When you get to the train station, instead of crossing the main road, then cycling down it about 50m then crossing back onto the harbour (a hazardous and unnecessary procedure) walk to the end of the station car park and turn right down the path to the front entrance of Tesco. Turn left up the wide path until the zebra crossing then hang a right into the car park. Cross the road onto the harbour by the Whirlpool of fishes sculpture. Then you can get on your bike and ride straight along the harbour to the slipway before dunking your wheels and setting forth. This is quicker and safer.

About the town

Whitehaven has the distinction of being both the starting point of the C2C and the finish for the Reivers Cycle Route. It may not be quite the place it was in the 18th century, when it played a significant role in the British slave industry and was the main importer of tobacco on the west coast, but it has undergone a major transformation in the last couple of years and its fine Georgian architecture is now looking spruce and proud again.

Perhaps the most impressive feature is the large harbour, which has undergone a £68 mil ion facelift. There is a fine 100-berth marina, now choc-a-bloc with pleasure craft of all sizes and shapes. The town has, in short, re-acquired some of the prosperity it lost in the years after it became the world’s first new town.

Not so long ago it would have been hard to imagine that early Manhattan’s street grid system was based on the pattern the Lowther family laid out for Whitehaven in the late 1690s, when it became apparent that the Cumbrian settlement was destined for great things.

Shortly afterwards the streets fil ed with rum and sugar merchants, slave traders and tobacco speculators as well as America-bound settlers waiting for their boat to come and take them off to a new life in the New World. The harbour was teeming with coal transporters, which plied the Irish Sea to supply Dublin’s houses and industries with black stuff dynamited from under Whitehaven’s seabed.

There was also shipbuilding; more than 1,000 vessels were built in the Whitehaven yards, and one of the oldest surviving iron-built ships was constructed here. After London and Bristol, this was the busiest port in England.

Places of Interest

The Beacon (01946 592302) Local maritime and industrial history within the Harbour Gal ery and magnificent views over the town. Done up during 2007.

Michael Moon’s Bookshop & Gallery (01946 599010), 19 Lowther St. One of the largest bookshops in Cumbria, “vast and gloriously eccentric!”

The Rum Story (01946 592933), Lowther Street. Exhibition celebrating the Jefferson family business, the oldest booze empire in Britain.

The Haig Mining Museum (01946 599949) Solway Road, Kel s, Whitehaven. Memories of the last deep pit in Cumbria.

American Links

Whitehaven’s connections with America go deep: John Paul Jones, founder of the American navy and erstwhile scourge of Britain’s own, gained his sea legs as a merchant seaman from Whitehaven. Indeed, the last invasion of the English mainland, in 1778, was perpetrated by Jones upon the town. The incursion was part of the only attack on British soil by US forces; and we should not forget that George Washington’s granny, Mildred Warner Gale, lived here and is buried at St Nicholas’s churchyard.

The town has been impressively preserved, one suspects, because a sudden lack of prosperity after the boom years disinclined planners from bulldozing in the name of progress. This left the Lowther architectural heritage preserved, as it were, in aspic. It is worthwhile walking the streets, admiring this memorial to an earlier and prosperous age, when sea captains and merchants lived in style.

There are many interesting and quirky sculptures around the harbour, a number of street mosaics featuring different aspects of the town’s heritage, plus a mural in Washington Square and a plethora of shiny plaques above doorways giving clues to the past. It is one of my favourite places on the whole route and it seems a shame just to use Whitehaven as a point of departure without spending the previous night exploring. There are plenty of distractions, in the form of pubs, restaurants and venues. The fol owing day’s ride out of this port is nothing if not leisurely – a stark contrast to the undulations that are to follow. A late night is not going to spoil it.

The traditional way to start this route is by christening your bike on the slipway behind the big C2C sign by dipping the front wheel in the briny. Then you might wish to get your first route stamp at the New Espresso café in the Market Place.