Coast to Coast Cycle

Recently I have been getting more and more excited about big bike rides, plans to go touring in Iceland this summer still keep me staring at the big 1:300,000 map on the wall tracing the gravel roads over the interior. However the impending purchase of a house and ensuing festival of DIY required to make it habitable is likely to dent both finances and time, so thus to more modest attractions.

The idea to cycle the coast to coast pretty much came out of nowhere; well thats not quite true, it came out a book, as it’s probably the most popular multy day ride in the UK. Anyway it was about February this year; over a post ride cup of tea and plenty of cake the idea was mooted, discussed, and rapidly agreed too. 


I  was joined by my friend and old chemistry laboratory colleague Lisa and her partner JC; we would be  crossing between Whitehaven and Tynemouth, perching somewhere between the challenging and the relaxing by planning to take three days over it. Apparently the crossing has been done in a day but really whats the point of physically breaking yourself? The joy of covering distance on a bike is that you can take in the landscape and atmosphere in much more detail than flashing through it in a car;  powering allong head down on a bike does very little for me.

Day 1

After all sorts of crazy transport shenanigans (by far the hardest part of the trip) we found ourselves at the start line. From the harbour in Whitehaven you pretty soon get onto the old railway lines which wind there way gently uphill towards Egremont, Cletor Moor and the Lake District. The start was “entertaining” in a Russian Roulette kind of way, as the trail was librally decorated with dog mess which required cat like dexterity to avoid at speed.

The railway ends and leaves you on quite back roads winding through the Lakes; the  “official” C2C route does a remarkably good job of avoiding the traffic at all but the most obvious bottlenecks. There is a particularly nice section of riding along past Lowswater a part of the Lakes I’ve never visited with beautiful views across to Mellbreak towering out the valley like the upturned keel of a boat.


The only real big climb on day is up the Whinlatter Pass which is reasonably steep but mercifully quite short, fortunately there is a mountain biking trail centre at the top of the pass, this has a cafe and the cafe has cake; both Lisa and I are big fans of cake. From Whinlatter I manage to set off the wrong way only realising half a mile later that no one has followed me! Looking a bit sheepish I head off the right way for a fast decent down to Braithwaite and on into Keswick.

Out of Keswick the trail follows another old railway, one with today would be really useful to have been left in place. The surface is quite muddy, stony and loose, and I’m glad I upgraded to 28mm marathon tyres giving me some extra grip. After a short section beside the A66 we set of on a massive meander round the eastern edge of Blencathra which appears to go on forever and has me worried for a few minutes until a small blue sign marking the route tells us all is well. With tiring legs and under a spitting sky wheels roll into Greystoke and tonights bed, a rather nice bunkhouse in the grounds of Greystoke Castle, the wet room is particularly awesome.

Day 2

Leaving Greystoke the morning is cold and clear with small wisps of cirrus cloud decorating the blue sky; today is the big one, hills, lots of hills are on the menu along with a big chunk of distance. The first stretch of the ride towards Penrith is pretty gentle and level, allowing the blood to get moving without too much of a shock to the system, like a boxer toying with their opponent before clubbing them with a left hook.

Out of Penrith we leave the Lakes behind and head out into the Pennines, and start the first of many climbs. Just out of Langwathby JC spotted a stone circle on the map which we make a short detour to see. The circle sits on a gentle rise overlooking the hills of the Lakes to the west Blencathra and Skiddaw standing prominently on the horizon; and to the east the high fells of the Pennines dominated by the bulk of Cross Fell. Much of today will follow a great sweeping arc round this a peak which dominates the northern pennines.


Standing Stone with Blencathra Beyond

It’s hard to read the story of these standing stones, so out of context in the modern world; the feeling that they were set here three or four thousand years ago by people long gone. What was the landscape like like in those days; endless forest stretching up to the empty moor? These stones were old when the Romans marched through on their road north, standing their lonely vigil for some ancient tribe; Vikings, Normans, Scots, Cavaliers and Roundheads all came and went their fortunes rising and falling with time and the battles that raged over this border country. After a few minutes letting my mind run away with itself and wishing for a time machine we jump back on the bikes and the long road ahead.

