Britain’s most scenic drives: The Hardknott and Wrynose Passes, Cumbria

On a quest to find the country's most glorious roads, Annunciata Elwes explores Cumbria's Hardknott and Wrynose Passes.

Indefatigable Lakeland fellwalker, author and illustrator A. Wainwright (he didn’t like ‘Alfred’, apparently) certainly wasn’t bluffing when he advised drivers coming from the east, over Wrynose towards Hardknott (using the easier pass as a warm-up), to approach with ‘the utmost concentration’. As well as being one of Britain’s most scenic drives, it’s also one of the trickiest to drive.

Hardknott Pass in Lake District National Park, UNESCO World Heritage Site, Cumbria, England, United Kingdom, Europe

This steep, twisting, ‘Lord of the Rings’-worthy single track through the Eskdale Valley, between picturesque Eskdale and Ambleside, is often described as the steepest and most challenging drive in Britain, with gradients of up to 33% and signs that shout ‘Extreme caution’ and ‘Severe bends’.

Wrynose Pass from Hardknott Pass in the Lake District, Cumbria, UK

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Second gear is your friend, car-oblivious sheep are not. Yet faint heart never won fair landscape is, perhaps, what the Romans thought as they built their loneliest outpost, Hard Knott Fort, sometime between 120–138AD.

United Kingdom, England, Cumbria, Lake District, Hardknott pass

The 500 or so who travelled from the balmy Dalmatian coast to be stationed here to protect the pass probably didn’t enjoy the Lake District weather, but the spectacular views surely made up for it.