Wainwright’s “Coast to Coast” walk has long been a classic, and it was perhaps inevitable that cyclists would also look at interesting ways of crossing beautiful, scenic northern England. The original cycling route was thus developed by ‘Sustrans’ - a charitable organization aiming at the development of sustainable transport networks in the U.K. They took minor roads and rideable ‘off road’ bridleways that could be used to thread together small towns and country areas across Cumbria, the Pennines, through the River Wear watershed and onto the more urban parts of the North East. The route so created is called the “C2C,” literally “Sea to Sea,” to differentiate it from the “Coast to Coast” walk which covers an altogether different route and embraces different scenery.
The original ‘C2C’ stretches from the lighthouse at Whitehaven on the Irish Sea to the lighthouse at Sunderland on the shores of the North Sea. At Sherpa we have tried to compliment the original route, with what is arguably a better start; crossing the Lake District from South to North on what is another cycle route: “The Cumbrian Cycle Way Route” from the small Lakeland town of Ulverston. Both rides intersect in Keswick and you then roll along the “C2C” towards Sunderland. This hybrid route is 144 miles long. It is a great way to see northern England and how the landscape changes sometimes abruptly, sometimes more gently as you cycle along. There is so much to see, the Lakes and fells, the bleak Pennines, beautiful Dales and towns and villages of all sizes. Along the way you should find plenty of time to visit teashops, pubs and interesting sites and little museums such as the Laurel and Hardy Museum in Ulverston and Dove cottage in Grasmere. The Keswick pencil museum, the Neolithic Castlerigg Stone Circle, the Rookhope lead mine, and the excellent open air museum at Beamish near Durham.
Moderate. Some long steep hills especially across the Pennines. Some “off road” options along the C2C you may find to be steep, or muddy. Most cyclists of average ability should be able to complete the route easily especially as the cycling days do not exceed approx 36 miles, giving stronger cyclists the opportunity to explore around enroute. Minimum 13 miles – Max 36 miles approx.
Make your own way to Ulverston. This is a very pleasant coastal market town, with Market Cross, some nice old shops, the tiny Laurel and Hardy Museum and the Barrow memorial, which is certainly worth a leg stretch if you have time. You need to collect your bikes on the morning of day two.
Accommodation: Your first hotel is a friendly, family run hotel in the heart of this attractive market town, 5 mins walk from the railway station. This three crown rated hotel has a friendly atmosphere and always extend a warm welcome to their guests. All rooms have ensuite bathrooms and are equipped with T.V, and tea and coffee making facilities, direct dial telephone.
An attractive ride takes you past several beauty spots including Lake Coniston, the place of inspiration for “Swallows and Amazons” and for Donald Campbell, who tragically died here whilst trying to beak the World water speed record in 1967. The lake and valley are very beautiful; you’ll be riding along the quiet road on the eastern side of the Lake. You will have a panorama of Lakeland peaks in front of you including the Coniston Old Man (803m). Coniston is a good place for a lunch or a coffee break before heading off towards Grasmere. The route gets quite hilly, and you could take a short diversion to visit the village of Hawkshead on Esthwaite Water. The hilly route towards Grasmere takes you past Skelwith Force, quite an impressive waterfall, before rolling around Grasmere Lake to the town. This is quite a busy place especially in summer and one of the main attractions for the literary minded is Dove Cottage, which was the home of the Wordsworths.
Accommodation: Our small family run guesthouse is conveniently placed in the centre of this delightful village.
Today the route takes you around Thirlmere, once again on quiet roads, but later there are some busier sections heading into Keswick. Today you hopefully will get good views of Helvellyn 950m from across the lake. Thirlmere is certainly a beauty spot and it is a great place to view birdlife, especially wild fowl, while you are picnicking in shady woods nearby. Thirlmere was amalgamated from two lakes into a reservoir in 1889 and is three miles long and over 150 feet deep in places. Swimming in it is not allowed because they say it is too cold! Keswick is a town that nestles beneath giant Skiddaw by the shores of Derwentwater.
