This is a ride along what is effectively Day One of the Coast to Coast or C2C long distance bike trail that heads from Whitehaven on the Irish Sea Coast to Sunderland (or Newcastle upon Tyne) by the North Sea. Whitehaven to Keswick is an especially scenic stretch of 33 miles or 53km through West Cumbria into the heart of the Lake District and the superb views just get better as you progress – when you can see them that is.
Leaving the pleasant harbour area of Whitehaven the route – which is well signposted for the C2C – briefly joins a busy road though you only need to survive this for a couple of hundred yards before a blue sign directs you out of harm’s way down a fenced off alleyway on the left at the back of rows of terraced houses. After the town’s football ground is passed the track bends to the left and climbs a gradual incline in what was once a railway cutting – the C2C route here following its course.
The track now followed a steady easy gradient up between trees and when the trees parted they revealed a view of the rolling green fields of west Cumbria with the clouded hills of the Lake District promising greater things to come. The route out of Whitehaven – considering the steep descent to the town by road – is surprisingly easy.
The first 10 miles is off road but on a surfaced track with easy gradients and just after the route passed the hamlet of Rowrah, it took to tarmac once again along a minor lane before turning right up another lane through Kirkland with views of the Lakeland Fells and the western end of Ennerdale away to the right. It now appeared to be raining on the mountains though so far I had remained dry despite my having been out a whole hour. This is actually not bad going for the Lake District.
The road was definitely climbing now, towards the green foothills of the Loweswater Fells and the familiar blue signs still pointed out that I was on the C2C – route number 71 – which at least meant that I was not yet lost. To be honest though, these National Cycle Network routes are usually very well signposted and I had only used the map to guage my progress rather than to check directions. A sharp left took me up to 245 metres – the highest point so far – near the conical green hill called Knock Murton before heading down through Lamplugh and a more gradual ascent to where a right hand turn led to a fast run down to Loweswater. Here the rain started.
I couldn’t complain though – this had been a great ride so far and even the road sections had been almost traffic free. I’d seen a few other bikes but not so many – perhaps they’d seen the weather forecast though here it’s not a case of whether it’s going to rain – it’s when.
Dramatic mountains rose above the Vale of Lorton and nearby Crummock Water with Whiteside and Grasmoor being particulary impressive, rising over 2000 feet above to meet the sullen grey rain clouds. Across Loweswater, Mellbreak too was impressive despite being of lesser height. From under a large tree I admired the damp but beautiful views, ate some lunch and then – realising that it was futile to shelter from rain that could easily last out the rest of the day – I set off again towards Keswick. Besides, someone once said that a wet day in the Lakes is better than a sunny day in Manchester and riding through Lorton in the rain was most definitely better than negotiating traffic on Oxford Road – whatever the weather.
Still following the blue signs for the C2C and route 71, I passed a group of damp looking cyclists and some even damper sheep by a gate and followed the lane steeply up behind some houses in Lower Lorton – another tiny Lakeland hamlet. This was the way to Whinlatter Pass which would be the highest point of my route today though not of the C2C. The B5292 which is the main Whinlatter road is not particularly busy but I didn’t see one car on this minor lane which climbed the pass steeply at first and then at a slightly easier gradient. The rain stopped as well and I was able to enjoy my leisurely (slow) ascent of the pass.
The lane joins the main road for a short distance before I was directed off into the woods on one of the tracks that thread through Whinlatter Forest and as I set off into the woods I saw the group of bikers I’d seen below getting out of a big white van where the track left the road and my greeting of “cheat” got a laugh from the driver but not from the riders!
The part of the route through Whinlatter forest is the best part of this ride but I guess that if you’re on a road bike with loads of kit you can just ride over the road to Braithwaite – it would be a shame though and the off road bit is pretty easy. The blue signs are still in evidence though I was confused for a moment on re emerging onto the road and being directed left – away from Keswick. It just takes you back a little way to the visitor centre where I went to the end past the car park and restaurant – which is excellent and good value if you’ve not brought lunch – to be greeted with views of Skiddaw and a wonderful twisting descent through the trees on another forest track.
The top of Whinlatter is 318 metres or just over 1000 feet above the Irish Sea I’d left earlier and the descent is steep in places but not technical though care is needed if you’re not on a mountain bike designed for such descents. If on the other hand you want more of a challenge then there are excellent mountain bike trails leaving from the visitor centre we just passed. The track ends at another quiet lane near the southern end of Bassenthwaite Lake. Turn right onto this lane otherwise you will not be going to Keswick after all.
When I reached Braithwaite after just over a mile I rejoined the main Whinlatter road and followed it a short way to the A66 where the route followed the footpath on the right so avoiding probable death by riding on the main highway which is treated as a racetrack by a profusion of cars, motorbikes and trucks.
Keswick is a right turn at the main roundabout a couple of miles further on where a trip down to Derwentwater is obligatory. If you’re going further – towards Greystoke and Penrith – then the next part of the route is good too along a track that follows the course of the old railway to Threlkeld and I’ll post that one here just as soon as I do it.
Pete Buckley June 2011