The Plan: Drive up from Leeds to Whitehaven during the day Saturday to do the route in 4 days, staying at the end with friends who live not far from the coast near Sunderland. Then get the train back over to pick up the car at Whitehaven and drive back again east before going home. We changed this plan a couple of days into the trip and split what was a very long looking last day in two and thus giving us a leisurely final leg on the Thursday. This turned out to be an excellent move as when we had finished the route we did have another 10 or so miles to tag on to get to our friends’ house.
Bikey Technical details:
Andy: Cannondale Bad Boy. Rack and Rhode Gear kiddie seat carrying Holly (3 years old and approx 2 5lbs) and towing a BOB Yack trailer with luggage for 4 (weight est. 40lbs.). Also used a bar bag with a map holder which is essential gear for such a trip.
Liz: Marin Bear Valley roadie spec. with rack and Rhode Gear kiddie seat. Carrying Jamie (18 months old; approx 25lbs).
Guides used: Ultimate CtoC guide 2nd edition (Excellent Books) and the Sustrans map which is essential.
Day One (Sunday): Whitehaven to Keswick
It has to be said that our Whitehaven B&B left a little to be desired, and the same I guess could be said about Whitehaven itself. Nice promenade and harbour though. The 4 ashtrays in the B&B room gave the game away. A bit smelly but it was OK – at least the breakfast in the conservatory overlooking the promenade sort of made up for the soft beds etc, and it was very close to the sea front for an easy start of the trip. We were on a steep hill though which made loading up the bikes first thing with kids and trailer a tad tricky.
The weather was forecast to be OK and although a bit overcast there didn’t seem to be anything nasty looking coming in off the sea from the West. I think we started the kids off in rainproofs just in case and we were in our light windproofs. Note that in the town there is much restricted parking (residents only) near the promenade which was OK while we were there as we have a disabled parking badge (Holly has cerebral palsy), but we ended up leaving the car for the trip duration just up the road on an unrestricted residential parking area opposite some houses (which was fine). The other alternative was a local garage that will lock your car up for a fiver a day.
With the kids’ weight on the back of the bikes we decided it was probably best to avoid the ‘traditional’ dipping of tyres in the sea on the promenade as one false move on the slippy jetty would have ended the trip before we’d even started. The route out of WH is a tad convoluted on tracks with routing “around the back of Netto” and through a couple of housing areas etc. However, is easily followed, guided as you are by the excellent C2C signposts, and fairly pleasant. Indeed, soon we were out of town on a cinder track kind of affair heading toward the Lakes.
It was then we encountered a problem in the form of access gates on the tracks. Twice in a short space of time we had to unhook the trailer to get round the low bar style aluminium gates which were just not wide enough for it – or much else for that matter (a standard sized wheelchair – I don’t think so). This was most annoying as, apart from the trailer being bloody heavy, we had both kids crying at one of these “all get off and unload” stops, plus I bent the drop out on one side of the trailer while taking it off onto the concrete path and had to bend it back with me plyers from the tool bag. (This was actually the only technical we had on the whole trip.) However, it all settled down after a few miles and we soon found the minor roads that we’d be on for the rest of the day. Nowt much in the way of hills as we trundled through an assortment of pretty Cumbrian villages, but did manage to miss our first marked tea shop stop completely as we just didn’t see the particular village!?
The weather had warmed up nicely and the sun had come out, the kids were happy and the scenery was lovely so we carried on to the village of Loweswater, just past the lake itself, turning slightly off the route (by ½ mile or so) and finding an excellent pub for our lunch.
The plan had been to get a decent break about every hour. A sensible average of 10 miles an hour on the road would mean we could split the days up into 3 cycling spells, and the kids (and we!) would need a couple of good stops. On the whole this is exactly how it worked for the 5 days. We might spend 2 hours over lunch in a coffee shop or pub and go for a walk round the area, or at least let the kids have a run about and play for a good while. This was everyone stayed happy, and the whole thing was done at a decent leisurely pace. And of course, we were always obliged to go and find the park and the swings for the kids of an evening, and we always seemed to roll into the B&Bs just as the Tweenies was starting on Cbeebies on the telly - so everyone was happy!
