This route is part of the National Cycle Network, administered by Sustrans. It is designated route Nos. 71 and 7, and is signposted throughout. About half of the route is traffic-free, while half is along small country roads. A small amount is on main roads. It is possible to do the whole trip on roads, but incorporating the off-road sections is recommended, and the following description includes them. The 3-day itinerary makes for a fun-packed trip, which is quite doable for the average cyclist. The most severe section is an off-road ascent up a steep track to Hartside summit between Penrith and Alston. The overnights are in Whitehaven, Greystoke, and Allenheads.
You start from the picturesque ancient port of Whitehaven, and then continue along small roads to Clator Moor, in the heart of West Cumberland coal country. From there, in a short distance you’ll enter the Lake District National Park and pass by two of the most attractive, peaceful, and least known of its lakes: Ennerdale and Loweswater. You’ll continue over Whinlatter pass at over 300m to Braithwaite and Keswick. The wonderful setting includes views of Skiddaw, Derwentwater, and Borrowdale. A short way after Keswick comes the magnificently-sited Castlerigg stone circle and the village of Threlkeld, in the shadow of Blencathra, and with views of the Helvellyn range.
Some sections here are on the historic Penrith, Keswick, and Cockermouth Railway, which was an engineering feat from the 1860s and makes for fairly smooth running. There’s a succession of villages with wonderful local names like Troutbeck, Mungrisdale, Penruddock, Blencow, and Greystoke. You’ll stop at this last one for the night.
In the morning, you’ll pass round Penrith and go through undulating terrain in to the glorious Eden Valley. Bliss does not last long: very soon you’ll be tackling the fabled Hartside summit, which takes you to the very roof of England at around 575m. This hill takes you from verdant green fields on to the Pennine moors. Remember, there’s a café on top! This is the watershed, which means that the water takes a downhill course from here – but man is less intelligent, and there are a few other summits to go. What follows is a descent to Alston, one of England’s highest market towns, set in the South Tyne valley, and the lovely village of Garrigill set in its own valley next door. A steep ascent on a track leads to a more pleasant moorland ride to Nenthead. From there you cross over the highest pass on the route at 609m over from the Tyne valley to the Allen with its fascinating lead-mining history. You’ll stay at Allenheads.
From there comes just one more significant ascent over into Weardale. The off-road section involves an ascent over the fell via the side valley of Rookhope and along the Waskerly Way – a particularly enjoyable section of off-road. From there, the going gets much easier, as you follow old Durham colliery railways down into the lands of the North East. The route to Sunderland continues along peaceful is enhanced by some fine artworks, the new Stadium of Light, and the beach at Roker.