Off-road or traffic free sections
The C2C has a good mix of on-road, off-road and traffic free sections. Some of the off-road bits are suited to MTBs. First of all, the traffic-free: long sections of the route comprise these sections, some along gravel tracks and old rail lines. These are not ideal for thoroughbred skinny-tyre road bikes, though they are manageable if you put winter tyres on. Those who want to avoid these sections can easily do so, though it does detract from the overall experience.
Most bikes are absolutely fine for the Sustrans route and the balance of quiet lanes and traffic-free is about right for most cyclists. For the experienced off-roader there is nothing on the C2C to worry about, though if you do opt to take the old Coach Road beyond Keswick, you are in for a reasonable challenge, just as you will be if you go through Wythop Woods on the Workington braid or up Hartside.
Remember to look at the map whilst planning the trip and if you do want to bomb all the way on a racing machine, then just follow roads that are parallel to the idyllic traffic-free bits, but remember to take care.
Order your route map from Sustrans or from this website, then plan your route to suit your fitness, your bike's capabilities and your own personal expectations of what you want from the C2C.
Wythop Woods – mile markers 16 to 17. Workington - Keswick route.
The off-road section here starts with an easy ride on a farm track running through fields before entering the forest section. The track is rutted and slippery after rain but is still rideable if you take care. But the downhill section should be treated with caution as it is steep, tricky and part way down there is a sharp right-hand turn which you need to negotiate if you wish to avoid a nasty tumble.
Further down you cross a forest track (go straight on: on no account should you turn right and follow the track as you will only have to retrace your steps) and then carry on downhill on a good section of single track 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 MTBers will love it. Unless you know what you are doing and have the right bike you might be best starting at Whitehaven.
However you have a road or touring bike with panniers and still wish to start from Workington then the C2C Guide suggests you look at turning left at mile-marker 14, via Routenbeck, joining the busy A66 (there is a wide gutter lane 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. It is an undulating, well graded forest track which leads to a short stretch of road before swinging into the Whinlatter Visitor Centre, and the start of the downhill stretch which twists and turns all the way 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 makes serious demands on both bike and rider. You need stamina, fitness and the right equipment.
This section can be inhospitable in bad weather so come prepared with adequate foul weather clothing. However 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 rocky and loose in places and has a tendency to puddle up on the upper flatter level, so watch out of potholes. There is a long steep climb prior to reaching the top level which is hard work. Most cyclists will have to get off and walk although it is rideable all the way if you are a hardened off-roader. At the top of the climb the track levels and, weather permitting, you are rewarded with stunning views along a three miles stretch over moorland.
Hartside – milemarkers 64 to 70
The off-road route to Hartside summit is very steep in places and sometimes unridable. After rain, sections of the track can be boggy and remain sodden for a long time even after a spell of good weather. Mountain bikes are essential for this section. I have done it on a hybrid and it is not to be recommended.
Split into three sections, the first is 1.5 miles long and is a well surfaced track from 5 Road Ends to Selah Bridge, with a couple of short but steep hills. This section isn't boggy but can still turn into a stream when it rains heavily.
The second section runs along the side of the moor and is practically impossible to cycle in places. This is by far the wettest terrain on the entire route and you will almost certainly have to get off and push. Beware also of an old pack horse bridge half-way along: it has no sides or handrails. Please dismount as there have been a couple of serious accidents here.
The third section is a short, rocky track up to Hartside Cafe at the summit. This bypasses the final bend in the road. It is rideable but is a bit of a lung buster. Most folk dismount at the Millennium Milepost. Climbing to Hartside off-road is as knackering as it is exhilarating, so don't try it unless you are fit and prepared.
Garrigill – mile marker 77 approx
This is short, sharp shocker: very steep and stony, the off-road section leads out of Garrigill to join the B6277. You will be lucky to manage 50 metres of the hill so save your energy, pick up your bike and walk it. One consolation is the water splash just before the climb, 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 easy to build up speed.
This section can be great fun as long as you treat it with respect. Road and touring bikes with panniers would do better to take the road into Nenthead.
Nenthead (off-road alternative) – mile marker 79
This route is so bad that even the sheep don't use it. Some seriously fit people who have managed to ride it. If you intend to have a go then you will definitely need a good mountain bike, even to stand half a chance.
Rookhope Incline – mile marker 92 to 99
The Incline is the last big hill of the route and you can be proud of yourself if you manage to ride all of it without stopping. The surface is rough with loose stones and protruding rocks, which makes it difficult to get a rhythm going. The first 200 metres are very steep followed by a slight levelling out, then a long, gradual climb, but once you reach the top (and sometimes it feels as if you never will) the views back over Rookhope are stunning and some excellent off-roading lies ahead.
From the top of The Incline to the start of the Waskerly Way, the route is a mixture of narrow rutted track with with deceptively deep puddles and lots of slithering about in the mud. Great fun.
This is possibly the best off-road section of the C2C, in parts technical, in parts challenging but, for all that, hugely enjoyable. A mountain bike with knobbly tyres would be advisable. The road route goes from Rookhope to Stanhope for those preferring to give The Incline a miss.
N.B. This section is closed at times during the grouse shooting season. Notices are posted and the alternative road route must be used.
Routes into Sunderland and Newcastle
The routes to both the finish points are along disused railway tracks and are suitable for all bikes. They are traffic-free rather than off-road. Both are lovely rides and the choice is entirely yours. Whitehaven to Sunderland is the traditional route, but the ride into Newcastle, via the delightful wooded Derwent Walk is more scenic and has the advantage of having no control barriers, which are a pain to navigate.
The ride into Sunderland is also scenic. It follows an old railway track lined with lots of weird and wonderful artworks, such as the Beamish Cows made from industrial scrap. The route passes the magnificent Stadium of Light football ground, home of Sunderland AFC, before finishing at the marina, where you can dip your wheels in the briny at Roker beach.