The C2C has a good mix of ‘off’ and ‘on road’ sections and has, I think, got the balance about right to suit most cyclists. For the experienced off-roader there is nothing on the C2C to worry about and even for the majority of other cyclists there is nothing you won’t be able to manage provided you take it sensibly and accept your bikes and your own limitations. Order your route map from Sustrans, consider the following points and plan your route (off or on-road) to suit your fitness, your bikes capabilities and your own personal expectations of what you want from the C2C. Whatever you decide to do don’t completely rule out the off road bits as these can be massive fun and that is, after all, what you are doing the C2C for.
Wythop Woods – mile markers 16 to 17
The off road section here starts with an easy ride on a farm track running through fields before entering the forest section proper. The track here is quite rutted in places and can get very slippery after rain but is still rideable with care. However the whole of the downhill section should be treated with extreme caution as it is very steep, tricky and part way down there is a sharp right hand turn which if you don’t make leads to a very nasty tumble down the side of the forest.
Further down you cross a forest track (go straight on; on no account should you turn right and follow the track for 2 miles as I did in 2000 -sorry again Lou!) and then carry on downhill on an excellent piece of singletrack which eventually levels out to meet the road route into Braithwaite.
This is one of the most technical off-road sections on the whole of the C2C and I can guarantee that MTB’ers will love it, however for the more sedate/road/younger cyclists amongst you great care should be taken when riding this section, perhaps even seriously consider starting at Whitehaven if you are riding non MTB’s or fully laden with panniers etc. If you have a road/touring bike and still wish to start from Workington then The C2C Guide suggests you look at turning left at milemarker 14 and go via Routenbeck joining the busy A66 (there is a wide ‘gutter’ for you to ride in) and then rejoin the route proper just after milemarker 17.
Whinlatter Forest – mile markers 23 to 26
The off-road route down Whinlatter is a brilliant, fast descent through the forest with occasional glimpses of Bassenthwaite Lake far below and is suitable for all bikes except those with the skinniest tyres. The first section is taken just after the long pull up from Lorton and is 1.3 miles long on the right hand side of the road, this is an undulating, well graded forest track which leads you to a short stretch on the road before pulling into the visitor centre and the start of the downhill stretch which twists and turns to Thornthwaite. Parts of this bit are steep and it is all too easy to pick up speed only to be confronted by a looming corner which you cannot make. Enjoy the descent but respect it, a fall here could leave you with a very nasty ‘gravel rash’ or worse!
The Old Coach Road – mile markers approx. 34 to 38
This off-road section is not suitable for road bikes. Starting just after the descent from Castlerigg Stone Circle, the Old Coach Road is a high, exposed and technical section which is very demanding on both bike and rider requiring stamina, perseverance and the right equipment. This section can be inhospitable in bad weather so come prepared with adequate foul weather clothing, that said though on a a fair day it is a tremendous route to take with stunning views and a wonderful sense of isolation and adventure.
The track itself is very rocky and loose in places and has a tendency to ‘puddle up’ after rain on the upper flatter level. There is a long steep pull up prior to reaching the top level which is very hard work, most cyclists will have to bite the bullet and get off and walk their bikes up although it is rideable all the way if you are a hardened off-roader adept at rocks and very loose stones! At the top of the climb the track levels out and you are rewarded with a brilliant ride of 3 miles over quiet moorland with absolutely stunning views – on a clear day!
Hartside – milemarkers 64 to 70
The off-road route up to Hartside summit is without doubt the hardest on the C2C, it is very steep in places and sometimes virtually un-ridable. After rain sections of the track can be very wet and boggy underfoot and even after a spell of fair weather the terrain can remain wet for a long time. Mountain Bikes are your best bet for tackling this section although I have heard of people riding (and pushing!) hybrids up here!
Split into 3 sections, the first is 1.5 miles long and is a quite well surfaced track from ’5 road ends’ to ‘Selah Bridge’ with a couple of short but steep hills. This section doesn’t suffer from ‘bogginess’ but can still have rivers of water running down the track when it has been raining.
