The hills are highlights? Of course they are! The climbs on the C2C cycling route are what sets the entire route apart from the handful of other coast to coast routes in the North of England. Call them what you want – ‘reverse downhills’, ‘character builders’, ‘leg warmers’, there’s no escaping the fact that if you want to cycle across country on the classic C2C route, you’ll have to encounter some serious climbs. Some cyclists plan to ride the route in ignorant bliss of the amount of ascending they’ll have to do, some choose the route for the challenge that the climbs offer, but whatever expectations are before the trip the hills on the Coast to Coast are one of the most memorable aspects of the journey.
Don’t despair – if you want to cycle coast to coast but without the major hills, the Way of the Roses and Hadrians Cycleway are two other coast to coast routes that don’t involve anywhere near as much ascent and descent. If you really, really don’t like cycling (or pushing) uphill then the C2C isn’t for you. If you’re not sure, ride it anyway and you’ll soon find out!
There are seven notable climbs on the C2C, although this is always going to be a subjective description as what one cyclist describes as ‘notable’ does, of course, depend on the terrain they normally ride and what they have ridden before. Some have a more fearsome reputation than they deserve, which can overshadow one or two of the smaller, but no less challenging climbs. As an example, most people who start the C2C have heard of Hartside Pass before, but comparatively few have heard of Crawleyside Bank.
So here are the climbs as you’ll encounter them from East to West. If you cycle the coast to coast over the most popular duration of three days you’ll encounter the bulk of the climbs on day two as you ride into the North Pennines. The distances and gradients of the climbs were derived from Strava segments and the profiles embedded from the Veloviewer website.
Lorton to Whinlatter Pass
Length: 2.9 miles / 4.6km, Average gradient: 4.3%, Max. gradient: 25.7%
This is the only major climb on the first day of the C2C and begins after you have a good 20 miles in your legs to get you nicely warmed up. There are just a couple of steeper sections over the course of the three-mile climb, the first and steepest of which comes just as you leave the village of Lorton on a direct route upwards. It’s not uncommon for this initial ‘ramp’ to leave riders wondering whether they have the legs for the rest of the ride, but as long as you engage the granny gear nice and early and keep spinning away your confidence will grow as you reach the top of this section. The remainder of the climb winds its way gently along the valley side – with one short, steep exception after you cross the bridge over Whit Beck – and the upland landscape will roll past at a pleasant pace.
The reward for your effort could be a well-earned stop at Siskins – the visitor centre cafe. This is a wonderful place to sit outside amongst the trees in England’s highest forest, but it can get chaotically busy around lunchtime at weekends which is about the time when most C2C cyclists pass through.
Renwick to Hartside Pass
Length: 4.5 miles / 7.2km, Average gradient: 4.3%, Max. gradient 15.7%
Your entry into the North Pennines from the Eden Valley begins with the four-mile climb from the fellside village of Renwick to the summit of Hartside Pass. The climb enjoyed some brief national success as the finishing point in Stage 5 of the 2015 Tour of Britain, albeit on an easier route to the top from Melmerby. There are a few factors that give Hartside more of a fearsome reputation than it deserves, not least is the fact that the top of the climb coincides with England’s highest cafe. The cafe looms within your field of view most of the way which can be a tad distracting if you just want to focus on the next hundred yards. There are two or three steeper sections and tight switchbacks on the way to the top, but the steeper sections are cancelled out over the four and a half miles to give a possibly benign sounding 5.2% average gradient. But this is the last thing you want to hear as you huff and puff your way to the summit sign.
Rewards: The views are extensive – from Hartside you’ll have a wide-screen vista of the Lake District and you’ll often be able to see across the Solway Firth to the Scottish hills of Dumfries and Galloway. If reaching the summit isn’t cause enough for celebration, you’re also halfway across the country when you get here, so stop for a brew and an unfeasibly large slab of cake in the cafe.
The Climb out of Garrigill
Distance: 1.7 miles/ 2.8km, Average gradient: 8.7%, Max. gradient: 22%
This is one of the two avoidable climbs on the C2C route, as you can detour through the pleasant town of Alston to take you along the Nent valley to arrive at Nenthead. You’ll still be climbing from Alston to get to Nenthead, but the gradient is much easier on the legs than the punishing section out of the village of Garrigill. Of all the climbs on the C2C, this is the most direct, with no switchbacks to lessen the gradient. It starts steep and remains steep for at least the first mile before easing off as you approach the top of Nunnery Hill.
The reward: some brief satisfaction that you’ve ticked off another climb, but you’ll have to keep your wits about you for the descent as it’s even steeper on the other side. When you get to the bottom, refreshments are available at the Miners Arms and the community-run cafe in Nenthead. You’ll probably want at least a brief stop here as the next climb begins as soon as you leave Nenthead.
That’s three down, four to go and we’ll talk about the remaining climbs in part two. Read our other post for advice on how to prepare for and tackle the coast to coast hill climbs.