Nigel, Miff, John and Peter at the start of the C2C ride, June 2007.
Thanks to Nigel (far right) for his recollection of the C2C "epic" which he, Miff,John and Peter completed in June 2007.
Some notes on the experience
We rode Whitehaven to Sunderland from Wednesday to Friday with overnight stops at Penrith and Parkhead Station. Weather was warm with thunderstorms.
We rode with crappy MTB's with changes of clothing etc. I managed with a large expanding rack pack, Miff used a smaller rack pack and bar bag, John and Peter used panniers. I found that a single water bottle was more than sufficient.
The weight of kit and bikes certainly restricts the handling of the bikes, the ability to climb and as a consequence, the pleasure in riding the route. First piece of advice, keep it light. You do not need a change of cycling clothing, (though you do need sufficient to cope with wet/cold weather), more below. Keep B&B footwear as light as possible, (I use a pair if pool side flip flops.) You do not need a towel or electric razor, though a small piece of soap and tube of travel wash would be useful. You can make a light fleece double as your cycling cold weather protection and B&B wear (again if weather is cold).
We followed the Sustrans map (almost). The route is by and large well signed, but signage suffers from being obscured by growth of vegetation and vandalism from Consett to Sunderland.
In towns the route uses roads plus shared use cycle tracks and pavements. You have to keep a very close watch on maps, signs and surroundings to avoid missing paths. I find the use of a pavement on the "wrong" side of the road most off-putting; signage is in the wrong place, you need to tackle roundabouts the "wrong" way round, even if this just involves crossing the road, (you have accelerating "blind" traffic on your left).
Up to Rookhope, the route is largely on road or asphalt paths. After Rookhope it is largely on unsealed surfaces. Until you reach Rookhope, you begin to wonder why you bothered with a MTB.
Use the recommended side road and forestry road up Whinlatter Pass. You have to retrace for about 0.5k on the main road at the top. Call in at the cafe. The route is not well signed here, but you just keep straight on past cafe and descend an unsealed road. Don't go mad on the descent. You are riding with extra weight on the bike making it more difficult to control. Your tyres are probably at 50psi (for road rolling resistance) so they tend not to grip so well on the loose surface (25-30psi desirable). You come out at a T junction which is not signed. You turn right and descend another 200m to old A66. Trust the signage rather than your instinct and the view of Keswick. You'll be brought through Portinscale to Keswick the pretty way.
The stamping point in Keswick is at "Open All Hours" in St John Street. Instead of following the route and turning left from Main Street into Bank Street with the main traffic flow, walk up through the pedestrian area leaving on the left side by Gregg's. This leads through to St John Street; the shop is about 50m on left. We retraced to Gregg's in the pedestrian area to supplement the OAH purchases with something more substantial. There are some seats in the pedestrian area. We then re-retraced towards OAH and turned left into Station Street, turning right at the cross roads with A5271. We thought that we were rejoining the route, but in reality our minds were focused on the bus and park shelter as a thunderstorm was just starting. We may have made a mistake at this point. We had intended to follow the railway track bed to Threlkeld and should probably have gone straight across into Station Road at that point, (but would have been on the wrong road to see C2C signage). What we actually did was to climb to the stone circle, then descend joining the old A66, which crosses the new A66 into Threlkeld. (Mid-summer's day, so road by stone circle full of cars.)
Eventually you end up climbing a drag up the side of the A66 for about 1k to Scales. At this point the route goes north to Mungrisdale and you get away from the traffic. After Greystoke the route goes left into Cumbria? College campus. The signage inside the grounds is confusing. You go straight on (and cross motorway by an underpass?). We thought that we were following the signage and came straight back out onto road. Since we could see another thunder cloud approaching we cut our losses and made a dash along the road and into Penrith.
We stayed in Penrith. B&B land is Victoria Road, which is the south end of the A6. There is a very good Chinese in King Street (to north of Victoria Road). Owners used to run takeaway in Darlington. They treated us very well. The pub opposite the "Board and Elbow?" whose name I have forgotten, looked quiet, was pretty quiet, and has a good pool table. The stamping point is at the Spa shop on the route out of town. This is in Burrowgate (you might remember the old bus station here where the GNE bus terminated). Burrowgate is to the west of Middlegate, which is the south bound part of the one way system (on line of old A6). From here the route climbs to the beacon - you might recall the struggle to the old youth hostel.
