Cycling Coast To Coast In Northern England?

Now that the spring has arrived and the clocks moved forward, my thoughts are turning increasingly to setting off in July to cycle / ferry / train around France and Switzerland. The current plan is to leave on Saturday 9th July, catch a train to Hull on the east coast of Yorkshire and take the ferry to Rotterdam. If, that is, P&O ferries is still running ferries come July. (I was tempted to cancel the booking and make alternative arrangements but it would be a classic case of cutting off my nose to spite my face as I would only be making life significantly more inconvenient by travelling to Newcastle or Harwich or Dover for alternative ferries…). I will return to the UK on Sunday 4th September.

Visit the dedicated ‘Grand Tour’ page of to discover more about the planned cycle around France, Switzerland and along the Rhine in the summer of 2022.

But this post is not about the cycle around France and Switzerland; it is about what I do in the next 14 weeks to prepare. There are various formalities that need to be sorted; insurance for example. I’ve just replied to an email from a chap called Kevin Foulston (if you are reading this Kevin, check your inbox!) in which Kevin asked about insurance. It prompted me to do a little googling but I soon started to yawn and drifted off in more exciting directions (I’ll sort the insurance nearer the time) and I landed on the National Cycle Network website. Although I’ve been busy getting back into cycling to work on my new Ribble hybrid, Ronnie (think about it…) – I cycled every working day in March, even when it snowed last week… (cue pretty photo of bicycle in snow):

Mmm… the punctuation in that last sentence was diving rapidly into a deep hole of its own making but I think we need one of these – Wanda the Koga World Traveller (remember her?) has been hibernating at the back of my living room. Cue arty picture of a bicycle at the back of a living room:

The time has come, however, for her to waken from her slumber and stretch her, err… wheels. The Easter holidays start next weekend and I have two weeks off work. If the weather plays ball…

…and that long-range forecast for the week before Easter itself looks reasonable, it would be good to head off somewhere on Wanda – perhaps for a few days to get me back into the swing of cycle touring. But to where?

Well, people frequently mention the various ‘coast to coast’ routes that link the east and west coasts of England and perhaps it’s time to attempt one of them. After all, I live not far from most of them and it wouldn’t be much of a logistical issue to join one of them, either at one of their extremities or, indeed at a point in the middle. So what are the routes? Here’s a map that I’ve found on the Cycling UK website alongside an informative article by the king of end-to-end cycles, Mr Rob Ainsley, about the various coast to coast routes:

Here’s what Rob – a ‘veteran’ of the coast to coast routes according the Cycling UK – says in the introduction to the article:

There’s an elegance and simplicity about a coast-to-coast, an essence of cycle touring. Inland termini don’t have the same defining sense of embarkation and arrival. It’s quintessential Britain too: a slice across everything between the endpoints, from sociable market town to wilderness. And it’s a zero-sum altitude game that takes you over mountains but finishes back at sea-level. Up at the thorax of England, Irish and North Seas are only 80 miles apart. A coast-to-coast jaunt packs scenery, adventure and sheer fun into one long weekend – and can be as easy or challenging as you like. There are six ‘official’ coast-to-coasts: ones signposted, and patchworked with cycle paths and facilities, under the auspices of Sustrans. Each takes three to four days.

Coast-to-coast alternatives

You can read the full article on the Cycling UK website but here’s a summary of Rob’s thoughts to which I’ve added my own (much less authoritative) comments:

Sea to Sea (C2C)

Workington/Whitehaven to Tynemouth/Sunderland 136 miles

  • Parallel to Wainwright’s walking route
  • England’s most popular leisure cycle route
  • Best all-purpose coast-to-coast
  • Middle third fairly tough – steep climbs up to Hartside Top* and outside Nenthead
  • Last third all off-road

* Rob refers to the café at the top but this burnt down and when I passed over in 2020 had yet to be rebuilt:

What? No café?

My cycle to Hartside Summit was part of a cycle around the UK and features in this film about that four-capital cycle, as indeed, does Rob Ainsley himself:

Wheelwright’s C2C

St Bees to Robin Hood’s Bay 200 miles (off-road)

  • A tough route
  • 10,000m of climbing.
  • For “experienced, fit MTBers with strong machines”

Perhaps not for me and Wanda…

Reivers Cycle Route

Whitehaven to Tynemouth 172 miles

  • A “return C2C”
  • Main interest is the highly scenic middle half, in the remote woods round Kielder Water

I also passed alongside Kielder Water on that 2020 round-Britain cycle and was very underwhelmed by what I found. The route improved markedly as I approached – and then crossed – the border with Scotland which this route also does.

