Coast to Coast Cycling Routes in Northern England

Since the opening of the “Way of the Roses” cycle route (Sep 2010), there are apparently now seven official Coast to Coast cycle routes in the North of England, although I am only aware of six myself. Some of these, like the original C2C route are very well known, others like the Walney to Wear Route less so, and still others are often overlooked as being part of the northern Coast to Coast set of long-distance cycle routes – such as the Trans Pennine Trail. Some of these routes – such as the original C2C and Walney to Wear (W2W) routes have more than one version, and it can be difficult working out how many routes these options add up to!

The forefather of all such routes of course was Alfred Wainwright – who devised the original 190 mile walking route from St Bees to Robin Hood’s Bay; his take on the Coast to Coast walking route that he came up with was that it was just one way to get across from west coast to east coast of England, and other walkers should be encouraged to find their own alternative coast to coast routes, rather than making this one the be-all and end-all. Which is why you don’t find it marked on the OS maps.

Would he have appreciated the rise in alternative cycling coast-to-coast routes? I don’t know what he’d make of cycling these days, but I rather hope that he would have appreciated the sheer number of alternatives now in existence. The original C2C cycle route is still the most popular, apparently drawing in a staggering 12,000-15,000 cyclists a year according to the C2C guidebook website, mostly during the summer months, but this is far from the only route available to those wanting a long distance cycle route that goes from one side of England to the other.

C2C Route 01 – the Original C2C (Whitehaven to Tynemouth, 150 miles) and Workington to Sunderland variant

Starting at Whitehaven in Cumbria, this route uses former railway lines to start with before showing it’s true colours as a hill challenge of a route. There are tough alternative off-road sections – and most cyclists on the route tend not to take these – but if you’re only going to do one, then the section from Rookhope to Parkend Station is the one to do. Although off-road, the surface and gradient is much easier than any other off-road section, and never gets too rough. (The roughest section nearest Parkend is avoidable by sneaking back onto a road if heavy rain has made it rather muddier and less passable than the dry conditions of 2010 produced.)

The variant on this route starts in Workington and ends up a little further south in Sunderland. Most cyclists on the route seem to do the Whitehaven to Tynemouth version, Dutch cyclists in particular choose the main route for its convenience for the ferry home in Newcastle, others choose the main route as being better for creating a circular route back via either the Hadrians Wall route or the Reivers Route. However neither of the “return routes” are anywhere near as popular as the original C2C route.

Route 02 – Reivers (Return) Route (Tynemouth to Whitehaven, 170 miles)

This route is one of the two routes which are more frequently ridden from east to west. Most C2C routes tend to be ridden from west to east to take advantage of both prevailing south-westerly winds and also the topography – the hills tend to be short and sharp riding from west to east, with long gentler downhills. The reason both this and Hadrians Wall route are ridden just as frequently from east to west is that makes a very convenient return route for those having just completed the original C2C route and wishing to cycle back to Workington or Whitehaven (thereby avoiding the issues of having to take bikes on trains or pre-arrange car transport). Generally much easier hill-wise than the original route, the middle section through Keilder Forest can prove navigationally challenging (Note – Bloody Bush is not on the route, although it proved an interesting if unintended personal variant on the route!) and the route is generally not as well signed as the original route throughout.

Route 03 – Hadrians Wall Route (Tynemouth to Ravenglass , 170 miles)

This is the other main east-west route which is also often used as a return route to Whitehaven/Workington after completing the original C2C route. It is generally regarded as easier going than the Reivers Return and may be more suitable for families wishing to try their hands at a long-distance cycle route.

Route 04 – Walney to Wearmouth (150 miles) Variant – Walney to Whitby (170 miles)

These two routes both run a little more southerly than the three more popular routes above, but are roughly as challenging (perhaps a little more challenging in places) as the Original route. Given the way this route effectively splits into two very separate directions at Barnard Castle, it could even be regarded as two separate coast to coast routes. (Perhaps this is where the missing “official” route I’m not aware of is hiding!) Like many of the C2C routes, these are mostly on quiet roads/trails but some sections of the main route are rougher than found on other routes. One major bonus of this route is that it goes via the Highest Pub in England (Tan Hill Inn), so perhaps this should be the classic Coast to Coast Pub Cycle Route 🙂

Route 05 – Trans Pennine Trail – Southport to Hornsea (215 miles)

This much more southerly Coast to Coast route is often overlooked as being a Coast to Coast route in its own right, despite its great popularity with the masses of cyclists who use shorter sections of its main route and north-south spurs from Leeds/York to Chesterfield in day trips. This route is unusual for much of it being on purpose built cycle trails, often built on former railway lines and so makes for very easy conditions underwheel along the majority of its length. Within towns and cities such as Sheffield, routefinding is much harder as it then tends to run along a mishmash of backroads, quiet lanes, and tracks rather than wide easy-going trails that typify this route.

Route 06 – Way of the Roses, Morecambe to Bridlington (170 miles)

Brand new as of September 2010, this route buries an age-old hatchet between Lancashire and Yorkshire (famous for the Wars of the Roses) and links Morecambe in the west with Bridlington on the east. Like many of the other C2C routes it is best done from west to east to take advantage of prevailing south-westerly winds (which may turn north-easterly just to spite you – it’s not unknown!) and shorter steeper uphills with longer gentler downhills. The route has a few off-road sections, but other than a 1.5mile section which temporarily uses the challenging and rough Pennine Cycleway between Clapham and Austwick, while a road-side cyclepath is being built, none of the off-road should be really rough.

Alternatives and traditions

There are many long-distance cycling routes in the UK, the most famous is Lands End to John o Groats, but the concept of going from the west coast to the east coast seems to be one of the more popular itineries. Although records of sub 24hrs have been set on most of the routes, most people choose to take 3, 4 or more days to enjoy the coast to coast routes and wonderful scenery it passes through. And tradition has it that the route isn’t complete if you haven’t dipped your back wheel in the sea you leave and the front wheel in the sea you arrive – a tradition no doubt developed from the walkers tradition of dipping a boot in each sea on the original walker’s Coast to Coast route.

But if you fancy a circular alternative, have you tried the Tour de Peak District?