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1

Whitehaven to Keswick

Many cycle routes begin with nothing more than a modest blue sign. The C2C has a towering metal sculpture on the seafront slipway, where it’s traditional to dip your back wheel in the water, and a market cross-like shelter where your group can get their kit together for the hills ahead.

No hills yet, though, as the first ten miles (give or take some backstreets in Whitehaven) are all high-quality tarmaced railway path, adorned with bike sculptures and idiosyncratic metal signs. Even when minor lanes take over, the gradients are fairly tame, with one or two sharp ascents but nothing too taxing. (Take care on the descents, though, as it’s easy to misjudge a corner especially with other cyclists about.) It’s a beautifully designed route; you’re cycling through the northern Lakes, but without the massive climbs you might expect. Tree-lined sections burst out into giant mountain views, and roadside farms have honesty boxes for homemade flapjacks.

This idyll is rudely shattered at Whinlatter. After High Lorton (mile 21), the hills loom up ahead of you, and there’s no way round. Three miles of climbing, on minor road, B road and forest track, take you over from the Cocker to Derwent valleys. Sharp descents and steep bends on the forestry road mark the summit, from where the route turns back on itself to the welcome (and very busy) Siskins Café.

The final descent from the café is gravelly, steep and very twisty. Don’t take chances. The reward is an easy, level five miles into Keswick with several tempting pubs along the way (the Middle Ruddings has excellent beer and cider). Keswick itself is the capital of the North Lakes, a thriving, outdoor-focused town which makes an excellent overnight stop for the four-dayer.

Hotels

Bigrigg Nr. Egremont

Borrowdale (Nr Keswick)

Borrowdale

Braithwaite

Cleator

from £2000Parkside Hotel

Cleator Moor

Cockermouth

from £6634 Briar Bank
from £80Graysonside
from £100Robinsbrook

Cockermouth, Cumbria

Croasdale

from £102Beck Cottage

Cumbria & the Lakes

Cumbria

from £48Lyndhurst
from £10YHA Keswick

Embleton

from £110Highside Farm

Ennerdale Bridge

from £107Ehen Garth

Ennerdale Bridge

Ennerdale Bridge Near St Bees

from £81Poppy Cottage

Ennerdale

from £85Rowans

Keswick

from £116Trusmadoor

Keswick

from £84Acorn House
from £126Bag End
from £109Beny Cot
from £53Bluestones
from £2000Brundholme
from £78Burnside B&B
from £66Cafe Bar 26
from £97Causey View
from £182Chaucers Nook
from £60Cragside
from £82Curlew
from £2000Dalegarth House
from £75Damson Lodge
from £17Denton House
from £77Derwent Bank
from £82Egret
from £80Ellergill
from £92Fellside
from £98Flat 4
from £82Glenwood
from £146Goldcrest
from £2000Goodwin House
from £40Greystoke House
from £87Hazel Cottage
from £60Howe Keld
from £2000Hunters Way
from £82Inglewood
from £82Kingfisher
from £2000Lake View
from £55Lakeland View
from £40Larry's Lodge
from £2000Larrys Lodge
from £2000Maple Bank
from £150No. 30
from £106Oak Lea
from £106Osprey
from £250Rooms36
from £77Siskin
from £50Skiddaw Grove
from £90Skiddaw Hotel
from £124Skiddaw View
from £81Swinside Inn
from £56The Edwardene
from £82Wagtail
from £0West View

Keswick Cumbria

Keswick, Cumbria

Lake District

from £10YHA Keswick

Lamplugh

Portinscale

from £174Quiet Ways

Portinscale

from £1443 Barf Cottages
from £58The Mount B&B

Portinscale Near Keswick

from £109Heatherside

Rogerscale

from £200Woodlands House

Rogerscale Nr Lorton Cockermouth

from £0The Spinney

Seldom Seen Near Thornthwaite

St Bees

from £55Lulus
from £60Seacote Hotel
from £75The Manor
from £65The Manor

St Bees, Cumbria

St. Bees

from £71Seaspray

St. Johns-in-the-Vale

from £172Bram Cragg Barn

Thornthwaite

from £104Beckside
from £0Jebel Kasr

Thornthwaite Keswick

from £89The Drey

Threlkeld

from £143Sunnyside

Threlkeld Keswick

from £112Guards Cottage

Whitehaven

from £60Chase Hotel
from £2000Glenfield House
from £120Moresby Hall
from £95Moresby Hall
2

Keswick to Penrith

There are no stratospheric climbs in these 20 miles, but they’re hillier than a map might suggest. Despite the inescapable drone of the A66, they also offer some of the finest moments on the whole route.

