Two Passes in One Week

As I'm originally from the south coast, I've never really got used to the idea of mountain passes in England. They surely belong in the Alps or the Pyrenees? But no, there are proper mountains in northern England and last week we drove two familiar but very different passes, 100 miles apart.

The Kirkstone Pass (A592) connects Ambleside to Ullswater in the Lake District. It climbs out of Ambleside, to the Kirkstone Inn, before starting the long descent to Patterdale. As it squeezes to the west of High Street it tops out at an altitude of 454 metres, almost 1500 feet.

The section between Ambleside and the Inn, known as The Struggle, is the steepest part with a gradient of 17% (1 in 6) in places but the remainder of the pass is more gentle and fairly straight.

The descent of the Kirkstone Pass towards Brothers Water and Patterdale

A few days later we drove through the Peak District from Macclesfield to Buxton over the Cat and Fiddle Pass (A537). Whilst it is not as steep, its summit is a bit higher than Kirkstone, at 514 metres (almost 1700 feet) - but the terrain is quite different.

The unrelenting bends are the challenge and you can end up feeling quite dizzy as the sharp curves just keep on coming. Speed fiends are drawn to the pass - hence being known locally as the Widowmaker - although they are now slowed down by bright yellow average speed cameras. But it is still a road to approach cautiously.

The Cat and Fiddle's sharp curves across undulating terrain: a deadly mix

These passes aren't the most challenging in the country but they are a reminder that in the days before cars people simply wanted the shortest route between two points and this often led them to follow roads which were steep and curvy. But these were the motorways of their day.