You’ll have probably heard of the Coast to Coast road cycling challenge, or perhaps the mega hike, but what about an off-road equivalent? Taking in the hills of the Lake District, Yorkshire Dales and North York Moors national parks, this 222 mile (357 km) epic is not one for the faint-hearted.
The creation of Tim Woodcock and documented in his 1994 guidebook, the route combines parts of Wainwright’s well-established walking route and adds more indirect chapters that make the adventure accessible by bike. Having said that, with some punishingly steep gradients and technical tracks to cover, there’ll certainly be some hike-a-bike too.
From the Irish Sea in the West, across the staggeringly beautiful mountains of the Lake District, into the green, rolling valleys of the Yorkshire Dales and across the high expansive heather landscape of the North York Moors, your journey to the east coast at Robin Hood’s Bay is one you’ll certainly remember for a good while.
Here I’ve proposed the route over 7 stages, which would be a good week’s jolly, but of course you can plan to go faster or more leisurely. What’s for certain is that there’s plenty to do and explore as you move your way across the country, with incredibly varied landscapes, rich history and friendly towns and villages awaiting you. As it stands, the current Individual Time Trial on this route is an incredible 23 hours and 16 minutes. Phew!
Due to potentially severe weather and boggy conditions under tyre, I’d recommend choosing the summer months over a winter attempt on the Coast to Coast route. There are several parts of this trail that pass over very high and remote ground, so make sure you have all the appropriate kit, first aid equipment and emergency procedure planning that you may need.
Bike-wise, you’ll certainly be glad of some chunky rubber and easy gearing on this route, with a lot of steep and technical climbs and lumpy descents! A mountain bike is certainly recommended, but if you choose to use a gravel bike, just be mindful that you may be walking a bit more of the way, or taking it much steadier.
Starting and finishing in two small coastal villages doesn’t make access totally straight forward, but it’s not far to local train stations. There’s a train station at the start in St Bees, and at the finish you can take the traffic-free Cinder Track along the coast to the south for 15.8 miles (25.5 km) to reach the train station in Scarborough.
Check out the hiking Coast to Coast Collection here: komoot.com/collection/888237/hike-the-width-of-england-in-13-stages-coast-to-coast
From the little coastal village of St Bees on the Irish Sea, this first stage will take you into the heart of the Lake District and over the mighty Black Sail Pass. After following the tradition of dipping your back wheel in the sea to start, you’re in for a brilliant 28.8-mile (46.3 km) ride through the Western Lake District National Park. This first stage predominantly features gradual uphill climbs, before finishing with the steep slopes of Black Sail Pass and a shorter but equally punchy climb up Old Corpse Road. Cheery, eh?Start by heading inland from the beach, taking High House Lane. When you cross the main road, join the Whitehaven to Rowrah Cycle Track, bypassing Moor Row and Cleator Moor villages. Just past Rowrah, you’ll leave the cycle track to ride past High Leys Nature Reserve, a gorgeous marshy grassland full of little critters.On lanes again, you’ll head south-east to skirt the edge of the Lake District National Park, crossing the boundary as you reach the shores of Ennerdale Water. From Bowness Point you’ll take the dirt track along the northern bank of the water, the largely flat trail ramping up so slightly that you don’t even notice. Continuing on upstream, you’ll follow the side of the River Liza that feeds into this lake to Ashcrag Holme, where the climbing starts properly. You’ll see the deep, dark red hues on the elevation profile here marking the steep sides of Black Sail Pass. Prepare to mount your bike on your back, over your shoulders or push it alongside you; there are certainly parts of this climb that you simply have to walk. Although brutally steep, it isn’t that far, and the views from the top on a clear day make it totally worthwhile. Not spending too long at the top getting chilly, descend the equally steep south-western side of the pass to Gatherstone Head, and down further to Wasdale Head. The singletrack is rated S3, meaning that you’ll need some skill and experience here due to the potentially unbroken trail and obstacles (check out the full singletrack grading scale at komoot.com/help/mtb-scale). If at any point you don’t feel comfortable riding, don’t be afraid to walk with your bike.From the bottom at Wasdale Head, take a short, flat section of singletrack past the National Trust campsite, before tackling the last climb of the day on Old Corpse Road singletrack. The gradient is steadier than Black Sail Pass but still tricky as you make your way up to Burnmoor Tarn. The day ends with a long descent off the tops, running parallel to Whillan Beck down to Boot. In this little village, you’ll find a campsite, plus a couple of bed and breakfasts and two country inns.
