Back O’ Skidda on your bike

Back O’ Skidda on your bike. This excerpt comes from Jack Thurston’s book Lost Lanes North that features some of the best bike rides from the North of England.


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DISTANCE: 33 miles / 53 kms

TOTAL ASCENT: 771 metres

TERRAIN: Lanes and one short section of railway trail.  Easy.

Skiddaw is the third-highest mountain in England and together with its neighbour Blencathra to the east and the Caldbeck Fells to the north, it comprises a single block of mountain country through which no paved road passes.

This ride is a circuit of Skiddaw, but it is possible to ride into the heart of the massif – Back o’ Skidda – where there’s a remote, off-grid hostel and campsite.

The route out of Keswick follows the Sustrans coast-to-coast cycle route on an old railway line but you could take the diversion uphill via the stone circle at Castlerigg which is ample reward for the effort of the climb.

The first village on the circuit is Threlkeld– a Norse name if ever there was one – which is sandwiched between the lower slopes of Blencathra and the River Glenderaterra. Threlkeld is an old mining and slate quarrying town with a museum offering underground tours into a reconstructed lead and copper mine.

Threlkeld is one of four places on the route where it’s possible to ride into the interior of the Skiddaw massif and stop in at Skiddaw House. This, former gamekeepers’ and shepherds’ refuge, is now a remote off-grid hostel.

To get there, follow the road to the Blencathra Field Centre and keep going. Even though this is the easiest of the ways in, it’s rough-going in places so be prepared for some walking as well as riding.  After a short, noisy stretch on a cycle path beside the A66 to Scales, the route continues around the mountain and along some of the quietest lanes in the Lake District.

Cumbria is the birthplace of Quakerism, and Mungrisdale and Mosedale were early outposts.  The Friends Meeting House in Mosedale dates from 1702 and is still in use.

From Mosedale there’s another route to Skiddaw House on a bridleway followinging the River Caldew.  Leaving the high country behind for a short while, the route descends to the pretty villages of Hesket Newmarket and Caldbeck.

The Caldbeck Fells were a centre of mining for centuries and are now a magnet for amateur geologists who hunt for specimens among the old mines.

It’s then more Lakeland lanes around the final corner of the Skiddaw massif and the last and most rideable route to Skiddaw House where the bridleway starts opposite Peter House Farm near Bassenthwaite.

The route passes close to Bassenthwaite Lake but it’s worth a small detour for a better view. One stunning spot is the ancient lakeside church of St Bega which is accessible down a well-signposted track on the right.  Another good viewpoint is courtesy of the Lake District Osprey Project in Dodd Wood, accessible from the Old Sawmill Tearoom on the A591.

A two-mile section of the A-road is sadly unavoidable and the final run into Keswick through Applethwaite has good views up to the summit of Skiddaw and down across Derwent Water.

Lost Lanes North can be bought at if you’re after more great bike rides.

Lost Lanes North cycling guidebook by Jack Thurston 2020


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