After Loweswater we were now getting great views of the Western fells and it felt great to be biking in the Lakes. A few miles after this stop though we knew we had a major climb: the Whinlatter Pass, and sure enough it was pretty horrid. The height gain was mainly on a (very) minor road and was incredibly steep in a couple of places. As the first big climb on the trip it worried the life out of me with the trailer on the back in that it was physically almost too hard to pull the thing up the gradients. I forced it up the steep bits (sweating and swearing a lot!) but did get up them, and then almost died on the last few little undulating pulls on the main road up to the top (which turned into a pattern for all the big climbs to be honest so beware!). At least right at the top there is the reward of the forest centre with its splendid visitor centre and coffee shop. Cue long rest break as we knew it was pretty much now all downhill on the last few miles into Keswick. Afterwards we made the mistake of doing the off road descent through the forest (should have stuck to the road with the trailer), but we eventually rolled into Keswick and located the B&B late afternoon. The Keswick B&B was great – top quality and only a short walk from town. The kids were able to have a play on the swings etc so they were happy and we ‘dined’ for the evening in the square outside the trusty Old Keswickian on their excellent fish and chips. Jamie amused himself and everyone else by chasing the pigeons around the square.
Day 2 Keswick to Penrith
The morning ritual was set at Keswick with breakfast (my final full fry up of the trip I should add) and then a walk before packing up and setting off. As it was a relatively short and easy day we left it until about half ten until we got going on the bikes. Weather: fine and sunny.
The track from the station is excellent apart from the annoying gates every so often. Oh, and I almost had a head-on with some tosser coming from the opposite direction as we exited the path onto the side of the A66. Ok – it says “cyclists dismount” but you try dismounting and rolling down that short, sharp incline with a bloody great trailer – it was safer to stay on and roll down slowly. So I did this and there was this bloke who was hitting top speed at the end of his descent down the pavement tarmac on MY side of the track, and about to race up the incline into the trees. Luckily he saw me, braked and avoided a nasty crash. Ho hum. Then it was off the main road, through Threlkeld and along the pleasantly undulating lane (more gates – and one really horrible one on a corner on a steep incline which was another trailer danger: hill starts are not easy!). First stop of the day was at the pub at Mungrisdale. Lovely weather so the beer garden in the car park was fine. Our sandwiches (bought that morning from Greggs in Keswick – opens at 8:30 which is most handy); their drinks and their toilets.
Mungrisdale pub stop. Jamie performs for the camera.
Lovely scenery back to the A66 from the pub and then it was back onto lanes through to Greystoke where we did another stop at the village green with supplies from the shop. Penrith. We’d not been there before and it’s a rather fine looking town – but very traffic-ridden it has to be said. The B&B (Brandelhow Guest House) was excellent: lovely large en suite room, and near the town centre.
We found another great kiddies playground up the hill near the castle and Safeways, and were planning to go for the Italian restaurant in town but he kids were tired so we took the McDonalds option instead. There was an exceptionally loud thunderstorm in the middle of the night, but the morning dawned fine and clear once again.
Day 3 Keswick to Nenthead
Weather: fine and dry. Forecast was a barking mad 32 degrees, but mercifully we got some cloud cover. It was very warm and humid all day.
Due to very hilly nature of the forthcoming day the ‘light option’ breakfast was taken: cereal followed by scrambled egg, bacon and toast.. We avoided the rather convoluted looking CtoC route through the town by cycling straight up the hill from the B&B to join the top road (recommended) and thence commenced the day’s proper climbing! To be honest the dreaded Hartside pull wasn’t that bad as it’s not too steep – just loooong. However, once on the main road at the top there’s that utter horror of having the end in site and yet it’s still around a couple more zig-zags so doesn’t seem to get any closer. Luckily by this time we were moving with a group of fellow CtoC folk from (it turned out) near home who’s verbal encouragement was a great help. Still, I had spots before my eyes and a tremendously sore back and kidneys from the sheer effort when we eventually rolled into the Hartside Café car park. The best part of 2 hours stopped there did lead to a complete recovery mind, along with copious amount of tea and food! Great views back west from up there.
The bikes admiring the view and resting outside the Hartside café after their arduous ascent.
And then it’s down and down t’other side which was a joy with more fabulous scenery to behold. (For those of a squeamish nature planning on tackling this route mention should be made about the amount of dead rabbits splattered about the roads all along the way – it’s fluffy bunny carnage out there folks.) And then, just when we thought it was safe to trundle to the evening stop, we encountered the Garrigill climb. Jeez – and no chevron markings at all on the map. The steepest road climb on the whole route? Maybe equal with the one coming out of Stanhope on day 4 but this one has no warning: a right turn off the road and minor it’s road wicked gradient hell. Dammit I was ALMOST past the worst when I had to stop for a breather, and did push a bit up to the crossroads near the first top (well, it was the second big climb of the day…).
But it was those “undulations” (as it says in the book): the four or five smaller climbs past the woods towards the mast that really got me: bugger they hurt. And another thing - the descent into Nenthead is VERY steep – easy the steepest part of the whole route. I had my brakes practically full on and I was still rolling down, pushed by the weight of the trailer. Thinking about it if it had been wet I would have been in serious trouble – maybe disk brakes next time? The B&B, No1 Glenview, was along the end of the street up and round the back of the pub and was another iffy one: a bit smelly (dogs this time) and scruffy; very soft beds etc. However, there was a wonderful view of the valley from the window, and the landlady gave us a load of fruit and fruit juice when we arrived, and she washed a load of stuff for us for free, AND she only charged us £40- letting the kids go free (the sympathy vote I think!).