The exit from Keswick is on a railway path, part of the old Cockermouth–Keswick–Penrith line – one of Beeching’s most unforgivable closures. The route then ducks onto a cyclepath alongside the A66, which is convenient if hardly interesting. Still, on Britain’s premier long-distance route, it jars to be told ‘Cyclists Dismount’ just for a truckers’ layby.

The dogleg to Mungrisdale may look unnecessary on the map, but it’s a terrific four miles of riding on tiny gated lanes. (Leave half an hour for a brief stop at the Mungrisdale pub.) At Greystoke, don’t miss the welcoming cyclists’ café on the edge of the village. The hill in Newton Reigny has a speed readout sign that triggers for bikes as well as cars; anything in double figures is more than respectable.

The last two miles into Penrith are on a delightful traffic-free route through a college, under the railway and motorway, and then onto back streets. The official route avoids Penrith town centre. Much smaller and quieter than Keswick, it’s a worthwhile stop with an attractive market square and useful shops for provisions.

Hotels

Penrith

Borrowdale (Nr Keswick)

Borrowdale

Braithwaite

Cumbria & the Lakes

Cumbria

from £48Lyndhurst
from £10YHA Keswick

Dockray

Eden Lacy Penrith

from £182Crakeld Holm
from £123Force Mill
from £87The Lodge

Great Salkeld

from £85The Stable

Great Salkeld

Great Salkeld Near Penrith

from £106Garth
from £84High Croft
from £84Langriggs
from £81Mickledale
from £79Windale

Greystoke

from £184Algar'S Garth
from £76Pelican Dairy

Greystoke

from £90Beech House

Hutton John

from £65The Studio

Keswick

from £116Trusmadoor

Keswick

from £84Acorn House
from £126Bag End
from £109Beny Cot
from £53Bluestones
from £2000Brundholme
from £78Burnside B&B
from £66Cafe Bar 26
from £97Causey View
from £182Chaucers Nook
from £60Cragside
from £82Curlew
from £2000Dalegarth House
from £75Damson Lodge
from £17Denton House
from £77Derwent Bank
from £82Egret
from £80Ellergill
from £92Fellside
from £98Flat 4
from £82Glenwood
from £146Goldcrest
from £2000Goodwin House
from £40Greystoke House
from £87Hazel Cottage
from £60Howe Keld
from £2000Hunters Way
from £82Inglewood
from £82Kingfisher
from £2000Lake View
from £55Lakeland View
from £40Larry's Lodge
from £2000Larrys Lodge
from £2000Maple Bank
from £150No. 30
from £106Oak Lea
from £106Osprey
from £250Rooms36
from £77Siskin
from £50Skiddaw Grove
from £90Skiddaw Hotel
from £124Skiddaw View
from £81Swinside Inn
from £56The Edwardene
from £82Wagtail
from £0West View

Keswick Cumbria

Keswick, Cumbria

Lake District

from £10YHA Keswick

Lazonby, Penrith

from £50Briardale

Matterdale End Ullswater

from £97Eamont
from £83Little Eden
from £101Lowther

Mungrisdale

from £60The Mill Inn

Mungrisdale Near Keswick

from £107The Mill

Mungrisdale Near Threlkeld

from £49Blencathra
from £97The Garth

Nr Penrith

Penrith

from £2000Acorn Guest House
from £55Albany House
from £53Ashbank Lodge
from £71Crosby
from £55Foundry 34
from £87George Hotel
from £45Herdwick Inn
from £2000Rebels Hide
from £72River Garth
from £2000Station Hotel
from £30Station Hotel
from £2000The Boot and Shoe
from £0The Cowshed
from £55The Sun Inn
from £2000The White House
from £47Troutbeck Inn
from £60Troutbeck Inn

Penrith, Cumbria

Penruddock

from £70Fell View

Portinscale

from £174Quiet Ways

Portinscale

from £1443 Barf Cottages
from £58The Mount B&B

Portinscale Near Keswick

from £109Heatherside

Seldom Seen Near Thornthwaite

Sockbridge

from £109Crosslands

St. Johns-in-the-Vale

from £172Bram Cragg Barn

Stainton Penrith

from £0The Mains

Stainton Near Penrith

from £131The Garth

Thornthwaite

from £104Beckside
from £0Jebel Kasr

Thornthwaite Keswick

from £89The Drey

Threlkeld

from £143Sunnyside

Threlkeld Keswick

from £112Guards Cottage

Threlkeld

Troutbeck

Troutbeck

Watermillock

3

Penrith to Garrigill

The C2C’s central section is where the really tough climbs fall (or rise). There’s a tough warmup out of Penrith itself, but believe us, it gets tougher.

The lanes around the Eden Valley are enjoyable and not too hard, though there’s a sharp ascent out of Little Salkeld. Looming to your right is the great bulk of Hartside, the best-known climb on the C2C. At Renwick, the route swings sharply right, and a red warning sign marks the start of the long, four-mile haul to the top.

