Motorcycling In The Lake District: Ride This 2-Day Route

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Two things bring me great pleasure in life.

On one side of the spectrum, I love roaring through beautiful locations on my motorbike. Powering through the straights. Approaching a bend. Braking hard.

The jubilant snarl of my bike as I blip the throttle on a down-change. 

Holding the line. Holding the throttle. And then accelerating out when the view opens up so I can do it all over again.

Ever intoxicating, it never becomes tiresome.

On the other side of the spectrum is landscape photography. The serenity. The peace. Being in nature and exploring all it has to offer. The clarity of mind that comes from a tough hike up a mountain.

The feeling you get when you witness a sunrise from the summit – knowing that this particular sunrise will only ever happen once and only you will see it.

But for many years, these two passions were entirely separate entities. 

Until now.

Motorcycling In The Lake District - wastwater from great gable

Combining Motorcycling & Photography In The Lake District

See, this was when I combined the two. With minimal kit, I realised I could pack my camera equipment onto my bike and enjoy the ride and the photography simultaneously.

So I planned a trip to the Lake District that took in most of my favourite roads and treasured photography locations.

Starting from Kendal, I split the route into two short days – simply so I could have time to explore with my camera. At 166 miles, the route could easily be ridden in a single day and should take around 5 and a half hours.

Add a lunch break and a few photo opportunities, and you could do it in 7 hours. But for me, the chance to explore with my camera was just as important as the ride.

So I split it into two days and stayed a stone’s throw away from Wastwater in the Western Lakes – my favourite part of this wonderful area.

rider and africa twin with boats

Waterhead

Our first stop from Kendal would be Waterhead. Situated near the centre of Ambleside, it’s a perfect place to stop and have breakfast or lunch. 

YHA Ambleside is also on the lakeside providing affordable accommodation with excellent views should you wish to stop over.

With such stunning scenery, it’s no surprise that this area can get busy at weekends. Park up before sunrise, and you’ll often find mist over the water as the sun comes up.

For a relaxing way to spend an evening, get here later when all the tourists have gone, and you’ll have the place to yourself as the sun goes down.

Motorcycling In The Lake District - waterhead

Motorcycling In The Lake District: Blea Tarn

After filling our bellies with bacon barms and cups of tea in Ambleside, we continued our journey heading west towards the Langdale Pikes – a truly epic region of the Lake District.

You can spend all day hiking some wonderful trails in this part of the Lakes. But be warned, the weather can be pretty fierce.

Pound for pound, the Langdale Pikes offer up some of the best landscapes in the Lake District. Riding through the Pikes, we headed south towards Wynrose Pass, stopping first at Blea Tarn – one of my favourite areas in the Lake District.

For me, Blea Tarn is best at sunrise where you’ll get some stunning images and see wildlife going about its daily business. 

Expect deer. And expect to shit yourself if you happen to be there during rutting season! The rutting sounds like the roars of a lion. And the sound of galloping behind you in the darkness is enough to get your heart going!

blea tarn at sunrise

Wynrose Pass

After Blea Tarn, you’ll find yourself at the foot of the first major pass of the day – Wynrose Pass. The pass itself is an enjoyable one if you take your time.

And seeing as though it’s a single-track road, you’ll want to take your time! It isn’t the most technical road in the Lake District, but it winds its way beautifully towards Hardknott Pass – the next pass on your list.

You’ll find a parking area at the summit, perfect for enjoying a packed lunch if the sun is shining. And if you carry on down the pass, there are excellent photo opportunities to be had of the winding road disappearing into the Wynrose valley below.


Hardknott Pass

Once you’ve completed Wynrose, you can expect things to become challenging. Crossing the little bridge, you’ll see Hardknott pass ramp up to its one-in-three gradient.

Don’t be disillusioned – this is a technical road to ride. Not impossible, but it’s enough to get your ticker ticking. And there’s a reason why it has a reputation as one of the most difficult roads to ride in the UK.

We were unfortunate enough to be there during a cycle race that was also on the pass at the same time we were. The gradients are steep, the turns are tight, and you’ll need superb clutch control if you happen to be on there with cyclists!

The road is narrow – and if a car is coming in the opposite direction, you’ll need to pick your line carefully. That said, it’s a great road to ride. And one that will test your skills. And your metal!

Motorcycling In The Lake District - sheep on hardknott pass
Image: George Hiles

Motorcycling In The Lake District: Wastwater

Once we had gotten over the trauma of riding Hardknott pass, we headed northwest towards Wastwater – my all-time favourite location in the Lake District.

Residing in the western Lakes, Wastwater has been repeatedly voted as the UK’s favourite view. But it’s actually a pain to get to, so there are generally very few people there – which is always a bonus.