The second section is over and up the side of the moor and is in places practically impossible to cycle and is also by far the wettest terrain. This is the place you will almost certainly have to get off your bike and push. Beware also that there is an old ‘Pack Horse Bridge’ half way along this part that has no sides or handrails and you should dismount and walk over this, it has been the scene of a couple of accidents resulting in severe injuries over the past few years.
The third section is a short, rocky track up to the summit cafe which bypasses the final bend in the road, it is rideable but will also leave you out of breath! Most folk will be off their bike at the Milenium Milepost – bow theres a challenge for you!
The general consensus of cycling off-road to Hartside is that it gives you a tremendous sense of achievement but leaves you somewhat K-Factored!
Garrigill – mile marker 77 approx
This is a very short but very steep and stony off-road section leading out of Garrigill to join the B6277. This is a killer, the most I have managed is 50 yards of the hill and even then I nearly killed myself doing it. My advice is save your energy, pick up your bike and walk it! One consolation though is the water splash just before the climb, it is brilliant fun – especially in hot weather!
Priorsdale and Nenthead – mile marker 78 to 80 approx
The off-road alternative route to Nenthead starts with a steep track out of Garrigill then a short road ride to Priorsdale (beware the hidden ford lurking at the foot of the hill just before the road runs out).
The track over Priorsdale is an easy off-road ride mainly on a well surfaced track which should pose no problems for most cyclists. The route then travels through the old mine workings and into Nenthead on a rocky and sometimes steep descent. Caution should be exercised on the descent as it is very easy to build up speed and a crash here will hurt!
If you ride a suspension bike then you can blast all the way down but for us ‘rigid’ riders things can get a bit bumpy. This section can be great fun as long as you treat it with respect. Road/Touring/Pannier laden bikes would probably be better taking the road route into Nenthead.
Nenthead (off road alt. to the road) – mile marker 79
I remember once setting off to ride this out of curiosity until I got into conversation with a local. He told me that it is really bad and even the local sheep don’t bother using it. Needless to say I took the road route but further reports suggest it may not be that bad, I have been informed that it is a bit of a push but there are some seriously fit people who have ridden it all. If you intend riding this section then a mountain bike will be needed to give you half a chance.
Rookhope Incline – mile marker 92 to 99
The Incline is the last big hill of the route and most people will do well to ride all of it without stopping, I have managed it twice and that was a few years ago when the track was smoother and I was a bit younger!
The surface now is rough on the Incline with loose stones and protruding rocks making it difficult to get a decent rhythm going. The first 200 yards are very steep followed by a slight leveling out then the long, gradual pull up but once you reach the top (and sometimes it feels as if you never will) the views looking back over Rookhope are stunning and an excellent section of off-roading awaits you.
From the top of the Incline to the start of the Waskerly Way the route is a mixture of track, very narrow rutted sections and a highly amusing part with deceptively deep puddles and lots of sliding in the mud. Great fun, particularly if you rode it on slicks like me!
All in all this is possibly the best off-road section of the C2C, in parts technical, in parts challenging but all the while hugely enjoyable. A mountain bike with knobbly tyres will be advisable on this section. The road route travels through Rookhope and into Stanhope for those preferring to give the incline a miss! N.B. This section is closed at times during the shooting season, notices will be posted and the alternative route must be used!
Routes into Sunderland and Newcastle
Both of these routes heading into the respective finish points use disused railway tracks and can be called technically off-road although there is no limitation as to which type of bike you use as the tracks are well graded and firm. Both routes have something to offer and the choice is entirely yours as to which you take. Firstly, for me at least, the Sunderland finish is the traditional finish point (ie Whitehaven to Sunderland) but the route into Newcastle via the delightful, wooded Derwent Walk is more scenic and secondly wins again due to the lack of control barriers which are a pain to navigate on the Sunderland section.
However the route into Sunderland is also quite a scenic ride along a disused railway track with the added bonus of passing lots of weird and wonderful artworks (don’t miss the Beamish Cows!) The route into Sunderland was changed in 2001 to omit the horrible Pallion section and now ends up passing by the magnificent Stadium of Light football ground before finishing by riding through the marina and onto the beach at Roker.