Cycling the Coast-to-Coast C2C Route from Whitehaven to Sunderland
The C2C cycle route runs from the English west coast in Cumbria to the east coast at Tyne & Wear (see detailed map below). Having cycled the 8-day 'Wheelwright' mountain bike coast to coast route a couple of times before, the C2C seemed like a great way to cover similar ground in just 3 days. There's a few variations to the C2C route and we chose the Whitehaven to Sunderland option as a rough approximation to the traditional St Bees Head to Robin Hoods Bay walk.
With about 15% optional off-road, the C2C is really a hybrid route, but we took proper mountain bikes to fully enjoy the more technical sections.
Day 1 - Whitehaven to Penrith
After a comfortably late morning start from Whitehaven, we passed the very picturesque Loweswater and numerous pretty villages and were working on the first serious climb of the route at Whinlatter Forest within a couple of hours. The reward of a post-ascent ice cream at the Whinlatter visitor centre was well received before a quick forest-road drop down to Portinscale then Keswick.
Keswick Cricket Club provided entertainment over lunch in the park, then we climbed to the stone circle at Castlerigg and continued to the start of The Old Coach Road, a steep, rocky and loose track that skirts around the hillside south of Threlkeld. Our rapid progress earlier in the day slowed as this challenging section took nearly two hours to cover little more than 5 miles. There's the less scenic but rather faster alternative of sticking to the A66 for those who are feeling less energetic.
The first day finished with quiet roads from Matterdale End to Penrith, clocking up a grand total of 60 miles. Not bad considering the off-road sections.
Day 2 - Penrith to Allenheads
Day Two covered less mileage, but aching legs and numerous hills meant it was just as challenging. The Bank Holiday Weekend hoards were out on their touring bikes, so we were glad of the peace and quiet on the optional mountain bike only sections as we tackled the tricky climb from Langwathby up Hartside. Tea and cake at the village hall at Garrigill fuelled us up for more climbing, a fun and fast off-road descent to Nenthead, then more uphill to the highest point of the C2C route at Black Hill.
Fatigue was starting to set in when we arrived at our destination of Allenheads, so it was with great dismay that two of the group discovered that their B&B was actually booked for Nenthead and they had over-shot by 8 miles. Dark clouds were filling the sky and a strong wind starting by the time they made it back for a well deserved pint at the Nenthead Miller's Arms. Anna and I weren't much better off with our off-route accommodation in Cowshill where the landlady had announced to me on the phone that afternoon that we had to be at the B&B before 6.30pm when she was going out, thereby scuppering our dinner plans and meaning we survived off banana between 2 for dinner. (Low Cornriggs Farm B&B, this means you!)
Day 3 - Allenheads to Sunderland
Stomachs filled once more with a hearty fry-up, we knew Day Three was the easiest, with just a couple of big climbs before a long descent towards the sea. The single track off-road section on the approach to Waskerley was great fun and the final bit of proper mountain biking as we reached the cycle path down to Consett town centre. It's a harsh welcome back to the urban environment but a couple of miles of housing estates and roundabouts later, the route shifts to old railway embankments for much of the way to Sunderland (or there's an alternative route through Newcastle to Tynemouth). The final stretch follows the river through Sunderland to the North Sea coast and the C2C Finish after 135 miles.
A very English celebration was in order and we knocked back halves of bitter in the cloud and wind outside the Harbour View pub before heading back to Sunderland station to begin our journeys home. The C2C had been a fun challenge and fit nicely into a long weekend. Much recommended!
I ran a GPS Tracker app on my phone (see instamapper.com) to record our route and uploaded the GPS trace to Google Maps -- see the embedded map below. A map isn't really necessary when cycling because the route is so well sign-posted, but is useful when planning accommodation.
Map of our C2C Route
View C2C Coast-to-Coast Cycle Route Map in a larger map