England Coast to Coast Cycle: The Complete Guide
Thinking about tackling a long-distance cycle route in England? In this article, we’ve covered the Coast to Coast, the most famous multi-day cycle route in England.
The route is officially known as the ‘Sea to Sea’ (hence the nickname ‘C2C’), but the vast majority of people refer to it by the name ‘Coast to Coast’ (how confusing), so that’s what we’ll be doing too.
Want to know what the Coast to Coast is? Or where it takes you? Or what you should pack for your trip? We’ve got all the practical information you need, along with fun facts and helpful lists of mustn’t-forget equipment.
Grease those brakes, squeeze into your undersized lycra and check your inner tubes as we take you on a two-wheeled trip of hefty proportions.
(An important note here: there are many coast-to-coast cycle routes in England, and we’ve mentioned many of them briefly at the end of this article, but we’ve mainly covered the most famous one, the iconic C2C.)
What is the Coast to Coast Cycle Route?
The Coast to Coast (or C2C) is a long-distance cycle route of around 220 km (137 miles), which takes riders from England’s Cumbrian coast to either Tynemouth or Sunderland (depending on which route they choose).
But it’s also much more than that. It’s a huge challenge, it’s a popular charity route and it’s one of the best ways to traverse a narrow part of England. If you like cross-country trips or cycling, you’ll absolutely love the Coast to Coast cycle route.
The Coast to Coast has two potential starting points and two potential end points. The two options for starting points are Workington and Whitehaven (though Whitehaven is much more popular), while the two options for end points are Tynemouth and Sunderland (though Tynemouth is the most popular).
How Long Does It Take to Complete the Coast to Coast Cycle Route?
Most people attempt the route in anything from 3-5 days, though 3 or 4 is most common. Some people even do it in 1 or 2 days.
Because the route clocks in at around 140 miles (or a little less, depending on the chosen route), completing it in 3 or 4 days is a relatively realistic time frame for anyone who’s pretty fit and healthy.
Should I Do the Coast to Coast Cycle Route East to West or West to East?
It’s absolutely best to ride from west to east (that’s from the Irish Sea to the North Sea, or from Cumbria to the North East). If you cycle from west to east, you’ll have the wind at your back, and you’ll have more downhills than uphills.
Coast to Coast Cycle Route Description
Generally, the route can be broken down into four separate sections:
- West Cumbria: this very short section marks the start of the route, and takes cyclists from the route’s coastal beginnings to the iconic Lake District
- The Lake District National Park: the most famous stretch of the Coast to Coast features views of countless sheep and distant lakes. Get ready for lengthy climbs, lofty passes and hating yourself for wishing you’d ever decided to do this stupid trip in the first place.
- The North Pennines Area of Natural Beauty: an area renowned for its excellent cycling, the North Pennines are known as ‘the roof of England’. This area is much less explored than The Lake District, making this stretch a little more rural and remote. And arguably a little more challenging.
- The Final Stretch: from Consett, riders can choose to cycle either to Tynemouth or Sunderland. But whichever way you choose, you’ll reach big cities, smiling faces and countless relics of the region’s industrial past. After many miles of remote wilderness, it’s a welcome stretch of cafes, pubs and useful conveniences.
It’s important to note that there are some small deviations and detours you can take, typically depending on whether you’d rather cycle on-road or off-road. The three most-altered sections are near Troutbeck, Stanhope and Alston.
But whichever route you take and whichever deviations you do (or don’t!) decide upon, you’ll have an incredible time.
Coast to Coast Cycle Route Facts
- Coast to Coast highest point: Black Hill, at 609 meters, near the former mining village of Allenheads. This is actually the highest point on the UK’s entire National Cycle Network.
- Coast to Coast world record time: In 2012, Joel Toombs and Matt Shorrock completed the route in 7 hours and 53 minutes.
- Coast to Coast founded: 1994.
- How many people do the Coast to Coast cycle route per year? Between 12,000 and 15,000. That’s an average of around 40 per day, but most people do it in the warmer months.
- Coast to Coast cycle route traditions: it’s tradition to dip your rear wheel in the Irish sea when you depart, and dip your front wheel in the North Sea when you arrive. How quaint.
Why Should I Do the Coast to Coast Cycle Route?
For the views, the challenge and the exercise.
The challenge itself is great, because it’s tough without being too difficult. It’s achievable, but it’s a brilliant achievement. It’s not a walk in the park (or a cycle in the park), but nor is it an insurmountable feat of eye-watering proportions. And the exercise is good too.
But the best bits are all the views. Not many cycle challenges pack this much variety and vividity into one relatively short route. You get lakeside mountain passes, barren moors, herds of sheep, weird sculptures, mining villages, and two incredible coastlines. And they’re just the highlights.
