Discipline: Road Cycling
Area: Northern England – Lake District National Park, North Pennines AONB
Distance: 202km & 2690m ascent
Duration: Commonly a one-dayer or a nice cruise over 2-3 days. Paul’s time: 8 hours.
Time of year: Best to do it in summer with longer daylight hours, but keep in mind the heat when doing so.
Guidebook recommendations: C2C guide website
Logistical recommendations: See below section
The short read (summary)
A hastily planned Coast to Coast cycle from Whitehaven to (Sunderland) Tynemouth.
South-Westerly prevailing winds - perfect. Glorious all-day sunshine - even better. But there were a few bumps in the road...
Paul was surprised by an unexpected hill – and even more surprised by a Vauxhall Astra – but relieved to empirically discover his jaw is denser than a car.
Stunning views of some of the most beautiful places in North England - the Lake District, the Pennines and both coastlines. One of the best one or two-day rides you can do in the UK, not least for the sense of achievement you feel knowing you have literally cycled across the country.
While this blog is usually all about sharing the best of #RoamHome and #RoamGlobal, sometimes you just can’t ignore what’s on your own doorstop. It was only after moving home after a long spell in New Zealand that I realised how much Brits take for granted – so many people have never experienced the Highlands or Yorkshire Dales, let alone thought about tackling the less insta-famous Cadair Idris or Illfracombe.
I’d been talking a good game about the wonders of UK cycling, but my conscience was onto me:
“If you are such a passionate advocate for the UK must-dos,” the little voice nagged, “Why are there so many of the most popular cycling challenges you haven’t done?”
Good point, conscience. Well, there’s a catch: if I see a lot of people doing something, and especially if I see them doing it comfortably, I’m not interested. I can’t stand being herded to “view-points” with the sheep. How many photos of Pen-y-fan do there need to be? Despite these reservations, I took the point that my conscience – let’s call him ‘Brian’ – was trying to make.
“Brian, you’re right. I’m free this Saturday, what’s an exciting two-wheel one-day classic?”
Brian had a response ready.
“You like the coast. You like hills. Why not cycle from the coast, through some hills, to the other coast?”
“By Jove! Brian, that’s a wonderful idea!”
So, what’s the classic C2C route? Lucky for me (and 15,000 other cyclists each year) there are some very informative websites with the different routes, not least the C2C Guide.
The first challenge was identifying a route that was solely on road. Time was not on my side, so I resorted to the trustiness of Strava routes - switched on the global heat map and traced a relatively similar check-point route from Whitehaven (the recognised West coast start of C2C) to Sunderland (a finish line on the east coast).
One of the major adjustments I made to the main C2C route was avoiding the Waskerley Way as it is a gravel track. I fancied doing this on Alice (Fuji Transonic Two.3), so planned to go slightly north along Healeyfield Lane instead. I recently took an accidental detour with Alice on 10km of single-track mountain bike paths in Haut Languedoc, after being trapped from going back on myself due to following some suspect-looking farmers in gas suits. Having learned my lesson, I Google-imaged the parts of the C2C route I was dubious about. Thanks to those French farmers, Alice has proven to be less delicate than I thought, but nonetheless why drop a vase a second time just to check?
I ended up with 203km with 2,610m ascent.
“At 26km/h you could do that in 8 hours!” Brian challenges me.
Brian knows that’s pushing it. Brian doesn’t care.
Getting to Whitehaven and back from Tynemouth
So, direction sorted. Route sorted. Next step, how do I get to Whitehaven? I ruled out a £148 ticket from Cheltenham Spa to Whitehaven on the train (no thanks, National Rail), and planned to drive to Whitehaven on Friday night instead.
I’d need to get back to Whitehaven afterwards as well. Train timetables (and prices) meant this was not an option from Sunderland, so I readjusted to finish in Tynemouth, cycling back to Newcastle from there to get the train back to Whitehaven for £20. This all seemed relatively straight forward, even with having to circumnavigate getting fisted by National Rail.
You can’t get your bike on the metro from Tynemouth to Newcastle, so prepare for an extra 10 miles of cycling once you’ve finished your C2C ride.
Booking.com to the fore, Croft Hill Guest House was fantastic. Decent bed, arriving early enough to have a decent sleep – I woke up early and raring to go. Host Andrew had some great local knowledge, not least where to park.
Park for free at the unmarked road behind Tesco and the train station.
I’ll be doing a separate post with my kit-list and how it differs from longer bike-packing rides.
With a 4.30am start, I drove down to the free car park next to the train tracks and was underway by 6am. The first couple of hours flew by on the A66 with very little traffic, little ascent and an ideal south-westerly breeze. The temperature was perfect at this point and it enforced my view that cycling before 9am in the heat of summer is always the time to do it. The views heading through Cockermouth, Keswick and onto Penrith are stunning. No matter how much time I spend in the Lake District, I always want to come back.
Stop one was at about 80km prior to tackling Hartside hill. My friend Ed (of British Adventure Collective co-founder fame) and his less grizzly friend, Leo, met me with water to refill my bottles and an announcement that he was going to drive to the top of Hartside to take some photos of a Welshman melting in the Pennines.
