Driver and rider guidance

Compulsory reading for Gatescarth Pass users

These Guidelines must be read and understood by the driver or rider of each vehicle or horse applying fo

  • Gatescarth horserider permit application form
  • Driver and Rider Guidance – to be read by all users

    • Vehicles with wheelbase over 100 inches are not permitted on this route; and
    • 4 x 4 and quad bike permit holders have to start driving the route from the locked gate on the Mardale side before 1pm on the permit day. This is to ensure you, and any Lake District National Park Authority staff present on the day, are off the Pass at an appropriate time.

    Advice to all users

    • Ride and drive slowly. Gatescarth is a very popular route for walkers, pedal cyclists, and sometimes horses
    • The route reaches an altitude of 590 metres (almost 2000 feet) and weather conditions can be severe at all times of the year. Carry appropriate extra clothing and weatherproof equipment. There is no mobile phone contact on the pass. At worst you may have to walk out. Any accident would require specialist recovery
    • One of the attractions of Gatescarth Pass is that it has retained the same features and surface that it had when the main users were horse and cart. The usable surface of the route is less than two metres wide in places
    • A minimum of mud or all terrain tyres are a necessity to avoid damaging loss of traction
    • It is not a route for novice 4x4 drivers or quad bike drivers. Depending on weather conditions, type of vehicle and experience of drivers, the 3 km crossing of the route can take anything between two and six hours. There are sharp and steep bends on both sides of the Pass with steep drops in places. The consequences of slipping off the track here are severe. Because of this it is arguably the most difficult route to drive in the Lake District National Park for 4 x 4s and quad bikes. It is a route for experienced drivers and riders only
    • One of the main locations of damage to the route is on the sharp bends on the south side of the pass. Much of this results from drivers spinning their wheels or not cleanly negotiating the bend – both ascending and descending. To minimise damage all routes will be North to South from now on. Drivers are especially requested to drive these bends using as much of the outside of the bend as possible and avoiding the very steep inside line each bend.
    • If forward momentum ceases for any reason, stop and re-assess the situation before attempting to continue. Wheel spin must be avoided at all costs. Don't be afraid to ask for help from other vehicles in your group.
    • All vehicles must keep strictly to the track. Please do not drive into bankings as this destabilises them and risks them crumbling into the track. Running off the track and spinning wheels creates ruts into wet or drainage areas which affect drainage patterns and attract water onto the track, causing softening and erosion of the surface. Choose your line carefully and stop to assess the route if necessary.
    • One of the impacts of motor vehicles in the fells is a visual one. To reduce the visual impact in wild areas vehicle permit users are required to travel in groups of no more than 6 motorcycles and 4 4 x 4s and quad bikes. It is especially important that club groups maintain separation of at  least 15 to 30 minutes between groups. Please see Green Roads Code of Conduct (PDF) for more guidance.

    All Wheel Drive Vehicles

    The route is not appropriate for tarmac orientated saloon type vehicles or 4 wheel-drive vehicles such as the Freelander or RAV 4. Vehicles with wheelbase over 100 inches are no longer permitted on the Pass. 4 wheel-drive, with centre differential locking or equivalent (in gearbox), two speed transfer gearbox, good ground clearance, robust suspension, good, strong, front and rear recovery points and under-body protection is necessary.

    Whilst vehicles with locking axle differentials will be allowed, they should not be locked on the tight bends as this seriously reduces the vehicle's ability to turn the corner, or causes damage to the surface of the track. Remember that when turning, the wheels on an axle need to rotate at different speeds. There is risk of causing body damage to a vehicle and getting stuck on a boulder or in a tight steep bend.

    Travel in pairs and carry a tow rope or straps, but maintain a gap between vehicles so that one vehicle may be free to assist another if it gets stuck, and to avoid the risk of vehicles sliding into each other. On the north side there are two stone-slab bridges that are easily disturbed and great care should be taken to ensure vehicles drive over the centre and do not dislodge the stone slabs or supports beneath.

    • Ascending from the north side (Mardale) is a very long climb with a useful break half way up. The track is very rough and stony. There are some very tight hairpin bends to negotiate on the upper section. Drivers who are not used to these conditions will find the track a challenging technical drive.
    • Descending the south side of the pass can be slippery under braking in wet or frozen conditions, and reliance on brakes disturbs the fragile track surface. Under braking some vehicles have given drivers concern as they slide out of control on the straight downhill sections and on some bends. The approach to each bend should be carefully considered to try to avoid the need to reverse for a second go.


    Riders of trail/trial/enduro motorcycles should have no problems negotiating the route and the time taken to do so by most riders varies from around 30-45 minutes.  Nervous riders or those with not so much experience of high routes may find some of the bends sharp, steep and in certain conditions very slippery.  Adventure style motorcycle riders are likely to have difficulties with their heavier machines due to the very steep, very loose hairpin climb.  The route is not appropriate for standard road motorcycles with low ground clearance.

    • Ascending from the north side (Mardale) is a very long climb with a useful break half way up. It can be physically demanding, and the track is very stony. Riders who are not used to these conditions may find the track a challenging ride.
    • Descending the south side of the pass can be slippery under braking in wet or frozen conditions, and reliance on brakes disturbs the fragile track surface.
    • Ascending from the south side (Longsleddale) the surface of the track is especially fragile and all riders are requested to be gentle on the throttle and to have great care for the track surface and the potential intrusive noise that faster riding may create in this remote part of the Lake District National Park. Exercise the skill of riding slowly!
    • Descending the north side calls for careful throttle control and good balance. Try to ride down without taking your feet off the footrests.