Riding past the hostel and over the cattle grids, you’ll make a left turn, and out of nowhere, Wastwater will open up to you in all its glory. It really is a wow moment that makes your stomach go all tingly.

The road runs parallel with the Lake for its entirety, and there are plenty of places to stop and admire the view – most of which are just a few feet from the lapping of the water. Feel it. Touch it. Take it in. Because it’s magical.

On the opposite side of Wastwater, you’ll see some scree-heavy fells that are fun to climb – but also very challenging.

If you want to hike in this region, many people will point you towards the Scafell range.

But in my opinion, the best views are to be had from Great Gable, which is accessible from the parking areas to the north of Wastwater.

wastwater at sunset

Buttermere

After a night in the Ennerdale Country hotel, our first destination the following morning was Buttermere in the northwest of the Lakes.

For me, Buttermere is quintessentially English and fulfils the chocolate box persona of the Lakes. It’s a nice ride there with lovely views of Loweswater and Crummock Water.

And once you get to Buttermere, you can easily walk around sections of the Lake. If you have your camera with you, a shot of the Lone Tree is a must!

You’ll struggle to get an original composition of this tree. But the conditions here are changeable, and you can get both serene, peaceful shots when the water is calm or dark and moody shots if the wind picks up.

Motorcycling In The Lake District - lone tree at buttermere

Newlands Pass (or Honister Pass, or Whinlatter Pass)

Newlands Pass is a lovely road that covers about 3 miles and traverses the ledge of the Newlands valley.

As with most places in the west and northwest Lakes, it’s sparsely populated, and traffic won’t be an issue.

Once at the top, there is a parking area to have your lunch. Or if you prefer, carry on to Stair where you can have lunch at the Swindale Inn

Although we chose Newlands Pass for this route, you can also head east towards Keswick by taking the more northerly Whinlatter Pass or the southerly Honister Pass.

If you want high and steep, go for Honister pass – one of the highest passes in the Lakes. For scenery and relaxation, head for Whinlatter. All three passes will bring you out in the general vicinity of Keswick – a beautiful (but busy) little town that has a wonderful aura about it.

You’ll be inundated with B&B’s should you want to stop over. And there are plenty of restaurants and cafes to choose from.

Keswick is also a great place to base yourself for a few days, where you can hike the many trails around Derwentwater or island-hop on the boats – a charming way to waste away a day.


Motorcycling In The Lake District: Abbott’s Bay & Catbells

If you fancy a short (but steep) hike (about a mile long), park up next to Catbells on your way to Keswick. You’ll get a sweat on, but the views are astonishing.

Want something easier? Head across the road towards Derwentwater. The 5-minute walk through the forest will bring you out at Abbott’s Bay. 

Again, you will be alone, and it’s a wonderful way to spend the day reflecting and simply ‘being.’

jerry at abbott's bay

Isthmus Bay

Another glorious place to visit on the way to Keswick is Isthmus Bay – a secluded rocky beach that is a pain to find but worth it when you get there!

Hidden from view, you’ll likely have this place to yourself except for the occasional paddleboarder coming past.

Get there at lunchtime when the sun is at its highest, and you’ll be rewarded with glimmering, deep blue waters and reflections of the sun.

Motorcycling In The Lake District - isthmus bay

Ullswater

I’m not sure why, but I don’t feel right going to the Lake District without visiting Ullswater. I always find myself making an excuse to pass even if I don’t need to – just because it feels wrong if I don’t!

Coming from the northeast, we first stopped off in Pooley Bridge for a brew and a shot of the Pooley Bridge boathouse – a staple if you’re a landscape photographer.

Continuing southwest and following the A592, you’ll pass numerous small parking spots for epic views over the legendary Ullswater. Here you’ll find hazy sunrises that create abstract imagery with your eyes. Or gloomy, foreboding conditions if the weather turns.

On clear mornings, you can find a range of colours from blue, orange, or pink. And if the rain sets in during the evening, you can expect rich, silver conditions.

pooley bridge boat house at sunrise

Kirkstone Pass

Finally, we reached Kirkstone Pass. For me, riding it from Ullswater is the better way of riding it, but either way, it’s not my favourite pass.

Kirkstone Pass lulls you into a false sense of security, and then throws a sharper-than-expected bend into the mix to see if you’re paying attention!

Apart from some attention-grabbing bends, you also need to be careful of the surface that can be greasy and gravely.



Motorcycling In The Lake District: A Fabulous 2-Day Ride!

I’m glad I chose to split this day’s ride into two days to fully appreciate the landscape and take in the scenery.

If you’re tired of the smoke and smog of the city, motorcycling in the Lake District is what you need to cleanse your mind and soul.

From arduous mountain hikes to winding passes, and from quaint little villages to bustling towns, this ride has something for everyone.

Feel free to share!
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