a day from Surrey to climb this awesome road.
    Decided upon using Appleby (what a delightful place) as my base to park warm up and head on up to the Fell. Weather was hugely favourable with next to no breeze and soft autumn sunshine. I would imagine after mid October this road becomes almost non climbable. It’s easy to miss the turn for Great Dun (as I did) and continue along to the next village fortunatley I stumbled across a lovely farm house whose occupants were having afternoon tea a home made cream and jam sponge adorned the kitchen table (I was invited in for tea) alas my task was not negotiable and I had to continue the journey thanking the family for their kindness and directions. As Tejvan has already described in great detail all the physical elements of this road I would suffice to say it is a truly wonderful incredibly tough relentless climb with a view across the Eden Valley to the North West Lakes to reward the effort,I managed 40.30 which I was delighted with.I saw not a single soul on the ascent. Yet as luck would have it in order to record the memory I set the bike up in front of the NATS sign and from no where a kindly voice in all the remoteness offered to take my photo.The lady was a visitor at the christian centre who’d taken the long hike to the base station. I plan to take in the Great Dun Fell sportive May 3rd 2015 to see more of this wonderful region of England that I know so little of.

    • tejvan October 12, 2014 at 9:21 pm #

      Nice, sounds like you had a good day.

      • Joe December 5, 2015 at 1:53 pm #

        Anyone know if the road stays open in winter – eg does it get cleared and gritted if it hasn’t been snowing particularly, and would it be passable on a good day?

        • James June 19, 2016 at 11:53 am #

          This is an extremely minor road and is not gritted. Cars are not even allowed on the actual road of Great Dun Fell past the gate.

          The nearest road that is gritted is the A66. The side roads leading to Knock are only gritted by locals as and when required.

          In harsh winter’s, the fell can be covered in snow from November – February (check conditions October – April/May though). It only takes an odd day of sunshine to melt it.

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