Leave the charming little village of Boot behind today as you embark on stage two, a 23.8 mile (38.4 km) ride to the bustling Lake District town of Ambleside. The two major climbs come early in this stage, after a short warm-up along the flat, up Halter Fell and Walna Scar Road.Start by following the River Esk up through Eskdale along the road. You can see the road ramp up before you into one of the most feared and loved climbs in the area; Hardknott Pass. Rather than climb this, you turn to the right, doubling back on yourself initially on the singletrack that climbs the lower slopes of Halter Fell.From the grassy and more mellow beginning, the climb gets progressively more challenging, technical and rocky. You might need to walk with your bike for a while here, especially if heavily laden with camping gear. It mellows out again at the top, past Kepple Crag and then descending down to the River Duddon. There’s little time for rest here, as the lane that takes you over the river leads you straight into the second, and arguably more tough climb. Walna Scar Road is a lane that turns to singletrack, scaling the side of Walna Scar up to the slate quarries, where you have some brief respite (i.e. single digit gradients) before ramping up again to the top of Walna Scar at 1,930 feet (588 metres).Take in the views here of the surrounding Coniston Hills before blasting down the singletrack on the other side. Steep, rocky and with some really tight switchbacks, it’s a marvellous trail to descend which becomes more straightforward nearer the end of the slopes. You’ll descend for what seems like forever, all the way down to the town of Coniston.The two big efforts of the stage complete, the remainder is much more straightforward. Start with a short and unfortunately unavoidable stint along the main road toward Holme Fell, before peeling off on more quiet lanes at Shepherd’s Bridge. The lane crumbles before you into a bridleway as you head north to Little Langdale.From here, cross the road to continue on a mix of small lanes and bridleways as you head north-east, passing through the village of Elterwater. The last leg of the day contours around the northern slopes of Loughrigg Fell on Loughrigg Terrace, which offers incredible views over Grasmere and then Rydal Water. You can take it easy here as you’re within a stone’s throw of Ambleside, home to many shops, pubs, cafes and restaurants to satiate your appetite, plus a great selection of guesthouses, hotels, campsites and hostels that are well-used to catering for exhausted outdoorsy-types!
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Bothies, bridleways, and many, many hills await you on stage 3 as you exit the Lake District National Park to the east, covering 33.6 miles (54.1 km). Prepare to be either heading up or down today as you ascend 4,921 feet (1,500 m), with the majority of the climbing in the first half of the stage. Leaving the thriving honeypot town of Ambleside, make sure you’re stoked up on supplies before heading south, immediately climbing up through Skelghyll Wood on a dirt bridleway. You’ll reach the head of your climb at Robin’s Lane Stack, where you can look back to enjoy gorgeous views over Windermere Lake. Descend Fell Lane and singletrack to Patterdale, where you’ll cross the river to head straight up Garburn Pass. This singletrack trail goes all the way up to 1,486 feet (453 m), where you’ll summit and head over the other side, steeper on this second side down to Kentmere. Up again, this time it’s on a less technical doubletrack. Ride up between Kentmere Pike and Green Quarter Fell to reach the next valley, crossing the River Sprint at Sadgill. Next you have the most severe climb of the day, and the last major one, Gatescarth Pass. You’ll start the ascent on a doubletrack gravel road, running along the River Sprint in the opposite direction to the flow of water, watching as the water level dwindles to a stream. Hugged between the towering peaks of Kentmere Pike and Tarn Crag, you’ll climb steadily at first, before a simply brutal section of 20% gradient forces most off the bike and into a hike. It eases off a little after this, as you reach the pass between Branstree summit and Tarn Crag. After a short stretch along the top here you’ll reach the remote Mosedale Cottage bothy, the least visited of the three bothies in the Lake District due to its difficulty to reach. The next stretch leads you out of the National Park on a more gentle singletrack that bears north-east, passing Wet Sleddale before crossing the River Lowther to exit. Pass through the village of Shap, built along the A6 before crossing over the M6 motorway toward the Pennine Hills. Follow Harberwain Lane to the village of Crosby Ravensworth, before taking the singletrack Bank Lane across the moorland to Coalpit Hill. From here you’ll gently descend to the end of the stage on Sayle Lane into Great Asby. In the village you’ll find a good pub with rooms, plus farm cottages, a bunkhouse, and campsites nearby.