Accommodation: Stay at a 4 star guesthouse set right on the old market square close to all the towns amenities.
This stage of the route in the Vale of Eden is an easy ride of ever changing scenery. You will follow minor roads, out of the centre of Keswick with the road climbing steeply past the Castlerigg Stone Circle and then passes through the village of Threlkeld. You will need to go down some steps and cross the A66 to continue on your way to Troutbeck, where you will cross the A66 once more. Continue through Greystoke and the market town of Penrith, after crossing the River Eden you will reach Langwathby. There is an alternative route along the Old Coach Road, which leaves the main route at Castlerigg Stone Circle and follows a steep rough track over Threlkeld Common to Matterdale End. This alternative rejoins the main route at Greystoke.
Accommodation: Near Langwathby - Stay at an independently run hotel in the idyllic village of Edenhall. The hotel has 25 en-suite bedrooms, a fine dining restaurant, recently awarded a rosette by the AA, a bar serving hearty meals and a comfortable residents' lounge and conservatory. Edenhall is located within the forest of Inglewood in Cumbria, The hotel stands on over an acre of well tendered garden - the perfect place for an afternoon drink.
The most mountainous section of the entire route, this stage contains four major hills within twenty miles. Climb steeply out of Langwathby to reach the Little Meg Stone Circle, continue on minor roads and then onto a stoney track, join the A686, a tarmac road and follow it to the first and the steepest hill Hartside, which is also the watershed between the Irish and North seas. After Hartside, continue through the villages of Leadgate and Garrigill. From the centre of Garrigill continue along the south side of the River South Tyne, before crossing it by a ford. A steep uphill track will take you to Priorsdale, from where the route descends steeply through old lead mines to Nenthead. After Nenthead you reach Black Hill, the highest point on the C2C, you then descend into the valley of the River East Allen and the village of Allenheads. From here there is a steady climb out of Allenheads until you reach the summit of the hill at Currick. This is followed by a long descent into the Rookhope valley. Scars (or hushes) from centuries of lead mining are evident in the valley and at last your legs will be able to take a break from their labours!
Accommodation: You stay at an old English pub or the old vicarage in the village.
Marking the end of the rough, hilly terrain of the Northern Pennines, this stage marks the start of the industrial landscape of the North East. The route leaves the road in Rookhope village and climbs steeply up the old railway incline, from here the route follows rough tracks and paths until it reaches Waskerley (this section of the route will be closed occasionally during the shooting season, when alternative roads must be used). Follow the Waskerley Way, a reclaimed railway path. You will cross the Hownsgill viaduct, and then continue on the Consett and Sunderland Railway Path, passing through Consett, Leadgate, and Annfield Plain, continuing to Chester le Street you will pass several sculptures on the way.
Accommodation: Near Chester le Street - A very popular, refurbished 14 bedroom family run hotel with one of the best restaurants in the area. Close to local amenities with a large car park and friendly staff.
This stage is perhaps the easiest on the C2C, with the exception of one small climb at Cox Green it is all downhill or flat, allowing plenty of time to enjoy the changing scenery, from the rolling hills of Beamish to the industry of Sunderland. From Stanley continue along the Consett and Sunderland Railway Path, past Beamish, Pelton and Washington. Along the route there are access points at most road crossings allowing the towns to be visited, to explore and use facilities. There are several sculptures, part of a sculpture trail stretching from Consett to Chester le Street. We would thoroughly recommend a diversion to the beautiful city of Durham, with its imposing cathedral and castle encrusted high upon a peninsular over the River Wear. From Washington continue through James Steel Park and cross the River Wear, there is then a steep climb on the way to Pallon. In the final section you will follow the path alongside the River Wear, past the marina to reach the North Sea at Roker.
Accommodation: You will stay at one of several possible guesthouses or hotels near to the seafront.
Trip concludes Sunderland after breakfast.
We like the Sherpa structure offering luggage transport and also flexibility in planning the itinerary. We look forward to taking another trip with Sherpa sometime in the future, hopefully next year.
A. Horner, Kerry, Ireland, 14 Jun 2016
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