C2C Prologue.

There are a number of Coast to Coast cycle rides in the UK. This series of posts is about the ride that starts at either Workington or Whitehaven and finishes at Tynemouth or Sunderland. Depending on the route you choose the ride is around 140 miles long with approximately 15,000 ft (altitude calculated from my GPS tracks) of ascent. We had decided to do the ride over three days.

There were five of us planning to do the ride: my son with two of his friends and one of my brothers in law. My brother in law could only join us for the last two days. Also I wanted to let my son ride in a group with his friends, without having his ancient Dad tagging along. This meant that I was effectively riding solo, since I do almost all my cycling alone this suited me.

I had done the Way of the Roses last year on my hybrid bike. I had carried a fair bit of gear in panniers. For the C2C I decided to use my road bike and carry a minimal amount of gear in a rucksack. Most cyclists don't like carrying a rucksack, but since I do a lot of walking and climbing, I find I prefer to carry things in a rucksack rather than in panniers. As I was using my road bike, I made a couple of modifications to the "Official Route". On the descent from Whinatter I followed the road, rather than the track through the forest. Leaving Keswick I cycled past Castlerigg Stone circles before rejoining the C2C at Threlkeld, thus avoiding the railway track. On day three I avoided cycling along the Waskerley Way, taking the B road that runs parallel to it. However, my son, who was also on his road bike cycled, along the Waskerley Way and said it was fine.

Depending on the route you take the C2C is around 140 miles long with approximately 16,600ft (5,320 metres) of ascent. Most people do the route over several days. We had decided to do it in three days. Day one was Whitehaven to Keswick. We chose Keswick as the destination because my son and his friends were staying at one of his friend's grandmother's house. This turned out to be a good choice as the ride wasn't too hard, so was a nice introduction to the route.

Day two was Keswick to Allenheads. I chose the destination on the basis that it Allenheads was supposed to be the end of the big hills, so day three would be a nice easy ride. This turned out to be quite a short day and it turned out that there were two more big hills beyond Allenheads!

Day three was Allenheads to Tynemouth/Sunderland. My son and his friends had chosen to finish at Sunderland where one of his friends parents was going to pick them up an drive them home. My brother in law and I planned to finish at Tynemouth. However, I had to get back to Whitehaven and then drive four hours to get home, as we were going on holiday the next day. My brother in law had done the route previously and knew that we couldn't take cycles on the metro, so would have to cycle the ten miles from Tynemouth back to Newcastle station. I wasn't that bothered about going all the way to the coast, so we finished at Newcastle station.

See my rant about rail transport arrangements for the C2C.

Accomodation.

Day 0 (Pre-ride).

We drove up the day before our first stage. My son and his friends stayed at the The Waverley Hotel hotel in Whitehaven, whilst I stayed at Chestnuts about three miles outside Whitehaven. If you like animals I can thoroughly recommend Chestnuts. The owners are very helpful and accommodating. The B&B is comfortable and the breakfasts good and they will serve you an early breakfast if you want an early start. The owners run a small animal sanctuary, in addition to having several pets of their own. There are dogs, cats, chinchillas, a parrot and some owls.

Day 1 - Keswick.

I stayed in the Travelodge on the A66, just outside Keswick. This can be reached by following a cycle path from the roundabout complex over the M6. This Travelodge has recently been renovated and the rooms seem better than the average Travelodge. Don't rely on the Little Chef opening at 7:00am, as it claims. There is a notice stuck to the door saying it opens at 8:00am. However, Morrisons serve good and cheap breakfasts.

Day 2 - Allenheads.

I stayed at Newhouses which is a very comfortable B&B just on the edge of the village, up a steep stone track. This was very comfortable with a residents lounge and an excellent breakfast. My son and his friends stayed at the ???, which they said was fine.

Useful Books and Web Sites.

I found the Cicerone guide a great source of information before and during the ride. I decided to buy the Kindle version. For me the only disadvantage of the Kindle version was that the maps aren't zoomable, so are basically unreadable on a small screen. However since I had a paper map this didn't matter to me.

The C2C web site is the official resource for the ride and contains lots of information.

Map.

Although the route is very well signposted, carrying a map is highly recommended. I used the Sustrans official map. The map shows both on road and off road alternatives. It was well worth buying. However, there are a couple of minor niggles:

  • There are no grid lines, which makes it hard to cross reference your position using a GPS or OS map.
  • In order to fit all the ride onto one map, it only shows a narrow strip. Thus it's hard to see places of interest, or route alternatives without referring to another map.

Despite these minor niggles, I would recommend that you buy the map.

Ride Statistics.

Times are taken from my GPS logs. The exclude major stops at cafes. However, they do include minor stops such as 30min or so to fix a puncture outside Keswick. Altitudes and distances are taken directly from the GPS log.

The initial section of day two doesn't include the steep climb from the centre of Penrith up to Beacon Edge because I forgot to start the GPS and I wasn't about to drop back down the hill and cycle up it again!

In retrospect if I did the ride again, I would go further on the second day, or do the whole thing in two days. My brother in law had previously done the ride in two days, going from Whitehaven to Allenheads in one day.

Day One.

Whitehaven to Penrith Distance miles/km Ascent ft/metres Total Time
3 hrs 10 min (includes fix puncture) to Keswick 54.6 (87.4) 5961 (1834) 5:40
2 hrs 30 min to Penrith      

Day Two.

Penrith to Allenheads Distance miles/km Ascent ft/metres Time
Penrith to Hartside Cross (cafe) 1hr 53 min 33.6 (53.8) 5177 (1593) 3:57
Hartside to Allenheads 2hr 4min      

Day Three.

Allenheads to Newcastle Distance miles/km Ascent ft/metres Time
4hrs 33mins 44.3 (70.9) 3569 (1098) 4:33

Train Rant!

I had hope to do the ride without needing to use the car. Getting from Crewe to Whitehaven with a bike didn't seem too problematic, although bikes have to be pre-booked and the number of spaces aren't known until you try to make your booking. However, getting back from Tynemouth to Whitehaven was a different matter. I discovered from my brother in law, who had done the ride before, that you can't take cycles on the metro from Tynemouth back into the centre of Newcastle.

Once back in Newcastle, you have to catch a train to Carlisle, then another one to Whitehaven. At present both services are run by Northern Rail. Their web site promises:

Northern is strongly committed to promoting cycling as a sustainable and healthy means of transport that complements our train service. Our vision is to 'connect people to opportunities by the most sustainable means' and cycling has an important role to play. We want to do more to make this an attractive option so we are working with local authorities and the cycling community to see where we can make our stations more cycle-friendly.

Bikes are carried free of charge at any time and you don't need to make reservations.

The cycle space on trains is clearly marked, both internally and externally. Space is allocated on a first come, first served basis.

We can only carry a maximum of two bikes per train but conductors have responsibility for the safety of their train and have the right to refuse entry if the train is busy.

Note that bikes can't be pre-booked and there are only two spaces per train. So after a three day ride, you don't know if you can actually get your bike on a train. The C2C is one of the most popular long distance cycle routes in England, with hundreds of people completing it each year. The provision of two bike spaces per train is derisory!

In practice the train from Newcastle to Carlisle had more spaces (probably around 6). However, the Carlisle to Whitehaven service did only have two spaces. Luckily the conductor was happy to let extra bikes onto the train. We could just as easily have been unlucky and had to wait for possibly days for a space. It's not as though installing extra spaces is expensive, or complicated. Also it has minimal impact on the total number of passengers that can be carried. So Northern Rail how about living up to your grand "Mission Statement" and actually provide a proper cycle carriage service.

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