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The Hardknott Pass & St Bee’s Beach, Cumbria


I know the pretty and touristic Lakelands area fairly well, and having enjoyed Esthwaite, Hawkshead, Windermere and the lower elevations of Scafell Pike, I wanted an adventure. I’d been promising myself a trip to see St Bee’s beach, the secret jewel in West Cumbria’s coastal crown. It was July, the perfect time to go.

If you’re reading this and know me already, the fact I didn’t check the route or the weather forecast won’t surprise you. Suffice to say.. as I took a few turns along some ever more rural roads… I was a little sing song-y in my heart, and thanked Google maps for taking me on such a pretty route. No sissy A roads for me! Just me and my VW Golf, in harmony with nature.

Its pretty much agreed that the Hardknott pass through the centre of the Lake district is Britain’s steepest road.

…and a little Google research indicates ‘treacherous’ and ‘hazardous’ are its favoured adjectives. The typical gradient of this single track road is 1-in-3 and it can also boast a high number of hairpin bends, cyclists, roaming sheep and sheer drops.

Have a read through that again. I knew none of this. It all started so pretty. SO PRETTY. There was a river, a sunny and green valley, a very cute farm. I felt cosy and blessed.


Signs indicated gradients and that was just fine, because I simply didn’t understand them. So on I went, following the satnav and becoming gently more cautious yet still unworried as the road rose to meet the sky.

It was probably around that time.. that the realisation hit me: The very nature of this road means I can not turn back.  Suddenly then, every turn and incline brought new horror and excitement. Yes, I’m delicate. Yes, I am that nervous driver. I drove onwards with all the necessary stops and starts of a single track road, never confident enough or probably even able, to move from 1st gear.  I felt my eyes wet with tears and fear.  The road was solitary, unforgiving and beautifully bleak. I was overwhelmed, intimidated and yet still wondrous at what was before me.

I saw new born lambs, birds of prey and rabbits. I smiled at cyclists and drove with the windows down to say a cheery hello whenever possible. I made new friends at the passing points. I sensed pity from those other drivers, as I stared, shrugged and made timid, nervous moves in a car I didn’t trust.

But I did it, and around an hour later there was a point when I realised the worst was over. At Whitecroft I pulled over for Lucozade and a Lion bar, realising that something terrifying and life affirming had just happened.

None of it was supposed to happen, but being hokey, I took it all to be an allegory for life.

Thank God for the Lion bar! I was refreshed, high on sugar, and determined to reach St Bee’s… and of course it was elementary from there on in. The journey to St Bee’s drifted towards the coast.. along a road ripe with berries, flowers and dense yellow fields.

St Bee’s is a pretty little town, with an air of uneventful. In the sunshine I imagine it comes alive, and I think the local community must be very welcoming, I had a feeling it was so.


I walked to the beach.. and felt proud, that despite the cold wind and rain, British holiday makers were rock pooling, castle building, and running like giddy kippers through the water in swimsuits and short sleeves.

The expanse of St Bee’s beach is comforting… the tidal pools interesting, the jellyfish rather fascinating. I considered climbing the craggy rockland that brackets the beach and chose instead to write a loved ones name in the sand. Safer in the rain…and a promise kept to boot.


I walked out along the waters edge and back along the cliff side shingle. I ruminated on several things, turning it all over in my mind… as I turned the coloured stones and driftwood over and over through my hands. I said hello to dog walkers and decided finally that the storm clouds, wind and increasing rain meant it was time to go.

It was at this point that 3 ladies casually attired in dresses and jeans headed eagerly down the beach towards the sea, dingy aloft, paddle and spirits high. I think it was a mother and two teenage daughters. I reminded myself to later share this observation with the coastguard if necessary.



I was charmed and concerned all at the same time, although I didn’t dissuade them in their folly or offer advice. I think thats a very British trait.

The journey home couldn’t compete. I reset the satnav to the long way around and was subsequently late for an appointment back in Kendal, although I did sleep well that night. What happened that day is something I think about alot. This is what I love about travel.

I write about travel and lifestyle.

One Comment

  • Jess

    This sounds terrifying but utterly wonderful. It’s amazing how life just throws these challenges at us and we have to deal with them. I think that’s what makes us stronger.

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