Approaching Renwick (5 lanes junction?) we decided to take the off road option. To begin with this was a pleasant lane, but starts to climb over the fell side. This is mostly rideable, though because of the weight on the bike, and consequent lack of control around larger stones and holes, we eventually ended up walking. It eventually comes out on the Hartside - Renwick road. We rode up this to join the Hartside road and road to the summit. We declined the off road sections as they were too steep to ride loaded bikes. We ate lunch at cafe at top. Not many motorbikes on a Thursday. The descent and road to Garrigill are well known to us. Now you struggle up from Garrigill, over road to Middleton and keep on upwards. Eventually you have the descent of Dowgang Hush to Nenthead. Treat this with respect, you need to have checked the speed by the time you turn the final corner and hit the steepest part of the descent.
Stamping point is Miners Arms, good for food. We know the road from Nenthead, through Coalclough to Allenheads from Sunday runs. Stamping point is at Hemmel tea room behind Armstrong's hydraulic engine. Known to us as rendezvous point for Sunday rides where we meet up with Tyne Velo and Tyneside Vagabonds. Good food. Over top to Rookhope. Turn left, to take the off road route and start up the old railway incline. You may need to push bikes on this because of quality of surface. Again it's the weight vs. controllability. (The road over Green Head plus ascent of Crawleyside are not an easy alternative.) However, the off road route will be closed during shooting season (>= 12th August). At the winding house you reach the railway line across the moor. You can see Parkhead in the distance. The track is rideable until the last 1k where the drainage has collapsed. Most of this last 1k is ridable with care (and is quite fun).
Parkhead has come a long way since the days of cafe in a caravan. Q6 on wall of the dining room, K1 on wall of bedroom, what more needs saying? They are going into C2C business in big way. I was told that they will transport you to/from either end and allow you to park there for the duration.
Now you start the long descent on a good quality surfaced railway track. You have to pass through some annoying anti motorbike gates. The crossing of the viaduct before Consett is quite spectacular.
At Consett, the stamping point is at Morrison's, about 1/2k from the route. This is where the Derwent valley line diverges, so what follows might not be relevant. To get to Sunderland you need to retrace to the point where you left the route, then take the RH pavement. The route through town is not straight forward, and at a sports field is not signed. It's the left of 3 tracks that you need to take (heading towards Burnhope mast). From here to Sunderland, the stench of doggy doo along the path, graffiti, vandalism and destruction of signage gets worse. Keep your eyes open for signs and paths in Stanley. When you get to the A19 there is a temptation to prematurely cross at an underpass where signage has been vandalised. You keep on and start descending into Wear valley to find the correct underpass. From then on the path along the north bank of the Wear is pretty easy to follow, though is disrupted where some river side buildings and sites intrude.
We did an overnight at Penrith and Parkhead. These were about right but ...
We didn't get away from Whitehaven until about 12:30. This was too late really. It would have been better to have over-nighted there and got on our way at about 9:30.
Penrith to Parkhead was just right. The cycle shop stamping point doesn't open until about 09:30 - that's why we found Spa.
We were away from Parkhead at about 09:30 and arrived at Roker Beach at about 13:15 (despite sheltering for 30 minutes under the A1(M) from a torrential downpour). You cannot travel as quickly along the railway paths as you might think. The anti motorcycle barriers stop you about every 2k and there are many dog-walking.
Washing cycle clothing
From many years cycle touring in France, we learned how not to carry excess spare clothing. When you get in to B&B the first thing you do is take a shower. Shake as much water off yourself as you can, then use the hand towel on yourself. Whilst showering, place bib shorts, under-vest, top and socks in sink with squirt of travel wash. (Sachets of shampoo will often suffice for travel wash.) Rinse through in clean water twice and gently squeeze excess water. Lay cloths on bath towel and roll up. Dance on roll (bare feet) for about 3 minutes, unroll and hang cloths in a suitable place for drying (often in window). A thin bungee cord for holding waterproof to top of bag often doubles as a washing line! With modern wicking sports fabrics, most of the water will have transferred to the towel, and cloths will dry quickly. Socks take longer to dry. I carry 2 pairs. I have never had to put on damp cycle kit in the morning. Washing avoids skin infection problems (saddle sores) and makes you more socially acceptable. Wet cycle shoes are another matter. If they are wet and dirty, wash them in sink/shower. Stuff them with newspaper, change newspaper after an hour, remove newspaper and let air circulate overnight. They are usually sufficiently dry the next day.
Nigel Hall, June 2007