Guide to cycling the C2C
The C2C cycle route across northern England is claimed as one of the most popular in the UK, with an average of 12,000 to 15,000 cyclists completing the coast-to-coast trail each year. Many thousands of more riders, both road and mountain bikers, cycle shorter sections of the total 140-mile route that heads from Whitehaven on the English west coast to Tynemouth or Sunderland on the English east coast.
Perhaps you are wondering about the attraction of this route...
7 reasons to cycle the C2C
1) This part of England boasts one of the “narrowest” coast-to-coast options and many people like the goal of crossing a country, in this case from the Irish Sea to the North Sea.
2) The route also passes through two counties that are famed for their natural beauty, including Cumbria and Tyne and Wear, and England’s largest national park, The Lake District.
3) If you like a mixture of terrain and surfaces, from flat and smooth cycleways to steep and challenging road ascents, you’ll love the C2C. If you prefer easy going and flat, choose an alternative cycle tour.
4) It's fun – and traditional – to dip your back bike wheel into the Irish Sea at the start and then your front bike wheel into the North Sea at the end.
5) In addition, the C2C is well signposted and having recently cycled the route from Whitehaven to Tynemouth I was really impressed with how easy it was to find the route.
6) Another plus-point for the C2C route is its accessibility. Reaching this part of England is easy whether you are travelling north from London or south from Scotland.
7) The starting point for the Macs Adventure C2C cycle tour is Newcastle with a mainline train station and an airport.
The C2C bike options
The C2C can be cycled fully on-road or with some sections of off-road, as well as road. The route you choose will determine the bike that you ride. The off-road sections require a mountain bike. If you choose to go fully on-road, as I did with my friend Jo, the options are a hybrid bike with smooth tyres or a road racer.
You said there were road ascents. Does this mean lots of hills?
In short, yes! The C2C heads through picturesque and hilly Lake District landscape so you will need to ride up and down and up and down again, many times over. The total ascent is around 3000m and the highest elevation reached is 607m. There are several notable climbs, to Hartside Summit at 1903ft (580m), then to the highest point of the route at 1991ft (607m) as well as a steep climb from Stanhope on the Crawleyside ascent. But remember that for all the ascending there is also an equal amount of descending. The route goes from sea level to sea level so this evens out the ups and the downs.
Two, three, fours days or more?
There are some fit and hardy cyclists who ride the full 140-mile C2C in one day. For this, they will be hoping for a sunny summer’s day with lots of sunlight and a tailwind. It’s often said that cycling west to east offers a greater chance of the prevailing southern-westerlies behind you and if you’re going for the C2C in the one-day option you’ll need all the help you can get!
I recommend that you take at least two days (for fit cyclists) and better still three or four days. If you like to enjoy your cycling, stopping to take in the scenery, points of interest along the way, lunch and snacks, it’s better to give yourself more days. There are lots of options for overnight stops and with a Macs Adventure C2C cycle tour, your luggage is transferred for you each day so you don’t have to worry about carrying kit while you ride.
Cycling the C2C route on a road bike
The popular coast-to-coast England route follows mostly quiet country roads, cycleways, disused railways and occasional busier sections of road. Staying mostly on the tarmac means that you can enjoy the speed of smooth wheels and the chance to take in the spectacular scenery.
Whitehaven to Keswick (31 miles) Starting in the small seaside town of Whitehaven, the route is at first beautifully flat. This is because it follows an old railway line through Cleaton Moor and on past Rowrah. The surface is fine for road bicycles and we made good progress.
From here the route, which is brilliantly signposted, heads on to minor country roads that change from flat to undulating. There is little that is too testing, however, and the fabulous scenery – we cycled this amid stunning autumnal hues – more than reward. After Low Lorton and High Lorton, the first real challenge of the day greets you in the shape of Whinlatter Pass. It seems to go up and up forever, but you should content yourself with the gorgeous forestry views and the promise of some seriously fun downhill from the summit. Keswick is a popular Lake District tourist town boasting numerous cafes and a frequent warm welcome for cyclists in need of re-fuelling.
Keswick to Alston (44 miles) There are two routes out of Keswick. One is a cycle path on an old railway line but the surface is rutted and stony so not suitable for thoroughbred racing bikes. (It would be fine for a hybrid bike with fatter tyres.) The alternative requires a bit of a climb uphill and then more fairly challenging undulations.
