The Pass

Once upon a time the pass used to have a bike race go over it. Every September it was. The Olympics put a stop to that as British Cycling put their resources into London as that was more important to them. We get our own back next year though as another bike race will go over the pass, much to BC’s chagrin as they wanted it to go to Edinburgh. Riding the pass on a blustery autumn day with nothing but the sound of the tensioned cables of the crash barrier singing in the wind for company it’s hard to imagine how many folks will be up there next summer watching the race and then all going down to order coffees in the quiet little hotel in the small village near the bottom. I probably should have reserved my table on the terrace for July when I was there yesterday but I’m sure I’ll be in there again before then.

The pass is the only road in my neck of the woods with pass in its name. It’s not the highest road in the area in absolute terms, which honour goes to its near southern sister, nor in the difference between the top and the bottom, which is claimed by another sibling to the east, but it feels higher because of the very steep drop down to the east side of the road. It certainly feels high in winter when the snow is blowing horizontally across the fell, the tarmac is icy, and the road home, which you can see from the top snaking down the valley below, seems a heck of a long way down.

From the south the climb is a few steep bits followed by a long moorland drag up to the top. From the north its just steep and some more steep then a bit of steep. The weather is often terrible. The pass is sometimes closed for days although of all the high roads between the two valleys this one allegedly has the first claim on any action to clear it. In March this year from the northern foot of the pass the only clue to the existance of a road at all was the ‘road closed’ sign erected on top of the drifts. In summer the pass forms part of a traditional loop followed by old folks driving around with tartan rugs on their laps and slighty less old folks on very powerful motorcycles so I prefer the pass in winter; snow, ice, wind and fear of going up there and not coming back down included.

Strength-sapping climbs, vertiginous descents, precipitous drops, snow and ice, gales, nutters on motorbikes and idiots in sports cars, a couple of treacherous cattle grids, and nearby competition from some of the best roads you’ll ever ride on a bike in the country, I love riding over the pass. I love riding it from both ends and if I haven’t ridden it for a while I start to dream about it. They might have to bury me up there although they probably won’t have to carry me far as in all probability that is where I will have expired anyway, although I hope it will have been because of the elements and not because I was balancing on my bike in the middle of the road taking pictures for the blog as I can be quite hard to see in black and white.



  1. humancyclist

    Beautiful images – are these from a camera phone? For all my cycling travels, nothing beats cycling over the bleak dales, moors and Pennines passes in the UK. Now you’ve got me wondering what pass this is, somewhere north of Hartside?

    • northernbike

      Hi HC, I took these with a little out of date but weatherproof camera. Fortunately the sun came out over the other side of the valley just as I got to the top as it pretty overcast and dull where I was. The pass is Buttertubs which will be on the first stage of the tour next year.

  2. ragtimecyclist

    It’s a great road, no question, and i agree that the exposure and the steep gradient at one end make it feel higher than it is. I last rode the Buttertubs in March this year as part of a loop from Kirkby Lonsdale taking in Fleet Moss and the Coal Road, and it was like a barren arctic wasteland up there – snow drifts, the full works.

    There (probably) won’t be snow up there when the Tour goes through, but i can’t help hoping for, at the very least, strong winds and sideways rain…see how they like it!

    Great photo’s by the way.

    • northernbike

      Crikey, that ride was a bit of a hike in the winter. It’s a shame the Tour couldn’t come to the dales when the snow is still on the ground though, or in spring when the meadows are yellow as we’re all supposed to make our gardens, or in autumn when the fell tops in the morning are above the clouds in the valleys. In fact July is a bit dull really.

  3. Rachel

    I was just going to ask you where this is exactly (I was guessing the Yorkshire Dales though) and I see it has been answered in the comments. It looks beautiful. I must visit the Dales.

    • northernbike

      You must, yes. dust off the walking boots get, some new gears on the bakfiets and get yourself out onto the fells Rachel. You know where to come for some local info (the tourist office of course – you must know better than to come to this blog for reliable advice by now 🙂 )

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