Kielder Water. Basically, it’s a big reservoir…

Hadrian’s Cycleway

Ravenglass to South Shields 174 miles

  • “Less wall than you might expect for this route”
  • Best wall sections around Once Brewed
  • Not that hilly, less strenuous than the C2C
  • Best enjoyed at leisure by explorers of history, psychogeography, and teashop towns.

OK Rob… what the heck is ‘psychogeography‘? Well, Andrew, it is “…the exploration of urban environments that emphasises interpersonal connections to places and arbitrary routes” (via Wikipedia). OK. That’s clear… That aside, I rate Winshields Campsite near Once / Twice Brewed (take your pick) as one of Britain’s finest. Nothing fancy but run by an excellent chap called Malcolm and with views like this:

Way of the Roses

Morecambe to Bridlington 170 miles

  • Mostly-road route
  • Flat rail-trail through Lancaster and over the Lune Valley
  • Climbs hills into North Yorkshire’s dales – “lots of feisty climbs” – flat again after Ripon
  • “Good for cycle-camping”

Should you wish to link this route at its eastern end with the routes further north, the cycle along the Yorkshire coast from Bridlington to Whitby (and perhaps beyond) is a good one. Here are a few photos from Wanda’s first outing as a touring bike from early summer 2019:

I even made a podcast about my journey from Hull to Whitby:

Trans Pennine Trail (TPT)

Southport to Hornsea 215 miles

  • Easiest and most traffic-free often on disused railways, beside rivers and canals
  • Finishes in Hornsea although Rob enjoyed finishing at Spurn Point, east of Hull instead
  • Some sections are delightful – west of Penistone, for example
  • “Less than the sum of its parts”
  • Doncaster to Hornsea is “boring”

I have done a small part of this – bang in the middle – just to the south of Holmfirth. Here’s my companion on that ride, Glenn, cycling along one of those disused railway paths:

Walney to Wear and Whitby (W2W)

Barrow to Sunderland/Whitby 152/179 miles

  • More strenuous than the C2C, “fabulous scenery”
  • Mostly lanes-and-quiet-roads passing Tan Hill Inn, Britain’s highest.
  • Scenic market towns such as Ulverston
  • Option at the eastern end to skirt of the Moors into Whitby, or a finish via Durham into Sunderland

There’s something about this one which I find more appealing than the others. Although I’ve visited Ulverston (to give a talk a few years ago) there are long stretches of this that I’ve never visited on a bike. Very tempting. I think this may well be part of the plan. I’ve also got an open invitation to camp in someone’s field in Kendal and tentative plans to interview someone from Cicerone for The Cycling Europe Podcast which is also based in Kendal… Here’s Ulverston at the time of its ‘retro’ festival in June 2018:

And DIY options?

Here’s a final thought from Rob Ainsley:

“In the spirit of Wainwright, why not devise your own route? My own best coast-to-coast experience was a spontaneous, on-road, nose-following tour from Ravenglass to Ravenscar, north of Scarborough… three utterly blissful days of Lakes, Dales and Moors.”

The full article on the Cycling UK website
Rob Ainsley – listen to him talking about ideas for cycle tours in episode 023 of The Cycling Europe Podcast

So I now feel well informed about the alternatives regarding cycling from coast to coast in the north of England. As mentioned, I’m tempted by the W2W route, perhaps combined with a stretch of the Way of The Roses which I could pick up in Airton and use to head west to Morecombe before a shortish cycle around Morecombe Bay – there is a route called The Bay Cycle Way – to Ulverston, perhaps even Walney Island. Pity there’s no boat from Morecombe to Walney Island but there are two routes between Ulverston and Barrow-in-Furness so it wouldn’t mean retracing my steps. And if the weather doesn’t play ball, there’s always the May holiday…

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9 replies »

  1. we have done the Transpennine a couple of times and also Hadrians wall and way of the Roses. All have their charms and nt so good bits. Why not just set off from home, ride west to the coast and then turn around and ride east to the north sea and then home again. Its what we usually do. Saves the bother of trains. Must admit the parts near to where we live can be a bit too samey if you know what I mean

  2. I have done C2C Whitehaven to Tynemouth in 2017 Hertshead Cafe was just closing as we got to the top, there was actual tears running down my face.
    2019 we did Way of the Roses, but in reverse.
    Can recommend both for your consideration.

  3. Although the Hadrian’s wall route is fab, I didn’t care for the stretch between Maryport and Whitehaven. There’s a rather busy A-road running parallel to the coastal path and the area is a bit run down in parts. The W2W looks like a wonderful ride, I’ll have to try that next.

    What about doing the Sandstone way? It’s not a c2C, but it starts at the sea. It runs from Berwick to Hexham. It may be a big rough on Wanda though.

What do you think?