Hard Knott

ONE Wainwright walk: Hard Knott

Walk Rating:⭐⭐

Time: 1 - 2 hours 

Parking: free roadside parking on the road leading from Cockley Beck to Hardknott Pass

Hard Knott and the Roman fort from the 'Terrace Route' to Scafell

Hard Knott is better known for the spectacular Hardknott pass, and the Roman fort that used to guard it, rather than for the fell itself. However, it's well worth walking up to its summit from the road below for the arguably unrivalled close-up view of the Scafell summit ridge.

Another advantage that Hard Knott has in its favour is that, thanks to the road over the pass, you can let your car do most of the hard work. If you park at the highest part of the road, there is little more than 500 feet of ascent left to climb to the summit. However, the route I have described starts to the east, before the steepest part of the pass, leaving further to walk but saving you from the petrol consumption of a low-gear drive up 30% inclines!

Strava estimates a walking distance of 3-4 km

1. If you drive towards Hard Knott from either the Wrynose Pass to the east, or up the Duddon valley from the south, you will first reach the bridge at Cockley Beck. From here, the Hardknott pass road climbs to the west. The ascent is fairly gentle at first, but the road signs warning you of 30% inclines ahead are a warning to unsuspecting drivers of what lies around the corner!

Cockley Bridge with Hard Knott on the horizon

2. Just before the road meets the steep zig-zag ramps of the main eastern ascent of the pass, there is room on the right of the roadside for a few cars to park. I recommend parking here and then starting the walk by making your way up the steep hillside to your right, heading roughly north-west, towards the summit.

Walk up the hillside away from the road

3. On this route, there is no defined path, but the terrain is generally friendly enough to walkers, although there are a few places where you have to pick your way across patches of rocks. Continue uphill, following the side of a stream towards a slight dip between the rocky outcrops on the ridge above you.

Follow the course of a stream flowing down from the ridge

4. The incline will become more gentle as you emerge on the flatter ground at the top of the ridge.

Swirl How on the horizon from the flatter ground at the top of the ridge

5. Look for the main walkers' path, that leads up from the top of the pass, crossing the ridge from left to right ahead of you. Turn right to follow the path to the highest rocky outcrop.

Looking out to the Scafells from beneath the summit outcrop

6. On top of the outcrop sits a cairn marking the highest point of the fell (1803'). There are fine views to the north of the ridge stretching from Scafell to Bowfell. To the west, you can look down over Eskdale to the sea, and. on a clear day, across to the Isle of Man.

Scafell, Scafell Pike, Esk Pike and Bowfell

The Isle of Man on the horizon over the Irish Sea

7. For a gentler descent, it's easier to return all the way down the main ridge path to where the road crosses the top of the Hardknott pass. From here you can return to your starting point by walking down next to the steeply zig-zagging main road. There will be fine views of the valley of 'Wrynose Bottom' ahead of you.

Make your way back down the road to your starting point

Worth knowing: Hardknott pass provides the only route for cars across the high fells of the central core of the Lake District. As such, it has always been an important strategic route, as shown by the site of the Roman fort of Mediobogdum, standing on the high terrace of land to the west of Hard Knott. Its walls were rebuilt in 1959 and so its site can be made out from other nearby fells.

The western side of the pass, descending to Eskdale

This remote outpost of Empire was garrisoned by soldiers from Dalmatia, on the eastern coast of the Adriatic. The climate must have been a sharp contrast to the one that they had previously known! 

The rebuilt walls of the fort can be seen on the terrace in the centre of this picture, with the road climbing to the pass behind it. 

Hardknott Pass also offers a modern day challenge for road cyclists. The pass, ridden from west to east, is one of the toughest climbs, in a day filled with tough climbs, to be tackled by cyclists entering the Fred Whitton Challenge, one of the hardest one-day sportives in the UK amateur calendar.

You have been warned!

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