What’s the Best Time of the Year to Do the Coast to Coast Cycle Route?
The best times to do the Coast to Coast walk are absolutely summer and spring.
Don’t do it in winter. A small number of people do, but that’s a challenge reserved only for very experienced cyclists with specialist equipment and knowledge of how to ride in terrible conditions. Or idiots. Unless you like the idea of sliding around passes and peaks as if you’re on an ice rink, don’t bother tackling the route in winter.
Likewise, autumn (or fall, whatever you want to call it) isn’t a great idea either. It’ll likely be rainy, windy and cold, and you won’t get many hours of sunlight. Autumn is also usually a pretty misty season in England, so you’re unlikely to get any good views if you hit the route during this time of year.
Where Should I Stay on the Coast to Coast Cycle Route?
There are lots of great places to stay along the Coast to Coast cycle route, but it’s important to stay in places which cater to cyclists – not everyone will want to tolerate your muddy tyres and rain-soaked clothes.
Some of the best places, from west to east, are:
- Denton House: nestled in a quiet part of Keswick, this hostel is a great option for your first overnight stay. The beds are comfy, the rates are low and there’s bicycle storage.
- Wayfarers Independent Hostel: situated only 100 meters from the Coast to Coast route, this place could hardly be in a better spot. For any cyclists tackling the route, it’s perfect.
- Haggs Bank Bunkhouse: right on the trail, this is another perfectly-situated hostel which is perfect for cyclists. Remote and rural, it’s a great choice if you like cosy and quiet places to stay.
- Edmundbyers YHA: again, this is right on the route, and it’s situated just before Consett, perfect if you’re trying to avoid overnighting in busier towns and cities.
- Gibside Stables Bunkhouse: if you’d rather stop off after Consett instead of before it (assuming you’re heading to Tynemouth), this converted stables block is in the grounds of a beautiful National Trust building.
Can I Camp Along the Coast to Coast Cycle Route?
Yes, you can camp along the whole route, and lots of people do, as there are many campsites en-route. But if you do camp, you of course have to carry much more equipment on the back of your bike, which will make you heavier – and make your trip harder and longer. It also means that you’ll have less luxury, though camping can of course be an incredible experience.
A note here: it’s illegal to wild camp in England, but as long as you camp respectfully and sensibly, I wouldn’t worry about it. If you’re a kind camper, you won’t get into any trouble.
Where Should I Eat on the Coast to Coast Cycle Route?
It’s best to mainly eat in pubs.
English pub food is fantastic, and it’s exactly the sort of dense, stodgy, calorie-heavy saltfest you need when you’re on a big physical trip. And in rural parts of England, you often have no choice but to eat in a pub anyway. So gobble down on that pie and chips and get on with it!
There are many remote sections on the Coast to Coast, but as you’ll be whizzing through them by bike, they don’t last for very long. For that reason, you don’t need to worry about packing endless rations, but it’s important to carry a few small bits to eat for when you’re hungry and low on energy.
Is the Coast to Coast Cycle Route Difficult?
The C2C route is moderately difficult. It’s only suitable for people who have experience on long-distance cycle routes, but for those who do, it’s challenging but doable.
If you’ve only ever cycled to the store and back for a can of Coke, you won’t be cut out for this trip. But if you could feasibly tackle 50 or 60 miles of cycling (with uphills and downhills) in one day, you can tackle this.
There are some challenging climbs. The section from Renwick to Hartside, for example, forces cyclers up an incline of 400 meters over a stretch of only around 7km. But for many, that’s the toughest part of the whole stretch – so if you think you can handle that, you can absolutely handle the Coast to Coast.
While some sections of the route are challenging, others are very flat and easy, so it’s not all an endless odyssey of long, hard uphill slogs.
Is the Coast to Coast Cycle Route Easy to Navigate?
The C2C route is pretty easy to navigate. But though it’s relatively easy, you still need to prepare before you set off, by doing some research and buying a map and a guidebook.
When you’re cycling on cycle networks in the UK, you should look out for specially-designed signposts, which direct riders along the cycle networks. These signposts are blue, and feature an image of a bicycle along with a number (or numbers) in a red box. If, for example, you’re following Cycle Route 1, there’ll be a number one on the red box. Easy!
For large stretches of the Coast to Coast, you don’t even need to look for numbers in red boxes, which makes life even easier. For many of the stretches, these signs will simply have ‘C2C’ marked on them, making them very easy to follow.
But because those helpful little ‘C2C’ signs aren’t always dotted about, it’s essential you know which routes you’ll be riding on. The vast majority of the time, you’ll be riding on National Cycle Networks 7, 14 and 71 (unless you choose your own detours) – and you can follow the numbers pretty easily, as they’re usually well signposted. Here’s the official routes map, so you can check the routes for yourself.
