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Our Top 3 Long Distance Cycle Routes in Northern England

By Alex Stewart
More by Alex

Which Northern England Cycle is For You?

A winding network of epic cycling routes snakes across the UK. Some of the finest cycling trails are in Northern England, with three classic long distance routes worth considering.

The iconic C2C cycle route, which crosses the country from the Irish Sea to the North Sea coast, is perhaps the most famous. Hadrian’s Wall Cycleway (National Cycle Network route 72) marches along the Roman ruins of Hadrian’s Wall. The Pennine Cycleway North (National Cycle Network route 68) journeys along the country’s rugged spine. All are epic rides with much to recommend them.

But which is the correct route for you?

To answer the question, you first need to consider what you want to get from your bike trip through England. Do you love the idea of cycling across an entire country? Are you fascinated by history and ancient sites? Do you want to pedal up and down mountains, or do you prefer coastal views? Are you looking for a challenge or a journey of discovery?

Perhaps you fancy a bit of all of the above. Below, we look at three of the best long distance cycle routes in the north of England so you can choose the one that’s right for you.

Best Northern English Cycling Routes

C2C – The Wilderness Coast to Coast

Three cyclists in red jerseys cycling on a backdrop if green hills

Distance: 137 miles/220 km
Duration: 5 Days
Route: Whitehaven, Cumbria to Robin Hood’s Bay, North Yorkshire
Recommended Direction: West to east, with the prevailing winds at your back
Max Ascent: 609 m/1998 ft

Best for: a classic challenge and a wonderfully varied ride through three national parks

Basic itinerary:
Day 1: Whitehaven to Keswick (37 miles/60 km)
Day 2: Keswick to Ravenstonedale (53 miles/85 km)
Day 3: Ravenstonedale to Masham (51 miles/82 km)
Day 4: Masham to Stokesley (47 miles/76 km)
Day 5: Stokesley to Robin Hood’s Bay (34 miles/55 km)

The official C2C route, the Sea to Sea, spans the breadth of northern England. A classic long distance trail, this is the most popular cycling route in England, and as such, it can get rather busy.

Our Coast to Coast deviates a little from the classic ride, choosing to finish at Robin Hood’s Bay rather than Tynemouth as we feel it provides a more picturesque ending.

Starting in Whitehaven, on the Irish Sea, you’ll ride deep into the fells of the Lake District. The start of your ride includes the iconic Buttermere Valley and a steep but impressive haul up Honister Pass. Dedicated cycleways and quiet roads let you discover more of the Lakes, including the Eden Valley.

Challenging climbs and thrilling descents follow as you cross the Pennines. Enjoy the views as you wind your way through the Yorkshire Dales on roads used in the Tour de France and World Cycling Championships.

Follow the vast, open North York Moors, where it’s a case of climb, descend, repeat as you pedal across the deep valleys that cross the moorland. A final push takes you to the coast and your end goal, the historic village of Robin Hood’s Bay. Here, dip a wheel in the North Sea to celebrate completing an epic ride.

Pedalling through a dramatic mountain pass

Highlights

  • Ride coast to coast across England, through some of the country’s most spectacular landscapes.
  • Tackle the steep ascent (and descent) from Honister Pass, and soak up the vast views from the top.
  • Explore Buttermere, Borrowdale and Derwent Water in the Lake District.
  • Cruise the length of Yorkshire’s Swaledale Valley on roads used in the Tour de France.
  • Drop in on traditional market towns and beautifully situated villages.
  • Savour local hospitality and refuel in pubs, cycle cafes and award-winning restaurants.
  • For cyclists who choose the Coast to Coast rather than the classic Sea to Sea route, you’ll have a quieter route shared with fewer cyclists and other people.

Bike this route yourself on a Self Guided+ journey traversing the width of England. Learn more below. 

View Trip

Hadrian’s Wall Cycleway (NCN Route 72)

Cycling by a low stone wall in Northern England

Distance: 130 miles/209 km
Days required: 4 days, allowing time to explore the sites along Hadrian’s Wall
Route: Silloth, Cumbria to Tynemouth, Tyne & Wear
Recommended direction: West to east, with the prevailing winds at your back
Max ascent: 250 m/820 ft

Best for: An accessible cycling challenge full of atmospheric landscapes and ancient history

Basic itinerary:
Day 1: Silloth to Carlisle (35 miles/56 km)
Day 2: Carlisle to Haltwhistle (29 miles/47 km)
Day 3: Haltwhistle to Hexham (27 miles/44 km)
Day 4: Hexham to Tynemouth (36 miles/57 km)

Hadrian’s Wall is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and Northern Europe’s largest surviving Roman monument. Begun in 122 AD, the wall pans the beautiful border country between England and Scotland. Follow in the footsteps of Roman soldiers, shadow an ancient monument and travel coast to coast across Northern England.

This route, officially National Cycle Network Route 72, is part of the Sustrans collection of coast-to-coast routes. Hadrian’s Wall Cycleway traces the line of the wall with plenty of chances to pedal into the past.

The official route is 170 miles long and begins at Glannaventa Roman Fort on the Cumbria coast. Riders often shorten the route without missing many highlights and start at Silloth instead. Predominantly minor roads and cycleways take you across England through landscapes and history.

More accessible than the C2C, the Hadrian’s Wall Cycleway is an ideal first-time long distance cycle route or coast-to-coast. It also offers the chance to explore Roman points of interest, including Vindolanda, Chesters Roman Fort and Corbridge Roman Town.

Quiet roads wind back and forth from Hadrian’s Wall, meandering amongst quaint market towns before returning to the ancient defensive wall. You’ll also have time to dismount and walk stretches of the wall for greater insight into what life would once have been like here. Marvel at picture-postcard views of the wall snaking over the crags and outcrops that formed a natural barrier.