A note on stops when cycling: I kept them to less than a couple of minutes except for two. One to have a chat with Ed and one other (the Vauxhall Astra surprise), even when buying snacks from petrol stations. We learnt valuable lessons in time-disappearing when doing the ITERA Adventure Race World Series race a few years ago. You can do a lot in a stop of only a couple of minutes - buying the snacks and putting them in your back pockets to eat whilst riding as opposed to eating during the stop. There is very little more you can achieve from stopping for thirty minutes that you can’t from three.
Hartside is a well-known alpine-esque climb that I was expecting to be a bit sharper than it turned out to be. You rise 400m over 8km with an average gradient of 5% (no sections steeper than 8%). The road surface is smooth and you can settle into your seat and grind it out without too much chatter from your thighs. The views once you reach the summit (583m) of the winding road are special and I recommend the climb to anyone looking to get some mid-level gradual ascent in their weekend escapes. Another fill of the water bottles from Ed and Leo and I was onto the 10km of descent, up another 300m from Alston to Nenthead (the second of the decent climbs).
I knocked together the route in a bit of a hurry, but the two big peaks to do at 95km (Hartside) and 110kms (Nenthead) were lodged in my mind. After 20km of particularly fun descent from Nenthead (clocking a top speed of 80km/h), I was ticking over the 136km mark and began to climb what I thought was a brief incline out of Stanhope village. I couldn’t have been more wrong – this was actually 3km and a 200m+ ascent. Although that’s usually not much to write home about, this 200m of climbing battered me. I was out of water, drained from the heat and my mind had been set on a cruise into Consett, with the last of my cognitive power reserved to make sure I didn’t make the mistake of taking Alice on the Waskerly Way gravel road.
Thankfully, at the summit of Crawleyside Bank (the name of the climb - I feel the word ‘bank’ doesn’t do this justice) I experienced my first kindness-of-strangers moment. A wonderful lady saw me taking a breather outside her house whilst she was watering her garden and offered to fill up my water bottles for me. She also informed me it was mostly downhill for the 11 miles to Consett. That was a big boost as I was thinking “Balls! Have I totally forgotten what the topography of the remaining 50/60km is! What other hills have I got coming up?”
There is nothing better for a morale boost than an ice-cold bottle of full-sugar Coke. So, as I arrived into Consett I kept a keen eye out for somewhere selling my own personal brand of liquid crack. I noticed I was blinking a lot at this point, not due to the usual sweat pouring down my forehead, but because I was battling with some fatigue-induced blurry vision. Unfortunately, this happened to coincide with a bit of a wobble and a spontaneous appearance from a Vauxhall Astra. What was more surprising than the dent my chin made in the car and the blood coverage on the windscreen, was that within seven minutes (I know this from my TomTom) I had been patched up and was peddling again.
Emily, mother of four boys under eight, had seen what had happened from her house and came outside wielding a pretty comprehensive first aid kit. I thanked her for her speedy patch-up skills and left a note on the car, although Emily was pretty sure the car hadn’t moved in about 12 months, despite my suggestion that minutes earlier I had seen it spring out of thin air into my face. She also pointed me in the direction of a petrol station where she assured me there would be some of the aforementioned liquid opium. A bit of a longer stop here to inhale some cereal bars (awash with Coke-aine) whilst taking stock of the apparating vehicles going unreported by the British media in County Durham.
By this point, my phone was not enjoying the heat, nor its encounter with the Astra and so decided to black screen. This meant I no longer had my route available to me. I knew I had to get to the Tyne. The Tyne led to the North Sea. How difficult could that be? Turns out, quite difficult.
The A694 to Swalwell was fine. However, it came as somewhat of a surprise to me to find out that Swalwell is, in fact, an entrance to Narnia. Once I navigated my way out of the wardrobe, I managed to find Hadrians Way (N72 National Cycle Route). I’m all for cycle paths and the fantastic intentions of SUSTRANS, but this one is not well-maintained. The final 20km of my coast-to-coast was not fun. The path is littered with potholes, branches and broken glass. The occasional smile and wave from cyclists coming in the other direction is always nice, but they seemed to have the same look on their faces of “maybe we should have just gone on the road?”.
Nonetheless, I arrived in to Tynemouth just before 2pm to some stunning views of Tynmouth Priory overlooking Short Sands beach. There was even a perfectly picturesque sailing race.
All in all, a terrific day. I was lucky with the weather, the people and the lack of traffic on the majority of roads. The coast-to-coast is an absolute must for any keen cyclist looking to do a one or two day tour.
Parting Deja Vu
Before getting the train back to Whitehaven I called into a Boots at the station. I know the employees aren’t allowed to actually do anything, but I needed to know what my cut looked like. After the young girl at the front of the queue audibly gagged when I lifted my face up and took off the plasters, another woman named Emily, who also happened to have two young boys and was therefore also used to patching up injuries, offered to help. That de ja vu of pragmatic and friendly Emilys was slightly disconcerting – but as I’m writing this blog the day after the ride, you can be the judge of whether this smacks of concussion.
Either way, Emilys are particularly great. As further proof, take a look at what our Emily is currently doing - Project 282 - all the Munros!