Despite its reputation, Hartside is not the hardest part of the C2C, and certainly not the steepest. It’s relentless, and all but the fittest will need to stop for regular breaks. But slow and steady wins the day, with the prize a coffee and cake in the café at the summit.

The 1250ft of climbing means there are superb views at the hairpins; it’s generally well-surfaced; and the drivers respect cyclists, even on the A road section. The white cottage is the landmark that means you’re almost there. Unless you’re a really accomplished MTBer, don’t be tempted by the off-road alternative route, which is rough and boggy in equal measure; stick to the road.

The descent is long, fast and hairpin-free. Don’t miss the right-hand turn after three miles, after which the gradient sharpens considerably. There are good sightlines on this straight road so you can enjoy the downhill, but don’t forget to stop in Leadgate at the bottom! The three remaining miles to Garrigill are more taxing, a series of little valleys imposing an undulating character.

Bike shops

Campsites

Alston

Catterlen

Eamont Bridge

Flusco

Great Salkeld

Kirkoswald

Laithes

Lazonby

Little Salkeld

Melmerby

Newbiggin

Penrith

Campsite listings kindly provided by archiescampings
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Hotels

Penrith

Alston

from £59Angel Inn
from £55Cobblestones
from £59The Angel Inn
from £52The Calf Shed
from £58The Cottage
from £2000The Miners Arms

Alston Cumbria

from £70Harbut Law

Alston, Cumbria

from £30Victoria Inn

Cumbria

Eden Lacy Penrith

from £182Crakeld Holm
from £123Force Mill
from £87The Lodge

Gamblesby

from £77Barnside

Garrigill

from £0Issac'S Byre

Garrigill Alston

Garrigill

Great Salkeld

from £85The Stable

Great Salkeld

Great Salkeld Near Penrith

from £106Garth
from £84High Croft
from £84Langriggs
from £81Mickledale
from £79Windale

Kirkhaugh

Kirkoswald

Kirkoswald

from £71The Old Manse

Lake District

Langwathby Penrith

Lazonby, Penrith

from £50Briardale

Limestone Brae Nr. Alston And Allendale

Low Nest Nr. Alston

from £80Low Nest Barn

Melmerby

from £109The Old Chapel

Nenthall

from £123The Field Barn

Nenthead

Nr Penrith

Overwater Nenthead

from £69Wayside

Penrith

from £2000Acorn Guest House
from £55Albany House
from £53Ashbank Lodge
from £71Crosby
from £55Foundry 34
from £87George Hotel
from £2000Rebels Hide
from £72River Garth
from £2000Station Hotel
from £30Station Hotel
from £0The Cowshed
from £55The Sun Inn
from £2000The White House

Penrith, Cumbria

Sockbridge

from £109Crosslands

Stainton Penrith

from £0The Mains

Stainton Near Penrith

from £131The Garth
4

Garrigill to Waskerley

Sorry, Hartside. You may not quite be a pussycat, but you’re definitely domesticated. This next leg, by contrast, is where the C2C really shows its teeth.

Pretty little Garrigill, with its village green and olde-worlde pub, is the start of the most brutal climb on the whole route. Though just one-and-a-half miles long, it feels much longer; the desperately steep initial section becomes a relentless, grinding haul up to Flinty Fell. The descent into Nenthead is short and exhilarating. Should your brake pads prove not up to scratch, there’s a bike shop in this old mining village, as well as pubs and a community-run shop.

A shorter, but still, steep climb on the A689 takes you to the minor road on which the C2C reaches its highest point. The summit, Black Hill, is also where you enter Northumberland. Don’t miss the right turn on the ensuing descent, for one more, smaller climb before the strung-out valley village of Allenheads. This is a popular overnight stop for C2Cers, with a good pub at the far end.

Northumberland’s brief flirtation with the C2C has one more hill left. A deceptive cattle grid looks like it should be the summit, but the climb continues until the County Durham border and a roadside sculpture. There’s then a long, gentle descent to Rookhope: look out for the mine on the right.

Rookhope is a bike-friendly village with camping, pub, and even a church with a sign saying “Bless all cyclists on the C2C”. It’s here that the off-road grouse moor route starts. In good weather, this is worth considering if you have a hybrid or MTB, but do expect to push for parts of it.

Alternatively, cycle uphill past the church onto a lovely valley-side minor road. This gives excellent views, though at the cost of a tough climb up to the summit. Descend again into Stanhope, an attractive, down-to-earth town; accommodation is available, though evening meal options are limited. The catch is that you then have to cycle up the near-vertical Crawleyside Bank, so steep that descending traffic is provided with a sandy escape lane. The ascent becomes more manageable after the village and the cattle grid onto the moor.

