The Great Dun Fell (SW #186) Bike Climb - PJAMM Cycling

5.2
FIETS
4.6 mi
DISTANCE
2,044 ft
GAINED
8.4 %
AVG. GRADE

FULL CLIMB STATS

Page Contributor(s): Andrew Hartley, Manchester, England; Charlie Thackeray, Ongar, England.

INTRO

The Great Dun Fell is a postcard worthy road and the United Kingdom's second most difficult climb. What begins as a mellow ride through the old village of Knock, soon becomes a tough pedal up steep gradients on the exposed mountain road with unobstructed views of the surrounding Northern Pennines.
The 4.6 miles of climbing wanes from easy gradients to brutally steep without warning. The steepest half-mile sits at 14.8% while the steepest mile is at a painful 11.8%. There is only one foot of descent on the climb to the summit and very little opportunity for respite. A start elevation of 714 feet and a peak of 2757 feet gives us a total gain of 2044 -hard earned- feet.
The road is pristine and closed off to motor traffic. There is not so much as a single pothole to avoid. Naturally, the road is shared with a number of free-roaming sheep. Take care on the descent as there are a few aggressive cattle guards to cross. 
There won't be any summit cappuccino's or pastries at the summit on this one. You're on you on on The Great Dun Fell and there are no cafe's grocery stores, or bike shops for many miles. This is rural country.
Before heading out on any cycling adventure check out our Things to Bring on a Cycling Trip and use our interactive check list to ensure you don't forget anything.
The North Pennines are is of the most incredible natural landscapes in the United Kingdom and The Great Dun Fell puts you right at the base of them. The hills are filled with hiking trails and lend themselves to very enjoyable bike touring. Traffic was relatively mild out this way during my summer 2022 expedition.

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CLIMB SUMMARY

sweeping view of green pastureland and straight stretch of newly paved roadway

Cycling the GREAT Dun Fell, England

Ride 7.5 kilometers gaining 625 meters at 8.4% average grade.

photo collage includes large white radar dome, long stretches of straight roadway, green pastureland

This unique road bike climb is both the second hardest in the UK and the highest paved road in England.  The climb takes us from 714 meters, to the radar dome 848 meters (2,782’) above sea level in just 7.5 kilometers!  The road ends at an Air Traffic Control facility that services Northern England and Southern Scotland.

photo collage of old stone houses, Knock Creek Christian Center

Climb begins at the Knock Creek Christian Center on an unnamed road north of Knock. Whether these old stone houses are still lived in, I could not tell. I saw no sign of life on the day that I rode through, but they seem to be in relatively good condition.

photo collage shows straight portions of newly paved roadway, green pasturelands with sheep grazing

You’ll have the road to yourself, almost guaranteed. The road is technically off limits to motor vehicles (and maybe cyclists too - but it’s good to have plausible deniability). I was alone on the pristine road for the entirety of my climb on the day that I rode in early July 2022.  Actually, you’re never truly alone in England. The sheep are ever-present and always skittish.

informational signs for Moor House, Upper Teesdale; old stone buildings

Gate and surrounding area at mile 1.8.

bike and PJAMM Cycling England jersey parked next to cattle guard

Too many epic viewpoints along this magnificent climb to count.

photo collage; brown and white cows, stream in hillside, green pastureland

As I made my way onto the upper slopes of the mountain, imposing clouds began forming and the winds really began howling from my starboard side. I had difficulty riding in a straight line as the gusts came through.

bike parked against gate across road at mile 3.9

Gate at mile 3.9.

As the ancient saying goes:

If you’re not hopping a fence or scurrying under a gate, then you’re not trying hard enough!

photo collage shows scree field on hillside next to road at mile 3

Scree field on our left at mile three. The grade pitches up well into the double digits as the road traces the fast river up to a saddle point of the mountain. One hopes that the summit is in view at this point, but don’t be fooled. The Great Dun Fell is not done yet…

Cow Green Reservoir

Cow Green Reservoir to the right as seen towards the top of the climb.

bike parked next to sign warning "no unauthorized vehicles allowed beyond this point" 

End of the steepest quarter-mile at 15.8%.

photo collage shows bike parked in green grass on roadside, aerial drone view of small river running parallel to portion of raodway

As the road wraps behind the mountain the winds became gale force -- some of the strongest winds that I have ever experienced. I could easily lean into the wind without falling down (with a belly full of bacon, sausage, and haggis of course).

photo collage shows multiple views of large white radar dome

The end of the road is on the true summit of the mountain and marked by a Radar Station. On a clear day you’ll have some of the best views available of the North Pennine. As the road is closed to motor-vehicles, this is one of the most fun descents in all of England. There are no potholes to contend with, but watch out for those sheep!

