EVERY year thousands of people arrive in Cumbria, either beginning or ending a bike ride between the east and west coasts of the north of England. The route - known as the C2C - takes in breathtaking scenery as it passes up hill, down dale and through some of the quirkiest Cumbrian and Northumbrian towns.

ANNA CLARKE takes a look at the popular cycleway as it celebrates its 20th anniversary.

IT isn’t hard to see why the C2C cycle route is one of the most popular in Britain.

It begins and ends on different coasts, passes through what are arguably two of the most attractive of England’s counties and even takes in some of the northern Pennines.

As a result some 15,000 people put power to the pedals every year to complete the entire journey, end to end.

“At 140 miles in length most people choose to ride this stunning route over three to five days, with plenty of stops for coffee and cake in between!” explained a spokesman for charity, Sustrans, which maintains the route.

“The route follows quiet countryside roads, disused railway lines and off-road cycle paths and over the years it has become one of the most popular coast-to coast routes for cyclists looking for a challenge.”

The route was founded in 1994 and is known as either the sea-to-sea, coast-to-coast or C2C cycle route.

Participants generally begin in west Cumbria – Workington or Whitehaven – and end in Tynemouth, Northumbria, taking in two national cycleways which meet just north of Penrith.

The journey from Cumbria starts with a traditional ‘dip’ of a back wheel into the Irish Sea before cyclists leave behind the old industrial lands in the western county and head through the northern Lake District, Penrith and the Eden Valley.

A long, steep climb up to Hartside rewards breathless riders with magnificent views across the Solway Firth to Scotland.

From this point the path weaves up into the Pennines, through rolling heather moors, historic villages, lush green dales and valleys.

The route ends with the Durham Dales, a ride over the Millennium Bridge at Newcastle and of course, a dip into the water at Tynemouth.

And although the Bradley Wigginses of the world might attempt to do the trip in a day, most make a holiday of it and enjoy some Cumbrian hospitality as they go.

“We get a lot of people every year doing the route,” said Caroline Nelson, of the Wheatsheaf Inn guest house, Lorton.

“I would say the majority of our guests are people doing the cycle route.

“It is a really nice route so I don’t blame them!”

Accordng to Sustrans - part of a group of organisations that maintains the route – the C2C has brought millions of pounds into the Cumbrian economy and cyclists have raised millions for charities as a result.

Ian Rhind, of the Caledonia Guest House, Penrith, said his business has directly benefitted from it.

“We get a lot of big groups,” he said.

“Throughout the summer we see a lot of people doing the cycleway.

“And why not? It’s a lovely route!”

Most weeks, he explained, around six to eight C2C cyclists check in at the hotel he runs with wife, Sue.

The majority of these come between Easter and August – and many are people completing the ride for charity.

This is something Sustrans is encouraging in its 20th year.

“The C2C is a historic route and we are proud to be celebrating its 20th year,” said Kate Jones, national events fundraiser.

“Sustrans is responsible for looking after the considerable sections of the C2C, and it’s thanks to our volunteers that this is possible.

“As a charity we need to raise money to keep the route in tip top condition to help us to maintain it so thousands more people can enjoy it.”

She added: “If you are thinking about riding it this summer why not fundraise for the route too?”

The C2C is part of the National Cycle Network, a UK-wide network of cycling and walking routes developed by Sustrans, which now stretch over 14,700 miles across the country.

It is maintained by Sustrans and its volunteers, in partnership with local authorities and other organisations.

Last month, to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the route being founded, 13 people cycled the distance to raise money for its upkeep.

Participan, Jenny Martin, 50, from Bristol, said: “This is probably the most physically challenging thing I’ve ever done but it’s been absolutely stunning.

“I can’t believe how beautiful the route has been. For all the pain and hard work it’s been really worthwhile.

“I can see how people get addicted to cycling!”

And for those who need an excuse to slow down and enjoy the ride, there are dozens of pieces of artwork along the way.

“They help to bring alive the landscape,” added a Sustrans spokesman.