There has been much discussion on the It’s all on the BIKEmagic forum concerning coast to coast routes, and you may have heard me mentioning my own version of the route. Well here it is!
‘Designing’ a coast to coast route is certainly not easy, especially crossing the Lake District through the central region. There are many east-west bridleways through this area, however almost none are rideable, all having been former pack horse trails. It is fairly certain to state, however, that the boldest and most obvious east-west bridleway is the least practical – the one via Styhead Pass, Sprinkling Tarn, Esk Hause and Rossett Gill. Carrying your bike uphill may be considered ‘part of the game’, but carrying it all the way downhill is certainly not funny! The two major crossing on this route, Greenup Edge and Grisedale Tarn, most definitely aren’t easy, but at least offer some entertaining descending in Easdale and Grisedale as part re-payment for your effort. And coincidentally this route also follows Wainwright’s original walkers’ coast to coast as close as legally possible.
In 1973 Alfred Wainwright conceived the Coast-to-Coast Walk. In a stroke of genius he created a long distance footpath from St.Bees Head to Robin Hood’s Bay, linking three national parks in the North of England. The route was not only challenging but incredibly scenic, and has now easily eclipsed the Pennine way in popularity.
Almost as soon as the mountain bike arrived on these shores, mountain bikers also wanted a piece of the action, and a mountain bike coast-to-coast was also devised. Unfortunately, more than one coast-to-coast ride was penned and published, with the only criteria seemingly that it should start at St.Bees and end at Robin Hood’s Bay. With the introduction of the Sustrans “sea2sea” ride, variants finishing in Newcastle or Sunderland are now also commonplace.
I think these routes should be called “A coast-to-coast ride”, as the opposed to “The coast-to-coast”. My criteria when designing my route was simple: to stay as close as legally possible to the walkers’ route. Throughout the course of the 4 or 5 days required to complete this ride, you will travel through the same towns, across the same moorland, and stay in the same youth hostels as the backpackers. Then, if anyone asks you where you have been in your week off, you can quite honestly state that you have “ridden the coast-to-coast” without feeling like a fraud.
I rode this route in 1990 and 1998.
The First Day
The first day is very hard!
The day starts at St.Bees (as it should!!), and finishes at Patterdale or Glenridding. The day involves much pushing and carrying, real mountain scenery, and up to 12 hours of effort. Luckily it also includes some superb sections of top-class mountain biking, to make it all worth while.
From St.Bees use minor roads to pick up the Ennerdale cycleway at Rowrah. At the end of the cycleway at Kirkland, drop down into Ennerdale, but almost immediately take the Floutern Gap bridleway up the fellside toward Buttermere. This crossing has plenty of riding, but some horrendously boggy sections.
After dropping down the steep grass slope to Crummock, ride the lakeshore bridleways along the south side of Crummock and Buttermere to Gatescarth. (Alternatively you may prefer to ride the full length of the Ennerdale forest, and rejoin the route after crossing Scarth gap). Here follows a tarmac crossing of Honister Pass, which is actually preferable to the BW rising round the back of Fleetwith Pike.
From the top of Honister drop down into Borrowdale, through Seatoller, and into the side valley containing Stonethwaite. Here begins the brutal climb of Greenup Edge which takes you over to Grasmere. The crossing involves large amounts of carrying, but the descent along Easedale into Grasmere is very pleasant.
Refuel in Grasmere for the last pass of the first day, over into Ullswater. The BW for Patterdale leaves the Grasmere valley near the base of the Dunmail Raise road, a mile or so north of the village. It climbs viscously alongside Great Tongue, summiting-out just above Grisedale tarn. Yet again, the descent at least partially repays for the climb, with only the highest reaches of the Grisedale track unrideable. If you have taken as long to complete the first day as I did, you will be enjoying the evening sun as you cruise down Grisedale toward the Ullswater valley.
There are youth hostels in Patterdale and Glenridding, and both are superb. However, the Glenridding YH is situated about 200m in altitude above the village it is named after. Conversely though, Glenridding village has by far the best facilities, with an excellent shop (more varieties of beer than you can shake a stick at!), and a pub/hotel.
The Second Day
The first day is the real baptism of fire, and can be used to determine your ability to complete this crossing. Once you arrive in Ullswater, you need not fear what lies ahead.
Straight from Patterdale, the route crosses the valley, to join the wonderful lakeshore bridleway. This is one of the best stretches of singletrack in the whole of England, and guides you along the flanks of Place Fell to Sandwick.
A short section of road takes you to Martindale church, sitting in a low col, from here ride round the back of the church where a BW takes you to Howtown, over a clapper bridge, and onto the track toward Moor Divock. This is probably the second best singletrack in England (unfortunately when ridden in the other direction!), and leads in 5km of gentle uphill to the crossroads of Moor Divock.
