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C2C – our guide to the Sea to Sea route from Whitehaven to Tynemouth

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We've written about a number of cycle routes across the UK, including both the Hadrian's Cycleway and the Coast & Castles routes. Yet despite how brilliant they are, none of them are as popular as the C2C ('sea to sea', often incorrectly referred to as 'coast to coast') route. Starting on the beautiful coast of northwest England, this route takes you through the Northern Lakes and over the Pennines before ending in Tyneside. It has a little bit of everything in terms of scenery, and that's probably why people love it so much.

We wanted to highlight each section of this route individually and outline what there is to see and do along the way, as well as provide some tips for anyone looking to tackle this cycle route in 2023. Let's get into the guide:

Where is the C2C cycle route?

As we mentioned in the introduction, the route takes you from the Northwest to the Northeast of England in a fairly straight line. The version that we've outlined below is about 134 miles in length, and you won't find a version online that is much more or less than that - every route is between 130 miles and 140 miles long depending on which route you decide to take (we'll outline the alternative routes you can take later in the guide).
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What sections are there?

We should start by saying that there is definitely not a "right" way of doing this cycle route -  a quick look online will show you that everyone seems to have their own version - but the 6 sections we've split the route up into seem to be a widely accepted version and are fairly equal in length which should help you to plan your trip along the route a bit more easily. The sections we've split the route into are:

 

Whitehaven to Keswick
Keswick to Penrith
Penrith to Alston
Alston to Stanhope
Stanhope to Consett
Consett to Tynemouth

 

What is there to see and do as you cycle along the C2C route?

As you can imagine there is quite a lot to see along this near 140-mile route, and unless you've set aside a good amount of time you won't have time to stop at every interesting point along the route. For each section, we've included a few points of interest which you might wish to visit. Most of them are along the route but some will require you to veer off the route slightly, not too much though! Let's look at each section individually:

Whitehaven to Keswick (31 miles)

This is the longest section of the route and once you've completed it, you'll already be almost a quarter of the way through the route. Starting in Whitehaven, it'll be tempting to do a number of things before you've even set off on the route, and if you've got plenty of time then why not. The Beacon Museum is a great attraction with plenty of interactive exhibitions. You also get a great view of the historic harbour from the top floor, which was built in the 17th century and has some lovely features. As you cycle towards Kirkland and Lamplugh you'll see the start of the Lakes mountains, and as you move from Fangs Brow to Loweswater you'll see Mellbreak, a strangely isolated hill in the Western part of the Lake District. The first 10 miles of this section follow a well-marked, well-surfaced cycle path which provides you with a comfortable start to your journey. Things will get trickier though!
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Keswick - Penrith (18 miles)

If you've got time to kill in Keswick before you set off then the Derwent Pencil Museum is a very quirky attraction which celebrates the fact that Keswick was the home of the first pencil (it's far more interesting than it sounds). There's plenty to see and do in Penrith - Penrith Castle is an impressive 14th-century ruined fortress which has a beautiful reddish tone, and Aira Force Waterfall is a stunning 65-foot waterfall managed by the National Trust which is not to be missed. As you set off from Keswick, you'll notice a slight incline on the route until about 6 miles in when you reach the village of Scales. After this point, the route starts to level out a bit more.
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Penrith - Alston (22 miles)

This stretch of the route takes you through a number of lovely towns and villages, including the lovely village of Langwathby in the Eden Valley. One of the more unusual stops along this route is definitely Long Meg and Her Daughters, a stone circle which is generally considered to be one of the finest in the north of England. As you approach the tiny hamlet of Haresceugh about 12 miles in, you'll notice the terrain changing slightly and the route becoming much steeper, but it's only for a short distance until you reach the Hartside Pass, which is a great place to stop for stunning views across the Solway Firth. After enjoying the scenery, there is a nice downhill part of the route.
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Alston - Stanhope (22 miles)

In terms of a section where you might like to just get your head down and get some miles under your belt, the Alton to Stanhope stretch is probably your best bet. That isn't to say that there's nothing worth stopping for along this route - the scenery is stunning, and we're sure you'll be stopping for photos plenty of times. But compared to some of the other stretches, there aren't as many attractions to stop at so you might want to just continue along the route. This route does become steeper as you reach Nenthead, home to the quirky Nanthead Model Village, but evens out once you pass this point and ends with a nice downhill section towards Stanhope.
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Stanhope - Consett (13 miles)

