Weekender: The Reivers Route

Ride level Experienced cyclist
Distance 170 mi / 274 km
Type of bicycle Gravel or adventure bike
Traffic free
Circular route
A man stands over his bicycle in front of a field, looking at a sitting Llama in a green field full of Llamas
This 170-mile route is the least ridden and most challenging of Sustrans’ coast-to-coasts across northern England. Alf Alderson rode it

Route name: The Reivers Route.
Start/finish: The Beacon, Whitehaven (NX 969182) to Tynemouth (NZ 374 691).
Maps: OS Landrangers 79, 80, 85, 86, 87, 88, 89, 90.
Ride length: 276km/170 miles.
Climbing: 2,284m.
Bike type: Gravel, MTB, tourer.
Ride level: expert (two-day route); intermediate (three- or four-day route).

Named after the border country cattle raiders who inhabited this area between the 13th and 17th centuries, the Reivers Route runs through some of the wildest countryside in England. As it meanders between Whitehaven on the Irish Sea coast and Tynemouth on the North Sea coast, it takes in the northern fells of the Lake District, the wild and remote uplands of Northumberland and the Scottish border, the deep green depths of Kielder Forest, and the open moorland of the north-western Pennines.

The riding varies from quiet country lanes to forest fire-roads and cinder tracks. When I rode it in May 2022 we enjoyed stretches for miles at a time without seeing another vehicle of any sort.

The ride can be done in two days if you want to push yourself, but is better suited to a long weekend or even four easy days. While it can be ridden in either direction, west-to-east generally makes more sense since you’ll likely have the prevailing wind behind you.

You can use the train to get back to your starting point or ride back on one of the other Sustrans coast-to-coast routes if time permits.

Alf's bicycle leans against a stone wall above a river. In the background there is a snaking road between hilly grassland and trees. In the foreground a roadsign pointing left reads 'Reivers' next to a bicycle symbol

1 Cockermouth

The busy little town of Cockermouth makes for a fine cake-and-coffee stop on your first morning, and there are a couple of good bike shops if you need to pick up any spares and so on. Famous former residents of the town include Fletcher Christian, the mutineer of ‘Bounty’ fame, and England cricket star Ben Stokes.

2 Back o’ Skiddaw

These northern fells of the Lake District are seldom visited by tourists, and the ride provides magnificent views across the wild, windblown moorlands that rise up to 931m Skiddaw, the sixth-highest mountain in England.

3 Kielder Forest

A man cycles through a moorland, the sky behind him is foggy and there are Pine trees dotted throughout the landscape

The main off-road section of the Reivers Route involves an easy climb up to the high point of the ride at 357 metres, from where you can enjoy inspirational views across what is one of the largest man-made forests in Europe and, of course, Kielder Water, the largest artificial lake in England.

4 Bellingham

One of the larger towns on the middle section of the route, Bellingham is an appealing place to stop off, having a decent selection of accommodation, pubs and shops and an interesting history (Vikings, reivers and saints) which you can check out in the local heritage centre.

Alf stands with his bicycle admiring the ruins of a great stately home in the background

5 Thockrington

The lonely moorland road past the hamlet of Thockrington offers some of the best – and quietest – on-road riding of the route. The churchyard of St Aidan’s Church is the last resting place of Lord Beveridge, founder of the modern welfare state, author Tom Sharpe, and aviatrix Connie Leathart.

6 Tynemouth

Alf stands with his bicycle on a beach in a cove with a cliff behind him, the blue sea to the left of him

After the solitude of most of the Reivers Route, Tynemouth comes as a bit of a shock, but Newcastle’s bustling and cheerful beach resort is a great place to finish to ride, dip a toe in the sea, slurp an ice cream and enjoy an overnight stay before heading back to Whitehaven.