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Cycling coast-to-coast: The Reivers Route

The Reivers Route is easily the least ridden of the six northern coast-to-coast routes on the National Cycle Network, yet there is much to be said for the road less travelled. Coast-to-coast through wild Northumberland's border country, it provides the opportunity to explore the rich history of traditional border territory. Read on for an introduction to the route.

The Reivers Cycle Route is a wild 170-mile (275km) coast-to-coast ride on cycle paths, little-known minor roads and forest tracks; anyone with a love of cycle touring will delight in this well-kept secret. The ride ventures north from the Cumbrian coast through the dramatic northern fringes of the Lake District National Park and onwards through Carlisle to raid into the wild heart of the thinly populated Border Reivers territory around the England–Scotland border. The route continues, incorporating the scenic valleys and airy tops of the Northumberland National Park, often on gated roads that see hardly any motor vehicles. Finally, the ride sweeps south and eastwards to reach Tynemouth.

Who were the Border Reivers?

The Border Reivers are most keenly associated with the period between the 13th and 17th centuries – although the borderers were probably a distinct group dating back at least to the Roman partition of Great Britain in the time of Hadrian. As the Borderlands were subjected to the toing and froing of advancing and retreating English and Scottish armies, the Border Reivers emerged as a distinguishable people who carved out an identity distinct from either Scottishness or Englishness.

Cycling the Reivers Route - Location Map

Where does it start and end?

The route starts in Whitehaven and skirts the England-Scotland border as it crosses to Tynemouth.

How difficult is the Reivers route?

The Reivers Route is an attainable goal for most people. If you can comfortably ride 40 miles with 900m of ascent and still clamber back onto your saddle the next day, then you will be more than able to tackle the four-day itinerary. Based on the present OS mapping tool, the overall ascent on the Reivers Route is 3365m.

How long does it take to cycle?

Much more so than the other coast-to-coast routes, dividing the Reivers Route into stages is dictated by the availability of accommodation options. A four-day itinerary is definitely the best fit for the Reivers Route. Although it can be done in three days as a challenging ride or five days for those looking for shorter stages – accommodation is limited with this option.

How well signposted is the route?

The Reivers Route is signed with the small blue pointer signs of the National Cycle Network, mainly showing the route number ‘10’ (although some short sections are on routes 71, 7, 68 and 72). However, the Reivers Route has not seen as much investment and promotion as some of the other popular National Cycle Network routes and the clarity of the signage has suffered in parts, particularly as the route has been altered on a number of occasions. Close reading of our guidebook will be useful.

Which direction should you cycle the Reivers route?

Most cyclists who undertake the Reivers Route do so from west to east. The primary route description in our guidebook reflects this tendency and describes the route in the Whitehaven to Tynemouth direction, with advice on how to reverse the route at the end of each stage.

What kind of bike do you need for the Reivers route?

The Reivers is a route on mixed terrain and some thought should be given to your bike. Rugged touring bikes, sturdy hybrid bikes and gravel bikes with more than 42mm tyres are ideal for tackling both the off- and on-road sections of the Reivers, especially if carrying luggage. Mountain bikes and road bikes are not suitable however, tandem and electric bikes (though there are limited charging opportunities) are also viable options.

What about alternative routes?

The Borderers Ride takes a sensational 150-mile (240km) course which follows the line of the England–Scotland border from coast to coast more closely than that of the Reivers Route. The Borderers Ride incorporates most of Day 2 and all of Day 3 of the Reivers Route, but more logically follows the areas around the England–Scotland border at the beginning and end of the ride in fascinating territory starting in Gretna – nominally at the Lochmaben Stone – and, after incorporating Holy Island, ending in Berwick-upon-Tweed.

How to reach the start and end points?

For the original Reivers route, Whitehaven is connected to the West Coast Main Line at Lancaster and Carlisle by the slow and looping Cumbrian Coast railway line. The Tyne Valley Line connects Newcastle to Carlisle, where a change of trains is necessary to transfer to the Cumbrian Coast railway.

The Borderers Ride also has straight-forward rail access. Gretna is on the West Coast Main Line and Berwick-upon-Tweed is on the East Coast Main Line. To return to Gretna from Berwick, or vice versa, connections that go via Newcastle or Edinburgh. There is also the option of parking your car at Whitehaven/Gretna and returning my train, using a support vehicle or combining the route with another of the C2C trails.

What accommodation is available?

Options for accommodation include bed and breakfasts, pubs, hostels, bunkhouses, and campsites. There is a limited range of accommodation on certain stretches, in particular the passages between Carlisle and Bailey Mill (or Newcastleton) and also between Bellingham and Maften. Advanced accommodation booking is recommended, even if camping.

Cycling the Reivers Route - Front Cover

Cycling the Reivers Route

Coast to coast through wild Northumberland's border country

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Guidebook to the Reivers Route, a 173 mile (280km) coast-to-coast cycle route across northern England and into Scotland from Tynemouth to Whitehaven. Exploring the rich history of traditional border territory, it is suitable for cyclists of all abilities and most commonly tackled on hybrid or sturdy touring bikes. Road alternatives are available.

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