The hills are alive…

Julie Nimmo, Scott Russell and Stuart McLean of Walkers Cycling Club travelled to Coniston in the Lake District last weekend to take part in the 13th Edition of the Fred Whitton Challenge. The Challenge, considered arguably to be the toughest cyclo sportive in the country, is to ride all 10 of the famous Lakeland Passes in one day, and it attracts riders from all over the country and different parts of the world.

The day started brightly despite the forecast of strengthening winds. Julie suffered her first mechanical 0.3miles in, however this was quickly sorted and the three headed to the first climb of the day up Hawkshead Hill. From here the road descends to Ambleside on the northern tip of Lake Windermere and then onto the first of the big climbs of the day up Kirkstone Pass. Unfortunately, Julie punctured, but Ronnie Barker a rider from Rockhard Racing in Paisley came to her aid. (No fork handle jokes please – Ed.) One of the pleasures of taking part in this kind of event is getting to meet people from various parts of the country leading to some interesting conversations and help when required.

Next was Kirkstone Pass which rises to 454 metres. This is the highest point of the day although it is by no means the hardest climb – those were still to come! The view at the top of the pass was stunning as the road snakes down the valley below for miles before bringing the riders to the southern tip of Ullswater. Matterdale End was the next big climb at 343m before the riders turned onto the A66 heading to Keswick and it was at this point that they felt the full force of the strengthening headwind. Riders saw the sense in riding in groups to gain some respite, however this wasn’t possible for all and Scott rode most of these 4 miles on his own. From Keswick the route headed to the village of Seatoller at the foot of Honister Pass. The start of the climb is very steep almost on a par with the infamous Hardknott and the road is narrow and winding reaching its summit at 356m. After a quick stop at the first feed station at Buttermere it was on to the next big climb ascending Newlands Pass which has a steep kick at the top of its 333m. Three more passes came and went the longest and toughest of these being Whinlatter climbing to 318m. At the feed station after 87 miles one of the Walkers trio couldn’t resist having a nice cup of tea with a sandwich and cake.

A few miles further on the road turned along the valley floor towards Hardknott Pass, the climb that’s considered the daddy of them all. Riders could look ahead in the distance to the climb and noticeably slowed as if to save whatever energy was left in their legs. The Start of Hardknott kicks up viciously and for most it’s a walk to the top as the road averages a 30% gradient and reaches 33% at its steepest. However, some do attempt to ride it and happily Stuart managed to clear it with Scott riding all but two of the very steepest parts. The descent is equally as challenging requiring skillful bike handling and a great deal of force on the brakes to keep speed in check down the narrow and twisty descent. Wrynose Pass arrives soon after and although a tough climb it’s not on the scale as Hardknott although the descent is as equally demanding. With the majority of the 4000m of climbing done, the remaining miles cover gently undulating terrain taking you back to Coniston and the completion of the 112 mile route.

Stuart Mclean finished the course with a ride time of 7hrs 55mins with Scott Russell arriving around 10mins later. Julie Nimmo’s ride time was 8hrs 32mins. At the end the three enjoyed a huge sense of achievement as well as the hot drinks and pasties provided. While reflecting back on each other’s ride throughout the day on what was an epic challenge their thoughts soon turned to what’s going to be next…