But although the route is usually very well marked, there are some occasions when that isn’t the case. And there are some occasions when the markings are incomplete or confusing. In short, even though the Coast to Coast is pretty easy to navigate, you still need a good map and a good guidebook.
Do I Need a Good Bike for the Coast to Coast Cycle Route?
Yes, you absolutely do. Don’t try doing it on a rusty BMX that you bought when you were ten.
It’s best to use a cyclocross bike, a hybrid or a tourer. All three of these have good versatility, suitable tyres and enough gears to help your poor little legs out on the steep uphills.
Although a road bike is okay for most of the route, it won’t stand up to some of the trail-like sections. And it’s easier to take a spill on a road bike.
Recommended Coast to Coast Cycle Route Guidebooks and Maps
Here’s the only guide book you need for the Coast to Coast cycle route: The Ultimate C2C Guide. It’s perfect. It has great maps, useful advice about places to stay, and beautiful photographs.
It also has advice on all the signage and way markings you’ll see along the way, which is mega helpful. The book is supported by Sustrans, who founded and manage the route, so it’s the best advice you can get.
And this is the only map you need. Again, this has been developed with Sustrans, so it has all the information you need. It also has information on other cycle routes in the north of England, so you can tackle some other long-distance cycle challenges when you’re done, assuming this one doesn’t put you off forever.
What Do I Need to Pack for the Coast to Coast Cycle Route?
A lot. Here are some of the essentials, along with our top recommendations from Amazon:
- Cycling water bottle (or 2): you want to stay hydrated, and you want a bottle which is designed specifically for cycling. If your bottle isn’t designed specifically for cycling, it’ll spill, or it won’t be suitable for quick sips.
- First aid kit: you’ll probably get cuts and blisters – and you’ll definitely need pain relievers at some point, so a first aid kit can be mega useful.
- Multi-tool: this is useful for everything. That’s why it’s called a multi-tool. And you’ll need it if anything happens on your bike.
- Bike tools: make sure you take all the tools you normally need for your bike, including Allen Keys and screwdrivers.
- Travel towel: travel towels are light and portable, and they take up very little pack space.
- Sleeping mask: a good sleeping mask means you can sleep anywhere – and the prospect of another 50 miles isn’t great when you’ve had 2 hours of sleep.
- Battery pack: you don’t want your phone to die.
- Food: there are plenty of pubs and cafes en-route, but it’s good to carry some snacks for the more remote sections. Carry sweet, calorie-dense stuff, such as dried fruit, flapjacks and candies.
- Good clothes: maybe you don’t usually wear proper cycling gear. And maybe you think your normal clothes are good enough. But they aren’t. You need waterproof layers, thin but warm layers, and most importantly…
- Padded cycling shorts: you don’t want a dead bum or a sweaty groin, so cycling shorts really are essential. If you think they aren’t, you’ll soon realise that they are. For women, these are some of the best. And these are the best for men.
- Waterproof coat: carry a thin waterproof coat for any heavy rain.
- Camping stuff (but only if you’re camping)!
- Puncture repair kit: you’ll probably get a puncture. I know you don’t think you will, but you probably will. This one comes with a mini pump. How cute.
- 2 spare inner tubes: one for each wheel. Make sure they fit your tyres.
- A good portable bike pump: you want your pump to have a pressure gauge and a lightweight build – and you want to make sure it fits your valve, whether it’s Schrader or Presta.
- A good bike, but you should have that already. Good luck on the Coast to Coast without one.
- Bike lights: if you don’t already have great ones, get some great ones, and make sure you get one for your front and one for your back. Though you shouldn’t cycle the Coast to Coast in the dark, you need lights just in case you ever get caught out.
- Good panniers and a good rack: make sure these fit your bike, and make sure they’re big enough to fit all of your stuff. Waterproof panniers are a good idea.
- Bike lock: a strong one is a good one.
- Helmet: don’t ride without a helmet you dingus. Make sure it fits your head.
- Cycling glasses: good polarized cycling glasses keep flies, dirt and debris out of your eyes without impairing your vision.
- Cycling gloves: good cycling gloves help with grip, reduce pain and keep your hands warm. If you’ve never before been on a long-distance cycling trip, you might think cycling gloves are unnecessary. But they absolutely aren’t.
- Hi-viz jacket: a good high-viz jacket shouldn’t just be visible – it should also be a good windproof, waterproof top layer.
- A big smile: when things get hard, you’ll need it.
… and last of all, make sure you pack that map and guidebook which we’ve already listed.
How Do I Break the Coast to Coast Cycle Route Down?
That’s completely up to you! Most cyclists spend 3 or 4 days on the route, which is about average mileage for a relatively fit and experienced cyclist.