The views are worth the climbs, although the descents never feel quite long enough to rest weary leg muscles. There is a glorious section of car-free country road after Threlkeld – the main road rumbles on down in the valley – that winds up and down with only sheep and a few gates to occasionally stop you in your tracks. A gated lane then takes you to Mungrisdale, where you should look up to the left to admire Blencathra, a mountain also known as Saddleback, and the stunning Helvellyn range to the right. At another popular Lake District town, Penrith, the C2C crosses the M6 and winds its way onwards with increasingly long ups. Our overnight stop was the village of Alston – and we still had a great deal of hill to cycle. The climb to Hartside Summit (1903ft, 580m) is legendary among cycling friends and after a day in the saddle, I worried if it would be more than my leg muscles would cope with. So I took the pressure off, slipped into my easiest gear and just turned the pedals in as relaxed a fashion as possible. This climb is just long rather than seriously steep and if you keep on pedalling you will make it. And the descent is truly awesome. There are proper hairpin bends, so you need to take your time at certain points, but the landscape whizzes by in the heart-lifting way that only road cyclists know about. Arriving into Alston and my stop for the night felt like a true pleasure.
Alston to Stanhope (22 miles) For those cycling the C2C over several days, this section might look like easier 20-or-so miles in the saddle. But don’t be fooled. From the outset, there are hills and lots of them (and some very long indeed). Cycling Hartside the day before I’d imagined the route could go no higher, but it does, to 607m (1991ft). Again, though, the route and the country roads are gorgeous. The landscape is more remote and often amid moorlands but the views are wonderful and expansive. From Alston, the route heads up and down and then up again and then down and then up, up and up. There are several significant climbs and many, many smaller climbs. I was thankful for leg muscles strengthened by a year of triathlon training but even so, I found the distance and hills tiring. (Hill training on your bike is to be advised before enjoying this C2C cycle tour.) The route heads through Garrigill and on to Allenheads before reaching Stanhope.
Stanhope to Tynemouth (43 miles) I’d been warned about the steep climb from Stanhope but with so many ups and downs I wasn’t concerned about one ascent. This hill is well-known, however. The Crawleyside is an easiest-gear-and-pedal-out-of-your-saddle cycling type of hill. I was grateful for a “granny” gear on my lightweight Planet X carbon fibre racer (you need all the practical help you can get!). After the initial steep section there is more uphill, and then move up and then more ascending before you finally reach some wonderfully flowing downhill. Again the scenery is often breath-taking and you can easily excuse yourself a few breathers stops just to take in the view.
After so many hills, you can imagine our joy when we came across an old railway line and a surface that was fine for a racer bike. With 25 miles left to reach the North Sea, I found a renewed spring in my pedalling. For the next 15 miles, there was little to do but find a fast-paced gear and pedal. To start with this traffic-free section is quite bumpy in places but it is manageable on slim-line road bike tyres and the closer we came to the North Sea the smoother the surface became, eventually turning to glorious tarmac. By this point, most cyclists are feeling pedal weary and the miles do seem to go on and on. This section of the route heads along the wide River Tyne with rural views replaced by industrial sights. I enjoyed the contrast of landscape. I am convinced that during the final 10 miles the signposts show incorrect mileages. They mile numbers seemed to jump from eight miles, to more, then to five miles, then to three miles and then back to five miles. I might be wrong but there did seem to be something a little odd with the sequence of signposts. By this point we were finishing off our lasts snack bars and dreaming of a hearty meal and a pint of ice-cold beer. Seeing – and smelling – the sea again and this time on the east coast felt amazing.
Book ahead for luggage and overnights on the C2C
Macs Adventure sorted all our accommodation, luggage and taxi transfers. It was a straightforward process booking into the allotted hotel in Newcastle. We were picked up by a taxi (with my bike) the next morning and driven to Tynemouth. On arrival at our Alston hotel, our luggage was already there. At Tynemouth, the taxi – loaded with our luggage – met us and took us back to Newcastle for our homeward travel. The length of trip is up to you and you can choose your grade of hotels. It’s a great way to travel by bike!
Checkout our C2C route on Garmin
Day 2 route My advice is to cycle this route between April and September next year when the prevailing winds are in your favour. Take three to five days to really enjoy the route.
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