Bike shops

Campsites

Campsite listings kindly provided by archiescampings
Campsite app · Help archies

Hotels

Allenheads

Alston

from £59Angel Inn
from £55Cobblestones
from £59The Angel Inn
from £52The Calf Shed
from £58The Cottage
from £2000The Miners Arms

Alston Cumbria

from £70Harbut Law

Alston, Cumbria

from £30Victoria Inn

Bishop Auckland

from £2000Westgate Manor

Consett

from £55The Burnside
from £2000The Burnside

Cowshill

Durham

Garrigill

from £0Issac'S Byre

Garrigill Alston

Garrigill

Kirkhaugh

Lanehead

Limestone Brae Nr. Alston And Allendale

Low Nest Nr. Alston

from £80Low Nest Barn

Nenthall

from £123The Field Barn

Nenthead

Overwater Nenthead

from £69Wayside

Stanhope

from £70Holly Cottage
from £2000StanHope Old Hall

Weardale

from £2000Ashbrow Cottage

Westgate in Weardale

5

Waskerley to Sunderland

It’s all downhill from here. The climb out of Stanhope is the last one of any size on the C2C, taking you to 400m above sea level – and it’ll take 37 miles of descending before you finally reach the coast.

For those who have struggled up Crawleyside Bank, the café in the old station building will be a very welcome sight. It’s the start of a gorgeous, isolated railway path across the moors, stark and beautiful even in wet weather. The surface starts gravelly and a little puddly, but gains a new, smoother surface as the comfortable descent begins. Consider stopping at either the station café or the tea-room further along the railway, as there are fewer tempting refreshment opportunities in the urban reaches of the route which follow.

Just before Consett, the route meets a crossroads. Turn left for the alternative C2C finish via Newcastle, or right for Durham. (Newcastle-bound cyclists will actually be better off continuing for another half-mile to a better-surfaced link route.)

The main C2C goes straight on towards Sunderland. On balance this is the more scenic and enjoyable route, though the roundabouts and roadside paths of Consett might briefly convince you otherwise. Eventually, after Stanley, the route emerges into picturesque countryside once again, hugging the side of the hill to give good views to the north.

The railway path continues all the way through Washington, easy cycling all the way. Eventually the C2C drops down to the banks of the River Wear, with a small climb to awaken your legs – but nothing compared to the previous days’ exertions.

There are on-off views of the Wear as you approach Sunderland; more traffic noise, too, as the Nissan plant looms on the left. The riverside Shipwrights Inn welcomes cyclists. When the path divides, be sure to take the rightmost fork along the riverside, rather than the northern braid past the Stadium of Light. The river route is unmissable: glorious views across the water, fascinating traces of industry, and Wearmouth Bridge looming ahead of you.

Passing under the bridge, ‘Keep Going’ installations encourage you on to the finish. There are views of former shipbuilding yards, in an area now being regenerated through projects such as the National Glass Centre. This is a popular path, so watch out for dogs and pole-toting anglers.

Eventually, after the marina, you’ll have your first glimpse of the North Sea. The route turns north for a very short way to Roker beach, where a striking sun-inspired statue marks the end of the C2C. Haul your bike over the beach and dip your front wheel in the sea; then treat yourself to coffee, cake or chips at the cheerful refreshment kiosk. Congratulations. What will your next challenge be?

Bike shops

Chester-le-Street

Consett

Houghton le Spring

Silksworth

Stanley

Sunderland

Shop, HireDarke Cycles

Washington

Campsites

Campsite listings kindly provided by archiescampings
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Hotels

Beamish

from £110Woodland View

Beamish Nr. Durham

Birtley

from £2000William IV Hotel

Boldon

Castleside

Chester le Street

Chester-le-Street

from £2000The Lambton Worm

Co Durham

from £50Kings Head

Consett

from £40Deneview
from £55The Burnside
from £2000The Burnside

Consett, County Durham

County Durham

Durham

from £60Oak Cottage
from £75The Old Mill

Ebchester

Edmondsley

from £2000Oak Cottage

Gateshead

from £2000Park Farm

Gateshead

from £56Riding Farm
from £2000The Riding Farm

Gateshead Tyne & Wear

High Usworth

Houghton Lee Spring

Iveston

Knitsley

Lanchester

from £50Kings Head

Newcastle upon Tyne

from £2000Hedley Hall

Nr. Beamish

from £0Pig Run Barn

Shotley Bridge

from £105Quarry Cottage

Shotley Bridge

Stanhope

from £70Holly Cottage
from £2000StanHope Old Hall

Stanley

from £34Oak Tree Inn
from £72The Fairways

Sunderland

from £160Sea Glass Suite
from £49The Royalty

Tantobie Stanley Co. Durham

Tantobie Stanley

Washington

from £45Victoria inn

Waskerley

West Pelton

from £2000The Fairways