Depending on your starting point the Sea to Sea (C2C) cycle route is approximately 140 miles in length from Workington or Whitehaven on the Cumbrian coast to Newcastle or Sunderland on the Northumbrian side. The UK's most popular 'challenge' cycle route passes through the northern Lake District before climbing the Pennines, 'the roof of England', and then descending to the railway paths of County Durham. However you approach it this is one of, if not the best long distance cycle route in the UK.
The route is usually cycled from west to east, which in theory should provide a nice tail wind the whole way (not guaranteed) and an easier set of climbs. In this direction the climbs tend to be short and sharp instead of the long, gradual grinds you would be faced with the other way. Of course this is little consolation when half way up Hartside with a couple more Pennine climbs looming!
The route can be tackled in a variety of styles and at different speeds. If you are looking for the ultimate challenge there is the option to attempt the entire route in just one day. This generally involves skipping most of the off road alternative sections as you'll want to be on a light weight road specific bike in order to eat up those miles. Fortunately there's plenty of daylight in the summer so an early start in the west should see you on the east coast before sunset. I took on this very challenge myself in 2004 and completed the route from Workington to Sunderland in 8.5 hours. For this I rode almost entirely on the road where possible, but found the best route for the last 25 miles to be on the disused railways and cycle paths. The bike I was on was road specific but these paths are so well made and maintained I had no problem navigating them with my skinny tires. It also takes any stress out of route finding as you get to the city with energy reserves running low!
There are many guides and maps covering the area but the best thing to carry with you is the official map from Sustrans. This shows the entire route from start to finish removing the need to carry 3 or 4 different OS maps to do the same job. It also marks on all the various off road alternatives for the route which can be a lot of fun and well worth doing if you have the bike for it. The best of these diversions I have found is the Old Coach Road out of Keswick. This is a truly off road bridleway which begins with a very steep climb but soon yields some wonderful Lake District views and some of the most challenging terrain of the route. Unlike many of the other traffic free sections of the route, the Old Coach Road is real mountain biking and should be approached as such. I've seen people on it in the past, pushing lightweight hybrid bikes looking throughly out of place and with a long walk to the road! On the map it doesn't look like this route is a lot further than sticking to the road, but be warned, the extra hight gain and terrain involved will add 1 - 2 hours to your time. Perhaps not a good choice for the one day speed machines, but an excellent addition to the first day for those planning to stay at Wayfarers Hostel in Penrith!
The Coast to Coast (C2C) cycle route can be a real physical challenge but is still an achievable goal for people of all cycling abilities and levels of fitness. The route is incredibly well signposted so you don't need to be an experienced navigator not to get lost. A large amount of time is spent on traffic free cycle paths, and the remaining time spent on roads so quiet you wonder why they even exist at all! This is a real advantage for less experienced riders as you can just relax and go at your own pace without being stressed and hurried along by heavy traffic. Once you break the route up into stages the distance stops being quite so intimidating too. Three hours of very gentle peddling from the coast will see you in Keswick in time for a leisurely lunch. After the food has gone down it's back in the saddle and a couple of hours taking in the sights of the North Lakes will see Penrith emerge on the horizon, and before you know it you'll have your feet up, cold drink in hand and be looking forward to another fine day of cycling tomorrow!
Wayfarers Hostel is ideally located in Penrith for your first night's rest. We're easy to find, just 100m from the main C2C route. There is secure indoor storage for your bikes and a drying room for your clothing if the weather's not been on your side! We have tools available and can assist with any running repairs as well as being a stone's throw away from an excellent local bike shop if you need some replacement parts. There are restaurants and take-aways to suit all tastes right on the door step, and we provide excellent cooking and dining facilities for those of you preferring to cooking for yourselves. There are 2 large supermarkets just two minutes walk away so there's no need to carry extra food on your bike with you, and we can even provide you with breakfast and a packed lunch to get you on your way again in the morning!
I've seen cyclists with all different setups making their way from coast to coast, from elite racers on top end road bikes, to tandems loaded with panniers and a tag-a-long with a child attached to the back. Although the route can be completed in many different styles, there are a few simple suggestions that can make life a bit easier:
- Travel light. Everything you carry has to go over every hill with you. The less you have the easier it will be. An extra layer for when the weather changes is always a good idea, but do you really need two changes of clothes?
- Keep the weight off your back. The last thing you want when spending all day in the saddle is to be carrying a heavy rucsack full of things you don't need. It does not help with the saddle sore feeling the next morning! Panniers over the rear wheel (and the front if you are carrying a lot) are the best way to carry anything other than a light load and could be well worth looking into.
- Bring some tools. You don't need much to keep a bike running, and you might find yourself 20 miles from a bike shop when you chain decides to snap. A multitool (alan keys, spoke key and chain device recommended) along with some tyre leavers, spare tube, patches and a pump should be carried by someone in the group at all times.
- Fit a cycle computer. They're only cheap now and for me, knowing how far I've gone and how fast I'm going is essential on a route like this. It helps to keep you on the correct pace to avoid getting tired too soon, and watching those miles tick off can be a real psychological boost.
There are lots of resources out there to help you plan your adventure. Two of the best I've come across so far are C2C Guide and C2C Planner. Both feature lots of information on things to do, where to eat and places to stay (including Wayfarers Hostel!).
If you're looking for transport to the start or from the finish then have a look at EcoCabs for help with all the logistics.