Tuesday, August 3, 2021

10 brilliant bike rides: the best cycle routes in the UK

The UK is full of epic scenery, whether it's the undulating hills and blue water of the Lake District, or the cliffs-and-coves coastline of Kent. And what better way to admire it than by bike, feeling the wind on your face and the burn in your thighs as you soak up the views and earn your pub lunch.

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This weekend sees the beginning of National Bike Week, and in celebration, we've picked out 10 of the best British bike rides, from challenging multi-day journeys to gentle rides that the whole family can enjoy.

1. For beginners: Peregrine Path, Wye Valley

Symonds Yat, Wye ValleySymonds Yat/Suxxes Photo/Shutterstock

Straddling the English-Welsh border, this five-mile route is mostly asphalt road, fairly level and largely traffic-free, so it's ideal for those still building up their confidence on two wheels. It starts in the market town of Monmouth before heading over to Wye Gorge and across the River Wye to the pretty village of Symonds Yat, finishing in the Herefordshire village of Goodrich, with its 11th-century castle.

2. For families: Camel Trail, Cornwall

This 18-mile stretch along an old railway line claims to be the country's most popular tourist cycle route. Its flat and well-surfaced paths are perfect for children, as well as grown-ups with little ones in a trailer, and most of it traffic-free.

The route follows the Camel Estuary from Padstow before taking you through the woods of the Camel Valley to the edge of Bodmin Moor – though if you prefer to tackle a shorter chunk, try Padstow to Wadebridge and back.
Camel Trail, CornwallCamel Trail/Paul Nash/Shutterstock

3. For mountain highs: Witch's Trails, Scottish Highlands

The peaks of the Nevis Range, around the town of Fort William, are such a draw for mountain riders that every year they play host to the Mountain Bike World Cup. And if you want to test your mettle, there are trails for all abilities, from beginner to pro.

Intermediates and advanced riders should try the Witch's Trails, some of which take in sections of the World Cup trail and World Championship routes, with jumps, twists and turns along the way.

4. For sea views: Viking Coastal Trail, Kent

Ramsgate HarbourRamsgate Harbour/Gordon Bell/Shutterstock

Much of the route from Margate to Ramsgate is on dedicated cycle paths along the clifftops, so you'll have views over the North Sea and down to beautiful sandy beaches such as Joss Bay and Botany Bay.

Stop for a refreshment in the beer garden of the Botany Bay hotel, before carrying on to the quaint seaside town of Broadstairs for an ice cream on the sand. The full circular trail is 32 miles, with the return leg bringing you inland, but you can always call it a day in Ramsgate instead.

5. For the ultimate challenge: Land's End to John O 'Groats

Spanning the length of mainland Britain, from the tip of Cornwall to the far north of Scotland, this is not a ride for the faint hearted – but it will definitely earn you bragging rights. There are various routes, ranging between around 1,000 and 1,400 miles (that's up to about two weeks on the road), so it's worth planning carefully.
Cape Cornwall, Land's EndCape Cornwall, near Land's End/Helen Hotson/Shutterstock

One option takes you 1,173-miles along the traffic-free and quiet roads of the National Cycle Network, with the added bonus that it's signposted.

6. For city slickers: canals of east London

East London is home to a surprising number of attractive waterways that you can ride along. Starting at Walthamstow Marshes, follow the River Lea Navigation down to the recently spruced-up Olympic Park, admiring the colourful houseboats and ducks along the way.

From there either follow the parallel River Lea back to the start, or head west on the Hertford Union Canal, through pretty Victoria Park, and join the Regent's Canal up to bustling Broadway Market, where on Saturdays you can pick up the ingredients for a posh picnic. A variation of this route can be found on the British Cycling website.
Camden Town, Canal, LondonRegent's Canal/Pixabay

7. For picture-perfect countryside: 80 Mile Cycle Route, Somerset

The name may be less than poetic, but this trail cuts through through the best of rural Britain. Ride over gentle hills, through the Somerset moors, chocolate-box villages and historic market towns such as Sherbourne. If you're only tackling one section, try Merriott to Montacute, which will take you through Ham Hill Country Park, with its views of the Mendip Hills, the Quantock Hills and the Dorset Downs.

8. For wildlife-spotting: Northern Forest Circular, Dorset

The woodland and open meadows of the New Forest national park are criss-crossed by cycle trails, and while the landscapes are impressive, it's the chance to see deer, a variety of birdlife and ponies that's the real draw. The ponies aren't technically wild, but they do roam free, and some will even come up to you begging for food (feeding them is forbidden, though). The Northern Forest Circular offers some of the best views.
New ForestNew Forest, Hampshire/Pixabay

9. For a history lesson: Six Castles Cycleway, Shropshire

This undulating 58-mile route is undoubtedly challenging, but make the effort and you'll be rewarded with views across this Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, and the chance to see historic castles such as Shrewsbury and Bishop's. For a more beginner-friendly option, try the easiest section, between Craven Arms and the foodie haven of Ludlow (which also has its own castle).

10. For something a little different: Eskdale Trail, Cumbria

Taking your bike on the train isn't unusual itself, but it is when you're riding a steam engine on a minimum-gauge railway. In plain English: it's a toy train. Squeeze yourself into one of the tiny carriages (you'll need to pre-book to take your bike) on the train from Ravenglass to Dalegarth, from where you can cycle eight miles back through the country lanes and rough tracks of the Eskdale Valley.

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