Height gain is more negligible than on the C2C and primarily restricted to the crossing of the central Pennine section. This makes it good as a family cycling adventure. Yet the route still offers a sense of wilderness as you pedal through some of England’s emptiest landscapes.

Finishing in Arbeia, South Shields Roman Fort, leaves you perfectly placed to celebrate in the vibrant city of Newcastle.

Grasses blowing on a hill overlooking Hadrian's wall

Highlights

  • Cycle coast to coast across England on an accessible and bike-friendly route.
  • Ride alongside the remains of Hadrian’s Wall, possibly the greatest Roman monument in northern Europe.
  • Explore ancient sites like the stunningly preserved Housesteads Roman Fort, Vindolanda Roman Fort, and other forts, turrets and milecastles.
  • Detour from the route and dismount to walk some of the finest stretches of the Wall still reaching for the sky.
  • Relax in cosy bunkhouses, B&Bs, hotels and inns along the route with like-minded travellers.

If the Hadrian’s Wall Cycleway sounds like your perfect cycling trip, have a look at our self guided trip below. 

View Trip

Pennine Way Cycleway: North (NCN Route 68)

Cycling through remote hills

Distance: 184 miles/296 km
Days required: 6-7
Route: Sedbergh, Cumbria to Berwick-upon-Tweed, Northumberland
Recommended direction: South to north
Max ascent: 580 m/1903 ft

Best for: a little-known route through the centre of England cycling through wonderful scenery.

Basic itinerary:
Day 1: Sedbergh to Appleby (27 miles/43 km)
Day 2: Appleby to Alston (34 miles/54 km)
Day 3: Alston to Haltwhistle (15 miles/24 km)
Day 4: Haltwhistle to Elsdon (42 miles/67 km)
Day 6: Elsdon to Wooler (35 miles/56 km)
Day 7: Wooler to Berwick-upon-Tweed (31 miles/50 km)

The Pennine Cycleway predominantly runs through the hauntingly beautiful Pennine Hills. The complete route journeys between Derby in the heart of England and Berwick-upon-Tweed on the Scottish border. Ride along the ‘backbone of England’, passing through four incredible national parks; the Peak District, Yorkshire Dales, Northumberland and the Lake District. This path is often considered one of the most challenging long distance rides in the UK. Tough though it may be, it is also one of the most spectacular.

Due to the route’s duration, the distance covered, and the cumulative height gain along the route, it offers a different type of challenge from the two coast-to-coast crossings featured above.

For a more reasonable distance, bike the Pennine Cycleway North, the most northern section of the route, which is 184 miles long. This route explores the dramatic North Pennine hills and the wild, wind-blown landscapes of Northumberland National Park.

Instead of traversing the country, you’ll journey up, travelling through unrelentingly wild and rural landscapes. Kicking off from Sedbergh, deep in the Yorkshire Dales, the ride skirts the edge of the Lake District on small country lanes. Drink in the exposed and empty moorland dotted with sheep and snaked with tiny lanes, cruising through the idyllic Eden Valley.

A steep haul up Hartside to the highest point of the route can be challenging, but you’ll be rewarded with some truly epic views and a long descent to Alston after. Once you’re in Northumberland, the route climbs to Hadrian’s Wall, tracing ancient ruins and historical monuments. It’s a mystical place to pause for a moment.

A gently undulating trail takes you to Elsdon with its castle and then into the borderlands. Nestled among the Cheviot Hills, you’ll spend the final night at Wooler. This leaves a final run to Berwick upon Tweed through the countryside that has borne witness to border battles and skirmishes before arriving at the end of the Pennine Cycleway. Cross the historic Union Bridge to ride into Scotland and at Berwick’s rail station, look out for the sign pointing back to Derby.

Sun dappled hills ad moors

Highlights

  • Ride along the spine of England through unremittingly rural and wild landscapes where you’ll encounter more sheep than people.
  • Discover Westmoreland’s lovely villages, favourites of fellwalker and guidebook writer Alfred Wainwright.
  • Pedal through the stunning beauty of Eden Valley. Tackle the steep ascent (and descent) to Hartside Top with views of dramatic hills and fells as your reward.
  • Cruise the lovely railway path to Lambley and the popular market town of Haltwhistle.
  • Explore the remote nature of Northumberland National Park and marvel at the Roman ruins, forts and milecastles that dot Hadrian’s Wall.
  • Visit traditional market towns with historic castles, craft shops and plenty of pubs and tearooms.

Cycle Across England

Meet the Author: Alex Stewart

A childhood being marched up hills and highpoints on family holidays has translated to a lifetime love of the outdoors. This led to a career working with tour operators and walking companies that, twinned with a passion for writing, has taken me on adventures all around the world. Over 20 years, I’ve explored and written about walking, trekking, hiking and tramping in places as far apart as New Zealand, Peru and the Swiss Alps, for guidebooks, newspapers, magazines and websites. These days I’m on a mission to prove that the UK offers as much adventure as anything you’ll find overseas. I’ve found a lot of joy in experiencing wild places close to home, sharing stories of the wildlife, history and heritage we have on our doorstep while also introducing my young family in turn to the outdoors. Home-grown adventures include racing coast-to-coast across Scotland and walking and cycling across England. I have trekked the Pembrokeshire and Norfolk coasts, claimed Yorkshire’s three peaks, hiked a number of our national trails, and camped in wild places while bagging Wainwrights and Munros. Friends joke though that, in many ways, alongside the pursuit of the perfect sausage roll, all this activity is really just an excuse to seek out artisan scotch eggs and local craft ales to try…

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