We covered three of the seven notable climbs on the Coast to Coast Cycling route in The Hills: Part 1. Our second installment looks at the four remaining climbs, between Nenthead in the North Pennines and Parkhead at the top of the very last climb of the route.
Nenthead to Black Hill
Distance: 1.4 miles/ 2.2km, Average gradient: 8%, Max. gradient: 15.7%
Three down, four to go. The climb out of Nenthead is neither the longest nor the steepest of the climbs on the route, but legs are usually getting weary by this point in the day and the knowledge that you’re cycling to the highest point on the entire route can make this climb more daunting than it should be. It’s a steady gradient most of the way with very few steeper ramps, so getting into a comfortable gear and spinning the legs is key. You’ll have to keep your eyes peeled for the left turn onto the road to Allenheads (it’s easily, and often, missed!), otherwise you’ll find yourself in Upper Weardale, which may not occur to you until you’re at the bottom of a very long and enjoyable descent. Wonderful as Weardale is, you’ll have a long backtrack to get back on route.
The reward for this particular climb is the knowledge that you’ve reached the highest point on the entire National Cycle Network and the summit of the climb at Black Hill also marks the border between Cumbria and Northumberland. Geographic proof, if you need it, of your progress across the country.
The Climb out of Allenheads
Distance: 1.1 miles/ 1.7km, Average gradient: 8%, Max. gradient: 12.4%
At barely more than a mile, this is the shortest of the ‘major’ climbs on the C2C and the steady and constant gradient of 8% makes it more benign than most of the longer climbs. However, if your day is ending in Stanhope this will be of little comfort as the legs will be ready for a long rest by now. You may have spent the previous night in Allenheads, which means you’ll have fresh legs and your first climb on the day presents a good chance to warm yourself up and prepare for the tougher climbs ahead. Wherever you’re staying, the friendly village of Allenheads is well worth a stop, whether for a drink or a meal at the Welcoming Allenheads Inn, or a caffeine and cake boost at the nearby Hemmel Cafe.
Upon leaving the village, the climb starts immediately and winds gently through a coniferous plantation before emerging above the valley for more panoramic views of the North Pennines. The reward for this short climb is the longest and one of the most enjoyable descent of the entire route. It’s a very gentle gradient which requires plenty of pedal assistance, but the descent of over four miles towards the village of Rookhope chips away at the remaining miles rather nicely.
Climb from Rookhope around Stanhope Common
Distance: 1.5 miles/ 2.3km, Average gradient: 3%, Max. gradient: 12.2%
After leaving the village of Rookhope you have to be vigilant for the left turn that takes you immediately uphill onto the flanks of Stanhope Common. However, this one one of the avoidable climbs and if you continue straight ahead instead of taking the left, you’ll avoid the climb and stick to the valley side, taking a busier road towards Stanhope after reaching the junction with the Cross Keys pub in Eastgate.
The route around Stanhope Common is more of a series of short climbs connected by gentler, less demanding sections, which gives it a deceptive looking overall gradient of just 3%. But the steeper ramps are enough to lift you out of the saddle occasionally. The steeper descent on the other side towards Stanhope is not much of a reward as you’ll have to keep your wits about you, but you can contemplate the knowledge that there’s only one more climb remaining for the entire route.
The Climb out of Stanhope – Crawleyside Bank
Distance: 2.8 miles/ 4.5km, Average gradient: 5%, Max. gradient: 20.5%
Crawleyside Bank: There’s a clue in the name. This is the sting in the tail of the Coast to Coast cycling route and many riders have been perplexed at the challenge this little known hill (outside of Weardale, that is) presents. There’s no other advice other than get your head down and get on with it, since the explanation that it gets easier the higher you go doesn’t fall on welcoming ears when you’re negotiating the steep, tight bends in your lowest gear.
It’s a climb of three parts, conveniently divided into one mile sections. The first mile takes you steeply out of Stanhope on a winding road with two tight bends where the gradients tip over the 20% mark, the second mile eases off slightly as you emerge from the valley side to reach the open moorland. The final mile is a comparatively steady, flowing ride with a slight uphill gradient.
The reward? When you reach Parkhead Station Cafe the climbs are finished – that’s it! The perfectly positioned cafe in the former railway station provides a timely opportunity to reflect on the last hundred miles with smug satisfaction. It’s downhill all the way from here to the east coast, albeit with a bit of pedalling.
Read our other post for advice on how to prepare for and tackle the coast to coast hill climbs.