100 Greatest Cycling Climbs (# 51 Tan Hill)


This excellent little book, 100 Greatest Cycling Climbs: A Road Cyclist's Guide to Britain's Hills, has prompted me to put some words to a few photographs I took one day last Easter. The book lists two of the roads we cycled that day (although we managed to ride down both hills: # 49 Buttertubs Pass and # 51 Tan Hill). Simon Warren, the author, has responded to inevitable comments by reviewers on Amazon. The complaints have been along the lines of "why didn't you include such-and-such hill?" and so on. But Warren's makes clear his remit in his introduction which I won't reproduce here. Buy the book – RRP £8.99 (but available from Amazon for just over a fiver including postage and packing).

tan_hill_loop_buttertub_pass_51.5mph On the day of the ride we travelled from East Yorkshire in the morning and had planned an early start, but after a series of delays we set off from Askrigg at midday. The quiet road to Hardraw is ideal to warm up the legs, but we turned right well before the Green Dragon and headed towards Thwaite up Bellow Hill and were immediately overtaken by a group on lightweight bikes. Paul didn't fancy loading up his car with three bikes so I brought my Kinesis Racelight T2 and left the Ridgeback at home. It meant that I was overgeared compared to Paul and Craig – on their heavier mountain bikes – so I sometimes rode ahead to avoid coming to a standstill, even in the lowest gear. We cycled down the steepest side of Buttertubs Pass, but it was still an effort getting to the top in the first place. I got a bit carried away and let my bike freewheel a bit too quickly down Buttertubs Pass. In hindsight it was probably not wise allowing the bike to freewheel at over 50 mph even on the fairly long, straight descent along Cliff Gate Road to Thwaite.

Silver Hill/Park Bridge. The ride to Tan Hill was steep at times but not as hard as the later climb from Grinton to Askrigg…

Cyclists outside Tan Hill Inn

…although that judgment may have been clouded by the half pint of Black Sheep bitter provided at England's highest pub.

The descent from Tan Hill towards Reeth via Langthwaite is, in my opinion, best kept as a descent rather than a climb. Warren gives this climb only 3/10. Enough said.


The minor road at Grinton that leads to Askrigg. Easily missed using the large scale map I had that day. (Photograph taken in August 2010.)

Simon Warren describes a ride towards Askrigg (# 46 Oxnop Scar) that I haven't done, but would like to. According to Warren this climb has a height gain of 243 metres. The Harkerside road from Grinton goes from about 186 metres to 541 at its peak. Even if you start counting at Low Witta (about 220 metres) the climb to the top, and the cattle grid shown below, is well over 300 metres of height gained, with more false summits than I can remember, and no fewer than seven Ordnance Survey chevrons pointing at the wearying cyclist. The chap in the B&B in Askrigg told me that drivers' Sat Nav systems sometimes send them along this narrow road. I wouldn't fancy driving it, but how long will we have to wait before 100 More Greatest Cycling Climbs I wonder...?


Yes, this is the top of the climb. Test those brakes before freefalling in to Askrigg.

Despite the direction suggested by the green arrow, I recommend doing this loop clockwise.

3 comments on “100 Greatest Cycling Climbs (# 51 Tan Hill)”

  1. Patrick wrote:

    Good find Chris (the 100 Greatest Cycling Climbs book). I've just bought one from Amazon this evening for £4.91 including delivery. One single click and it's arriving tomorrow. Amazon is a fantastic service for buying books.

    I'm a hill person, but mostly the going up bit because you're very right about not freewheeling at over 50 mph! My limit is about 30 and even then I consider myself reckless. I suppose if your bike is good, the risk is low, but the consequences are probably high. Not worth it unless someone is paying you a lot of money.

    I'll be doing this route of yours one day.

  2. Hilary wrote:

    Are you on commission Chris? :) I'll have to add it to my library as well! Back in the early 80s I used to occasionally ride out to Tan Hill and Buttertubs from Bradford. Its a long time ago now but I remember it as a rather epic and very satisfying day. I certainly remember lots of hills! Like Patrick I prefer going up than down – I'm a real wimp when it comes to descending!

  3. Patrick wrote:

    The book arrived by courier at 2.30 pm the day after I ordered it. That's impressive. What I paid would hardly cover the driver's petrol money. It's a nice little book, and I see we rode down two of the climbs last sunday: #74 Nick of Pendle (6/10) and #75 Trough of Bowland (4/10). #49 Buttertubs Pass (8/10) looks tremendous.

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