Cycling from Newcastle to Whitby

What is it like to cycle from Newcastle to Whitby via the North Sea Cycle Route in two days or three days? In this blog we look at this beautiful route of 222 kilometers (about 137 miles) and give you a good idea of what you may encounter along the way.

Previously we wrote about our route from Berwick-upon-Tweed to Newcastle. In this article we continue our journey into Newcastle upon Tyne. This city is well known for its impressive bridges, such as the 1928 Tyne Bridge and the Millennium Bridge. Newcastle prospered during the Industrial Revolution and the Grainger town district is known for its fine city architecture. You will find the Grainger Market here, just as Grey’s Monument. This is a statue of a Prime Minister from Newcastle, remembered for signing the slavery abolition act.

Invisible in Newcastle for today’s eyes is the former course of Hadrian’s Wall. This wall marked once the border of the Roman Empire with Caledonia, running all the way from the North Sea to the Irish Sea. In Newcastle the wall has completely disappeared, as its stones were used as building material through the ages. To see an actual bit of the wall, you will have to leave the city to the west. After a serious climb out of the Tyne valley, you will find a short fine section of wall in the village of Heddon on the Wall.

After a visit to this UNESCO World Heritage site, our route heads south into Derwent Walk Country Park. This traffic-free route via a former railway line gradually climbs into the hills, heading through a forested valley with beautiful views, such as at Nine Arches Viaduct. This route takes you to the former mining town of Consett at an altitude of about 240 meters above sea level.

At Consett, you can join the next railway path, the Lanchester Valley Way. This flat route is very light travelled and takes you via some scenic hills to the UNESCO World Heritage site of Durham. Spectacularly located on a sharp bend of the River Wear, the monumental buildings of the University of Durham and Durham Cathedral can be found on the Palace Green. When cycling this route in three days, Durham is definitely worth an overnight stay. Even when just travelling through, take some time to do a short circular walk in the deep Wear Valley, returning into the city via the historic Framwellgate Bridge.

From Durham we set course for the North Sea coast. After about 20 miles of cycling via a quiet and reasonably flat agricultural area you will arrive in Hartlepool. It is initially not easy to get directly to the coast line, but at the Hartlepool Headland you will be cycling next to the breaking waves on a broad sea wall. The Heugh Battery Museum takes on the military history of this striking headland. At the harbour there is also the National Royal Navy Museum and the Hartlepool Museum, both with fine maritime historical collections. When cycling this route in two days, Hartlepool is the natural midway overnight point.

South of Hartlepool, a seaside cycle path takes you next to the beach of seaside resort Seaton Carew. On the horizon, the hills of the North York Moors are very well visible, but to get there, you will have to navigate across the industrial sprawl of urban Middlesbrough. Especially the estuary of the River Tees forces the cycle route far inland, as there are limited options to cross it with a bicycle.

It would be great to utilise the monumental Tees Transporter Bridge crossing on your way. With its stretch of floating road deck hanging on high cables above the river, its architecture is almost unique in the world, making it complicated and costly to maintain. The bridge has been closed for this reason since 2021. With no forecast on reopening soon, it is very likely that you will have to cycle our alternative route to another bridge across a vast industrial estate.

Eventually, you will arrive in the centre of Middlesbrough. From the town hall area, the route will pass through an extensive mix of typical English suburbs, dating from the late 19th Century until now. You will find that every era had its own architecture and taking it all in from your bike, you can mull over for yourself which era actually pleases you most. In the end, you will arrive in the friendly town of Great Ayton. Spend the night here or in Middlesbrough when cycling this route over three days.

At this point, it is good to spend some words on the internationally promoted North Sea Cycle Route. In this region, there is actually not much of it. So far, we have created a reasonably attractive route by combining the mostly inland routes 14 and 65. From Middlesbrough, the coastal route 1 even comes to and end near the town of Redcar, with a narrow winding main road as the only continued route south. To avoid all this, we take on inland route 165, right through the North York Moors.

This National Park is thinly populated and known for its wide views. From Great Ayton, a steady climb starts through the wide valley of Kildale. Soon this valley narrows and the climbing becomes harder. From Commondale, you will follow a rough gravel path across some sheep herds for about two miles, taking you to Castleton. You are high up now, so the road flattens out towards Glaisdale. Here, you drop into a deep valley, which requires you to climb out again via a steep climb. Near Briggswath you descend steeply once more, this time on some rough gravel, walking is advised.

The challenges above have a total length of about 30 miles. If this route across breathtaking nature becomes at any stage too much for you, it is good to know that the scenic railway from Great Ayton generally follows the same route, with various small stations to access on the way. The coastal town of Whitby is its final destination, which is also the end of the route in this blog.

Whitby is well known for its scenic harbour, its beach in a pretty bay and plenty of hustle and bustle in its narrow shopping streets. The Captain Cook Museum is dedicated to the famous explorer James Cook who grew up and lived in this region. Most famous however is Whitby for its impressive monastery ruins and neighbouring cemetery, both located on a hill overlooking the town and coast. The view with hundreds of spooky tombstones was immortalised in the famous book ‘Dracula’. A very steep incline with 199 steps takes you there and we invite you to walk up your bike alongside you (we also provide an alternative route). On the hill, you will also find a youth hostel and a campsite, just a mile out of town. For now, mission completed! Another time you can read more about our continued route south via the North Sea Route to Scarborough, Hull and York.

Practical notes:

If you travel from the continent, we can recommend using the DFDS Seaways night crossing between Amsterdam-IJmuiden and Newcastle-North Shields. This crossing takes 16 hours and runs three times per week normally. Our route includes a direct cycle route from the ferry terminal in North Shields to Newcastle’s central station. You can also start the route from Newcastle’s central station.

The described route section ends in Whitby, at the start of our next route south. The route via the North York Moors is hilly and can be challenging. This section can be avoided by taking the train between Great Ayton and Whitby. You can also get on trains further afield in either Durham or Middlesbrough. In England, bicycles can be taken on the train for free, but not during peak times and depending on the capacity of the train. On some routes you need to make a reservation for bicycles.

We do not recommend the use of any bicycle trailers, cargo bikes, bike trailers, etc. This is due to various barriers on cycle paths with tight corners and narrow gaps. You may also encounter difficulties on narrow towpaths, steep slopes and when taking your equipment on the train. Note e-bikes can only be charged at booked accommodation on the way; public charging points are rare.

The route in this blog is largely signposted as ‘Route 14, 65, 72 and 165’. However, this network is fragmented in places and in this region there is no obvious way of following the North Sea Cycle Route easily. To cycle the route comfortably, we recommend using our ‘England North-South Cycle Route’ guidebook. This guidebook contains route directions, maps, cycling-focused tourist information and facility listings with campsites, youth hostels, B&Bs, hotels and bicycle repair shops along the way. Order your copy now and you will receive the guide in your mailbox within a week! GPS tracks of the route will be sent to you by email.

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