PJAMM Cycling’s Brad Butterfield writes after a 2022 summit of the mountain:

 

Over its steep 4.6 miles of mountain road which take you to a Radar Station, The Great Dun Fell earns its place as the most difficult climb in the United kingdom. This golfball-looking radar station is visible from the lower slopes of the mountain and gives a tough visual of how much more vertical feet of gain there is to be climbed before the summit. The road is in pristine condition throughout the climb. There are signs suggesting the road is private and not to cycle on it, but I had no issues. Not a single car, cyclist, or hiker was out on the road with me on the day that I rode in early July. The Great Dun Fell reaches the summit of the second highest mountain in the Pennines at 2,782 feet above sea level. Views of the surrounding farmlands to the south and the barren lands north are very impressive from the summit point. The Great Dun Fell is one climb every cyclist needs to check off of their UK climbing list. A must-do if there ever was one. Prepare for high winds and cold temps at the summit. I had thermal gear and was glad that I did!

The climb is on the western edge of North Pennines Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty:

“The North Pennines was designated as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) in 1988 for its moorland scenery, the product of centuries of farming and lead-mining. At almost 770 square miles (2,000 km2) it is the second largest of the 49 AONBs in the United Kingdom. The landscape of the North Pennines AONB is one of open heather moors between deep dales, upland rivers, hay meadows and stone-built villages, some of which contain the legacies of a mining and industrial past. The area has previously been mined and quarried for minerals such as barytes, coal fluorspar, iron, lead, witherite and zinc.In 2013, a Canadian mining company were allowed to test drill for zinc around Allenheads and Nenthead. They said the region was sitting on a "world-class" deposit of zinc and predicted that a new mine in the area could produce 1,000,000 tonnes (980,000 long tons; 1,100,000 short tons) of zinc ore per year”  (Wikipedia - North Pennines).

The climb also borders and runs parallel to the southwestern border of North Pennines Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty:

“The North Pennines was designated as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) in 1988 for its moorland scenery, the product of centuries of farming and lead-mining. At almost 770 square miles (2,000 km2) it is the second largest of the 49 AONBs in the United Kingdom. The landscape of the North Pennines AONB is one of open heather moors between deep dales, upland rivers, hay meadows and stone-built villages, some of which contain the legacies of a mining and industrial past. The area has previously been mined and quarried for minerals such as barytes, coal fluorspar, iron, lead, witherite and zinc.In 2013, a Canadian mining company were allowed to test drill for zinc around Allenheads and Nenthead. They said the region was sitting on a "world-class" deposit of zinc and predicted that a new mine in the area could produce 1,000,000 tonnes (980,000 long tons; 1,100,000 short tons) of zinc ore per year” (Wikipedia - North Pennines)

photo collage shows Great Dun Fell ride - bike parked next to sign for Great Dun Fell; herd of sheep crossing road; PJAMM Cyclist poses in front of radar station at climb summit

Thank you Andrew Hartley of Manchester, England.

The roadway is not open to motor vehicles but thankfully is to walkers, cyclists, and horseriders.

view of Garmin device after climbing Great Dun Fell

Charlie Thackeray (of Essex, UK) Everested the Great Dun Fell July 22-23

Read about Charlie’s Everest at Thoughts on Everesting.

My Strava comment along with the comment from the founder of Everesting.

The Great Dun Fell climb is considered by Simon Warren (Another Greatest Cycling Climbs, 2012) to be the hardest hill climb in the UK.

Cycling Uphill has a nice summary of this climb by Tejvan (May 6, 2014):

Another 100 climbs states that Great Dun Fell is the greatest climb in England’ “Our Mont Ventoux’ it  has no peers, there is no comparison.” The only surprising thing is that I hadn’t heard of the climb until quite recently. But, since finding out there was a Pyrannean style climb in England, it was definitely on my list of things to do. Since I was up in Kendal for Shap Fell hill climb, I thought it would be good to combine the two.

I’ve spent many years scouring OS maps, looking for the most difficult climbs, but you could quickly scan over Great Dun Fell (on OS 91), assuming it is nothing more than a farmyard track or glorified footpath. Ironically it has a pretty good road surface all the way to the top. The top half is closed to cars, but open to bicycles. It is definitely worth a visit and is a real epic climb.”  Read more

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