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This is the Lake District's highest pass that is open to motor traffic and it connects Ambleside in the Rothay Valley to Patterdale in the Ullswater Valley - the A592 road. In places, the gradient is 1 in 4. Brothers Water provides a picturesque view on the descent to Patterdale.
The Kirkstone Pass Inn stands close to the summit of the pass. Formerly an important coaching inn, it now caters primarily for tourists. It is the third-highest public house in England. The highest is the Tan Hill Inn in North Yorkshire; the second-highest is the Cat and Fiddle Inn in the Peak District.
As well as lead and copper mining, quite a large undertaking of slate mining has been taking place over the years. Pets Quarry, currently being worked by "Kirkstone Green Slate Company" is just before the highest point in the pass, from Ambleside. Caudale slate mine is a few miles further down, on the Ullswater side, and was last worked at the beginning of the 20th century. All adits to the mine are now blocked. Nearby is the Hartsop Hall Lead Mine.
The name of the pass is derived from a nearby stone, the Kirkstone, which stands a few yards from the roadside of the A592 leading to Patterdale, several yards from the inn. The stone is so named as its silhouette resembles a church steeple, 'kirk' meaning church in old Norse, it is easily spotted coming both ways on the pass. Locally the road from Ambleside up to the Kirkstone Pass Inn is known as The Struggle.
Witch of the Westmorland by musician Archie Fisher includes the lines "weary by Ullswater, and the misty brake fern way, down through the cleft of the Kirkstone Pass, the winding water lay".
- Media related to Kirkstone Pass at Wikimedia Commons