The Lakeland 200 – Eleven year old James Rothwell completes the epic mountain bike route in three days

The Lakeland 200 mountain bike route
(Image credit: James and Rich Rothwell)

James Rothwell and his father Rich recently completed the monstrous Lakeland 200 in an impressive 3 days. For anyone who doesn’t know this incredibly challenging route, The Lakeland 200 is a self-supported mountain bike time trial that traverses 200km of the Lake District National Park.

The route is recommended to be ridden in a clockwise direction, beginning at Staveley but can be started in any number of places – depending on where you want to base yourself. Regardless of starting point and direction if you like hike-a-bike you're in for a type 2 treat! There's plenty of it with around 6,400 meters of climbing.

Along with the most striking mountain vistas and some very steep and technical downhills, it’s possibly the best old-school mountain biking you could wish for.

The Lakeland 200 mountain bike route

(Image credit: James and Rich Rothwell)

James and Rich decided to take on this massive challenge at a slightly slower pace and generally advised time of around three days. Rather than the unmatched feat of strength and tenacity that is the current record of 16 hours and 45 minutes, held by local rider Chris Hope. 

Once the dust had settled and the limbs rested we asked Rich to tell us more about their epic achievement.

Lakeland 200

(Image credit: James and Rich Rothwell)

"At around 6pm on Day Three we crested Walna Scar and we only had 20 miles to go to complete our challenge. When I say ‘only’ 20 miles to go, anyone who has taken on this infamous long-distance loop knows that the relatively short 130 miles belittles the challenge of this route. It's rocky, rough, slippery and it’s often hard or impossible to stay on your bike. So those last few miles felt like an eternity.

We had decided to split the route into three days. The first section was from Eskdale to Keswick, and included Burnmoor Tarn, Black Sail Pass, Scarth Gap, Honister Pass, and Castle Crags. Whilst I had great faith in James and his technical riding skills, I was unsure how he would cope with the extended hiking sections; when you are small, lifting your bike up and over big rock steps is proportionally more challenging. He coped incredibly well on Black Sail and amazed me by clearing a high proportion of the descent. It was heavy rain and incredibly slippery, the weather playing its part in our challenge but James thrives in this weather. 

Day One ended at my father’s in Keswick and the evening was mostly spent washing, cleaning, and eating, lots of eating!

The Lakeland 200 mountain bike route

(Image credit: James and Rich Rothwell)

Day Two included greater distance and height gain; 53 miles and 3,000m of climbing. It was generally more rideable but there is a  sting in the tail. The hike-a-bike up to High Street tops out at over 800m and it's exposed and isolated. The cloud was low. Not for the first time, I felt a great weight of responsibility. 

James however was loving it and very determined. I know the Lakes well and all too aware of its unforgiving nature. I was our guide and our get-out guy, I felt a great weight of responsibility. 

The top was a total white out and the descent off High Street is extremely steep. The downhill was grassy and slippery with intermittent greasy rock slabs. I needn’t have worried; James hit all the lines with his usual laser accuracy. I felt relief that we had both descended safely.

After the incredibly rough Garburn Pass in the dark, we pulled up at a friend’s and were treated to a jet wash, a drying room, and hot food on the table. Massive thanks to Rich Munro for his support.

The Lakeland 200 mountain bike route

(Image credit: James and Rich Rothwell)

Day Three was, on paper at least, the easiest day and included more frequent resupply options. It also brought torrential rain and the fatigue was building. James was still 100 percent committed to completing the full route. My mind was working overtime, managing his fatigue, his unwavering enthusiasm, and his summit fever! As we approached Coniston, the weather calmed and it became a lovely tranquil evening. 

It was still and deserted now. James was elated. It was a magic moment, but I knew we had rough miles and two tough descents before the finish. We were also heading into the dark on perhaps the most isolated stretch of the route. Reaching the top of Harter Fell, a descent he has cleared before on a warm sunny day, he showed maturity beyond his years by electing to walk a couple of the steeper sections.  

It was a fine line as a parent. He is skillful and confident without being reckless. I confess to feeling nervous at points, but I kept it inside myself. I needn’t have worried. He was in control.

Back at the van, he looked silent and stunned. He told me he was not yet able to process what he’d experienced. However, he was clearly bursting with joy and pride. And he is hooked on this adventurous lifestyle."

The Lakeland 200 mountain bike route

(Image credit: James and Rich Rothwell)

Huge congratulations to James and Rich on their epic ride and if you're feeling inspired his achievement, you can find out more on the route at Lake District National Park. (opens in new tab)

Paul Brett
Staff writer

Based in Edinburgh, Paul Brett is a staff writer for He has been an avid cyclist for as long as he can remember, initially catching the mountain biking bug in the 1990s, and raced mountain bikes for over a decade before injury cut short a glittering career. He’s since developed an obsession for gravel riding and recently has dabbled in the dark art of cyclocross. A fan of the idea of bikepacking he has occasionally got involved and has ridden routes like the North Coast 500, Scotland and the Via Francigena (Pilgrim Route), Italy.

An award-winning photographer, when not riding a bike, he can be found at the side of a cyclocross track or a downhill mountain bike world championship shooting the action. Paul has been the founder, editor and senior writer for Proper Cycling magazine that has seen him travel the world interviewing some of the biggest names in mountain biking and writing about some of the biggest cycling brands.

Rides: Scott Spark RC Team Issue, Ribble 725, Bergamont Grandurance Elite

Height: 176cm

Weight: 85kg