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Tea & Tarns | Pass Storming England’s Lake District

A two-day bikepacking trip in the Lake District National Park, storming Lakeland passes between two remote YHA bunkhouses, in search of the ideal tarn brew stop...

It all started over an OS map of the Lake District National Park. Literally over a map, in a moodily lit YHA Coniston Coppermines communal area, as Tom, Tom, Duncan and I highlighted all the famous off-road passes between us and tomorrow evening’s destination – YHA Black Sail. Our aim was to stitch these together to curate a challenging two-day circular ‘cycling’ route.

You could call it the calm before the pass storm…

We weren’t the first folk to be storming passes, in the Lake District, or anywhere; no chance. Pass storming has been happening quietly around the world since the invention of the bike. Les and Joan Nelson were the earliest known “pass stormers” I managed to find out about online (see Credits section) – riding and hiking their way up each and every pass in the Lake District back in the 1930s and 1940s, back when the roads weren’t even roads.

After our quick map session, it turned out we’d be following the intrepid couple over 3-4 famed Lakeland passes – Walna Scar, Black Sail, Sty Head and Rosset Ghyll – starting out in the old Copper Mines above Coniston, in the shadows of The Old Man of Coniston, on a circular two-day bikepacking route to the stunningly desolate Ennerdale Valley, and back. The photo above is actually Les Nelson’s – taken at the foot of Rosset Ghyll, on their way over to Sty Head and Wastwater – a good ol’ run, given the light dusting of snow on the ground that weekend. Hardy souls.

All of the trails and tracks we highlighted were legal bridleways, or ‘gridleways’, as Tom H coined them, chuffed to bits. Gridelways? No? Gravel Bridlew… Anyway, a lot of the route was rideable on our Bombtrack gravel/gravel-plus bikes; a lot of it was not, as any Lake District Mountain Biker will likely know. That was all part of the fun; true to the pass stormers’ values of old…

Tom U and I rode Bombtrack Beyond bikes, whilst Tom H and Duncan rode their Bombtrack Hook EXT bikes. Staying in the well-located and catered YHAs really helped us keep our kit down to a minimum – just clothing, tea-brewing essentials and ride food were needed for this trip – kept safe and dry in our various Ortlieb bikepacking bag setups.

Duncan’s images tell the story of Lakeland landscape and rider(/hiker) so well that we’ve deliberately kept this Journal to more of a photo story. However, I’ve interspersed the images with passages relevant to the fells we passed beneath, from John Phoenix Hutchinson’s “Wainwrights in Verse” – a lovely book that I picked up along the way – and a quote or two from A. G Bradley’s 1950 book “Highways & Byways in the Lake District”.

Brew up somewhere wild and enjoy…


Seat Pack (16.5L)

Ortlieb's waterproof bikepacking seat bag


Handlebar Pack (15L)

Ortlieb's waterproof handlebar roll


Accessory Pack

Ortlieb's waterproof handlebar bag / pouch


YHA’s remotest property.

Traffic free, deep and isolated in Ennerdale – surrounded by Pillar, Kirk Fell, Red Pike and Great Gable peaks – this ace single storey, cosy stone hut started life as a shepherd’s shelter back in the 1800s, and is now run in partnership between the Forestry Commission landowners and YHA. Mark and Chloe are running the hostel/bunkhouse at the moment (Autumn 2018) – they’ll cook you up a hearty meal in the evening and, if you’re lucky, have the fire going and a nice cold beverage waiting for you on arrival.

Link >> YHA Black Sail

To enjoy Lakeland Tea at its best:

>> always use fresh, cold water. Never re-boil your kettle
>> heat water to boiling point. Warm pots and dangle mugs before use
>> brewing time is important – around 3-4 minutes for Lakeland Special Tea
>> stir before pouring
>>drink on its own, or with milk or lemon
>> Add sugar to taste
>> Ride on, like a champ


….YHA’s first property in the Lake District National Park.

Originally built in 1830 as the copper mine’s managers’ house, the current YHA property sits amongst the old mining landscape at the end of the track from Coniston, in the shadows of the Old Man of Coniston and surrounding fells. The manager would have used the property on mine visits, as opposed to a permanent residence, and only up until 1914-ish, when the last mining company departed. It was first used as a hostel in 1928, and has been under YHA stewardship since 1931 – the first in the Lakes. Baloo and his team are running it at the moment (Autumn 2018) – an enthusiastic mountain biker, he’ll have a good chat with you about local routes and ideas, and cook you up a mean breakfast in the meantime…

Link >> YHA Coniston Coppermines

What did we learn from two days riding bikes in the Lake District, linking the two remotest YHAs?

…getting from A-B through and across dales is pretty relentless, with no option but to either take a much longer road route, or tougher technical route like Sty Head – the original direct packhorse routes

…gravel/gravel-plus bikes are way more capable off-road than thought

…Tunnocks Tea Cakes will never last a pass storm, intact

…a 4-minute brew time is well worth the wait

…a kettle (teapot) is useful on a bikepacking kit list; an umbrella not so much

…a positive attitude can turn any pass storm into a sprinkle. It’s fun out there…


Duncan Philpott

Words & Illustration
Stefan Amato

Tom Hill
Tom Ukleja
Duncan Philpott
Stefan Amato

YHA Wardens
Mark & Chloe (Black Sail)
Baloo (Coniston Coppermines)

Wainwrights in Verse – John Phoenix Hutchinson
Highways & Byways in the Lake District – AG Bradley
Cycling Before Lycra (Website) – Allan Nelson