The Road Over Hardknott Pass

by David Murray on 30 October 2009

in Passes, Roads

I well remember, back in the mid-60s, driving for the first time over Hardknott Pass.  In those long-off days before children my wife and I borrowed my father’s car and headed for the Lake District.

The car, a Vauxhall Cresta, was bigger than anything I’d driven before and had a long engine compartment. Taking the twists and turns of Hardknott was to say the least hair-raising. The edge of the road, with its sheer drop to the left, was repeatedly invisible, hidden behind the end of the car bonnet which due to the gradient was frequently higher in the air than I was myself in the driving seat.  I drove super-slowly, my wife hanging her head out of the window at her side to tell me when to turn and to avoid going over the edge.

Hardknott Pass has a long history, with its fort dating back 2,000 years to Roman times, but it was a remote and wild place unfamiliar to any but local travellers until not much more than a century ago. In the 1880s, as Lake District tourism was growing, a group of hoteliers and others involved in the tourist industry pressed for many road improvement schemes. Hardknott was on their list.  In 1913 Baddeley’s Guide indicated that among the Lake District passes Hardknott was now unusual in that it could be ridden over on a bicycle, but progress had been slow. That certainly doesn’t sound very much like a modern road, and this route to the Western Lakes was still not easy.

Although much improved over the years the road had to wait until after the 2nd World War to get a tarmac surface. Coming right up to date though, Cumbria County Council has now announced HardKnott Pass improvements. Work is to be done to improve the current road surface. Clearly this is not a major road rebuilding exercise as they only expect the road to be closed to traffic for a couple of weeks but every small contribution to the maintenance of this ancient road is to be welcomed.

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