Our route has been climbing steadily but now really begins to pull, I can see the road winding back and forth up the hillside. This is the biggest climb of the day, and done on reasonably strong legs it’s not to bad; Lisa is powering ahead sustained by the thought of the cafe at the summit. Towards the top things ease as the angle eases off and I can actually move the bike out the big cog and begin to pick up a bit of speed. The cafe sits on the brow of the hill offering fine views back down the way we have come, it’s packed with bikes and more importantly cake as it’s lunchtime.


After the Big One

After lunch a high speed downhill results in separation navigational chaos, and missed turnings that leaves our merry (not so much after this) band strung out over random hillsides and at the mercy of modern telecommunications till reunited about thirty minutes later in Garrigill. 

To rework the earlier analogy the climb out of Garrigill was the left hook; short, shape, but brutally steep this was the closest I came to pushing on the entire ride. The road was so steep and I was moving so slow the only way to make progress without falling off was to weave wildly from one side of the road to the other in a massive zig zag before collapsing in a big heap on the summit. The route down the other side is if anything even steeper with some deceptively shape corners just waiting for the overconfident rider.


Arriving at the high point of the C2C



Welcome to the north, its just better…

The last climb of the day out of Allenheads is a real battle of attrition after about six hours in the saddle; it’s probably not the steepest thing we’ve been up but on tired legs if feels really tough. I knew it was coming but turning the corner and seeing the road climb away out of sight delivers a subliminal kick to the body and drains the mental reserves of enthusiasm. I bully my legs into shifting into power mode; they respond but it’s only a vainer, the power quickly drains away lost to fatigue and tiredness. Despite this they just about manage to deliver the goods and finally we are stood beside a giant cairn which marks the summit, no more hills today just 5km of glorious downhill on sweet smooth tarmac to a cup of tea and a warm shower.

Speed, air, and wind; legs liberated by the joyous force of gravity drive the bike down the hillside past the gaunt ruins of old lead mines. The road a black ribbon laid through the yellow and brown moor disappears behind as the bike sweeps into corners and powers out the far side. As we pull up outside the bunkhouse Lisa shows me the reading on the cycle computer;  exactly 100.0 miles from yesterdays start, a neat symmetry to the ride that makes us all smile.

Day 3

Day three began with more of the same, a couple of big climbs straight out the door; these hurt and rapidly sapped whatever energy had seeped back into the muscles overnight. The first is an up and over into the village of Stanhope where a seemingly impossibly steep road climbs back out onto the bleak moor.

During this final climb the wind turns against us and Lisa and I take it in turns to take the lead position offering the other a slight shelter against the headwind. Driven by the delicious rumour that a cafe exist somewhere at the summit we plod slowly on in search of the mythical tea and cake. The cafe materialises converted out of an old railway station, bikes piled in serried ranks against its walls as cyclists crown inside for warmth 


“Were is the cafe?”

From this station in the middle of a moor an old railway line ran down to the town of Consett and it’s steel mill presumably carrying the ores grafted from the mines that littered these hills. Both mill and railway no longer exist but the route of the old line offers a beautifully graded long decent down back to green field and trees. 

Entering Consett we cross through the site of the old steel works, nothing remains but a giant metal cauldron mounted on rails that once fed the mighty blast furnaces. We grab lunch but with no way to lock our bikes it’s spent out in the cold and for the first time during the ride the proper rain.


From Consett we follow another disused railway right into the heart of Newcastle, the track is muddy in places but passes over some spectacular viaducts giving views down into steep sided wooded valleys.

I must say I did not really enjoy the section through Newcastle and along the north bank of the Tyne. The cycle track runs past a procession of industrial decay, wast ground and demolished factories mere shadows of the cities grand industrial past. Dog excrement, and broken glass litter the roadway interspersed with tarmac melted from the heat of burned out cars; the contrast from Thursday and Friday could not be more stark.

Things improve as you enter the old town of Tynmouth the estuary opened out into a grand vistas and we cycle along the sea wall till the tyne spills into the north sea and our journey is at an end.