Zigzagging over the fells between the valleys of Little Langdale and Eskdale, an infamous mountain road traverses England's two highest road passes: Wrynose and Hardknott. Sometimes reaching a gradient of one in three, it's single-carriage and there are few passing places. Before you set out, top up the oil and radiator, as you'll mostly be in first or second gear.
The old packhorse route between the central fells and the coast has been in use since ancient times. It was later substantially improved by the Romans, who saw its potential as a trading and transport link to the settlements of northern England and the forts stationed along Hadrian's Wall. At the top of Hardknott Pass, there's a ruined Roman fort – you can still see the remains of the walls, parade ground and commandant's house. The views from here to the coast are stunning.
A favourite of TV motoring shows and weekend bikers, the road is perfectly drivable if you take things slow and steady, but probably best avoided if you're a hesitant reverser or don't like driving next to steep drops. This is not a road to rush; you'll need to be prepared for plenty of reversing when you meet vehicles going the opposite way. Caravans and buses should definitely steer clear – every year there's a story about some hapless soul who's underestimated the steepness of the road, and has had to endure the embarrassment of getting stranded and blocking the road, to the inevitable fury of fellow drivers.
To get to the passes from Ambleside, follow road signs on the A593 to Skelwith Bridge, then turn off to Little Langdale. When you reach the Three Shires Inn, the road gets really steep. Alternatively, you can approach from the west: drive along the A595 coast road and turn off towards Eskdale, then follow the road past Boot to the passes.