The ‘C2C’ stretches from the harbour at Whitehaven on the Irish Sea to the Abbey and castle at Tynemouth on the shores of the North Sea. The original route ended in Sunderland, but the alternative Tynemouth ending is somewhat more satisfying. The ride is 142 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 Cumbrian 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 tea shops, pubs and interesting historical and industrial sites. There are some quite big hills as well, but nothing that could be classed as Alpine! the weather of course can do anything, but you will generally be pedaling with the wind at your back.
The original cycling route was developed by ‘Sustrans’, a charitable organization aiming at the development of sustainable transport networks in the UK. They took minor roads and ride-able ‘off road’ bridleways that could be used to thread together small towns and country areas across Cumbria, the Pennines, through the Tyne and 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.
Moderate to challenging. Some long steep hills especially across the Pennines. Most cyclists of average ability should be able to complete the route especially as the cycling days do not exceed approx 75 km/46.5 miles, presenting a bit of a challenge for some but giving stronger cyclists the opportunity to explore enroute. What can make the tour harder is the incidence of poor weather. Minimum distance cycled is 36 km /22.5 miles & maximum distance is 75 km/46.5 miles.
Make your own way to Whitehaven. This is a pleasant blustery Georgian seaside town, with an attractive harbour and remains of pit wheels and shafts from its mining past. The town was designed in a grid-like fashion a way that was soon to be adopted across North America. It also has the carnet of being the only place in the UK that has been attacked by the USA (1778)! There is an interesting harbourside museum and you can visit the church where George Washington's grandmother is buried. If you are hiring bikes, you need to collect them on the morning of day two (except Sunday).
Accommodation: An attractive guesthouse on the outskirts of the town, about 10 minutes’ walk from the bike hire shop and 15 minutes from the seafront. There is safe bike storage if you are bringing your own bike.
If hiring bikes from Whitehaven, collect from the hire shop. Having dipped your wheel in the sea, the ride rolls out gently for the first few miles along the former Ennerdale Railway Line. Leaving this, you approach the Lake District with views over Ennerdale Water and then you pedal around Loweswater. The big hill of the day is up over Whinlatter Pass (318m), shortly after the top there are views over Keswick and to the peak of Skiddaw. It is then a fast and undulating descent and ride into one of the most popular towns in Cumbria: Keswick. Literally, an old cheese town, with a market charter going back to the 1200s. From those days the town grew wealthy from local mining, from the popularity of Lakeland poets and writers and finally from the coming of the railways and the growth of popular tourism in the Lakes. There are plentiful shops, pubs and restaurants. Keswick is a town that nestles beneath giant Skiddaw by the shores of Derwentwater.
Accommodation: We use several attractive Victorian guesthouses about town, generally in quiet locations, but within walking distance to the centre.
The hardest but perhaps most picturesque day. A steep climb out of Keswick takes you to the famous ancient stone circle, which bestrides a hillside reflecting the contours of the mountains around it. Descending to cross the River Greta, you wheel through pretty Threlkeld village before a quiet road takes you on a loop round the hamlet of Mungrisdale, which at intervals offers beautiful views of the northern Lake District. Next is a long traverse of the Vale of Eden starting with a visit to the 'Green Village' of Greystoke and then on to historic Penrith. The afternoon is punctuated by a number of steep climbs culminating in the longest ascent of the trip up to Hartside Summit 1903 ft / 580 metres, which is also the watershed between the Irish and North seas. Here you enter the Pennines, great viewpoint from the summit over the Vale of Eden and there is a convenient cafe stop, before a fast ride down into the traditional market town of Alston.
Accommodation: Small hotel in Alston, comfortable rooms with dedicated pub restaurant. Small B&Bs may also be used in the town.
Ascend out of Alston and into the region of old lead mines through the village of Nenthead. There is a steep climb out of the village and you reach Black Hill, the highest point on the C2C, leaving Cumbria for Northumbria. You then descend into the valley of the River East Allen and through the village of Allenheads with its heritage centre and coffee shop. There are also interesting Victorian pumps, especially the Armstrong steam pump that was used for clearing water out the lead mines in the area. From here, there is a steady climb out of Allenheads until you reach the summit of the hill at Currick, entering County Durham and riding with the sound of the Curlew. This is followed by a long descent into the Rookhope Valley. Scars (or hushes) from centuries of lead mining are evident in the valley. Another climb takes you along the ridge of a hill before descending into the small pretty town of Stanhope, which has a fossilized tree stump in its churchyard, and a range of attractive local shops.
Accommodation: stay in a friendly B&B right in the centre of town, alternatively you may need to cycle a further hilly 5 km to Parkhead where the old station makes a remote, attractive overnight stop. This will of course make tomorrow's ride a bit easier.
The Ride up out of Stanhope is the steepest, but not the longest ascent of the C2C, it parallels where once train engines were steam hauled up the incline. At the top you could have a quick coffee at Parkhead Station before making your way for a good 12 miles generally flat or downhill along the Waskerley Way, a reclaimed railway path. You will cross the Hownsgill Viaduct, and then continue on bypassing Consett and joining another ex-railway cycle path along the Derwent Valley with some beautiful views over the Durham countryside. The route crosses the River Tyne and turns towards Newcastle, soon passing under its different bridges including the famous Tyne Bridge which was built by the same company who built the Sydney Harbour Bridge. The Tyne is now wide looking across to Gateshead and by the Millennium Bridge is a great dedicated bicycle cafe. The ride progresses out of the suburbs, passing Wallsend, where Hadrian’s Wall ends, or begins! The final run and you pass docklands and new marinas to reach the bay near Tynemouth. You can dip your wheel in the sea here, because where you finish at the castle and Abbey is high above the water! There is a pub right at the end where you leave your hire bikes and celebrate your completion of the famous C2C.
Accommodation: Two attractive guesthouses are used in the centre of Tynemouth, close to the Metro system and other amenities in the town.
Depart from Tynemouth, convenient Metro train to Newcastle Central Station to join national rail network.
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
Per Person, Twin Share