Stage 4 will take you 38.8 miles (62.5 km) from the little village of Great Asby in Cumbria to the south-east, finishing in Reeth at the other side of the Yorkshire Dales.After a small climb out of Great Asby to warm the legs, the first part of the stage is fairly flat, taking lanes to the town of Kirkby Stephen via Soulby. You’ll only start to climb after you’ve passed through the next quaint village of Winton as you approach the Yorkshire Dales National Park, joining the singletrack from Mossmire Hill to ride alongside the River Belah. You’ll return to the road pretty soon on Burras Brow, reaching the summit of your first climb of the day at the historic Tan Hill Inn, which is well worth a look around and pause for something to eat.Descend into Swaledale along the singletrack that runs parallel to this famous road cycling climb, straight down to the River Swale at Keld. Here you’ll join the Swale Trail, a wide, golden gravel path that runs alongside the river, over little bridges and past waterfalls. From Gunnerside Lodge you’ll head down to cross the river, and after a short stretch along the road, take the unpaved Dubbing Garth Lane to continue alongside the water on the opposite side. It’ll now be time for your second major climb of the day. Although shorter, gradients ramp up more steeply for some sections as you make your way up between High Carl and Pickerstone Ridge on a gravel doubletrack. The steepest parts come at the very start, leaving the river, then after a short respite, as you near the summit. Over the top, you join the Apedale Road, a wide gravel road over the moorland surrounded by disused lead mine workings, great holes and disused, crumbling buildings. Enjoy this fast and open descent as you follow Apedale Beck, before turning to the left for more up. This final climb is short as you haven’t yet descended all the way back down to river level, up to the summit of Greets Hill. Road cyclists will know the climb well, but here you’ll be on a bridleway doubletrack rather than smooth tarmac. The descent that comes next is a corker, first down to the road on this open and breathtakingly beautiful trail. You’ll finish the stage on the road, taking Hargill Lane straight down into the valley below you. Crossing the River Swale at Grinton, it’s a short pedal to Reeth, a characteristic Dales village with ample places to stay and enjoy a pie and ale!
After the first few tough stages crossing the mountainous Lake District and hill Yorkshire Dales, stage 5 is almost somewhat of a rest day.You’ll ride 28.5 miles (45.9 km) to the North Yorkshire market town of Northallerton, with just one short, steep climb up to Marrick before crossing the flatter Vale of Mowbray that divides the Dales from the North York Moors.Start the fifth stage by leaving Reeth behind to head south-east along the lane by the River Swale to Marrick Priory. Here, take the unpaved doubletrack of Sikelands Lane that ramps up the hillside into Marrick village, where you rejoin tarmac on Crook Bank Lane.Turning east, take another gravel road with a short but ever-so-sweet descent down to the Swale, before following Cat Bank to Marske. You’ll follow Clapgate Bank out of the village before taking the unpaved road to West Applegarth.Follow this way along the bank as it turns to singletrack, through the next hamlet and along the secluded bridleway through Whitcliffe Wood before dropping down into Richmond, a gorgeous market town that’s claimed to be the ‘jewel in the heart of North Yorkshire’.It’s well worth spending some time here in Richmond, with a plethora of cafes and restaurants to visit to relieve your appetite, plus the Richmondshire Museum which is a must-visit if you’re interested in the history of this area. From the town to Northallerton at the end of the stage, you’ll neither climb nor descend as you cross the flat plains of Vale of Mowbray. After singletrack linking Richmond to nearby Easby, you’ll take lanes and a short stretch of main road to cross the A1 motorway, through Brampton-on-Swale and Danby Whiske.Finish the stage by riding through the village of Brompton just to the north of the market town of Northallerton. The stage officially ends here to avoid going off the original route set by Tim Woodcock, but I’d recommend a short pedal to Northallerton where you’ll find a much better selection of amenities, including plenty of charming guesthouses and friendly places to eat and drink.
