My Favourite UK hill climbs

Simon Warren has a list of 200 climbs, where you can vote for favourite UK hill climbs based on 100 Climbs series.

My favourite climbs depend on the personal experience of riding them. So they are blurred by the direction of the wind, weather conditions and whether I was in good shape. Also, doing a hill climb event gives a very different experience to just riding during training. If I had to choose my top 10, they would be nearly all hill climb courses, apart from Hardknott and Great Dun Fell. Winnat’s Pass is currently number one. I’ve only ridden it once after doing a hill climb event on Long Hill. I can’t really remember much about it – which is a shame because it is a beautiful climb.

These are some of my favourites that spring to mind.

Great Dun Fell

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Near the top of Great Dun Fell. A feeling of being high up.

If I could choose to have one climb on my doorstep it would be Great Dun Fell. The statistics make it by far the climb of almost vertical ascent. It’s not just long, but really steep and on a good day has great views over the Pennines. Even better it is relatively car-free – being well off the beaten track. The only downside is its relative inaccessibility and how sometimes the gates are closed meaning you have to get off the bike and open and close gates. I think I have visited the climb three times –  each occasion was after doing a hill climb event up Shap Fell. (giving me two climbs  for the price of one so to speak)

Hardknott pass

hardknott hairpin

Hardknott is super steep. Sometimes, you see a 30% gradient sign,  but they don’t really mean it. Hardknott is really that steep in both directions. Hardknott is so steep you are wondering if you are going to make it to the top. The first time I went up Hardknott I had a lot of miles and climbs in my legs and it was a real grovel hunched over the drops, you don’t forget experiences like that. On the really steep section, I also got the experience that I felt like I was falling over backwards- Brilliant!

The Struggle

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One of three ways up Kirkstone Pass, the Struggle is the steepest. Out of Ambleside, it is very steep up smooth winding road, before a long drag up to the top. At the top, make sure you look back to Lake Windermere, it is quite spectacular views. I have one memorable experience of cycling up the Struggle. I had cycled over 100 miles around the Lake District (and some big climbs). I got to Ambleside was really tired and stopped to have a piece of Kendle Mint Cake and seemed to get a second wind which enabled me to cycle up The Struggle quite quick. It was a great day in the Lakes.

Shibden Wall

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A slightly harder cobbled climb is Thwaites Brow in Keighley. But, the cobbles are in a bad state of repair, with really big gaps between them. It was too much trying to get traction on those big cobbles. Shibden Wall is a great cobbled climb. It starts off on tarmac then graduates into cobbles. There is a wicked left-hander and it is pretty steep. Off the beaten track near Halifax, but quite close to my parent’s house.

Pea Royd Lane

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I wouldn’t usually choose Pea Royd Lane, it’s a little on the short side for my liking. But, I’ve grown to love the climb after racing up it so many times. I’ve done it twice in the national hill climb championship 14th and 4th, and in 2014,  and I rode it several times in training.  In many ways, it is a classic British hill climb. Steep, undulating, and a couple of corners. At the top, it is a great view of Stocksbridge below. In 2014, despite disappointment at 4th, I had a good experience on the climb and it is that perfect length and difficulty to wring everything out of you, leaving  you exhausted at the top.

Photo: Russell Ellis

Greenhow Hill

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Greenhow Hill was the first big hill I ever cycled up. It was in the days before I was a cyclist. I was about 14 and I went on camping holiday with a friend. We took mountain bikes. The main thing I remember is that my friend had to get off and walk, but I could cycle to the top and then go back down whilst waiting for him. Poor chap wasn’t built for hill climbs! But, it is a great climb because there are four ‘ridges’ steep sections of 17%, then a section to recover. The last grovel to the summit can be a pain if it is windy, but it is an atmospheric climb and I love the views from the top.

Porlock

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There are two ways up Porlock, the very steep way or the long, steady gradient of the toll road. Minehead CC organise a hill climb event up the Toll Road, which I have done three times. This is a beautiful climb. The 100 climbs version is the steep hill out of the town centre. It starts off with a few 25% corners and is really tough. I have only done this version after racing up the toll road. But, it is a great climb. It was always a good experience going down to Porlock.

Norwood Edge

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Norwood Edge was my first hill climb event in 1994! I don’t think I knew what I was letting myself in for. My main memory is that it took about two days to take off mudguards from my Reynolds 501 Ellis Briggs 10 speed racing bike and then about two weeks to put the mudguards back on. I was nearly last anyway so I might as well have left them on. But, in those days, it seemed a great achievement to get up the hill at all, let alone race really quick.  In 2011, I got within four seconds of Jeff Wright’s famous course record, setting a time of 4.46, I was really flying that year. Since then the climb seems to get harder every year!

The Stang

The first time I went up the Stang it was a block headwind and I didn’t particularly enjoy this long drag into the bleak North Yorkshire Moors. But, on the big day in October 2013, there was a raging tailwind making it an unbelievable climb. Really steep first section, then a bit of fast downhill  (39 mph!) on the big ring and then the final long drag. The Stang is a bit out of the way, up in North Yorkshire, but it is definitely worth a visit. Ironically I haven’t been back since 2013. Perhaps it is because I know I will never get close to the course record of 7.57 ever again. Proving the emotional connection of hills, seeing a picture of the race bring back many good memories.

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Honourable mention – Other climbs

Other climbs to give honourable mention to

Burrington Combe

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I have done the Bristol South CC event nine times and finished 1st on seven times. It was one of the first hill climbs I did in 2004 and realised I might be quite good. But, I love the atmosphere of the race, the beautiful scenery and the chat in the cafe afterwards. You can get into a good rhythm on the steady slopes

Other memorable climbs

  • Box Hill – road a few weeks before 2012 Olympics – very special time.
  • Nick O Pendle – brilliant short climb
  • The Rake – never done particularly well on the Rake, but great atmosphere at 2005 and 2012 National Hill climb Championships.
  • Kingston Hill and Wheatleaf – local climbs in the Chilterns
  • Brill hills
  • Fleet Moss
  • Jubilee Tower.
  • Buttertubs
  • Rosedale Chimney

 

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