But do whatever you want – if you’re interested in the pure physical challenge, you could do the Coast to Coast in two days. If you’d rather treat the trip as a laid-back vacation, you could do it in a week or even longer. If you do the route slowly, you can spend more time taking photographs, enjoying scenery and eating and drinking loads of good old English food.
It’s your trip, so do whatever you want to do. I’m not your boss.
You could even add a day or two of non-cycling to your trip if you’d like to spend more time relaxing or enjoying the places you visit.
To get an idea of your personal mileage, you should attempt a couple of smaller cycle trips – and you’ll then be able to get a much better estimate of what you’re capable of.
If you’re camping, winging it is absolutely fine, as there are plenty of welcoming campsites along the way. If you’d prefer to stay in proper indoors accommodations, make sure you book them before you set off, as lots of the best (and most popular) ones often get booked out well in advance.
The best places to stop along the way are Keswick, Penrith, Consett and Newcastle, but there are lots of charming tiny villages along the way too if you prefer something a little more quiet and quaint.
Is the Coast to Coast Cycle Route the Same As the Coast to Coast Walk?
No. lt’s sort of similar, but it’s not at all the same route.
The Coast to Coast walk takes hikers from St Bees (which is very close to Whitehaven) to Robin Hood’s Bay, in the North Yorkshire Moors National Park. So while both sections traverse a similar region of England, they follow different routes, involve different challenges and take in very different sites.
Are There Any Other Coast to Coast Cycle Routes in England?
Yes, there are lots. Here are some of the best:
- Way of the Roses – Morecambe to Bridlington: this one measures in at 171 miles (275km), and runs through Lancashire and Yorkshire, crossing the Yorkshire Dales National Park and other remote areas of beauty.
- Hadrian’s Cycleway – Ravenglass to South Shields: this traverses the length of the iconic Hadrian’s Wall, making for the most historic coast to coast challenge in England. It clocks in at 170 miles (274km).
- Reivers Route – Tynemouth to Whitehaven: this is considered to be an alternative route to the Coast to Coast, as it has the same start and end points. But at 170 miles (274km), it’s a little longer, and it reaches further north, into lots of remote and barren stretches of challenging terrain.
- Walney to Wear (W2W) – Walney Island to Sunderland: if you want a northern cycle trail which is tough and challenging, this 151-mile (243km) route is the best pick.
- Transpennine Trail – Southport to Hornsea: this 215-mile (346km) journey is the least rural and remote of the northern coast to coast trips, passing through and beyond lots of towns, cities, rivers and canals.
- Devon Coast to Coast – Ilfracombe to Plymouth: most English coast to coast routes are in the north of the nation, because that’s the narrowest region. This one is a little different, as it cuts from Devon’s south coast to its north coast. It’s mainly off-road, and it’s a slightly shorter jaunt of 99 miles (159km).
There are also other long-distance coast to coast routes in other parts of the UK. In Scotland, the two top picks are the Caledonia Way from Oban to Inverness, and the Scottish C2C, from Annan to the Firth of Forth. For more options, check out my complete selection of the best cycling routes in Scotland.
In Wales, the best coast to coast cycle route is the Sarn Helen, a lengthy north-to-south trip from Conwy to Worm’s Head.
Coast-to-Coast Cycle Route Top Tips
- Don’t underestimate how hydrated you need to be. Carry at least two good water bottles, refill them as often as you can, and drink from them as often as you can. Cycling is often more sweaty than you think.
- Practice packing before you go. It’s important to pack light and pack small, so that your stuff weighs as little as possible and fits into a space which is as small as possible. Don’t just pack on the day before you leave – have a practice run.
- Pack less than you think you need. You might think you need five shirts and five pairs of shorts until you have to cycle them up a massive climb. Halfway up that massive climb, you’ll start wishing you’d never brought them. Always pack lighter.
- Make sure you’re accustomed to road cycling. If you’re not, you’re not prepared.
- Ensure your bike is in excellent condition before you set off, with relatively new inner tubes and parts which perform almost as good as new. Take it to a service store if you’re not sure how to check and maintain your bike alone.
- If you’re taking kids with you, plan more time than you think you need. Kids like whining.
- Prepare for all weather, even if you’re expecting brilliant temperatures and non-stop sun. English weather is notoriously unreliable. You’ll love it.
… that’s my guide to England’s Coast to Coast cycle route!
It’s the most iconic cycling challenge in England. But while it’s an impressive feat, it’s also pretty manageable and achievable, which makes it appealing for many types of people. For your first long-distance cycling route, it’s an excellent choice.
Want to know more about UK adventures and destinations? Stick with us. We’ve got guides on cities, hotels, road trips, restaurants, accents and some of the region’s most unusual attractions. We’ve even got a great guide to the Coast to Coast walk for anyone who’d rather travel on feet than wheels.
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