With no less than 39.7 miles (64 km) to cover, riding up onto the North York Moors, the penultimate stage of the Coast to Coast is no mean feat.From the town of Northallerton in the Vale of Mowbray to the little village Glaisdale, this is the final big push before a slightly shorter and more easy-going final stage to finish the challenge. It’s a hilly stage with more climbing than descending, but at least you’ll be eased in gently. Start by taking the slight uphill gradient of the Stokesley Road to Osmotherley at the foot of the moors, before turning north up Beacon Hill, riding along the bridleway through this traditional North York Moors field system. From the top, the singletrack Cleveland Way delivers you down to Coalmire Lane, before you rejoin the Way along Crook Beck. Take Scugdale to the east, before peeling off to climb the steep bridleway up to Brian’s Pond. This one is tough, don’t be afraid to walk if you have to! Over the top, the descent takes you to the east to rejoin lanes at Raisdale Mill, then through the settlements of Chop Gate and Poolehouse. Here your next climb begins, at first on road up past East Bank Farm, then wiggling through East Bank Plantation on singletrack before reaching the top over Bilsdale East Moor on a wide gravel doubletrack. You’ll rumble along the tops of these moorlands for a while now, best enjoyed in August when the whole view is awash with purple heather. You’ll start to descend again when you pass over the pretty little drovers bridge at the start of Skinner Howe Cross Road, a golden gravel way that stretches ahead of you for miles. Climb back up gently from Westerdale, before the more sharp incline to reach Blakey Lane. Head south on the road to climb to Rosedale Head, before turning east again, along Knott Road to Seavey Hill. From this point you’ll descend for the rest of the stage. The singletrack first follows Fryup Trough (what a name, eh), before passing Dale Head to join the paved road at Glaisdale Rigg. Peeling off to the right at the fork, this becomes a glorious gravel road descent all the way down into the village on the high street. A village once built on agriculture and iron mining, it is now a quaint little place with a few Bed and Breakfasts and Inns, plus much more in a small radius to choose from.
With a shorter distance of 26.3 miles (42.3 km) and more descending than climbing, the final stage is a brilliant journey to the North Sea that should leave you with plenty of time to enjoy some fish and chips on the beach. You’ll leave the little North York Moors village of Glaisdale to head south-east firstly, before almost doubling back to the north on the brilliant Cinder Track into Robin Hood’s Bay.After descending out of the village on the road to the train station, ramp straight back up the hill on the gravel road to the south, over Glaisdale Beck and up through the woodland to Smiths Lane. Back on tarmac, you’ll descend all the way back down again to cross the River Esk into Egton Bridge. Your next move is to follow the Esk along Barnard’s Road to the east, a small lane that runs parallel to the water. This’ll deliver you into the peaceful little village of Grosmont, perhaps the perfect place to stop for a cuppa in one of the many tea rooms there. You’re faced by mighty gradients of up to 24% for a short while out of the village as you climb up Fair Head Lane onto Flat Howe. These mega gradients don’t last long thankfully, and the climb eases off nearer the top. After a short stint along the road on top of the moors, you’ll take a singletrack trail to Stony Leas, crossing the moorland past Brown Hill to join a small lane by Castlebeck Farm. Changing direction, you’ll follow this lane to the north, joining Robin Hood’s Bay Road, before turning right onto a track leading across Stony Marl Moor. Descending the wide track steeply off of Stoupe Brow, you’ll now join the well-marked Cinder Track, a railway retired in 1965, which leads you right into your finish village of Robin Hood’s Bay. Although you’ll likely be both hungry and tired, be sure to ride right down to the bay and complete the tradition of dipping your front wheel into the North Sea, as a celebration of your coast to coast crossing.