As you set off from Stanhope towards Consett, one of the first points of real interest that you'll reach is the Smiddy Shaw Reservoir -  built in the 19th century, it's a really peaceful body of water and lovely to walk around, especially if you enjoy watching wildlife. Further along the route you'll find The Hownsgill Viaduct, which is an impressive bridge that was previously a railway bridge but is now just used as a footpath. It's great to walk along, but it's the views from the bottom which are really special. This section of the route will require you to frontload your work rate - as soon as you set off from Stanhope you'll notice the incline, but once you reach about 3.5 miles into the section it starts to even out and it is actually quite a pleasant 10 miles or so down into Consett.
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Consett to Tynemouth (28 miles)

The home stretch! There is every chance you won't actually make it to Tynemouth as there is plenty to keep you busy in Newcastle, and you might not feel like getting back on the saddle after a night in the Toon. But even if you do decide to go all the way to Tynemouth, you'll probably be pleasantly surprised by how easy it feels, despite the length - it's mostly downhill and there are very few if any hills to tackle. As far as stop-offs go, this section is really the most interesting part of the entire route - you can stop at attractions like the Life Science Centre, Newcastle Castle, the Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art, the Segedunum Roman Fort & Museum, and the National Glass Centre without veering off the route at all, and to be honest if you've got the time we'd absolutely recommend you do so. It is a great place for pictures.
But if you choose to stick to the route and go all the way to Tynemouth, you'll still find plenty to enjoy at the finish line, most notably the stunning coastal scenery.
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What should you be aware of before heading along the C2C route?

The most important thing to be aware of before heading on the route is that you need to plan your accommodation and always have a back-up plan! You don't want to be stuck in the middle of the sticks with nowhere to stay. You're spoilt for choice when it comes to places to stay along the route, with everything from B&Bs to hotels. Try to support local businesses where you can too - you won't find too many chain hotels and restaurants along this route, which is actually a good thing.

 

Also, be prepared for the worst to happen. Bring an extra phone, clothes for all weather and plenty of snacks and a tent. Cycling UK has a great resource here - https://www.cyclinguk.org/article/11-essential-things-pack-cycle-touring
Many people will choose to take an electric bike with them for this route, as they can pedal when they feel like it and then use the electric motor when they feel like it. We have a guide to the best electric bikes you can buy.

 

We should also mention that unless you're very experienced and prepared for possible extreme cold temperatures, you should try to complete the C2C route between the months of April and September. The days are longer and warmer, making the route much safer than during the winter months. Many riders have caught hypothermia when tackling the C2C route, and we don't want you to have the same issue! Take something really warm with you, such as a dryrobe or something similar to a dryrobe.
Lastly, although this is not a 200 miler type cycle route, it's still long and definitely has some challenging sections. You'll want to be fit before tackling this route, and we've published guides about supplements that cyclists may find useful to start taking in the months leading up to attempting the C2C route, including green powder, protein powder, and electrolyte drinks.

What are the alternate routes you can take?

We mentioned alternative routes earlier, and although we think the route that we've outlined is the best way to complete the C2C route, some may wish to try an alternate route. For starters, many people wish to start in either Workington or St Bees. We like the start in Whitehaven because of the easy first 10 miles and the historic harbour in Whitehaven which is lovely to visit, but you can easily switch Whitehaven for either St Bees or Workington.

 

Once you pass Keswick, you can either continue along the established path towards Penrith or you can deviate southwards towards Appleby-in-Westmorland then into Middleton-in-Teesdale (along the Westmorland Loop), and then back up to Stanhope. Another popular alternate route at this point in the C2C is to take the Weardale route once you hit Alston, which is just a slightly more scenic way of reaching Stanhope. Again, if you've got the time you might like to do this.

 

Lastly, you could finish the route in a number of places. We've chosen Tynemouth because we think the sea makes for a dramatic finish, but many cyclists finish in Sunderland (which will require you to take the Durham Loop once you hit Consett) or even Newcastle if you want to finish the C2C with a well-earned night out.
Hopefully, this guide has inspired you to tackle this epic route. As we mentioned, we've also got guides about other cycle routes like the Hadrian's Cycleway, the Borders Abbey Way and the Exe Estuary Trail. If you want to go North of the border we've got a guide about the best cycling routes in Scotland.

Finn is the editor of You Well and has been writing about travel, health, and more for over 10 years.

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