At Moor Divock summit, bear right into the Lowther valley, passing through the village of Bampton on the road. Continue toward the Haweswater dam, turning off left onto the concrete waterworks road, just before the road climbs up by the dam side. This ‘secret’ little road is not a right of way (for legal reasons), but is openly used by the locals without any discouragement from the waterboard.
Follow the concrete highway until it crosses the ‘public’ road to Keld. Pass through Keld and into Shap village. The linear town of Shap offers refreshments, and a convenient lunch stop.
From Shap there are a variety of on-and-off road routes via Crosby Ravensworth, and Great Asby Scar limestone pavements, however, this is my preferred route, which saves time for ‘real’ off roading.
Take the road directly to Orton, or via Oddendale and the track across Crosby Ravensworth Fell. Orton is very distinguished in having its own chocolate factory, which of course, deserves a extended stopover. Unfortunately, there is more road riding after Orton, on minor roads to Newbiggin on Lune. From there a welcome offroad excursion takes you across Smardale Fell to Waitby and Kirkby Stephen. This can be taken as the end of the day, but for those intent on a 4 day crossing, I would recommend continuing until early evening by crossing Nine Standards Rigg to Keld.
The start of the Nine Standards ascent is found by passing through the hamlet of Hartley, just behind Kirkby Stephen. Climb steeply beside Hartley quarry until the road end. From here a boggy bridleway crosses the flank of the fell, to reach the summit of the road pass into Swaledale. Another horrendously peaty bridleway also heads off toward the summit, stopping just short of the actual top. (It’s your decision – I’ve never met anyone up there anyway).
This leaves a superb road descent into Swaledale and the youth hostel in Keld to complete the day with a hard earned rest.
The Third Day
This is without doubt the easiest day of the four, but includes the unavoidable road trek across the Vale of York. Fortunately for the cyclist, this section is reduced from one whole day for the walker, to less than two hours.
From Keld youth hostel, immediately drop down into Keld village itself, where a tiny rutted BW carries you down and across the river Swale. Climb up the far bank of the Swale, and follow the track above the river gorge until a rocky hair-pinned drop to the valley bottom. The track continues along the grassy river bank until the Ivelet road is reached. Keep an eye on the map, because before you reach Gunnerside, a steep vehicle track heads off into the moors, toward the mine workings at Gunnerside Gill.
Upon reaching the track end at the confluence of two streams, and several ruins, the route is complex. Cross the stream and carry your bike steeply up the far bank until you reach a grassy (but narrow) level track. Follow this to the right, until you reach a huge area of spoil heaps. Again, carry your bike steeply up through the bizarre maze of gullies and ridges, fit cyclist may even be able to ride, as the surface here is excellent. All this effort is worth it, as a track is reached at the summit of Melbecks Moor, which is hard, fast, and above all, downhill.
The route here passes through relics of the former mines, ruins, spoil, and rusted vehicles seem surreally out of place almost 600m above sea level in a national park. Simply ride downhill, at every junction, until the motor road is reached. From here it is a short downhill road ride via Healaugh to Reeth. Take care, as the first road downhill to Healaugh is gated!!
Reeth has a fine green, and tea shops a-plenty for hungry bikers.
For the rest of the day, you must be prepared to enjoy the view, and the charm of the fine North Yorkshire market towns, as there will be no enjoyment to be had from the road riding ahead. From Reeth to Richmond is 12 miles via the main road, with much hillier back-road options, or even short bridleway sections for the over-energetic.
From Richmond, take the B6271 to Brompton-on-Swale and Catterick Bridge (not Catterick Garrison), and then Northallerton via as many minor roads as possible (Streetlam, Danby Wiske & Brompton?). For the final section into Osmotherley, a critical decision must be made. Either ride the A684 directly to Osmotherley passing under the A19 dual carriageway, or on back roads via Kirkby Sigston and into Osmotherley from the back, via Thimbleby. However, the second option includes a hectic 500m sprint along the busy A19, which has no hard shoulder to speak of.
Rest well in Osmotherley, for tomorrow concludes with the ride in style, with a crossing of the entire North Yorkshire Moors.
The Fourth Day
This final day involves the least road riding, and the longest section of uninterrupted off-roading of the whole journey. It is also the only day with no carrying, and almost no pushing required. An established route takes walker almost directly from Osmotherley to Robin Hood’s bay; the Lyke Wake Walk, but there is no right of access for cyclists and some sections are appallingly muddy. The described route takes in large sections of another long distance walk, the Cleveland way, as well as a recently opened permissive bridleway across the moor top.
