Lakeland 200, UK
127 Mi.(204 KM)
% Rideable (time)
While Out Riding
When it comes to mountain biking locations in the UK, the Lake District National Park stands proudly amongst very best the country can offer. Not that I’m talking about man-made flow trails, tabletops, and point-and-shoot style singletrack. Oh no. This is ‘traditional riding’ at its finest! Whilst there’s no shortage of fast and rocky terrain to savour, for the most part, think challenging, cross country terrain where miles are hard fought and off-the-bike pushes are both numerous and sometimes protracted. Yes, this is the kind of mountain biking where you’ll truly earn your post-ride, Cumbrian pint at the end of the day.
Situated in the northwest corner of England, the Lake District is named after the number of glacial ribbon lakes and tarns that dot it throughout. But it’s also famed for the distinct colours of its rugged fells, ridgetops and mountains, the beauty of its intricate dry stones walls, and its historic literary associations – William Wordsworth, Beatrix Potter, and John Ruskin amongst them.
The Lakeland 200 was devised by Alan Goldsmith and originally intended to be ridden as an ITT. As the current record stands at 16 hours and 45 minutes (an unmatched feat of strength and tenacity by local rider Chris Hope) you may think I’m being overly cautious in recommending 4-5 days to complete it. I’m not! Not only is this loop very challenging, but there’s enough to see along the way that you’ll do this spectacular national park justice with more time. Add a regular bikepacking load to your bike and it’s unlikely you will feel your days are too short…
I’ve marked on as many of the zero-waste options as possible. If there’s any more, or any bike-friendly, local businesses we should mark on the map, please let us know!
From a bikepacker’s perspective, the terrain and its textures are truly varied. There are bridleways that wend through corridors of ancient woodland. Rooty singletrack and techy rockfests aplenty. Swoopy, grassy chutes and boggy yomps across open fells. Fast, gravel-covered forest roads. And quintessential English backlanes. Although it’s a mecca for ramblers (check of the illustrations in Alfred Wainwright wonderful old guidebooks), it’s often relatively quiet out of high season and during the week.
In terms of hike-a-bikes – which are certainly a theme of this ride – the double trouble gauntlets of Black Sail Pass and Scarth Gap Pass offer the biggest hurdles (thankfully offset by wonderful views of Scafell, Pillar, and Great Gable). If I can make one accommodation suggestion along the way, it would be avail yourself of the facilities at Black Sail Pass YHA, perfectly positioned to divide them in two. Founded in 1933 and formerly a shepherd’s bothy, it’s surely one of the most atmospheric, historic hostels in the UK, mostly because it can only accessible by foot or bike.
The Lakeland 200 can be started in any number of places – depending on where you want to base yourself, if you’re staying in the area longer, or the direction that you’re arriving from – though the route traditional starts in Staveley. As mentioned, it was initially designed as an individual time trial, but breaking it up into several days or more is a far more enticing way of exploring the Lakes, especially if you’re a first-timer.
Note that as a non-stop race, it can be soul-destroying. As a self-sufficient, loaded bikepacking tour, it’s simply very hard in a satisfying kind of way. If you have the weather on your side, the views atop its passes and from its high traverses are simply glorious. Don’t forget to look up as you push your bike!
Note that we – in our flawed wisdom – chose to ride the route counter-clockwise, so bear this in mind when looking at the images. Without doubt, there are big and unrideable climbs to contend with, in either direction. But clockwise is likely best, and it’s the way it was designed to be ridden.
Difficulty: Even when tackled at a non-race pace, this ride is extremely challenging. The climbs are plentiful, terrain is always varied and often hard-fought, and navigation across open fells can be challenging too. Expect to be hopping on and off your bike regularly. The mountain biking itself requires a confident skillset, both when it comes to cleaning techy climbs and tackling rocky descents, especially when wet. Passes can feel very exposed in inclement weather too. However, resupply points are relatively plentiful and there’s often a pub or tea house in which to hunker if the weather collapses all around you.
- Hitting almost all the Lake District mountain bike highlights in one fell swoop
- Revelling in classic Lakeland tech
- Spending a night at the Black Sail YHA… or at least stopping for a mid-hike coffee there
- Digging deep for some epic hike-a-bikes (#Inevergoforawalkwithoutmybike)
- Glorying in the majesty of the Cumbrian Mountains
- Enjoying a cleansing dip in one of the lakes or tarns along the way
- Best bike: given the techy terrain and the mixed nature of the trails, a hardtail or plus-sized rigid mountain bike is the best tool for the job. Make sure you are running an appropriately low gearing and above all, pack as light as you can. In some case, you’ll need to carry the bike up steep inclines too – an uncluttered downtube offers more handholds.
- Time of the year: Given the right weather window, this route is best ridden from spring to autumn. Just bear in mind that the Lake District is extremely popular with ramblers and hikers, so weekends can be very busy, particularly when the sun is shining. Rain can strike at any time of the year, so bring resilient waterproofs. Waterproof socks are recommended too, as are shoes that can survive protracted, rocky pushes and carries.
- Given its popularity of the Lakes and in the interests of rambler/mountain biker diplomacy, be sure to have a bell on your bike. Be especially cautious at weekends.
- High end bike shops can be found in Ambleside and Keswick, but pack a spare set of brake pads to be on the safe side. The terrain can be hard on gear.
- The Lakeland 200 can be started in any number of places – depending on where you want to base yourself from or the direction that you’re arriving.
- If you’re coming by public transport, there’s a train station in Stavely – best to head to Oxenholme the Lake District (West Coast Main Line) then take the Windermere train, which stops at Staveley. If you’re arriving from the north, you can also take the train to Penrith and join the route in Pooley Bridge. Bikes need to be booked in advance on Virgin trains.
- Depending on where you are starting, this route can be shortened in several places. The most obvious is to skip the Kentmere loop if you’re not beginning in Staveley. Otherwise, you can trim it back by shortcutting from Ambleside to Coniston on a mixture of bridleways and lanes.
- Wild camping is illegal in the Lake District National Park; if you need to bivy out, do so discreetly and respectfully #leavenotrace
- There’s no shortage of camping spots along the route – a few are marked on the map. A favourite is the Quiet Place, on the northern side of Ullswater, as it has a zero waste store and a great kitchen.
- This route can also be tackled (somewhat more easily) by staying in hostels along the way; two of our favourites are the YHA in Ambleside (excellent facilities) and the YHA on Black Sail Pass (incredible location). Book in advance during the summer.
- In addition to options marked on the map, the Herdwick Huts are a little off route at Rydal, and come recommended too.
- There’s no shortage of water en route; you’ll rarely need to carry more than 2-3 water bottles. Bring a Steripen or similar in case you need to filter along the way.
- All the main hubs along the route offer pubs, small grocery stores, and tea houses.
- We’ve marked zero-waste options on the map too (greengrocers, bakeries etc), including Another Weigh in Penrith and Big Onion in Staveley.
- An account of Ian Barrington’s ITT ride – just in case you’re thinking of riding it in one fell swoop!
- Another useful blow by blow account can be found here, spread over two long days (4o hours).
- Details of ITT times over the years.
- For a shorter, lower elevation, and more rideable 1o0 mile loop, see the South Lake 100, aka JennRide.