We headed for the excellent looking kids playground in the village (there’s not much else in the village it has to be said) and encountered a solo CtoC’er, Celia, who was looking for a camp site for the night. We directed her into the Nenthead Inn and she was still there when we all went in ourselves looking for food. She joined us for an excellent meal (pasta - fuel for serious hill climbing!) and a beer in the conservatory bit. It’s so nice to meet and chat with fellow cyclists – especially ex-courier type girls who work in cycle shops and teach people cycling safety and can talk gear ratios! She went for the camping in a field option and was duly hideously midged on what was a warm, humid night (the threatening rain held off for her though). We suffered the soft beds and a ropey breakfast including stale cornflakes: eww.
Day 4 Nenthead to Consett-ish
We knew there was a big climb coming first thing out of Nenthead, but it was not too bad – again a long one but not too steep. The weather had looked a bit ropey first thing – possible rain – so we had our waterproofs on for the first time, but it just spotted a little and held off, clearing up nicely again as the day went on.
A great run over the top and down once again into Allenheads, and there we did a big tea and cake stop (with Celia, who’d caught us on the climb) at the excellent café next to the Allenheads Inn. By the time we set off again the sun was out, and the next town was Stanhope, which is where we did that day’s long lunch stop in an excellent café in the town (just off the route, but worth the detour). We ate as soon as we sat down to give us as much digestion time as possible, and as ever avoided stodge like fried stuff (no chips!). At the café we bumped into the Hartshead climbing group again which was fun.
The climb out of Stanhope is the last on the route, and, let’s face it, torturous: a mile or so of steep winding B road up onto the moors, and even when you finish the serious steepness there it still keeps going up with more of those horrid undulations, which look like rests up ahead as you go over the little tops, but are in fact stretches of less steep uphillness. The reward for your endeavours however is the utter joy of the Waskerley Way. Just before what looks like the final uphill road you are directed off rightwards through a gate, and then it’s about 15 miles of downhill at full tilt on a dead straight cinder track (it’s an old railway) with just the odd gate to contend with. Marvellous.
Day 5 Consett-ish to Sunderland
We’d booked into a B&B (Castleneuk Guest House) just before Consett in Castleside (a mile or so off the route). Nice B&B, not much to write home about in the town.
After the problems in Whitehaven I wanted to avoid access gates on the route and there were plenty marked on the map now we were back in urban areas. So, I marked an alternative B road route on the map avoiding the CtoC round the Stanley area and re-joining at Washington Arts Centre where there was a café. (With hindsight I think we could have stayed on the CtoC route as the access gates we did see this end were all the high ‘A’ style ones which we could get through no with the trailer problem.).
Washington Arts centre café is hugely recommended by the way: top place, great food, nice and cheap and seats outside (we stayed in side in the cool as it was too hot outside!) and a handy wall against which to lean bikes.
After this lunch stop we had the last leg through to the prom at Sunderland. All a bit convoluted through the urban spread of Wearside, and we somehow managed to cross the bridge into Sunderland town centre before we realised we’d gone wrong. Past the Stadium of Light and around the rather nice new harbour complex leads you to the end … somewhere on the prom. Actually a bit of a let down really as there’s no marker statue thingy like there is at the start. But, hey ho, we’d done it and we marked the occasion with a photograph on the prom, then and continued along the coast in the sunshine for a few miles to our friends’ place.
Finished: but where’s the marker post?
The train journey and drive back the next day took about 6 hours in all. The ticket from Newcastle cost about £14.
All in all it was a great trip. We and the kids all had a really good time and we reckoned we paced it perfectly for all concerned. We were very lucky with the weather: no rain at all. With the kids I would not fancy the Pennines or Northumberland Moors in anything other than decent conditions. The route is fairly hard in that it is damned hilly in the middle, but anyone who is reasonably fit could do it no problem, even if they have to get off and walk a bit. Oh, and I’d recommend you use a mountain bike with smooth tyres as you’ll need those low off roading gears for the big climbs.
A Crookrise rainy day come good
The Meet That Never Was......
Hanging Around in The Peak
A Tale of Two Winter Belays
Winter Skills in the Cairngorms
LMCer's in the Pass
Dave & Holly's trip to Yosemite
Paul's trip to Ailefroid (Alps)
C2C - A taste of things to come??
The Greenwoods Go Climbing
Lots of photos in videos with music
Wasdale Head Meet
Buttermere - Dalegarth Campsite
Tour of the Lake District