Take the small road north from Osmotherley, past the favourite picnic place of Middlesborough day-trippers, until the cattle grid, where the road drops steeply. At the this cattle grid, take the bridleway to the right, marked ‘Cleveland Way’. Follow this singletrack bridleway twisting through the woods, always following the Cleveland way. After a rapid downhill across a field, and a ford, follow the tiny road to the left, then right, along the dead-end valley of Scugdale. After passing Scugdale Hall, a badly eroded vehicle track forks left, up the hill toward the col on the skyline.
The descent is initially very fast, but then appallingly muddy as it passes down a wooded ravine. Once reaching the road, turn right toward Chop Gate, and then the slow road climb along the B1257 to Hasty Bank.
At Hasty Bank you will rejoin the Cleveland Way where stone steps take you sharply upward onto the highest of the north Yorkshire moors. This push is remarkably short in comparison to those on the first day in the Lake District. You will be able to remount your bike after about 1km, and ride to the summit of Urra Moor, the highest point in the national park. The riding here is on delectable singletrack.
A rocky grouse shooting track takes you down to Bloworth crossing where a disused mineral railway and the famed track along Rudland Rigg cross. Carry straight across Bloworth crossing, onto the disused railway line toward the Lion Inn. This four mile section was, until very recently only a public footpath, with a prominent sign declaring ‘No Cycles’. In fact I only confirmed its recent permissive status the day before writing this article. On the previous two occasions that I passed this way, I rode this track illegally, and judging by the number of other cyclist I met along the way, it must have been one of the most trespassed routes in Britain. The recent ‘opening’ of the route has solved a dilemma over which ‘fantasy’ route to describe, in order to keep the described route fully legal!
The railway line provides smooth, fast and marginally downhill riding. From the Lion Inn at Blakey take the moor-top roads north, then east, (direction-Rosedale), but without losing altitude from the moor-top. A bridleway leaves the road at 703006 (grid reference, not phone number), and it is one of the silliest bridleways ever. A foot wide causeway of stone slabs reaches out through the bogs and bracken. Sometimes the slab are regular and smooth, but often they are tilted, disordered and missing. It is a true test of suspension and riding skill. After a short boggy section, you will reach the excellent singletrack along the rim of Fryup Dale.
Take this renowned track eastward until the Glaisdale road is joined and follow it downhill. After a small rise, and a trig point, hang right onto the ‘unfit for motors’ track. This is a smooth, screamingly fast downhill into Glaisdale village.
From Glaisdale to Grosmont is another road section, there is more than one route, but all involve steep hills. I simply climbed up to Egton, then dropped back into Grosmont at 40mph. The road climb out of Grosmont onto Sleights Moor is incredibly brutal, and may well involve the last push of the trip if strength is deserting you. After a short stint on the A169, take the rough track forking left onto Fylingdales Moor, just above the forest edge. 5km of sometimes waterlogged track guides you between the forest and the military fence to the summit of Lilla Howe.
The early warning station on Fylingdales Moor is visible along this entire stretch, which is now a pyramid, rather than the previous golf balls. At Lilla Howe trig point, turn sharp left along ‘Robin Hood’s Road’, a name which bodes well for your final destination. This ‘road’ is in reality a very technical singletrack, easing in difficulty when it reaches the forest edge. The final section of track is a mystery to me, as I lost it completely in trackless heather. Take whatever path or track you can, to deliver you approximately at the road junction of the B1416 and A171.
You should now be able to see your final destination of Robin Hood’s Bay, with the North Sea 200 vertical metres below you. The descent is rapid and frantic, but unfortunately tarmac. An unwelcome end to an off-road tour, but a dishevelled and weather beaten mountain biker will probably not care as he plunges toward the ocean at 40mph or more! The last section is the steepest, with only local cars allowed, the road drops tightly between the houses, ending on the slipway itself. If you have disc brakes fitted, and the tide is in, sink your wheel into the sea and watch the steam rise. Just like the steam rising of the feet of the backpackers doing the same!
I hope you enjoy this ride. If you want to extend it then by all means restrict the daily mileages to make a 5 or 6 day ride. My style of route tends to be direct, replacing lowland bridleways with road sections, and concentrating on the upland crossings. If you want an even longer crossing then by all means incorporate sections of Tim Woodcock’s excellent 7 day coast-to-coast ride (previously Wheelwrights guides, now Mountain Bikes Routes UK), which follows a less-direct, more southerly route, with superb technical riding.
Kevin Hodgson 2000
Dedicated to Damion Bowmer, ‘veteran’ of the original 1990 crossing.