Irish Sea to North Sea cycling vacation

The Irish Sea to the North Sea is a classic English cycling route, one that spans the neck of the country from coast to coast like a rakish cravat. Usually beginning in Whitehaven and finishing in Tynemouth (most people ride west to east due to the prevailing wind) it’s a richly scenic journey through some of the north’s most dramatic natural and industrial landscapes. And best of all, it can be accomplished in a long weekend. As far as getting used to small group cycling vacations go, you could scarcely ask for a better ice breaker.
As James Adkin from our specialist operator Explore puts it: “You're only giving up a weekend, and many of our British riders are amazed to find the amount of adventure right on their doorstep.” It’s a pocket adventure, and an inspirational one too. “I came away with a huge sense of achievement from crossing the breadth of country under my own steam”. Once you’ve got this one tucked safely under your belt, you may well feel encouraged to try something longer or more physically demanding next time.

The route

You’ll ride through tranquil hamlets in the Lake District, between dry stone walls and fells with glimmering bodies of water off in the distance. And you’ll also encounter out-of-service railway tracks, disused mines and the engineering heritage of Tyneside, its docks and bridges. James Adkin relished the scenery: “When I rode this route what I loved most was the passes, especially the mini challenge of Whinlatter Pass and coming down through forest afterwards. It was great also to see a slice of northern British life. The scenery is not all picture postcard pretty, it’s gritty too – remnants of the north’s industrial heritage are everywhere, such as the abandoned mines in the Pennines, and the quite dilapidated stretch from Newcastle to the North Sea. It feels very real, and beautiful for that reason.”
Tours typically get underway in Whitehaven, an attractive Georgian town with a long mining history, riders dipping their wheels in the harbour as per tradition before setting off. Then it’s into the rolling green hills and valleys of the Lake District, England’s largest national park and one of its most beloved landscapes. Between charming towns such as Penrith and Keswick you pass quiet villages and hamlets along largely traffic-free roads or defunct railway lines, occasionally encountering a long climb that will challenge you, but not overly so. As James Adkin points out, “Your group will likely segment as you go along, but you regularly regroup. It’s not a race and you definitely don’t need to be Superman”.
Cross the magnificent Eden Valley and North Pennines into Tyneside, cycling along quiet lanes and back roads and across open moorland. You’ll gain an appreciation as you go of the region’s renowned industrial heritage, and how man has shaped these natural landscapes with mining and sheep farming. Every night you put your feet up in a small, locally owned hotel or guesthouse, and there will be no shortage of great pubs along the route too for you to sink a few jars of local ale to reward your exertions.
Parts of northern England, particularly the northeast, have been struggling for years, with traditional industries from mining to steel making and ship building all in decline, leading to some of the country’s highest rates of unemployment. Making good use of the ample cafés, restaurants and pubs strung along the route can provide valuable income to these communities, but picturing that next slice of delicious homemade cake will also keep you powering on throughout. “That’s what people talk about most in the pub every evening,” says James Adkin. “How sore their bum is, and how good the cake was that afternoon.”


Cycling from the Irish Sea to the North Sea takes four days at a relaxed pace, and is best approached between April and October. This being northern England naturally you can never be entirely confident of the weather, so it makes good sense to pack suitable gear for riding in the rain as well as the sun, as a rule it helps to ‘plan for the worst and hope for the best’.
While you’re welcome to bring your own bike if you prefer, there’s no need. Suitable hybrids, such as 21-gear Ridgeback Meteors, are provided, while if you’d like a little extra oomph, electric bikes can be hired for a supplement too.
Groups are limited to 16, enabling you to be put up in smaller accommodations, and you will be shadowed by a tour leader who also serves as guide and driver of the support vehicle and trailer. While not accompanying you throughout the ride, they will meet up with you at various agreed locations to ensure everything is on track, and of course be in 24-hour contact by phone. You’ll be equipped with detailed maps and route notes, and road markings are clear. With all that assistance you’d do well to get lost.
The support vehicle also carries your luggage, since you’re riding point to point, as well as any spare parts you might need, and will have space for you and your bike if you fancy a rest at any point. But while there are a few challenging climbs involved, no-one with a reasonable level of fitness will find anything scary here. A few longish practice rides in the weeks leading up should be more than enough to get you from one side of England to the other.
Written by Rob Perkins
Photo credits: [Page banner: KarlOnSea] [Milepost: shirokazan] [Coast to coast cycle: Phil Gradwell] [Whitehaven: Sludge G]